How often have I been disappointed in a good movie because I had built up impossible expectations? Cannibal Holocaust is one of those rare movies that was preceded by an incredible amount of hype and still delivered far beyond expectations. I sought it out in the early days of the internet and bought a VHS dub of the Japanese laserdisc. To this day, I’m still nostalgic for fuzzy VHS tapes with burned in Japanese subtitles.
Cannibal Holocaust was my first experience with this particular subgenre and it was just completely unrelenting. The best way to describe my reaction to that first viewing is unpleasant. I didn’t enjoy myself and I told myself that I was probably never going to watch it again. Don’t confuse those feelings for disappointment though. Cannibal Holocaust delivered on everything that was promised.
Of course, when Grindhouse re-released it on the big screen and toured it around North America about five year later, my earlier proclamation went right out the window. The opportunity to experience this with a crowd was not something I was going to miss. My chance came at the inaugural Flashback Weekend in the summer of 2002. I flew in with a couple of friends and enjoyed a pretty unforgettable weekend.
The screenings for this convention all took place at the nearby Pickwick Theater. Since it wasn’t walking distance, anyone interested in the movie would congregate outside the hotel in order to be shuttled over. As you can imagine, the ride there with a bunch of rowdy horror fans was both fun and funny. There was a mixture of people who were already fans and others who where excited to check it out for the first time. There were probably more of the latter as the movie had no legitimate North American release at this point.
Cannibal Holocaust has the rare power to silence an unruly crowd. On the way out, we all kind of resembled Krug & Company in the original Last House right after they killed Mari. It was like we collectively realized we all participated in something dirty. Having previously seen the movie did little to lessen the impact. The contrast between the ride there and the ride back would have been comical if any of us felt like laughing.
After a while, I asked one of my friends what his first impressions where. He exhaled and said, “I don’t know. I couldn’t watch that turtle getting killed again.”
This was an easy sentiment to understand, but it got a lot better when a guy sitting next to us piped in as well, “You know what I thought was weird?” he asked. “When all those girls were in the water playing with that guy’s shmeckie.”
The scene he was talking about shows Robert Kerman (Debbie Does Dallas and dozens of other XXX features) naked in the river attempting to gain the trust of some of the female cannibals by letting them fondle his genitals. Admittedly, this would probably stick out in a normal movie. This is not the kind of first impression technique I would recommend in any conceivable situation. But here, it’s about as innocent as it gets. The atrocities that take place on screen have a way of burning themselves into your brain. The camera doesn’t flinch when conventional wisdom says it should.
To recap, several animals are genuinely hacked up, a woman is impaled through the ass and out the mouth, while another is bludgeoned to death with a stone dildo. These are just highlights, but you get the point. Still, the first thing that came to this guy’s mind was Robert Kerman’s shmeckie.
I was tired and drained by the time we rode back. I started to chuckle and it just got worse. By the time I could compose myself I had tears in my eyes. At that time and in that particular situation, that was probably the absolute funniest thing that could have happened. I wish I could thank that guy. It happened about 13 years ago and still makes me laugh. That, and I now have a cool new name for male genitalia in my vocabulary.