For those inexperienced with the cannibal subgenre, a divisive detour into the bloody tribal tradition of human consumption, the face of a certain Italian filmmaker may only look familiar as one of the many murderous rich in Hostel: Part II, Eli Roth’s gruesome class trip to Europe. Yet, if you’re familiar with Roth’s body of work, then the sanguine covered genres encapsulated within the likes of Hostel and The Green Inferno means you’re one hacked limb closer to knowing the works of legendary director Ruggero Deodato, the subject of filmmaker Felipe M. Guerra’s latest documentary, DEODATO HOLOCAUST, which premiered at Brazil’s famed Fantaspoa Film Festival this past May.
Synonymous with film, having worked on just about every genre under the sun; comedy, western (as assistant director on Sergio Corbucci’s Django), peplum (biblically inspired sword and sandal epics) and poliziotto (a sub-genre of crime and action fare at the height of the 60’s), Deodato is still only a niche name, known more as a provocateur than a practitioner of the arts. Thankfully, DEODATO HOLOCAUSTdismisses agenda for agency, allowing the director himself to, quite frankly, exploit his extensive back catalog with the directness of a seasoned veteran. While the absence of the former certainly leaves Guerra’s lens clean of anything too personal, it remains a lean cadaver of a documentary that replaces the finesse and flair of so many stylized approaches, favoring the conversation of a man who is more innovator than instigator, despite what decades of censorship would tell you.
Nicknamed ‘Monsieur Cannibal’ in France (translated Sir Cannibal), Deodato has become reviled in the horror genre as a provocateur, coming under savage scrutiny by the censors for his depiction of violence – both towards his actors and the adjacent wildlife – with his 1980 film, Cannibal Holocaust; a graphic blend of realism that introduced the world to the found footage genre well before the world entered the backwoods of Maryland in 1999’s breakout, The Blair Witch Project. If a director is ever remembered for one singular work, then this is it in spades for the then 40-year-old filmmaker, whose assistance on some of Italy’s most revered genre gems almost eclipses his own body of work.
In allowing room for Deodato to sit and extrapolate on his upbringing around some of Italy’s lesser maestros such as Corbucci (Castle Blood), Roberto Rossellini (Escape by Night) and Antonio Margheriti (The Slave Merchants) – all equal to the Fellini’s in the eyes of genre fans – we’re granted access into a lost craft. One that uncovers layers of genre gems that have either been lost in the archive or brought to light through reappraisal, either in the form of a restored print or haphazardly dumped into the beyond of some streaming service. These slices of cult favorites – Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man and The House on the Edge of the Park mark Deodato’s more favored mean and gritty fares – are each given ample leg room to showcase the directors eye towards taking the tired (the police procedural and the exploitation, respectively) and reinvigorating it with streaks of captivating intensity.
Judging by the title, one would expect an entire half devoted to his involvement in drawing fresh blood from the cannibal genre, made famous by Umberto Lenzi’s 1972 film, The Man from Deep River, yet DEODATO HOLOCAUST takes its time in building to the career watermark of Cannibal Holocaust, and it works considerably in its favor. In doing so, we’re shown how Deodato’s heightened realism is built throughout the years, drawing equally from his involvement in the fantastic (Hercules, Prisoner of Evil) and the seductive thriller (Waves of Lust). This is a man who clearly didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a director of horror films, going as far as to let us know that he, in fact, doesn’t care much for the genre.
Similar to the recent documentary King Cohen, about the late legendary cult inspiration Larry Cohen, this is filled with indispensable nuggets of information, unearthed from the source in what feels like a guided tour of a career that invigorates ones love for celluloid. Lengthy scenes and candid photos cut through the multiple interviews with Deodato, offering glimpses into a generous portion of his filmography. If your love for the many gore-laden scenes of Bone Tomahawk or Kill Bill needs an origin story, then you’ll relish the uncensored and still unrivaled works shown with commentary by a master of practicality, now embraced by the new school of genre directors such as S. Craig Zahler’s and Quentin Tarantino.
Throughout Deodato Holocaust’s short runtime of 74 minutes, Guerro seems content as more of a super-fan than an enticer, feeling less inclined to probe too deep into the director’s personal opinions on his contemporaries such as Lenzi, Bruno Mattei or Sergio Martino. In one instance, Deodato is asked about the influx of cannibal schlock that arrived on the coattails of Holocaust, insisting that he does not what to talk about them before confessing that they are, for the most part, all inferior. It’s a brief moment of pure, fiery elation that is quickly snuffed out in favor of the directors’ spotlight, taking the film back to less controversial approaches as opposed to its contentious subject matter.
Which neither hinders nor highlights the documentary format. After all, this is Deodato’s show, and this is a documentary made for fans of the genre who delight in revisiting a cult favorite, or perhaps need a favorable cache of genre films to add to their watchlist. Either way, DEODATO HOLOCAUST delivers a sumptuous feast of butchery through the eyes of one of cinemas most pragmatic genre directors in history.