By MICHAEL GINGOLD
The man behind one of history’s most controversial horror films has passed on.
Various sources have reported that Italian director Ruggero Deodato died today at age 83. He is best known for CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, first released in Italy in 1980 and not released in numerous other countries, as it was banned there, and remains so in certain territories to this day. A pioneering found-footage movie years before that term came into common usage, HOLOCAUST follows a team headed by an anthropologist (Robert Kerman) as they trek into the Amazon jungles in search of a group of documentary filmmakers who vanished there. They come back with the team’s footage, which documents how the team exploited and abused the Amazon natives; the tribe then turned on them, torturing and killing them in graphic ways. The scenes are so gruesomely convincing that Deodato was brought up on murder charges, which were only dropped after the director proved the actors were still alive. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST has continued to polarize critics and horror fans, with many objecting to the extreme violence against people and animals (the latter of which was real) and others praising it as an indictment of journalistic and cultural exploitation.
Deodato began his career as an assistant director on films in various genres, including several by Antonio Margheriti (such as HORROR CASTLE and CASTLE OF BLOOD) and Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti Western classic DJANGO. After uncredited work at the helm of 1964’s HERCULES, PRISONER OF EVIL after Margheriti departed that movie, he directed the likes of 1975’s WAVES OF LUST and the violent 1976 police drama LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN before first entering cannibal territory with 1977’s JUNGLE HOLOCAUST (a.k.a. CANNIBAL and THE LAST SURVIVOR in the U.S.). The same year as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST saw the release of Deodato’s very nasty home-invasion shocker THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK, starring LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT’s David Hess, and the director’s subsequent horror outings included the 1987 slasher BODY COUNT (also featuring Hess), 1988’s PHANTOM OF DEATH and DIAL HELP, the 1993 psychosexual thriller THE WASHING MACHINE and 2016’s BALLAD IN BLOOD, along with segments of the recent anthologies THE PROFANE EXHIBIT and DEATHCEMBER. He also directed a number of TV projects between the late ’80s and early 2000s.
Deodato’s no-holds-barred approach to the genre has won him a legion of fans, including filmmakers such as Eli Roth, who cast him as “The Italian Cannibal” in HOSTEL: PART II. RIP to one of the true legends of Italian genre filmmaking.