As the excess, glut-fest that is the-giving-of-thanks happens on this day, I reflect on the doting slaughter and carnal gobbling that occurs in Cannibal Holocaust. In my mind, there’s a natural, obvious connection between these two things.
Out of context and without a title, the theme for Cannibal Holocaust by Riz Ortolani is a beautiful, somber track that could have easily been the backdrop for a montage of lover’s frolicking, picnicking, and neck-nicking in a grassy field or meadow. Or the soothing musical backdrop that accompanies a series of framed photo stills that tell the story of couple riding toward the beginning a new life together in Mexico. Hell, Ortolani’s theme could even be the intro for a sexy-sudsy daytime soap. Add in context clues from Cannibal Holocaust though (title alone and/or a few sequenced clips) and a much different, more ominous song traverses through crackling speakers.
Cannibal Holocaust was the first in the horror subgenre of found footage films. The main theme for Cannibal Holocaust, in context, is eerie and unsettling. Ortolani’s score becomes a visual medley of warm, raw turtle potage, a rotation of humans chowin’ down on humans, lady kabobs, and other horror anomalies on the regular (as it does not letup).
For me, songs that are deceptively calm and beautiful are the creepiest, and I wallow in that deception. I LOVE to be misled into something sinister. Not only do I want to be captured by a song, but I also want to be haunted by it. I want a song to follow me like a forlorn ghost and stay with me until it becomes a part of my own spirit. Carol Ann’s theme from Poltergeist comes to mind—it’s a melancholy lullaby and suburban serenade (signature Goldsmith), but without its movie association this song wouldn’t necessarily provoke thoughts about a little girl trapped in the netherworld with spirits hoisting bad juju and seeking a guide to lead them toward the light.
Music makes a film scene more memorable, it gives it auditory color, and if the auditory-visual pairing is right, the scene becomes significantly more meaningful.
I think of Anne Bennett’s character in Running with Scissors literally spinning and reveling in her own insanity to Manfred Mann’s cover of “Blinded by the Light.” OR—of Buffalo Bill dolling himself up in a girl scalp to Q Lazzarus’ “Goodbye Horses” in Silence of the Lambs. These are unforgettable moments in film, and the music carried these moments.
Could the Cannibal Holocaust theme work for a soap or provide the backdrop for a spaghetti western—you bet! And yet, this song is associated with something much more gruesome. Riz Ortolani’s music is clever and adaptable in that way.
Cannibal Holocaust is one of those films that leaves you stammering and stirring in an uncomfortable fog infused with thoughts and questions—like, “What the hell did I just watch?” But there’s no confusion when it comes to the main theme. Clearly, that song represents a composition of the highest order—a musical haven dressed in skin and ready to glide nude down a catwalk to reveal its sheer, maddening perfection.
“Eat up, buttercups!”
And HAPPY THANKSGIVING.