Italian director Ruggero Deodato, famed for his controversial 1980 horror film Cannibal Holocaust, has died. An influence on generations of horror directors who came after him, Deodato was 83.
The Italian newspaper Il Messaggero reported that fellow director Sergio Martino announced Deodato‘s death on Facebook. Deodato was born in Potenza, Italy, on May 7, 1929, and apprenticed with legendary Italian directors Roberto Rossellini and Sergio Corbucci. He directed his first feature, the sword-and-sandal adventure Hercules, Prisoner of Evil, in 1964, and directed a number of films and commercials before having a hit with the 1976 crime thriller Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man. In what would serve as a prelude to his most famous film, it was censored in Italy for a gruesome scene of eyeball-gouging.
A follow-up to his successful cannibal exploitation movie Jungle Holocaust, Cannibal Holocaust is the movie that would earn Deodato lasting fame — and infamy. Purportedly assembled from real footage, the 1980 film depicts a doomed expedition into the Amazon rainforest by an American film crew looking to make a documentary about a tribe of cannibals. Once the crew finds the tribe, both groups prove equally capable of hideous brutality. Filled with unsimulated animal cruelty and very successfully simulated human cruelty, the film became a grindhouse hit, but also attracted the attention of the authorities. It was banned for obscenity in numerous countries, including the UK, the USA, Australia, and New Zealand. More seriously for Deodato, he was charged with murder in Italy when authorities came to believe that the gut-churning deaths depicted in the film had actually happened; compounding the issue, to enhance the fiction that the footage seen in the movie was real, the actors “killed” in the film were forbidden from making other acting appearances for a year afterward. However, Deodato was able to explain in court how the gory stunts were pulled off, and to produce the still-living actors, resulting in charges being dropped.
Deodato subsequently directed a number of other horror films, including The House on the Edge of the Park (with David Hess), Phantom of Death (with Donald Pleasance and Michael York), and Body Count (with Charles Napier), but Cannibal Holocaust remains his best-known work. Although it was initially dismissed as a schlocky exploitation film, it eventually went through a critical reappraisal, with some critics lauding its satirical jabs at mass media and its influence on the found-footage genre. Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino have both claimed inspiration from the film, and Eli Roth was greatly influenced by it; his own cannibal film, 2013’s The Green Inferno, was named after Cannibal Holocaust‘s film-within-a-film, and he gave Deodato a cameo (as a cannibal, naturally) in Hostel: Part II.
Deodato was married to actor Silvia Dionisio, with whom he had a son, from 1971 to 1979. Deodato died on Thursday in Rome.