I watched Apocalypto with my oldest son a few nights back. I found the film quite horrific. My son thought that the film was based on the Aztec civilization and I did a fair amount of research on the Aztecs and human sacrifice. The film was based on the Mayan civilization. The practices around human sacrifice were apparently similar between the two groups.
According to Mel Gibson interview in the British Sunday Times:
The Mayan culture is shrouded in mystery and myths. I didn’t show half the stuff I read about. I read about an orgy of sacrifice: 20,000 people sacrificed in four days. They were also very fond of impaling genitals and torturing people for years on end. For instance, if they captured a king or queen from another place, they would humiliate them for a decade. They would cut off their lips, have their tongues ripped out, they would have no eyes and no ears. Oh, and they would chew their fingers off. The guy would be alive but was just a babbling mass of nerve endings, then they’d roll him up in a ball after nine years of this stuff and roll him down the temple stairs and pulverise him. He’d probably be grateful. So I went easy on people. I think it’s less violent than Braveheart or The Passion, but some people say it’s a blood bath. It was not designed to be a feelgood movie – it was designed to get your heart pumping.