“Man who abducted 5yo from campground wanted to eat her, court hears”
Cecil Maurice Mabb, 41, pleaded guilty to assaulting and abducting the girl from Montagu Campground, in Tasmania’s north west, on January 24.
The Prosecutor told the Burnie Supreme Court that the girl went on a bike ride with her four-year-old male friend while her family was pitching their tent at the site.
She said Mabb had parked his ute in isolated bushland near the campground before he grabbed the girl by her legs, threw her over his shoulder and then threw her in his car as she screamed.
The court was told Mabb also strangled the child, who later said she was not able to breathe or speak while his hands were around her neck.
The family was alerted by her young friend, who had been screaming at Mabb to let her go and told them “the man scared me … he got her.”
Another camper found the girl on the beach alone, about one kilometre from the family’s campsite.
Mabb called police shortly after the incident, telling them “it’s all bad … it’s a real emergency … I just tried to kidnap a child”.
Mabb has denied there was ever any intention of doing anything sexual with the girl, and the prosecution did not argue otherwise.
The court has heard he told police he “just needed company, someone to listen to me, someone to give me a cuddle”, and that the child reminded him of his granddaughter.
While in maximum security at Risdon Prison, Ms Prence said Mabb told prison staff his motivation for the abduction was to eat her, and that he had wanted to eat people since he was a child.
His solicitor told the court while he did say that, it was on the advice of fellow inmates, who told him to make his circumstances “as bad as possible” so he had greater access to medication and therapeutic help.
The court was told that between 1995 and 2003, Mabb had been sexually offending, in behaviour he described as “exploring his sexuality with behaviour that had been normalised”.
“Paedophile snatches little girl so he ‘could eat her’”
They paint a different picture of the evidence, with the prosecutor saying:
“intelligence from Risdon Prison indicated Mabb had told staff he told police he was a paedophile because that was better than “what he really was”. He told staff he had taken the little girl so he could eat her.”
Defence counsel Hannah Phillips told the court was no evidence Mabb said those words in jail.
“My client told me he had been instructed by other inmates to make up stories and to make them as bad as possible to get better access to medication.”
Mabb will be sentenced next month for his admitted crimes of assault and attempted abduction. Meanwhile, the locals have decided their own sentence.
Mabb had bought land and set up a caravan and shed at Rosebery in 2019. Those structures have been burnt down since Mabb has been in custody following the attempted abduction.
The interesting point about this story is that the offender has pleaded guilty to what he did and will be sentenced accordingly. But the prurient media interest is not in what he did but in what he said: he said he had grabbed a little girl for a cuddle (?) and that he wanted to eat her. Neither was true, apparently – he wanted to get caught so he would get medicated by the state. Yet the headlines offered another charge: “Paedophile snatches little girl so he ‘could eat her’”. Someone who read that promptly burnt down his shed and caravan, in a form of rough justice.
Wikipedia tells us that paedophilia was first formally recognized and named in the late 19th century. Sigmund Freud was writing then, and knew all about the subject, but wrote in a letter to Marie Bonaparte in 1932 that incest and cannibalism are the two original prohibitions of mankind. If he read the papers today, he might scratch out incest (and decades of work) and substitute paedophilia.
But cannibalism is still right up there, in the top two headline grabbers, the gold medal for salacious scandal.
The philosopher Thomas Nagel claimed that we are unable to understand the point of view of another being, giving as examples the difficulty imagining what it’s like for a human to imagine being a bat, or for a blind person to imagine being sighted. J.M. Coetzee in the guise of his character Elizabeth Costello thought differently – it’s about being, seeking, feeling, and of course eating. We all do those sort of things. We can sympathise, no matter how alien that other may be.
The movie and the book of Under the Skin feature a ‘real’ alien – a being from another planet, disguised as a human woman, here to harvest human flesh for food. They both ask – what’s it like to be an alien? In the book, the aliens are quadrupeds, looking something between a horse and a sheep apparently, except for the protagonist, Isserley, who has been surgically mutilated to make her look like a ‘human’ of earth. I say ‘human’ in inverted commas because her people, like many clans interviewed in the reports of anthropologists, believe that they are the humans, and so everyone else must be aliens or subhumans. To Isserley’s people, the denizens of Earth are “vodsels” (Dutch for “food” – the author Michel Faber is originally Dutch) – dumb animals that can be captured, castrated, fattened up and then slaughtered for meat, which is exported back to the home planet.
Isserley is a hunter. Her weapon in the book is a small car which has anaesthetic needles in the passenger seat. In the movie, it’s her appearance – she looks like (because she is played by) Scarlett Johansson (identified in the credits as “The Female”).
Men get in her car and eagerly accept the offer to come home with her, but at home, they disappear into a pool of black ectoplasm.
She stalks her prey, driving around the roads of Scotland and picking up hitchhikers, asking them questions to draw out whether they will be missed and, if they are loners, losers, tranquilising them with a drug called icpathua and taking them back to be processed. The film took an audacious decision to use real men, not actors (most of them), many of whom were offered a lift by Johansson, and recorded by secret cameras in her van. They don’t recognise Johansson as a movie star, just as their unwitting “characters” don’t recognise her as an alien hunter. In the book, Isserley is not portrayed as any kind of Scarlett Johansson, but does have huge breasts, the prototype for the surgery being based on some questionable magazines sent back to the home planet by the advance crew.
The story in both media is not just about being alien (which she is in several ways: as a woman, as an alien, and as a hunter) but about how difficult it can be to sympathise with the other, the stranger, the prey, and how dangerous it can be when one finally does so. In the book, Isserley is purely interested in whether they will be missed, and is unconcerned about what is done to them, which is described in graphic detail: they are shaved, castrated, tongues removed and fattened up. In the film, she will go to any lengths to capture her prey, at one point dragging away a man who had tried to save a drowning couple, leaving their baby crying on the beach.
But what happens when the hunter starts to identify or at least sympathise with the prey? Isserley is made to think through the implications when she needs to convince the aristocratic scion of the ruling family of her planet that the vodsels are just dumb animals, and their feeble attempts to beg for mercy by scratching in the sand of their cages are just gibberish (he is unaware they can speak, as their tongues have been cut out). He is a believer in animal rights, and frees some of the captives, whom Isserley then has to hunt once again, this time with a shotgun. Isserley never really challenges the morality of hunting, mutilating, fattening and slaughtering the stupid vodsels (us) although she is horrified at the suggestion of eating sheep, serene animals who look like the children of her species, unlike the “brutish cunning of the vodsels”. Her morality, like so much of ours, is based on similarity. Her challenge comes when she picks up a man who (we know, although she doesn’t) is a serial killer, sedates him, then realises she has left his dog to starve in his van. She heads back to where she picked him up, frees the dog, and decides to quit, try to make a life as an Earthling, even though she cannot even eat our food.
The Female of the film has a different challenge. She picks up a man with severe facial deformity, who admits that not only will no one miss him, but that there has never been anyone who might have.
She takes him back to the black pond, but rescues him at the last moment, and then flees. Then she ceases to be the hunter, and becomes the hunted. Both the film and the book have a vicious rape scene when the prey, the desperate from among men she collects, turn on her.
The story may be interpreted according to many discourses of our times. It can be interpreted as the struggle of immigrants against the racism and resentment of those whose territory they enter. It is more widely interpreted as a feminist narrative, in which the standard horror trope of the sexually active female being stalked by the monster is turned on its head – the males walking alone at night are the prey, the woman is the molester and murderer. It is also a comment on economic class distinctions: the men she picks up are the strays, the unemployed who are exiled, isolated and vulnerable. She is culling those whom society has expelled, like a lion preying on the old and weak of a herd of antelopes. They are the aliens from this planet.
The book in particular is a metaphoric condemnation of modern factory farming. The vodsels (that’s you and I) are considered “vegetables on legs”.
“The thing about vodsels was, people who knew nothing whatsoever about them were apt to misunderstand them terribly. There was always the tendency to anthropomorphise. A vodsel might do something which resembled a human action; it might make a sound analogous with human distress, or make a gesture analogous with human supplication, and that made the ignorant observer jump to conclusions. In the end, though, vodsels couldn’t do any of the things that really defined a human being. They couldn’t siuwil, they couldn’t mesnishtil, they had no concept of slan.”
Aren’t these the same arguments thrown at vegans on social media every day? “Humans” are intellectually superior, and therefore the only ones worthy of moral consideration. And to these aliens, we are not the humans. Isserley and her crew are the embodiment of John Harris’ famous quote (usually misattributed to George Bernard Shaw):
Suppose that tomorrow a group of beings from another planet were to land on Earth, beings who considered themselves as superior to you as you feel yourself to be to other animals. Would they have the right to treat you as you treat the animals you breed, keep and kill for food?
The film is less distinct in its message. Glazer said in an interview that he wanted
“to make a film representing, as purely as possible, an alien view of our world.”
How do we step into another’s consciousness, be it a man or woman or bat, be it a predator or prey? How is it to be an outsider, an alien, a stranger in a strange land? It is difficult to comprehend, and yet sometimes it is easy, because we have all felt like aliens at one time or another. Think of your first day at a new school.
The brilliance of this story is that we see humanity (us, that is) through the eyes of an alien. In the book it’s Isserley’s thoughts and feelings about the vodsels, Earthlings, to whom she feels both contempt and grudging admiration. In the film, it’s images – the dark streets of Glasgow, the crowds jostling and threatening, the shopping mall that suddenly seems like an alien landscape.
In other words, we get to feel how it is to be an alien, proving the truth of Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello when she says: “there are no bounds to the sympathetic imagination”. But this insight is not accessed through rational contemplation, which tells us we can do whatever we want if we have the power and the will, but rather from the heart, “the seat of a faculty, sympathy, that allows us to share at times the being of another.” We sympathise with this alien, as she begins to sympathise with us.
Matt Zoller Seitz, the critic from RogerEbert.com, interprets the story’s message as saying:
“Here is an experience that’s nothing like yours, and here are some images and sounds and situations that capture the essence of what the experience felt like; watch the movie for a couple of hours, and when it’s over, go home and think about what you saw and what it did to you.”
The film earned a very respectable 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, The Guardian called it a masterpiece, but it was a box office flop. Let’s hope it, and the book, continue to ascend into the realms of cult texts. They are both highly recommended for your consideration.
“Anthem Pictures reluctantly presents what is considered to be the worst horror film of all time…”
That’s the start of the trailer (above) and like many trailers, it has some exaggeration and outright untruths to offer. This is not the worst horror film of all time, it may not even be a horror film, being perhaps better categorised as a comedy with blood and boobs (both presented somewhat gratuitously).
The story ‘follows’ a construction worker named Donald (Jackie Vernon, who was an American stand-up comedian and actor best known for his role as the voice of Frosty the Snowman; this was his last feature film). Donald’s wife May has bought an absurdly huge microwave, and after a quarrel about the fact that he doesn’t like the gourmet dishes she prepares in it (he only likes “food he can pronounce”), he kills her and puts her in it.
Has he never heard of preparing his own meals? Well, that’s what he ends up doing, with a sudden abundance of meat – perfectly cooked, as soon as he turns on the microwave.
He finds that his friends on the construction site love his cooking, turning them into what cannibal studies calls “innocent cannibals”, those who eat human flesh unknowingly, as did the customers of Sweeney Todd.
To keep the food flowing, he takes home a prostitute and kills her during sex, then lights a cigarette, only to wonder if the smoke is for “after sex or before dinner.” Getting the picture? Other victims follow, including a woman dressed as Big Bird which allows the film some levity with chicken jokes such as “I thought you were a leg man, not a breast man”. We witness Donald’s M.O. – screw them, kill them and cook them. He tells his psychiatrist, who sleeps through his confession, that
The psychiatrist, newly awakened, assumes he is talking about a more symbolic cannibalism, cunnilingus, and encourages him to “do it do it do it! She’ll lose her head over you!” Ah, the witty double entendres! Donald goes to Chinatown, and promises his friends he’ll be making “Peking Chick”.
It’s full of those sorts of puns, and they are closer to horrendous than humorous. Each joke is based on racism, sexism or speciesism, and usually all three woven together, into a dish less palatable than the unfortunate May. Except for May and her sister, women are presented as promiscuous and available temptresses: a mixture of Eve and the Serpent who enticed her to taste the forbidden fruit in the original sin. There is in this film virtually no character development required before the victims are fucked and eaten.
The movie is barely longer than a modern TV episode at just under 1¼ hours. That seemed at times to be about seventy minutes too long. However, the film somehow managed to get 35% on Rotten Tomatoes, with Allmovie stating:
“Despite utterly failing as comedy, horror and pornography, Microwave Massacre is grotesque enough in design and attitude to be fascinating, much like a car accident.”
This is actually a better result than the director’s later movie The Naked Monster which managed a massive 12% rating of rottenness.
“Vegetarians beware, this is a meateaters (sic) delight and the faint of heart should probably steer clear.”
Now, I’m just not sure why ‘meateaters’ would find images of women being murdered and cut up a ‘delight’. It seems to me after some careful study that meateaters prefer to maintain a judicious nescience about the source of their protein, which is why we see high walls around slaughterhouses and the careful dismemberment and presentation of the ‘products’ as not the parts of an animal but ‘just meat.’ Donald’s friends are horrified to find that the food they have been eating is a different kind of mammal to the one they expected. But they never asked about the species inside the lunchbox.
The combination of sex and slaughter is entirely aimed at and inflicted upon young women (Donald is nauseated at the prospect of having to eat May’s middle-aged sister, and leaves her tied up in a closet). This reflects the practices of animal agriculture which predominantly exploits the juvenile female body (eggs, milk, babies) before slaughtering them for meat. As a cannibal studies text (as opposed to a bad movie), this might appeal less to ‘meateaters’ and more to Carol J. Adams, who describes this process in detail in her book The Sexual Politics of Meat, which she describes as:
“an attitude and action that animalises women and sexualises and feminises animals.”
A Sydney woman who cut her 57-year-old mother’s head off with kitchen knives in July 2019 was found guilty of manslaughter in the NSW Supreme Court, after pleading not guilty to murder due to mental impairment. The court was told that Jessica Camilleri – who had a history of refusing to take psychiatric medications – had only stopped the attack when her mother’s head fell off and her eyeballs came out of their sockets.
A judge said Camilleri had practised “grave and mutilating depravity”, had squeezed and prodded her mother’s eyeball after removing it, and engaged in “acts of decapitation and cannibalism”.
Camilleri was sentenced, in March 2021, to serve 21 years and 7 months in prison, but may be eligible for parole when she’s 41, in 2035.
Mother and daughter had been at home in the mother’s St Clair house where they had dined on Red Rooster (chicken) before Jessica demanded a second delivery from the food outlet, then turned on Rita, who had threatened to have her daughter taken into mental health care. Jessica dragged her mother into the kitchen by the hair and attacked her with steak knives, beheading her and removing her tongue, eyeballs and nose.
The week-long trial saw graphic police evidence, crime scene bodycam video and a police interview with Ms Camilleri, her face still coated with her mother’s blood and her hands bagged.
Senior Constable Jodie Bennett, who examined the living room and a bedroom in the Camilleri house, found blood-soaked hair, human tissue, pools of vomit, overlapping blood-soaked footprints, plus a Crocodile Dundee figurine, the head of which had been detached.
The court heard Ms Camilleri was obsessed with figurines and violent horror movies featuring decapitation such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Detective Sergeant Brett Griffin, who examined the crime scene between 12.42am and 7am on Sunday July 21, told the court that out on the footpath in front of the neighbour’s house he found Rita Camilleri’s mutilated head.
“I saw an area of apparent bloodstaining and human tissue,” he said. “A short distance away I saw a human head with numerous injuries including a severed nose, removed eyes and numerous groupings of apparent lacerations and incised stab wounds.”
In her judgement, Justice Helen Wilson SC said:
“I’m satisfied the offender knocked her mother to the floor and then dragged her by her hair into the kitchen… The focus of the onslaught was upon her mother’s head and face, with over 100 individual blows landed, many on Mrs Camilleri’s right cheek. Mrs Camilleri was conscious and trying to defend herself for long enough to have sustained over 90 defensive injuries and a knife wound to a vein in her neck.”
Camilleri had previously been diagnosed with a range of conditions, including an intellectual disability, an autism disorder and ADHD. However, she didn’t like to take her medication and Mrs Camilleri had no recourse when she failed to do so, the trial heard.
A four-year-old, known as Child A, whom Jessica referred to as “the little bastard”, was in the house at the time and tried to jump on her to stop the attack. She fought off and wounded the child.
A forensic psychiatrist, Professor David Greenberg, told the NSW Supreme Court last year that in addition to her mild intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder, Ms Camilleri suffers from a rage disorder that causes her to lose control and “explode like a bomb” when provoked or triggered by stressors.
Justice Wilson said Camilleri fully understood the wrongful nature of her actions and had squeezed one of her mother’s eyeballs after the decapitation. “The removal of Mrs Camilleri’s eyes does not appear to have been an act of deep and uncontrolled rage, rather, at this stage, the offender was indulging a sort of macabre curiosity sparked by her obsessive viewing of horror movies.”
Asked how Ms Camilleri’s decision to remove her mother’s eyeballs sits with the intermittent explosive disorder diagnosis, Professor Greenberg replied:
“it could also be more consistent with her autism spectrum disorder, her fascination for horror movies and body parts, decapitation, cannibalism, in her interest in these horror movies that she collected and views all the time.”
Camilleri later told a forensic psychiatrist she bit off her mother’s nose and that she got the idea to cut off her head from horror movies. She had a fixation on horror films, and owned eight copies of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and five of Jeepers Creepers, the court was told. The Crown Prosecutor added “A feature of these movies was killing people violently and dismembering their bodies”. Cannibalism featured prominently in both films.
After the attack, Camilleri dropped her mother’s head in the street and called the police emergency number, telling them that:
“I was just so caught up in the anger I kept stabbing and stabbing her and I took off her head. I ran to my neighbour and I had my mum’s head in my hand and I was taking it as evidence to show that in the struggle, I didn’t know what I was doing so I cut her head off. I chopped her head off with a knife.”
Camilleri told police when they arrived: “My mum’s head is on the concrete over there. Can you bring someone back to life if they don’t have a head? There’s nothing you can do, she’s a goner? They can’t restart her heart? ‘Cos I know doctors can do miracles they can’t resew her head?”
Police officer: “That’s a bit of a stretch.”
Her older sister Kristi Torrisi Rita’s testified at the trial about her sister’s troubled childhood and how, once in desperation, her mother had paid a medium $2,500 to get “the demon out of Jessica”. She said the mum was “killed and butchered like she was nothing, all because of a fit of rage”.
The case raises a lot of definitional issues. The judge stated that Camilleri had engaged in “acts of decapitation and cannibalism” yet none of the news stories mention any swallowing of human flesh (although biting off a nose might count). But cannibalism is a slippery concept, hard to define. We assume the cannibal to be the person who eats the flesh or organs of other humans. However, Robert Myers, who wrote a careful study of the allegations of Carib cannibalism, pointed out that this is too narrow:
“There is an absence of a clear definition of cannibalism, a practice encompassing an extremely broad and sometimes ambiguous range of behaviours. Cannibalism can include drinking water-diluted ashes of a cremated relative, licking blood off a sword in warfare, masticating and subsequently vomiting a snippet of flesh, celebrating Christian communion, or gnawing on entire barbecued limbs as De Bry depicts Caribs doing.“
Then we have Camilleri’s sister accusing her of butchering their mother “like she was nothing”. Butchery is a term used in warfare for massacres, but most commonly it is a business term. A butcher used to be someone who killed farmed animals and sold their parts, but now it usually involves no killing, which is done elsewhere behind high walls, and is a retail profession – selling bits of the dead animals to customers. The animals are not “nothing” in butchery but the raw material, valuable commodities to be sold, their ‘nothingness’ restricted to the moral value of which they are deprived by the logic of capitalism. Butchery, in other words, is normally done for profit. But the lessons we draw from its ubiquity in our societies can be taken to heart in many different ways.
“For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.” – Pythagoras c. 500BC (attributed by Ovid)
Next month we’ll take a look at the ever-evolving Armie Hammer story. Spoiler: he’s not a cannibal, he’s a very naughty boy! You can read more “cannibalism news” at this link.
Since at least the time of Sweeney Todd, the barber who killed his customers and turned them into pies in the early 19th century, enterprising business people have been selling human meat to their customers. In Soylent Green, the US government does a roaring trade in it, and demonstrates sustainable recycling, well before it became fashionable. It’s a trope that is enduringly popular, because it offers metaphors for the fears people hold about their own society. Who among us has not suspected we have been exploited, chewed up and spat out at some time? Except for those doing the chewing up of course.
The movie was originally called Maxie, but that must have been a bit subtle, as it was renamed for marketing purposes to The Butchers or sometimes Murderer’s Keep. The lead character is a young girl named Maxie (K.T. Baumann) – a difficult role as Maxie is a deaf mute who witnesses the local butcher chopping up dead people for his shop, and is kidnapped by his assistant to ensure her “silence”. They’re afraid she is going to learn to talk. It’s complicated (not really). Baumann expresses what most actors get to say by using her face, movements and sounds, and she is very impressive.
The butchers are Smedke (Vic Tayback from Bullitt as well as bit parts in almost every TV show ever made) and his half-witted assistant Finn, played with gusto by Robert Walden (Lou Grant and lots of other shows). The problem is that, as horror movie villains, they are neither scary nor villainous. Except for their business practices, they are quite sympathetic characters. The gore we usually associate (expect?) with cannibal movies is mainly the result of Finn, the apprentice butcher, screwing up the slaughter of some unfortunate hens. We see that in gory detail, as if the director wants us to question whether it’s worse to eat a living, breathing animal fighting for her life, or a dead body who can feel nothing. The scene reminded me of the gratuitous animal cruelty in Cannibal Holocaust and other Italian cannibal movies, which were supposedly added to make the audience think the violence and cannibalism were real. No such pretence here – they just kill chickens. Life is cheap.
Smedke is buying human corpses, wrapped in brown paper, from a shipping yard (no further explanation is offered) and happily chopping them up for customers who don’t want to pay the prices he charges for the regular cuts. His refrain is:
“Meat is meat! And a man has to make a living.”
A refrain that is lost in this film, but was used to great effect a few years later (“meat is meat and a man’s gotta eat!”) by the ever-cheerful Rory Calhoun in Motel Hell. Smedke is an entrepreneur in Nixon’s America, which is careering toward neo-liberalism, Reagan and “greed is good”. Although he doesn’t get to expand on his philosophy, it seems clear that a dead body is worthless buried, so it might as well be bought and sold.
The interesting aspect of the ‘plot’ is that Maxie cannot tell anyone what she has seen (basically a human foot sticking out of the brown paper) and has no social skills since her father has kept her at home rather than risk her humiliation at school. Yet she can take an ethical position – she tosses out all the meat in her father’s fridge, choosing vegetarianism.
This barely ranks as a B movie, and while I have reviewed a few films on this blog that got a fat zero on Rotten Tomatoes, this might be the first that did not even get onto the site at all. Check this less than glowing review:
“Miekhe… ends up creating the cinematic equivalent of a staph infection, an oblique mess that just spreads and oozes across the screen like fissures on an untreated leg gash. By the end, you aren’t hoping for closure so much as a conclusion – ANY conclusion – just to get us out of this asylum as anti-horror film… And yet, for all its baffling movie machinations, its lack of gory goodness and substantially less than successful storytelling, The Butchers is still a fascinating film experience.”
Indeed, it has a certain fascination if you can navigate through the paper-thin plot – it is a glimpse of small-town America in 1970 as it moves from the optimism of the sixties to the rapacity of the seventies. The cast are mostly great, particularly Baumann and Walden. Talia Coppola, (aka Talia Shire, the sister of Francis Ford Coppola) is shown as a star on the credits, although she has a minor role in the film. She played Connie Corleone in the Godfather series, and Adrian Pennino in the Rocky films, and was nominated for an Oscar in both roles. She is a bit wasted here.
The music is quirky, sometimes totally inappropriate and never boring or obvious like so many horror films. And sometimes it’s just fun to watch a film that no one has heard of, and probably no one ever will. And it asks the key question of cannibal studies: why do people find the killing and eating of some animals unremarkable and others repulsive?
This is a ripsnorter of a thriller, and full of surprises. Defiantly internationalist, the film is an Australian-British action/horror film directed by Alister Grierson (Kokoda,Sanctum, Tiger) and written by Robert Benjamin. It is set in a basement in Helsinki Finland with scenes in Boise, Idaho, and features mostly Australian and New Zealand actors, with American or Finnish accents and dialogue as necessary. It was made on the Gold Coast in Queensland (as many blockbusters have been recently).
The main characters are both personas of Rex (Ben O’Toole – Hacksaw Ridge, Detroit, The Water Diviner). O’Toole is superb (imagine a combination of Bruce Willis and Robert Downey Jr) in two roles: both the physical Rex and his inner voice, the part of him (and all of us) which commentates his life and ordeals, screams abuse, even when pretending to be calm and collected or even unconscious, and debates the best responses, rational or emotional, to every aspect of what is going on around him. O’Toole called this Rex his character’s “conscience”, but it’s not a Freudian split between an ego and a superego (or id) – it is more nuanced, and the invisible Rex (invisible to other characters – the audience and physical Rex can see and hear him) argues about practical and ethical issues all the time, sometimes compassionate, sometimes sneering and violent. That inner voice, as we all know, is exhausting.
Rex and his inner voice are off to Finland. Why? Well, Rex was in a bank, chatting to a teller he fancied, when a gang of heavily armed men came storming in and violently robbed both the bank and the customers. Rex, ex-military, was able to take on the gang and kill them all, but the last one was ready to surrender when invisible Rex screamed:
As the last robber collapsed, dickless, his gun went off, killing an innocent teller who had been hiding in a cupboard. Rex became a media sensation, with half the population calling him a hero, and the rest a “psycho twat”, and a plea bargain saw him in jail for eight years for causing the teller’s death, leading to his decision to emigrate, on his release. In a flashback to his court case, Rex is asked why he shot the bank robber in that particular spot.
“I wanted him down… and I didn’t want him to reproduce… win – win!”
Why Finland? Well, he shot spitballs at a world map in his jail cell, and fate led him to that country. Where, unfortunately, a family of cannibals awaited him, and he wakes up, barely twenty minutes into the film, hanging by his wrists from a water pipe in a dark basement.
He is missing a leg, blood dripping from the stump, but his inner Rex is still fine and walking around, and furious at their precarious situation. Our imaginary self, after all, is as threatened by our mortality as we are.
It is clear to us, the audience, that Rex’s body parts are a living larder, although it takes the Rexs a bit longer to figure out why his leg is missing.
“Black market limb trade… is that a thing? I’m pretty sure there’s a niche there.”
It’s actually a very funny film – the dialogue between the two Rexs and even some of the murderous Finns is often hilarious. Rex pulls himself up to the huge knot to try to free himself with his teeth, observing that, short of one leg,
Rex’s love interest is Alia (Meg Fraser – Leech) the daughter, who has spent her life trying to escape her family.
Rex offers to “rescue” her (which considering his position is ambitious), and tells her,
“If we get out of here, I’ll tell you the whole story over dinner. I’ll even pay, huh?”
Now Rex has to dump on vegans to the girl whose family is upstairs eating the meat of his right leg; the family are definitely not vegans, nor can they see anything much wrong in giving their oldest son his preferred meat species. Alia explains that her older brother Pati is “the oldest and the hungriest”. Like Rex, he certainly does like a bit of meat, but, like the Wendigo, there is only one source that will satisfy him. Many omnivores will eat any meat except human. Pati will eat any meat as long as it’s human. As omnis like to say “it’s a personal choice.”
“He’s the reason you’re here. And very soon, there will be nothing left of you.”
Cannibal Studies is usually concerned with the anthropological or metaphorical aspects of the act – exposing the outsider as uncivilised, or else dripping irony about our own rapacious appetites. This film manages to do both, as Rex rants about the Finnish family, and how he wants to be back in the good ol’ USA,
Which is ironic, because if you check the “Cannibal News” category on this blog, you will see that a goodly proportion of modern cases of cannibalism occur in the good ol’ USA (and none in Finland*). The USA is the apotheosis of consumer societies where, just like Alia’s brother,
The rest of the film concerns Rex’s attempts to escape – not easy when one leg is gone and one of the family members has just tried to saw off the second one. You’ll have to see it to find out how that goes. It’s well worth it. Film critic Rob Hunter sums it up nicely:
“It’s a serious tale of survival encased in blackly comic humor, maliciously creepy twins, and the most sweetly sensual stump-washing scene you’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing.”
The movie premiered in Australia on October 8, 2020, and in the United States a day later at the Nightstream Film Festival. It has a 91% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, with comments like “blissfully, absurdly over-the-top, but in a twistedly charming way”.
This is a blackly humorous horror-thriller, and is quite brilliantly executed by Alister Grierson, particularly as the hero, normally the action figure of such stories, is tied to the ceiling and missing a leg for most of the film. You might think that would slow down the pace, but director Grierson keeps it tearing along. I usually stop and start when reviewing a movie, but this one I gulped down in one sitting, then came back for details.
As for the lead actor, Ben O’Toole, he seems to have got a taste for the cannibal stories. He said in an interview that he’d like to play Titus Andronicus, who was William Shakespeare’s favourite cannibal.
Let’s not forget, too, how much cannibalistic symbolism is involved in sex, such as “I could eat you up” as well as various foodie words for cunnilingus and felatio. And of course the French (or Finnish) kiss, when Rex and Alia finally escape.
And just to prove other people like puns too, here is the last frame of the film.
* Actually, there is a case of Finnish cannibalism – Jarno Elg, a supposed Satanist, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1998 for murdering a 23-year-old man, eating some of the body parts and inciting some friends to participate in a ritual that included torturing the victim while listening to songs from The Cainian Chronicle album by the Norwegian black metal band Ancient. Elg was granted parole in 2014.
Lawrence Paul Anderson was arrested in February for the murder of his neighbour Andrea Lynn Blankenship, 41, as well as his uncle Leon Pye, 67, and his four-year-old niece Kaeos Yates. Police allege that Anderson, 42, cut out his neighbour’s heart and cooked it with potatoes for his family, then proceeded to kill them too.
On February 9 2021, Chickasha (Oklahoma) police responded to a 911 call from a woman pleading for help. They found Leon Pye already dead and his granddaughter Kaeos critically injured. She died in the back of the ambulance. Delsie Pye, Leon ‘s wife, was alive, but had knife wounds to both eyes.
Two days later Anderson confessed to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation that before slaughtering his family, he had broken into the home of a neighbour and butchered the woman (Blankenship) who lived there.
“He confessed to going to 227 West Minnesota Avenue, Chickasha,” an agent reported. “He used his shoulder to knock in the back door. There were two German Shepherd dogs in the house. Anderson advised he killed the female resident and cut her heart out.”
“He took the heart back to 214 West Minnesota, Chickasha. He cooked the heart with potatoes to feed to his family, to release the demons.”
The SBI is seeking a warrant to collect from the home “pots, pans and any utensils for cooking.”
The triple murder sparked additional public outrage after it emerged that Anderson had been released from prison early, in January, as reported by the Oklahoman. He had been sentenced to twenty years behind bars for gun and drug offenses in 2017 before Governor Kevin Stitt commuted the sentence to nine years at the recommendation of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. He was released on parole in January after serving just over three years, and had been staying with his aunt and uncle since his release.
Grady County District Attorney Jason Hicks charged Anderson with three counts of first-degree murder and two felony charges of assault and battery with a deadly weapon and maiming on Tuesday. He was not charged with cannibalism. With the exception of Idaho, there are no laws against cannibalism in the United States.
Anderson sobbed in court during his initial appearance Tuesday, telling the judge: ‘I don’t want no bail, your honor. I don’t want no bail.’ Anderson does not look, at first glance, like a monster. Rather, he seems to offer support to Arendt’s theory of the banality of evil.
Anderson is being held without bond, and the prosecution says that the death penalty ‘is on the table’.
Once again, we see that acts of cannibalism will dominate news stories, while murders are considered barely more than mundane. Yet paradoxically, while penalties for murder are usually substantial, cannibalism is not against the law in most jurisdictions, even in the USA (excluding Idaho), the country where a large proportion of cases of contemporary cannibalism occur.
Legislators, it seems, would prefer to pretend it just doesn’t happen. Until it does.
For more cannibal news, choose that category in the box on the right of the screen.
Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, the original ‘Great American Novel’, was based on the story of the Essex, a whaling ship that was destroyed by a bull sperm whale in 1820. The story of the wreck, and particularly the subsequent cannibalism that some of the survivors employed to survive, has largely faded from public knowledge (Moby Dick finished with the whale sinking the ship), but in the nineteenth century, every American child would have learnt about it at school, and this film starts with a young Melville (Ben Wishaw, who played a very different role in Perfume) seeking out the last survivor some decades later, hoping to get the full story to use in his novel.
This film is based on a meticulously researched 2000 book of the same name on the Essex disaster by Nathaniel Philbrick, which won him the National Book Award for Nonfiction in that year. Whaling was no more controversial in the early nineteenth century than crude oil in the early twentieth – it was used to power the factories and light up the cities of the world, and was worth a fortune. As the fleets decimated the whales near shore, the boats had to head further into, well, the heart of the sea, to find their victims. Whaling was, and remains, an incredibly brutal business, with small boats harpooning the giant mammals then drawing near and stabbing them to death. A successful kill was signalled by a plume of blood spurting out of the whale’s blowhole.
Whaling was a class-based system, with the captains drawn from the powerful old families in Nantucket, the tiny American island that was the centre of the industry. The main protagonist of the film is Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth – the mighty Thor) as the first mate, who was refused the captaincy because he is socially inferior, an “off-islander”.
His best friend is the second mate Matthew Joy (Cillian Murphy from 28 Days Later). The Captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) is ineffectual but is from one of the original Nantucket families, and so has been promoted over Chase. In fact, the ships were run on strict class and race lines: the African-Americans and off-islanders lived in the Foc’s’le or front of the ship, where the food was inferior, and did the dirty work. The Nantucketers lived aft, and were fed and treated better. They were, in general, the ones that survived sinkings. Six African-Americans made it into the whaling boats – none survived. True Nantucketers were also mostly devout Quakers, pacifists who, however, saw no problem in killing magnificent whales and “raising bloody havoc at sea” as Philbrick put it. Class conflict is the basis of the story for the first half, before the angry whale comes along.
The story of the Essex is told to Melville by a decrepit old drunk who is the last remaining survivor, Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson, who was also in 28 Days Later). Nickerson had been a cabin boy (played by Tom Holland – Spiderman) when the boat sank. Nickerson did write an account of the events, but it was not discovered until 1980, so Melville did not in fact use his words. Chase’s brief account would have been the one known to Melville, who embroidered the conflict, as authors do, to make the whale white and almost supernatural, and avoided the controversy, not mentioning the cannibalism that resulted from the wrecking of the boat.
This does shed some light on the different reception of cannibalism over time. When the Essex set sail, cannibalism at sea after shipwrecks was not uncommon, and was generally considered embarrassing but necessary. The Monty Python team did a skit based on a version of this incident.
In the Heart of the Sea suggests a conspiracy by the whaling company to ignore the cannibalism as the presence at sea of a giant, angry whale would discourage further exploration, but Chase and Pollard refuse to cooperate. By Melville’s time, cannibalism was too graphic for his potential audience (he wanted to sell books after all). In our time, the great white whale is still of interest, in that he represents nature fighting back against human rapaciousness, but the real point of this film is now the cannibalism. Would anyone go to see a movie about a shipwreck if Thor didn’t eat anyone?
Or even if he did. The film’s tagline was “Based on the incredible true story that inspired Moby-Dick”, which did not inspire enough people to see it – it grossed $93 million, which sounds great until you see that it’s budget was $100 million. It scored a paltry 42% on Rotten Tomatoes, with the Seattle Times critic summarising it as:
“Thor and Spider-Man fight a whale.”
Despite some critics seeing the movie as over-long and dull, the scenes at sea are full of action (if not exactly Pirates of the Caribbean) and very well done, and the special effects are spectacular, especially the whales and the sails, and the whales demolishing the sails (you can guess which side I was on).
But as Philbrick wrote in his book,
The Essex disaster is not a tale of adventure. It is a tragedy that happens to be one of the greatest true stories ever told. (p.236)
The halfway point of a movie is usually the turning point in some form, and it certainly is here – in the middle of the film, in the middle of the Pacific, they finally find an abundance of whales, including the great white whale that they were warned about on a stop in Ecuador. He charges the ship, staves in the side, the whale oil they had collected goes up in flames, and they have to abandon ship and fit as much food as they can (which isn’t much) into their little whaling boats.
The rest of the movie is all about how some (a few) of them survived the long voyage of 4,500 nautical miles back to South America. They reach a small but uninhabitable island, and the white whale makes them welcome by tipping over their boats as they head for the beach. Chase and the Captain abandon their class struggle to engage in dialogue about anthropocentric carnivorous virility instead.
Pollard answers with presupposed anthropocentric arrogance.
“We are supreme creatures, made in God’s own likeness. Earthly kings, whose business it is to circumnavigate the planet bestowed to us…”
The island cannot sustain them – they find the skeletons of a previous party that took shelter there, so repair the boats and head off again for another agonising trip across the endless ocean. After 48 days stranded, with almost no food or water, one of the sailors on Chase’s boat dies. The others prepare to toss him overboard, but Chase stops them. It’s all handled quite delicately, but it’s definitely become a cannibal movie.
“We prepared the body. We removed the organs. Separated his limbs from his body and cut all the flesh from the bones.”
In the other boat, no one dies so conveniently, so they draw straws for a victim. The captain gets the short straw, but his cousin cannot shoot him and shoots himself instead, keeping the catering in the family.
The whale comes back, but he and Chase exchange a look, and Chase cannot bring himself to kill the magnificent bull.
After ninety days at sea, the survivors reached South America. According to the book, a boat that drew up alongside saw two men sucking the marrow from the bones of the dead, refusing to give them up. Unlike some survivor cannibal stories such as Alive, where the actors looked pretty much the same weight at the end of the ordeal, Hemsworth reported that the cast were put on a strict ration of 500–600 calories a day, and he lost 40 pounds (18kg), giving him a reasonable idea of what the sailors had gone through.
What the film doesn’t mention is that the survivors could have had a much easier time of it if they had headed not for South America but west toward the Marquesas Islands, only 1,200 miles away. They chose not to do so, because of earlier reports that the natives were, yep, cannibals. One mariner, Georg von Langsdorff, had written in 1804 that the natives so loved human flesh that “those who have once eaten it can with difficulty abstain from it.” Of course, it was all nonsense.
Instead, they headed east, and ended up eating each other.
So first the bad news – due to contractual arrangements, Hannibal Lecter does not make an appearance in the new TV series called Clarice. He can’t – the DeLaurentiis company (which produced Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal as well as the movies Manhunter, Hannibal, Red DragonandHannibal Rising) has exclusive rights to the characters originating in the novels Red Dragon, Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, and MGM have exclusive rights to The Silence of the Lambs, and own the movie too. Clarice Starling first appeared in Silence of the Lambs, so can be revisited in this series, while Hannibal and Will Graham originated in Red Dragon, so can come to life in Fuller’s brilliant series, but the three of them cannot ever meet. With intellectual property as hot as the characters that came from the Promethean mind of Thomas Harris, sharing it around among production companies is about as likely as two dogs with one bone.
The good news is that Clarice is a damn good show, and Rebecca Breeds, the Aussie actor with the West Virginia accent (it sounded good to me, although I’ve never been to WV) is just right in the role. In the pilot, she manages to convey a complex picture of a young woman who is smart, resourceful and tough, fighting for her place in a man’s world, while still haunted by untreated PTSD from her run-in with Buffalo Bill in the movie.
This is a sequel to Silence of theLambs, and while there is no appearance from Hannibal (who, after all, was on the run after his gory escape in the movie), there are plenty of references to the film, particularly Buffalo Bill (Jame Gumb), the serial killer whom Clarice killed at the climax of the film.
A year after the events of the film, Clarice is waking up at night from nightmares full of violence and deaths-head moths.
She is attending mandatory psychiatric sessions, which she is not happy about, and tries to joke, argue and obfuscate her way out. The therapist says that is
“understandable, given that your last therapist was an inmate in the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane,”
If you remember Silence of the Lambs, you will recall that the serial killer, Jame Gumb, had captured Catherine Martin, whose mother was a US Senator, and was about to skin her to make a “vest with tits” as Hannibal so elegantly put it. The mother, Ruth Martin (Jayne Atkinson), is now Attorney General of the US, and determined that a new serial killer will not be running wild on her watch.
Ruth Martin drags Clarice out of the Quantico FBI HQ where she has been hiding and doing data entry, and attaches her to the new ViCAP (Violent Crime Apprehension Program) task force. She tells Clarice,
“You saved my little girl. You are a woman with a very public reputation for hunting monsters, Clarice.”
The pilot episode is largely procedural, as was Hannibal when Season one started. Someone is killing women and mutilating them. Is it a crazed serial killer? Well, he is biting them, so that qualifies him for this cannibalism blog, but Clarice notices something odd about the wounds. There’s no intimacy. No frenzy.
“A true psychopath? We’d still be looking. But a true sociopath – they wouldn’t have left their faces.”
The ongoing antagonist in this is Paul Krendler (Michael Cudlitz from Walking Dead) who barely appeared in the film Silence of the Lambs, although he was an important opponent in the book, and became more important as he destroyed her career in the book and film Hannibalin revenge for her unwillingness to indulge his sexual appetites. In this series, he is a cranky old man, dubious of her talents (he thinks she just got lucky in pursuit of Buffalo Bill) and not willing to let her play hunches.
The FBI grunts play tricks on her, putting lotion on the handles of her desk drawers and telling her
Which of course were Gumb’s instructions to Catherine, using the impersonal pronoun ‘it’ to dehumanise her.
Clarice remembers what Hannibal taught her about the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, with a little prompting from her friend Ardelia (Devyn A. Tyler).
She works out that the wounds are “desperately random”, which is what Hannibal told her about the apparently random dumping of the bodies by Jame Gumb. She realises that the murderer is not a crazy serial killer but is cold, calculating and has a set of targets. The rest of the episode is about her tracking him down, while still haunted by her past. Meanwhile, Catherine Martin is frantic to talk to her; Catherine is now an anorexic recluse, because Gumb only took big girls, whose skin would fit on his frame (but at least she has Gumb’s dog Precious, who I always thought was a nod to Tolkein). Clarice suffers flashbacks and nightmares: Catherine in the oubliette, Jame Gumb sewing a garment of human hide.
The press are obsessed with Clarice, the National Tattler calling her (as in the movie), the “Bride of Frankenstein”.
Krendler wants her to toe the official line and tell the press that this is a crazy guy. But this is Clarice. She’s going to tell it like it is.
Now, I know a lot of Fannibals would have preferred a fourth season of Hannibal to a new series about Clarice (and have said so quite vociferously). But let us not forget what Clarice meant to Hannibal, or at least Hannibal in his twentieth century persona. She was one of the first to interview him successfully in his solitary cell. He found her fascinating and was, let us admit it, somewhat smitten with her, in the books and the films. Remember Hannibal’s words:
“I think it would be quite something to know you in private life.”
So let’s not disparage our opportunity to know her. In the movie Hannibal, he points out that he has travelled half way around the world to watch her run, and wonders why she won’t now let him run, then chops off his own hand rather than harm her.
Unlike many male authors, Thomas Harris can write female protagonists as real, complex people, and he does it so well; not just Clarice Starling, but also the central characters of his first and most recent novels (both non-Hannibal stories) – Dahlia Iyad in Black Sunday (1975) and the eponymous protagonist of Cari Mora (2019).
Hollywood was not willing to countenance a romance between a law officer and (as they saw it) a psychopathic serial killer. But in the novel, the relationships are far more complex: Hannibal hopes Clarice might provide a position in the world for Mischa, his sister, who was eaten by Nazi collaborators during the war. Clarice suggests an alternative: Mischa can live through him, Hannibal, instead, and “she” and Clarice can be like sisters. Remembering Hannibal’s question to Senator Martin (in Silence of the Lambs), she asks if he was breastfed, and if he ever felt that Mischa had made him give up the breast when she was born. Well, he won’t have to give up this one: she offers him her breast, with a warm drop of Chateau d’Yquem suspended from the nipple. He sucks it, but not as a cannibal; as a child, or as a lover. Freud of course would wonder if there is actually a difference.
Unlike the film, in the book Hannibal and Clarice are presumed live happily ever after; the asylum guard Barney sees them at the Teatro Colon, the opera house in Buenos Aires. They are watching Tamerlane, an opera that starts with an Emperor in chains, and ends with a love duet.
This new series, Clarice, is what happens between Hannibal`s escape at the end of Silence of the Lambs and their renewed encounters in Hannibal. It’s important history, one which those of us who loved the books and movies need to explore, even if we loved the Hannibal TV series too.
Clarice is on CBS (where you can watch the first episode if you are in the USA or have a VPN) and streaming on Stan in Australia.
The Russian Supreme Court has just confirmed the sentence of life imprisonment on Eduard Seleznev, known as the “Arkhangelsk Cannibal”, who killed and ate the flesh of three men.
Seleznev killed three of his friends aged 59, 43 and 34 between March 2016 and March 2017, getting them drunk and then stabbing them to death. He admitted the murders, and added that he had then sliced their bodies up, kept the meat in plastic bags, and disposed of the bodies in the Volokhnitsa river. He subsequently boiled and ate the flesh.
Psychiatrists advised the court that they had found him to be sane and responsible for his actions, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment, but appealed to the Supreme Court, which has just this week confirmed the earlier sentence and advised that he should never be paroled. He was ordered to pay over one million roubles (roughly $14,000 USD) in compensation to the victims’ families.
The parents of one of the victims had gone looking for their son but found Seleznev living in the man’s flat. After murdering and eating the man’s flesh, Seleznev had decided to stay in the flat and started working at a local meat processing plant. Seleznev told the parents that the man had moved to St. Petersburg, but the family members found odd-looking unpackaged meat lying on the floor. Understandably suspicious, they went to the police.
Seleznev apparently had been convicted for a double murder previously but been released after thirteen years in jail in 2000, and had lived in basements, where he caught and cooked local cats, dogs, birds and other small animals found on the streets. Murder of humans is very often preceded by slaughter of other animals. It is not surprising that Seleznev killed dogs, cats and birds or chose to work in a slaughterhouse.
The sociopathic personality usually develops in early childhood or adolescence and is classified under the diagnosis of “conduct disorder,” which then develops into “anti-social personality disorder” (both of these are listed in the DSM). One of the early signs of a conduct disorder is often cruelty to animals.
Like most jurisdictions, cannibalism is not listed in the Russian criminal code, so Seleznev was charged with murder and misusing the victims’ body parts. To the cannibal, of course, burying good meat is misuse, while eating could be considered – sustainable harvesting?