Cannibalism rocks! THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (Jim Sharman, 1975)

This movie was a cultural phenomenon. The critics hated it; the fans loved it. More and more viewers kept turning up to midnight showings, dressing the part, dancing the dances, singing the songs. It remains the longest running theatrical release in history, because somewhere a cinema will have it on, at midnight, tonight.

Shot in the style of Hammer Horror films, it is an affectionate satire on the science fiction and horror films that developed in the 1930s, and never went away. There are a mix of tropes, the main ones being the mad scientist (based on Frankenstein) creating life in his lab, and an innocent young couple knocking on the door of a spooky old house after their car breaks down. They are clean-cut Brad and Janet from middle-America town Denton (Barry Bostwick and the brilliant Susan Sarandon).

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They find themselves in the midst of Dionysian scenes of rock, dancing and sex, presided over by Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry, who later played Pennywise), a self-proclaimed “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania”. How could this not be popular?

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So why is this movie on a cannibal blog? Oh right, EDDIE (Meat Loaf). Some saw Eddie as representing old-time Rock & Roll, being annihilated by Glam Rock, with its emphasis on costumes and makeup. I prefer to speculate that the movie glimpsed the future, say the end of the 2010s. If Frank is alternative, iconoclastic culture, Eddie is one of the basket of deplorables, crashing the party on a motorbike, leather clad and bleeding, part of his brain removed to make the new creature, and preaching the joys of cis-masculinist rock and roll. His knuckles are tattooed “love” and “hate”. We are told that all Eddie wanted

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Until Frank takes to him with a pickaxe.

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So, what happens to dead Eddie? Well, that’s how we ended up on the cannibal blog. The narrator (Charles Gray, a regular Bond villain) announces what could almost be the mission statement of cannibal studies

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Frank is carving a roast, with an electric knife (anyone remember them?). When the subject of Eddie comes up, he says

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Just in case there was any doubt, Frank pulls off the tablecloth, revealing the rest of Eddie, inlaid in the table

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The narrator sums up

“Just a few hours after announcing their engagement, Brad and Janet had both tasted forbidden fruit”

Taboos are the sweetest fruit. Brad and Janet have engaged in debauched sex and cannibalism – two areas where humans imagine themselves demarcated from other animals. In fact, the 2016 remake of this film by Fox found the cannibalism scene a bit rich for network television, and when the tablecloth is removed, Eddie is there, dead, but intact and fully dressed.

In our strange moral system, murder is fine, but cannibalism is still the final frontier. And it seems to be a universal moral imperative – Frank’s flunkies depose him and kill him because

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That’s what makes cannibal studies so fascinating.

Anyway, turns out that Frank and his staff are aliens from the planet of Transexual in the galaxy of Transylvania, and the castle is their spaceship. The humans are left crawling in the dust and smoke after the takeoff, and the narrator tells us

“And crawling on the planet’s face, some insects called the human race.
Lost in time and lost in space. And meaning.”

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Next week: ‘HANNIBAL’ Season 3 Episode 4, ‘Aperitivo’.

 

“The lucky ones died first” THE HILLS HAVE EYES (Wes Craven, 1977)

The Hills Have Eyes has become a cult classic of the American horror film genre, as well as an important part of the cannibal studies canon.  The film follows the Carters, a suburban family targeted by a family of cannibal savages after becoming stranded in the Nevada desert.

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Wes Craven’s directorial debut was The Last House on the Left (1972), an American version of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (Swedish: Jungfrukällan), a movie that shocked (at least in 1960) with its themes of rape, torture and murder. Craven became known as a “Master of Horror”, and went on to make such classics as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996).

Other influences on this film include John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Like The Last House on the Left before it, the film also drew influence from the work of European masters such as François Truffaut and Luis Buñuel.

Wes Craven liked to find inspiration in the classics, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They say there are only seven or so archetypal stories in literature, and all the others are variations on a theme. So, The Hills Have Eyes is based on the legend of cannibal Sawney Bean, a story that Craven saw as illustrating the fine line between civilized and savage. Bean was believed (and how do we ever sift the fiction from the fact in cannibal stories?) to be the patriarch of a 48-person incestuous Scottish clan which murdered and cannibalised more than one thousand men, women and children in the 16th century. When the King and his soldiers finally caught up with the family, according to the Complete Newgate Calendar,

“The men had their hands and legs severed from their bodies; by which amputations they bled to death in some hours. The wife, daughters and grandchildren, having been made spectators of this just punishment inflicted on the men, were afterwards burnt to death in three several fires.”

Just like the Sawney Bean legend, the violence of the cannibal family in this film is matched by the ferocity of their victims. Unlike Texas Chain Saw, where escape by the “final girl” is victory enough, this movie ends with the “last boy” (as it were) savagely stabbing the last cannibal, and continuing to do so long after he is dead, watched by the “final girl” who is an abused and therefore redeemable member of the cannibal clan. The end of the film is not a fade to black but a fade to red.

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Craven saw this treatment of the Bean clan by supposedly civilised people as paralleling the clan’s own savagery, and illustrated the point graphically in this film.

Chain Saw and Hills showed a slice of American life that doesn’t usually make it on to the screen – the “flyover states” where industry and agriculture have closed up shop, and the air force use the “empty” desert for nuclear testing. The remnants of the population, mutated by the radiation (the gas station dude’s baby, who became the cannibal patriarch, was at birth “twenty pounds and hairy as a monkey”), survive in the economic wasteland by doing whatever they can. In Hills, as in Chain Saw, they do it by capturing “civilised” folk who blunder into their killing fields. The survivors of the American Dream have become depraved cannibals, not just eating their victims, but first raping and tormenting them. In both movies, there is what, in his excellent review, Bloody Disgusting’s Zachary Paul called an archetypal “gas station of doom”, a final point of no return. They, and you the viewer, have been warned.

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As a classic horror film, it is actually quite dull in large sections. This is not a fault of the production so much as the budget: the whole thing was made for peanuts and shot on 16mm film, on cameras that were borrowed from a Californian pornographer. There was not a lot of spare cash for gore, so the episodes of violence are extreme, but short. The sudden jolts of music make up for the missing build-ups.

The symbolism of the film is unsubtle. The cannibals are freaks and monsters, although remarkably technology-savvy:

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The family of victims are the tough patriarch, a former cop, who cannot save them and is crucified by the cannibals, the virgin daughter who is raped by them, and a baby who is stolen and almost (until they changed the script) eaten (they describe her as “a young Thanksgiving turkey”).

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But by the end, both families have descended into mindless brutality.

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A sequel was made by Craven in 1984 called The Hills Have Eyes Part II. Although the villains were allegedly cannibals, there is no cannibalism in it, so I won’t be wasting our time on it in this blog, particularly as it managed a score of ZERO on Rotten Tomatoes, which is quite a feat.

Both films were remade in 2006 and 2007, and we’ll get to those, eventually.

The Hills Have Eyes was part of the “new wave” of horror that arose in the 1970s. Other notable directors who made up this new wave were Tobe Hooper, George Romero, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter and Brian De Palma. Horror had moved away from outsiders (monsters, aliens, vampires, etc) to humans, usually the victims of pervasive social dysfunction and degeneracy. Cannibalism was getting closer to where we live – our species. Later films would move the cannibal into our cities, and then finally into our homes.

Our voracious appetites continue to turn inward.

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“How did your sister taste?” HANNIBAL Season 3 Episode 3, “Secondo”

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Season 3, and particularly this episode, is presented as Gothic horror. There are dark churches, gloomy castles, even Hannibal’s shadowy kitchen, where he is removing a hand from the Sunday roast.

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This episode is all about identity. All our protagonists (if still alive) have gone through trauma, Will and Jack were clinically dead for a while, and such trauma usually leads to questioning – who am I, what am I doing, and what is this on my plate?

It’s the third episode of the final season (looking forward to being proved wrong here), and we still don’t know what happened to many of the victims of the last series. Hannibal of course is doing nicely in Florence under the name of Dr Fell, Curator at the Palazzo Capponi. Bedelia is living with him, a somewhat nervous room-mate, pretending to be Mrs Fell, but there is no sign of intimacy, and some definite portents of doom. Last episode, she witnessed the murder of Anthony Dimmond. Dimmond knew Hannibal was not Fell, and was duly killed with a bust of Aristotle (was it really Aristotle?) Hannibal, who believes Bedelia betrayed him, explained to her that she was not just observing the murder, she was participating. She knows, Dimmond knew, we know, that she is slated to be one of his next courses.

They speak, somewhat obsessively, about betrayal (not just Bedelia’s, but Will’s) and forgiveness. Hannibal forgave Will last season. Will forgave Hannibal last episode. Bedelia points out that betrayal and forgiveness are

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Hannibal is looking wistful. It is possible that he has not experienced love before, or at least not since the happy time before he ate his sister, Mischa. This is his search for identity – Hannibal as lover.

Will has two searches. He is of course searching for Hannibal, for love of for revenge is not clear to us, or to him. He is also searching for his own identity – is he a lawman or an acolyte of Hannibal? Where will he look?

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Will is in Aukštaitija, Lithuania. It’s the Lecter castle, which we last saw in the movie Hannibal Rising. Bryan Fuller, in his incomparable way, has brought to life a character who had a minor role in the book and no part in the movie – Hannibal’s aunt’s protégé, Chiyoh.

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Will walks past the grave of Mischa. He treads Hannibal’s sacred ground.

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He imagines a conversation with Hannibal, who tells him

“It’s not healing to see your childhood home – but it helps you measure whether you are broken, how and why, assuming you want to know…  It’s door is at the centre of my mind, and here you are feeling for the latch.”

Hannibal’s identity is all tied up with the tiny girl who someone killed, and Hannibal ate.

We see Chiyoh shoot a bird and cut off the bird’s feet. The scene switches to Hannibal cutting off a human hand, presumably Dimmond’s. Then he is making cocktails for Professor Sogliato, the epitome of rudeness and intellectual pretension. The cocktail is Punch Romaine, a drink, he tells Sogliato, served to first class guests on the Titanic during their last dinner. Not a good omen. Sogliato has bad timing, and makes his one snide comment too many just as Hannibal is wielding the cocktail ice-pick.

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Sogliato, his frontal lobe partly destroyed, can only stutter and giggle. Bedelia, even though she is a trained doctor, pulls the ice pick out, and Sogliato immediately collapses on the table.

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Witty as ever. Bedelia asks if Hannibal is longer interested in “preserving the peace you found here?” Hannibal understands physics as well as medicine.

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Hannibal grows through conflict and engagement; it’s all a giant game of life and death to the evolving Übermensch. But it was far from impulsive. Bedelia sees what he is doing: the Titanic cocktail was a giveaway.

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He is drawing Will, who is of course in Lithuania, when Jack arrives in Italy. Jack is seeking not Hannibal, but Will. He has broken Will, perhaps turned him into Hannibal’s disciple, and while he would like the Italian police to find Hannibal, his main concern is Will.

Chiyoh is guarding a man, a wild, Robinson Crusoe type figure who, she says, is the one who ate Mischa. Fed her to Hannibal we suppose (that’s how it went in the movie). Hannibal is serving dinner to another couple from the Studiolo, who are lamenting the absence of Sogliato (who is probably at, or on, the table, unbeknownst to them).

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Hannibal wanted to kill the dude in the cage, but Chiyoh wouldn’t let him, so he left her to guard the man, for years and years. Will sets the man free, but he returns to his cage and tries to kill Chiyoh, and she then kills him. She accuses Will of doing it for the same reasons as Hannibal would – to see if she would kill. But he says he just wanted to set her free.

But here’s the thing. Our motivations for our actions come from our stories. As Will says:

“We construct fairy tales and we accept them. Our minds concoct all sorts of fantasies when we don’t want to believe something.”

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Chiyoh believes Hannibal’s story about the man in the cage. She believes that his cannibalism is simply a re-enactment of what he saw happen to his sister. Will has doubts.

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What makes Dr Lecter into “Hannibal the Cannibal”? Was it watching his sister slaughtered and eaten? Will argues this does not “quantify” him. Remember an earlier Hannibal who objected to being “quantified” by a census-taker? Remember also that thousands of people have watched appalling brutality being visited on their families and not reacted as Hannibal does.

We have not finished considering that question. Hannibal is washing Bedelia’s hair as she luxuriates in the free-standing bath tub. She asks him “What were you like as a young man?” His answer reminds us that Mads is playing the role as a demonic force.

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So, Bedelia asks the same question that Will and Chiyoh are covering. “Why can’t you go home, Hannibal? What happened to you there?”

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In Silence of the Lambs, this was followed up with

“You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviourism… Look at me, Officer Starling. Can you stand to say I’m evil?”

Will took on that speech, back in Season 2, during their cannibal feast. But here, Bedelia is winning the debate. She has already told him that she knows he is drawing Will and Jack to him with his murders, and warned him that he will get caught. Diving under the water, she cheekily asks

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Bedelia is once again Hannibal`s therapist; her fee is staying alive. She tells him that

“What your sister made you feel was beyond your conscious ability to control or predict. I would suggest what Will Graham makes you feel is not dissimilar. A force of mind and circumstance.”

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“Same with forgiveness. And I would argue, the same with betrayal” comments Bedelia.

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Bedelia plays her trump card.

“If past behaviour is an indicator of future behaviour, there is only one way you will forgive Will Graham.”

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American cannibal: THE DONNER PARTY (T.J. Martin, 2009)

The Donner Party was the name given to a group of pioneers heading from Missouri to California in 1846. They became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada over winter, and famously turned to cannibalism to survive. Only 48 of the original 87 members of the party survived.

There have been quite a few films and books about the events of that winter, including documentaries such as “Trail of Tragedy: The Excavation of the Donner Party Site by US Forest Service” and an episode of the PBS series American Experience (Season 5 Episode 3) called “The Donner Party” (you’ll need a VPN if you are outside the US). There are also a few supernatural potboilers like Donner Pass, about evil forces that turned poor George Donner and his mates into ravenous cannibals, and will do the same to any nice-looking millennials who stumble into the region. I am not intending to write about them until I run out of movies about “real” cannibals, which looks like it will be in several years, at the present rate.

Look, this movie doesn’t mess about with any set up. The opening is some written explanation of how they got into that mess

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Then there’s a dude, who turns out to be William Eddy (Clayne Crawford) pointing a gun, with his voiceover

“In situations like this, some men may abandon their obligations. This being said, I am resolved to provide for my family.”

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He goes back to camp with some meat (a bear? In winter?) which he shares with William Foster (Crispin Glover from lots of things including Back to the Future and American Gods). Eddy is the group’s guide, and feels that he was pressured to lead them the wrong way, onto the Hastings Cutoff; Foster argues that they all agreed to take the “short cut”. The audience by this point is yawning. From there, as Homer says, “it just gets worse and worse”. The Foster camp is running out of food when the “rescue party” reappears – with no rescue and no food. One of them dies on arrival and they bury him in the snow. Clearly, they had never seen Alive! Once you die, you’re assigned to the frozen food department.

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But as they set out for a last ditch expedition, later called “The Forlorn Hope”, Foster boasts that they have maintained a “clear line of civility”. We know from history that this won’t last.

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There is talk of going back to the camp, but Franklin Graves (Mark Boone Jnr from Sons of Anarchy and Memento) disagrees.

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As they get colder, hungrier and weaker, Foster suggests what we’ve been waiting 51 minutes to hear:

“In the misfortune that one of us should pass, in death we may save the living.”

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In a scene worthy of Monty Python, they all start volunteering. Eddy suggests he and Foster

“fight to the death, the loser dies like a man, feeds the group”.

Instead, they draw straws – Dolan (Crispian Belfrage – who is a bit wasted in this flick) gets the shortest stick and Foster shoots him (not what really happened, BTW). Eddy refuses to join in the lottery or the meal, but then it turns out he has a lump of bear that his wife smuggled into his backpack, so he’s doing OK.

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Graves stabs himself and becomes the next course. Before each meal, they say grace and thank God for what they have received. When they run out of those guys, Foster decides, against Eddy’s opposition, that the “Indian” guide will be the next course. This is the hierarchy of eating – the plant, the animal, the human, with the sub-human squeezed in there, defined by layers of contemptuous racism that was standard procedure in 19th century America (and in some places still is). Rather than wasting bullets, he uses the gun as a club.

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There are long scenes of the group trudging through the snow, interspersed with the survivors sitting around the campfire chewing on some guy and looking vaguely disgusted, but not looking all that gaunt. I guess it would require some pretty good makeup or CGI to make someone look to be genuinely starving, so I can accept that.

What I found disappointing was the total lack of moral debate – one person complains “we’ll go to hell” and Eddy points out that the “Indian” is a man, but still hands the rifle to Foster so he can do the deed. Foster, the gentleman, points out that he is their only hope because he is the only one willing to do whatever it takes. The fascination of the movie Alive! was the deliberation in the plane of the ethical situation, the immortal soul having fled, etc. This lot are devout enough that they could make it a lively discussion, the nature of humanity, why they think it’s wrong to eat white people but not “Indians”, but it never gets past the look of distaste as they chew on bits of other humans. The best scene is the long shot of Foster, the man of God, the keeper of civility, turning into a cannibal king as he watches his flock, waiting to see who will die next.

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It’s a fictionalisation of a true event, which is always fraught, because the historians will object to the inaccuracies, and everyone else to the squalid reality. But as an imagining of one incident from the Donner story (Donner himself never gets a look in) it’s not a bad taste of nineteenth century morality and its fragility. The disappointment is that the cannibalism is direct and honest, but never considered as anything other than abject but necessary. This is one of the defining stories of modern America, and much more could have been made of it. However.

Now, I’ve seen some great cannibal films and some pretty awful ones, and I don’t always agree with the verdicts of the reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes, but I think this is the first one I have seen where none of the reviewers even bothered to see it.

HorrorNews.Net gave the film a positive review, writing

“Overall The Donner Party was a nice change from the hard core horror films that I usually watch. … I also recommend that you have something to eat on hand while watching it as I was starving by the time I was done watching it. Then again, maybe I have issues.”

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The log line “They survived by doing the unthinkable” is clearly borrowed from Alive! (“They overcame the impossible by doing the unthinkable”).

THE CANNIBAL CLUB – O Clube dos Canibais (Guto Parente, 2018)

This is a movie about privilege – the rich literally eating the poor. It may be a metaphor, but it is particularly apposite to current Brazilian politics, where the destruction of the Amazon is threatening to kill and consume us all. But is there a nation, even a community, where someone is not eating someone else, if not literally then practically? The film was made in 2018, before President Jair Bolsonaro was sworn in and gave the green light for the burning of the Amazon rainforest. But the cannibalism of this club is not just political – it is about the consumption of the poor by those who own the wealth. It would have made the same points whatever the results of the election.

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Otavio (Tavinho Teixeira) and Gilda (Ana Luiza Rois) have a hobby – Gilda seduces members of their staff and Otavio watches from a distance then kills the worker with an axe as they both climax. They then prepare the meat for their dinner.

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A bit over a year ago, this blog looked at the film “Eat the Rich”, in which the workers fought back against their effete bosses. Pure fantasy of course; in reality, the rich eat the poor: they swallow their surplus labour, they squeeze rent from them, they sell them their shoddy products paid for by lending them money at ruinous rates, and they send their children off to war. Why not go the next step and literally cook them for dinner?

The rich also hang out together with other rich people, and despise the poor. Everything decadent is considered better and more desirable.

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The club in the title is an elite group of privileged and powerful men – women are not invited. For their pre-dinner entertainment, they sit and watch two performers have sex, during which they are beaten to death and subsequently served at the black-tie dinner.

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Their chairman is the influential politician Borges (Pedro Domingues) who rails against the depravity of those who threaten the traditional morality of Brazil, whom he describes as “poors, delinquents, pederasts and filthy scum”. That makes is awkward when Borges is seen by Gilda as he is being buggered by a servant.

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This puts Otavio and Gilda in peril – they have a secret that Borges will happily kill to conceal. But can they kill Borges first? In the funniest line of the movie, Otavio objects to Gilda’s murderous plan:

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Because to the rich, killing and eating the servants is no more murder than beheading a chicken. So they plan to get the new caretaker, Jonas (Zé Maria) to do the dirty work, then they will go through their ritual: Jonas will have sex with Gilda, then at the climax, Otavio will kill him with an axe.

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Of course, these things never go as smoothly as the conspirators wish.

It’s pretty slapstick cannibalism, which is a shame, because it’s a Brazilian film, and that should make it a bit more interesting – Brazil was the source of so many of the stories of cannibalism that early explorers brought back to shock the gentle folk of Europe and secure funds for journeys of colonialism and genocide. The Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, in his book Cannibal Metaphysics (2014), sought to ‘decolonise’ anthropology by challenging the increasingly familiar view that these stories were mere fictions of colonialism. Rather than deny the existence of cannibalism, which would simply reclassify the Amerindian peoples as ‘like us’, de Castro examines the details of Tupinamba cannibalism, which was ‘a very elaborate system for the capture, execution, and ceremonial consumption of their enemies’. This alternative view of Amerindian culture rejects the automatic assumption of the repugnance of cannibalism – instead, it owns the history or mythology. This could have been a far more interesting film if the cannibalism had been owned by all sides and interpreted as a unique identity, rather than just being a rather crude metaphor of class struggle.

The film got 57% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is not bad, but not good. The reviewer from Variety said

“A diverting, stylish, but ultimately rather trite satire whose social critique and grand guignol aspects never quite come to a full boil.”

By the way – check out the Cannibal Club in Los Angeles.

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No, I haven’t been there. I understand they do not have a vegetarian option.

Also, it’s a fake website. Sorry.

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“He knew exactly how to cut me”: HANNIBAL Season 3 Episode 2 “Primavera” (Fuller, 2015)

Season 2 ended with pretty much all the main characters lying dead or dying in pools of blood, except for Hannibal, who was sitting on a plane with a glass of champagne and his former psychiatrist Bedelia next to him.

The first episode of Season 3 saw Hannibal very happily ensconced in Florence with a new name, a new job, and a chance to show off his expertise in Dante’s sonnets, of course delivered in perfect Italian. So happy, he had hardly killed anyone, although that had changed by the end of the episode.

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But what of the gore-splattered rest of the cast? Did any of them live to see Season 3? Well, some did of course although, in some cases, only just. The episode starts with a long reprise of what happened to Will and Abigail, but it’s all in Will’s fevered dreams as he lies in hospital, and he sees it as the killing of his higher self:  blood pours out of a dying stag and fills the room – he is sinking, in an ocean of blood.

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This is a love story, but of star-crossed lovers. In this case, double-crossed lovers.

Time did reverse. The teacup that I shattered dared to come together. A place was made for Abigail in your world. That place was made for all of us. Together. I wanted to surprise you.
And you… you wanted to surprise me. I let you know me. See me. I gave you a rare gift.

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The teacup is a crucial symbol to Hannibal. It represents two important discourses that inform his somewhat unorthodox life choices: Nietzsche’s concept of amor fati – the love of fate, the acceptance that what has happened could not have happened any other way, and will happen again, and again. It is not fatalism though, in which we can sit and wait for the inevitable – Nietzsche and Hannibal want to be out there making it happen as it should, as it will, as it must.

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Hannibal wants to speed up the cycle of eternal recurrence, reverse time and repair all that has been lost, particularly his sister, Mischa, who was eaten. He is obsessed with Stephen Hawking’s description of entropy as proof of the “arrow of time” – we “know” that time only flows one way because a shattered teacup does not gather itself back together. Hannibal really likes Hawking’s early theory that, when the universe stops expanding and starts contracting, time will reverse and entropy mend itself; the teacup will mend, Mischa will be whole again, Abigail will be returned to Will. Undoing all the bad things that happened. He just wants to speed things up.

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Has the teacup re-formed after all? Abigail wanders into Will’s hospital room as he wakes up.

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Will is hallucinating, but it gives him a chance to state his own metaphysical opinions. Will is more a follower of Leibniz; he thinks there are an infinite number of universes and everything that can happen will, does, did happen in one of the multiverses. Just, not in this one, which makes him sad.

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It has to end well. And it has to end badly. It has to end every way it can.

OK, but Abigail wants them to find Hannibal, or rather believes the Hannibal wants them to find him. Even after all that happens, she wants to go to him. And so, of course, does Will, although he won’t admit it. He remembers Hannibal taking about his “memory palace”, a place where memories can be stored and restored, and brought out and relived even, or especially, in bad times. Hannibal’s palace is “vast, even by mediaeval standards” and

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Off to Palermo goes Will and, maybe, Abigail, and meets Inspector Pazzi, who has been chasing Hannibal for twenty years. As a young man, Hannibal was “Il Mostro”, the monster of Florence, and would kill people to make them into art works, particularly based on Botticelli’s Primavera. A real case, which remains unsolved.

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We hear more philosophy – Will has taken on Hannibal`s theology; as far as God is concerned

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Elegance is more important than suffering. That’s his design.

Then he gives us his views on Hannibal`s motivations: it’s all about fun. This is basic Hannibal philosophy, going all the way back to his letter to Will Graham in the book Red Dragon.

Hannibal’s not God. Wouldn’t have any fun being God. Defying God – that’s his idea of a good time. Nothing would thrill Hannibal more than to see this roof collapse, mid-Mass, packed pews, choirs singing, he would just love it. And he thinks God would love it too.

And of course, the roof starts to drop a fine powder on Will’s outstretched hand.

Inspector Pazzi points out that Hannibal never leaves evidence.

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Which raises the big question – what exactly is cannibalism? Was Jame Gumb a cannibal when he used women’s skin to make a “suit with tits” (which he will hopefully be doing again in Season 4)? Was Francis Dolarhyde a cannibal for killing whole families to fuel his radiance (as he will do again later in Season 3)? Hannibal eats people when he can, and when he wants to, but didn’t Jack Crawford enjoy his elegant dinners at Hannibal`s house, pretending to be a friend, knowing what was probably being served? When Will brought the long pig, pretending it flesh of Freddie Lounds, was it really Randall Tier they were eating? Hannibal sure as hell knew it wasn’t pork. Will happily ate it.

Now Hannibal has found a new, non-gustatory use for human bodies: art. He has taken the body of the annoying art student he killed last episode, and made it into a heart, his heart, broken by Will’s betrayal and the loss of the space he made for them. Will uses his powerful forensic imagination to read Hannibal`s design:

I splintered every bone. Fractured them. Dynamically. Made you malleable. I skinned you. Bent you. Twisted you. And trimmed you. Head hands, arms and legs. A topiary. This is my design. A valentine written on a broken man.

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Hannibal is – complicated. Will explains to Abigail that “he follows several trains of thought at once without distraction from any – and one of the trains is always for his own amusement.”

He gave you back to me, then he took you away. It’s Lucy and the football; he just keeps pulling you away. What if no one died? What if – what if we all left together? Like we were supposed to. After he served the lamb. Where would we have gone? …A place was made for you Abigail, in this world. It was the only place I could make for you.

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Will finally realises that Abigail is dead, and he is talking to his delusion, to his own subconscious thoughts (which are dominated by finding and rejoining Hannibal). He heads through the arch into the catacombs; he knows Hannibal is waiting in there. Pazzi is behind him, despite Will’s warnings that Hannibal will kill him. Pazzi wants to know what Will might do when/if he finds your Il Mostro?

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In an atmospheric scene somewhere between Phantom of the Opera and The Name of the Rose, Will and Hannibal wander the winding tunnels, Will calling Hannibal’s name, Hannibal silent. Waiting for Will to say it. At the end of the last season, Hannibal had said to Will as he cut him up “I forgive you, Will. Do you forgive me?”

We finally get the answer.

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Next week: a new cannibal movie from Brazil: THE CANNIBAL CLUB

Copycat Killers 1.08 HANNIBAL: “A real life Hannibal Lecter comes to light”

The TV series Copycat Killers which debuted in 2016, attempts to match real-life crime with murder cases in film. The premise is really a bit of a long-shot. For example, episode 4 is called “Silence of the Lambs” and shows long lingering shots of the naked butt of serial killer Jame Gumb (Buffalo Bill). It covers the case of a 14-year-old boy, Michael Hernandez, who cut the throat of a friend, and years later joked on the phone, from jail, about “skin suits” (Gumb’s main preoccupation) and Mason Verger cutting off his own face. The boy also, the judge revealed, listened to death-metal band Cannibal Corpse, a group that thrives on notoriety and violent lyrics, but does not, as far as anyone is aware, actually eat people or recommend that others do so. So this boy did not skin people, like Gumb, nor did he eat them, like Lecter.

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The episode reviewed in this blog, episode 8, is also Hannibal Lecter-based. This particular killer, a German named Armin Meiwes, was nothing like the Hannibal in the books, the movies or the television show. Nonetheless, when the police searched his house, the solemn narrator tells us:

“even the most jaded detective on that case was sickened by what they found in that freezer…. Police had discovered a real life Hannibal Lecter.”

Pictures of Meiwes and Lecter are flashed on screen consecutively, to draw a visual conclusion that is hardly supported by the text.

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An actor re-enacting the Meiwes story cuts meat and drinks wine, which an on-screen expert (crime writer Lisa Coryell) compares to Hannibal’s line from the movie Silence of the LambsI ate his liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti”.

A Professor of Film Studies at the American University explains that Lecter’s elegance, charm and humour makes him “irresistible”. Hannibal, he says, is the top movie villain of the century, and there isn’t even a close second.

Meiwes, a German computer technician, advertised on a fetish website called The Cannibal Café for “a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed”. He actually received a heap of replies, but the only one that seemed sincere was Jürgen Brandes. The two met in 2001, had sex, then Brandes took a lot of sleeping pills and half a bottle of schnapps, and they collaboratively sliced off Brandes’ penis and tried, unsuccessfully, to cook and eat it with salt, pepper, wine, and garlic (it ended up in the dog’s bowl). Brandes went off to die in the bath while Meiwes read a Star Trek novel and, when he found Brandes still alive and suffering hours later, killed him and proceeded to eat quite a lot of him over the coming weeks and months.

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When Meiwes started running low on flesh, he advertised again, and this time one respondent reported him to police, who found some of Brandes still in the fridge. Meiwes was charged with manslaughter as he had killed Brandes (at worst it was assisted suicide), and was sentenced to eight years. Due to the ensuing publicity, a retrial was ordered and he was convicted of murder, on the grounds that he had talked Brandes into giving permission to kill him, for his own sexual pleasure.

Silence of the Lambs and its sequel Hannibal caused, we are told in this doco, a surge of interest in cannibalism, leading Meiwes to pursue his obsession with cannibalism. Still didn’t make him into Hannibal though, IMHO.

A forensic psychologist who glories in the name Dr J. Buzz von Ornsteiner: tells us “I’ve worked with a lot of criminals within my criminal history. But this is by far the worst case I’ve ever encountered.”

The recreation goes into Meiwes unfortunate history with his controlling mother, one more thing that he and Hannibal do not have in common (you may remember from Hannibal Rising that Lecter’s mother was a delightful woman, who was killed in a duel between a tank and divebomber while he was still a small boy).

At the same age, Meiwes father left the family. From this trauma, we are led to believe by Dr Buzz, Meiwes decided the best way to keep people in his life was to eat them. The crime writer explains to us that

“If you’ve experienced loss as a child, as Armin clearly did, cannibalism is one way, it’s a sick way, to make sure that no one ever walks out on you.”

Now the idea that Meiwes and Lecter are cannibals because they lost one or more parents is pretty terrifying, since there are a lot of people to whom that applies. On that logic, you might as well suspect Princes William and Harry. However.

Once mum died, Meiwes was free to get on the internet and find others interested in his hobby.

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Lisa Coryell (the crime writer):

“You couldn’t look at the facts of this case and not think of Hannibal Lecter.”

Well, actually, I think I could. Meiwes joined a chat room, something Hannibal did not do and would not do, even in the TV version (set in the Internet era). Brandes, his co-conspirator, wanted to be killed and eaten. Meiwes and Brandes were both convinced that this act of cannibalism would make their bond permanent. It is possible that Hannibal believes eating Will Graham would help Hannibal forgive him for his betrayal. Will, however, was not a willing collaborator in such a scheme.

Is there anything Meiwes has in common with Lecter? Buzz points out that “Somehow between these two men there doesn’t seem to be any value for human life”. I guess Hannibal would agree that human life is not sacred in any way, and that rude people are good to eat. Meiwes, on the other hand, seemed to have liked Brandes, and wanted to keep him around, or more accurately inside.

Brandes wanted to die, but he wanted to taste human flesh before he did so. The show finds a Hannibal parallel here: Hannibal feeding Ray Liotta’s character, Paul Krendler, a portion of his own brain in the movie Hannibal. But of course Krendler was not a willing participant, and once his frontal lobe was on the hotplate, he couldn’t be said to have had any opinions at all.

The rest of the documentary is full of some painful reminders of the speciesism with which philosophers from Aristotle to Descartes to Kant, and even Derrida, have considered the abyss between human and “animal”.

Lisa Coryell:

“Armin begins drawing on Berndt’s body to map out the places he wants to eat most. Armin was treating Brandes like a piece of meat, like an animal for slaughter and it defies humanity.”

It wasn’t of course “like a piece of meat”; it was exactly as a piece of meat. The commentators assume that we, humans, are not animals and are not made of meat, which is ludicrous.

Buzz sums up:

“he doesn’t think there anything wrong with killing someone provided they want to be killed.”

I spat out my tea at this point. It just reminded me of the scene from Douglas Adams’ Restaurant at the End of the Universe:

Arthur: I don’t want to eat an animal that’s lying there inviting me to. I think it’s heartless!

Zaphod: It’s better than eating an animal that doesn’t want to be eaten.

The grave tone of the narrator and commentators of the show, and the ominous music, are intended to convey the extreme gravity of Meiwes’ crime. Meiwes meanwhile has reportedly been a model prisoner, and has also become a vegetarian. In 2018, his appeal to be eligible for release one day (he was given a life sentence) was denied, and he will probably die in jail.

Yet, when compared to other crimes, what has Meiwes actually done? He sought willing victims, men who wanted to die and fantasised about being eaten after their death. He helped Berndt commit suicide, delivering the coup de grâce only when he found Berndt still suffering hours later. He then followed Berndt’s fervent wishes by eating large parts of the man’s corpse. The police originally could not charge him with murder, because there was no evidence that he had intended to kill, until the suicide went wrong and he saw it as an act of mercy. It was the cannibalism that inflamed public opinion around the world, and forced the police to cobble together an appeal, which claimed that he had influenced Berndt to agree to the scheme, which was a bit absurd (he actually offered to take him to the train station if he got cold feet). The problem was that there was no law against cannibalism, and still isn’t in most of the world.

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So the parallels with Hannibal Lecter are bizarre. Hannibal killed and ate people he considered rude and discourteous. He felt that they deserved it, that he was improving the gene pool maybe. He considered himself superior to the people he ate, just as the average carnivore considers himself superior to a cow or a pig. But what Hannibal does is considered murder, because of his intentions and the fact that the victims presumably did not want to be killed or eaten.

But after considering the case of Armin Miewes, we have to consider the question: if a being wants to die, and you help him along, and then eat him, is that really worse than confining a being who doesn’t want to die (from any species), deliberately killing him or her (or paying someone else to do so) and then eating their flesh? Which is what we humans do well over eight million times every hour of every day.

This issue is discussed in a simpler form in the Australian television series Rake. In a re-imagined version of the Meiwes case, the cannibal is a respected economist and the victim’s suicide is successful. There is no murder; all the economist does is eat the body, yet is told “you ate someone. You’re never going home”. Is that scenario also worse than the intentional killing of a cow or pig for human consumption?

If you think it is, please tell me why in the comments, or email cannibalstudies@gmail.com.

I’d really like to know.

 

NEXT WEEK: HANNIBAL Season 3 Episode 2.