Feminism and cannibalism: SHE NEVER DIED (Audrey Cummings, 2019)

Last year (it seems so long ago), I reviewed the excellent Jason Krawczyk movie HE NEVER DIED with Henry Rollins playing Jack, an immortal cannibal. There were high hopes for a sequel, but they kept getting cancelled. In the meantime, a “retelling” was made by Canadian director Audrey Cummings (Darken), and this has come to be called a “sister sequel”, which is a novel term meaning a sequel, or a reboot, but with a female lead and feminist themes. Sounds contrived, but with Krawczyk writing the screenplay, Cummings in command and an outstanding performance by Olunike Adeliyi (Saw 3D, Chaos Walking) as the immortal cannibal, well, it’s a corker!

Lacey (Adeliyi) is an immortal cannibal like Jack. But Jack identifies as a human, Cain (from the Book of Genesis), cursed to walk the earth for killing his brother (a plot line used in the TV show Lucifer as well) and having a messy divorce and, to his surprise, a daughter. But Lacey’s provenance is not so clear, even at the end, when she tells us – no, actually, no spoilers. Watch it – it’s worth it.

Lacey kills people and eats them, particularly their fingers (which are very portable) and their long bones. She needs the bone marrow, she tells the cop, Godfrey (Peter MacNeill, whom you might have seen as Barry Goldwater in Mrs America). He replies that he eats marrow on toast,

She cannot tell a lie; she tells Godfrey that she killed one of the bad guys, because he was throwing a plastic bag over a woman’s head, and

But when the waiter comes, she says she doesn’t eat meat. Non-human meat, that is.

So she’s a vegetarian who eats bad humans, not an ovo-lacto vegetarian, but an anthropo-vegetarian?

The first person she kills is that guy who sends a chill down all our spines – the stalker who follows women down deserted streets and into dark alleys. He jumps on a young woman and Lacey, we are glad to see, jumps on him. And tears him to pieces.

The next victim is being streamed, playing Russian Roulette with a dog – if the bullet isn’t in the chamber when he aims at his own head, then he gets another shot at the dog, who has a roll of cash around his neck.

Being mean to dogs is not going to win friends in any movie I that I can recall. You may remember Mason Verger cutting lumps off his own face and feeding them to Will’s dogs in Hannibal 02:12, as Hannibal’s revenge for making a dog into a cannibal?

There’s a lot of cannibal studies issues to chew on (sorry) in this film. There’s the question of whether Lacey is human; of course it’s not a cannibalism movie if she is some alien entity, because the definition of cannibalism (usually) is eating someone of the same species. But this movie gives us the chance to interrogate that definition, particularly in that Lacey is open about her cannibalism from the start, but the bad guys are not. They are not interested in eating the flesh of their victims, but they are consumers.

A lot of the movie takes place in a giant, labyrinthine building with corridors and stairways leading to doors behind which screams are heard – this stuff is straight out of nightmares. The chief villains are Terrance (Noah Danby) and Meredith (Michelle Nolden). Terrence sells torture and snuff movies on the dark web, while Meredith runs a kidnapping and sex trafficking operation. They are also brother and sister, and seemingly more than that.

Foucault has a lot to say about the difference between monstrosity based on incest and that based on cannibalism. He believes that the aristocracy or ruling class are mostly incestuous monsters, while the people, the cannibals who rise up to eat the rich, are the popular monsters. This movie tends to support that paradigm; the very personable, incestuous siblings consume women (and a few men) as commodities for their businesses, while the angry superhero, Lacey, eats their henchmen. Who, we ask, are really the cannibals? Immortal cannibals do not exist (probably), but stalkers, rapists and traffickers do. Women, our mothers, sisters and daughters, do not feel safe walking the streets of the city. Who are the monsters?

Lacey’s third (and fourth) victims have a woman chained to a bed, ready to be shipped off into sexual slavery. The woman, Suzzie (Kiana Madeira), is freed and starts following Lacie around, crashes on her couch, and very nearly gets eaten – it’s a problematic friendship.

Suzzie is a victim, a self-harmer, but also a survivor. She is impressed by Lacey:

“I get taken advantage of most days. So to see a person, a woman, a woman like you twist those guys in half, is, uh…”

Lacey walks the earth hearing the screams and groans of the abused and tortured. She gets to tear a few of the abusers apart and eat them. They are always men, coke addicted men.

“Without a question, I can taste the difference. I’m also foggy in the morning.”

Suzzie wants to  know what Lacie is

Robot? Zombie? Vampire? You drink blood right?

Lacey says no to each option, and asks, the question we should all ask, “why do I have to be a thing?”

We get a hint of Lacey’s background when we glimpse the scars that don’t heal. Were those once wings?

When Lacey is captured by Terrance, Suzzie heads into the labyrinth, witnessing the horrors of live-streamed torture, sex trafficking, and a very fancy cocktail party.

Lacey is a pessimist, she sees no way out of humanity’s endless cycle of torture and killing and eating.

Suzzie tries to console her – the world is coming to an end after all, look at global warming etc, but Lacie won’t have it.

But, without giving away the ending, we see the arrival of the Four Bikies of the Apocalypse, and what looks to me very much like a sequel coming. Perhaps Lacey will meet Jack? Let us hope.

This movie has a coveted 100% FRESH on Rotten Tomatoes.

50 ways to eat your lover: GRIMM LOVE (Martin Weisz, 2006)

You may remember Armin Meiwes (pronounced like the Sinatra song “I did it Meiwes”). Meiwes was a German computer technician who was into “vorephilia” (sexual attraction to eating, or being eaten by, another human). He advertised in 2001 on a fetish website called The Cannibal Café for “a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed”. The only reply that seemed sincere was from a man named Jürgen Brandes, who was not really well-built or 18-30, but hey, eaters can’t be choosers.

The real Brandes and Meiwes

The Meiwes case was covered in somewhat sensational terms (they kept comparing him to Hannibal Lecter, which was patently absurd) in this copycat killers documentary. It was also retold in a more light-hearted way in the first episode of the Australian television show Rake.

This film is not a documentary but a fictional retelling of Meiwes’ story, with the names changed, to protect whom – the non-existent?  

The movie seems to need a narrator, so it makes up a fictional PhD student, Katie Armstrong (Keri Russell, who was also a student in Felicity, but a Russian spy in The Americans).

Katie is an American studying criminal psychology, who finds herself inexplicably drawn to an uncanny murder case for her thesis. Why would someone study cannibalism for a PhD thesis (I ask myself that every time I apply for an extension to my submission date). Well, Katie feels that she is “searching for something to fill that dark hole inside of her”. Same – but I use chips (“fries” for my American readers). She wants (and dreams of) “someone who can see inside of you”. Yes, cannibals can surely do that.

Anyway, Katie chooses to research the notorious German cannibal Oliver Hartwin (based on Meiwes) and his dead lover Simon Grombeck (based on Brandes), who had volunteered to let Oliver murder and eat him, an obsession that haunted him his whole life.

“Oliver Hartwin wanted to eat someone. Simon Grombeck wanted to be eaten. They were a perfect match.”

Katie becomes obsessed with the case. Sitting in the lecture theatre, the professor announces that “many cannibals have been diagnosed with schizophrenia” – but the sanity defence is too glib for her. “Why them and not us?” she wonders to her friends.

“It’s natural to wonder what separates us from them. What matters is what makes us the same.”

She studies the men’s childhoods: Simon was smitten by guilt about his mother’s suicide after she was told he was “playing doctor” with another boy. Oliver was left with an overbearing mother when the father moved out, then bullied at school and finding solace in an imaginary friend ‘Franky’. Katie goes to find Oliver’s house in Rotenburg, which is not far from where the Brothers Grimm wrote those tales that filled our childhood nightmares with monsters and cannibals. She finds and breaks in to Oliver’s house, taking endless photos, but each click is interspersed with flashbacks of Oliver with his mother and with Franky; Simon with his boyfriend and computer full of images of death, and requests to male prostitutes to “bite my thing! Bite it off!” (spoiler: it can’t be done). Are these actual flashbacks or Katie’s fantasies and rationalisations? It doesn’t really matter, because the sequence of email exchanges and the steps leading up to the slaughter are all well documented in the case of Meiwes and reproduced here.

Katie wants to understand Oliver.

“Was he so afraid to be alone? Was it his need to feel whole that drove him? Or was it just his desire for flesh, to devour something dear.”

Oliver makes a figure of a man out of something – maybe pork? He cuts off the penis and eats it voraciously, and feeds the rest to his work colleagues.

When one asks for the recipe, he smiles and says “It’s a family secret”. I was immediately reminded of Hannibal Lecter replying to the same request: “If I tell you, I’m afraid you won’t even try it”.

We see Oliver and Simon meet on the website “Cannibal Cantina”. Simon is searching for someone to butcher him.  Oliver is looking for instructions on how to butcher a human, such as:

“a cage to prevent the human animal from too much movement, which only serves to lessen the quality of the meat… For best results prior to slaughter, the animal should be stunned senseless.”

We see them at a table, Simon refusing food, but drinking water to flush his system, and swallowing pills to achieve the stun.

He drinks cough medicine (BREToN, which according to Google is Tulobuterol Hydrochloride and is for “asthma exacerbation”, although the website does rather hilariously say:

Breton Syrup may also be used for purposes not listed here”

Two bottles of that, a fistful of sleeping tablets washed down with a bottle of schnapps, and Simon is good to go. But can Oliver do it?

Well, of course he can, as Katie finds out when she contacts a cannibal website and requests a copy of Oliver’s video, which she thought was only in the hands of the police. We see the slaughter, we see Katie weeping and whimpering as she watches.

She’s been studying this case for her PhD, which takes three years (plus extensions). What did she expect?

The assumption behind movies like this is that cannibalism is disgusting, monstrous behaviour, and so we need to find explanations. But when Oliver as a child watches a woman slicing up a pig, do we ask about her pathologies?

No, we assume she is doing something normal, and Oliver has been warped into doing the same to a human. Look up slaughterhouses on Youtube and you’ll see the same thing happening, and it happens some 70 billion times a year. Just – to other animals.

But what is so sacred about humans that the deliberate killing of a pig, who wanted to live, is just ‘butchering’, while assisting Simon to fulfil his fondest wishes – to commit suicide and be eaten – is monstrous? Is it just a throwback to the old belief about being “made in the image of God”? Feel free to let me know.

When Meiwes (Oliver) started to run out of meat, he couldn’t bring himself to shop at the supermarket, so he advertised for another willing victim. But this one called the cops.

The film was supposed to be released in Germany under the name Rohtenburg, a pun on Rotenburg, where Meiwes lived, and roh, meaning “raw”. However, it was banned by a German court in March 2006 for infringing the personal rights of Armin Meiwes. It was released throughout the rest of the world, but not in Germany until three years later.

The film achieved only 37% on Rotten Tomatoes. It is very slow moving, the sombre music gets a bit annoying (the Craig Armstrong piece from Romeo and Juliet is beautiful, but Romeo and Juliet is not really a cannibal story – Titus Andronicus might have worked better), and the fact that everyone in Germany speaks to everyone else in perfect English but with German accents (including train announcements) gets irritating. Why can’t audiences read subtitles?

Trigger warning, the real Meiwes: This website claims it has actual leaked stills from Meiwes’ video. If you don’t like pictures of chopped up humans, maybe skip the link. They look fake to me, but this Reddit reader swears they are real.

Meiwes is still in jail in Germany, not for cannibalism, which is still not a crime, but for murder, which is pretty absurd since Brandes wanted to die, and was in fact obsessed with being slaughtered and eaten. If anything, Meiwes is guilty of assisting a suicide. We know so much about the case because Meiwes was very open in describing what happened. He believed, and still believes, that he did nothing wrong. It seems that the only thing Meiwes can see as a moral failing is not the fact that he ate human meat, but that he ate meat. He is now a Greenie and a vegetarian:

Bavaria Radio reported that another inmate said Meiwes has sworn off meat in his new role as an environmentalist. “He finds the idea of factory farming as distasteful as his crime was,” said the convict. “He now sticks to vegetarian dishes.”

You can watch the Director’s commentary here, and a documentary about the real case here.

Complete listing of my Hannibal blogs can be found at this link.

Eat the imperialists: HOW TASTY WAS MY LITTLE FRENCHMAN (Como Era Gostoso o Meu Francês) – Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1971

Let’s get this out of the way – there is nudity. Lots of it and throughout the movie. Well, it’s set in pre-colonial Brazil, and the Indigenous peoples did not bother with a lot of clothes, so it’s historically accurate. To ensure authenticity, the actors and the crew were all naked, so that nudity would become natural. If that bothers you, please read the blog but skip the movie.

While it was refreshingly authentic, the nudity was also a problem. First, because the authenticity is somewhat diminished, as The New York Times critic pointed out, by the fact that the natives are “middle-class white Brazilians… stripped down and reddened up for the occasion”. Secondly, the film was refused entry to the Cannes Film Festival because of all the swinging dicks. In Brazil, the censors were eventually persuaded that the natives indeed did walk around naked, but remained vehemently opposed to the nude Frenchman, a telling comment on the racist distinction that the film was intending to expose.

So, the plot in a nutshell: the French and the Portuguese are fighting to control the rich lands of South America. Each has allied with local tribes who are at constant war with each other, often involving (so the European narrative goes) capturing and eating each other’s warriors.  The Tupinambás are allied with the French, while the Tupiniquins are allied with the Portuguese. The Frenchman of the title escapes his own command, is captured by the Portuguese, and is then captured by the Tupinambás, who are allies of the French, but believe him to be Portuguese, so intend to eat him. Got all that? – there will be a test.

Tupi custom involved bringing the captive into the community, feeding and homing him, and even finding him a wife, then eventually killing him in a ceremony that will allow them to capture his essence, bravery, speed, and so on.

This wide-spread belief about the Tupi comes from a European who was captured but then escaped in 1554, came back to Europe and wrote a book. His name was Hans Staden, and he was actually a German who was trying to get to India. But since it was the French who were invading South America at the time, the director changed his nationality.

De Bry’s engravings of Tupi cannibalism were “eaten up” by the Europeans.

Tupi cannibalism has a whole literature explaining it or denying it – William Arens claimed the ‘evidence’ was mostly based on Staden’s account, which contained several contradictions, and had been continually retold as if it had happened to new re-tellers. Other anthropologists such as Rene Girard explained Tupi cannibalism as a seamless explanation for the way culture and religion have evolved. The universal violence of the human species is redirected toward the outsider, who is taken into the tribe, but remains foreign enough to be killed as a scapegoat, to release the social pressure that would lead to endless internal revenge feuds. For many, Jesus became the ultimate scapegoat under this theory, even to the extent of insisting that his followers eat and drink wine and bread transubstantiated into his “blood and body” in the Eucharist ritual.

For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.

John 6:55

The Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro proposed a ‘post-structural anthropology’ in his book Cannibal Metaphysics. De Castro sought to ‘decolonise’ anthropology by challenging the increasingly familiar view that it was ‘exoticist and primitivist from birth’, denying that cannibalism even existed, and so transferred the conquered peoples from the cannibalistic villains of the West into mere fictions of colonialism. Arguing that the ‘Other’ is just like us is to deny any separate identity and to return the focus of anthropology to that which interests us: ourselves. Rather than deny the existence of cannibalism, which allows a reclassification of the Amerindian peoples as like the colonialists, 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, which serves to either confront it or deny its existence.

Well, that’s pretty much where this film planned to go. Pereira dos Santos challenges the Eurocentric perspective which insists on a superior civilisation overcoming a primitive one. It is true that Tupi civilisation was destroyed by the slavery, smallpox and slaughter of the Portuguese who, the film tells us at the end, also wiped out their allies the Tupiniquins. The Tupi peoples are now a remnant, confined to small areas and currently being decimated by COVID-19.

But the chief, in the killing ceremony which promises the Frenchman’s body parts to his relatives (his wife will get his neck), tells the story as a mirror image:

“I am here to kill you. Because your people have killed many of ours, and eaten them.”

So the film asks: who were/are the cannibals? It does not fully succeed in telling this story, because the audience gets involved with the Frenchman’s story, instead of his captors. Pereira dos Santos lamented that the public:

“…identified with the French, with the coloniser. All spectators lamented the death of the hero. They did not understand that the hero was the indigenous, not the white, so much were they influenced by the adventures of John Wayne.”

Nonetheless, the binary of the colonised and the powerless occupied victims is so deeply embedded in our cultural stories that it is refreshing to see this mirror image version, where the indigenous win the battle, if not the war.

Cannibal Dad: WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (Mickle, 2013)

I’m publishing this blog on Sunday 6 September, which is fathers’ day in Australia and New Zealand, but hardly anywhere else (e.g. it’s June in the US, UK, Canada, China, etc). Well, turns out there are several fathers’ days, which is fair, because there are several different kinds of father.

The father in this movie is a keen family man, and also a cannibal. The patriarchal symbolic order of this family is: the father catches them, the mother (or daughter) slaughters and cooks them.

If the prey weren’t human, some might consider that “normal”.

This time last year (on father’s day down under) I blogged about a Mexican film translated to the same as this one: We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay). Now, we all know that American remakes of “foreign” (i.e. non-American) films can be disastrous (remember Godzilla?) and, to be fair, Jim Mickle, the director, did not like the idea of remaking the excellent Mexican version just so American audiences did not have to read subtitles. But he and co-screenwriter Nick Damici came up with a new angle. In the Mexican film, the father dies, causing family conflict over the role of cannibal patriarch; in this one, it’s the mother that dies, and the children must decide whether to follow the tradition and authority of their father, or follow their own paths.

Frank Parker (Bill Sage) is left widowed when his wife starts shaking and bleeding from the mouth, then collapses, falls into a ditch and drowns. She has just finished shopping at the general store where, through the pouring rain, a butcher carries a dead pig from a truck marked “Fleischman’s” (German for meat man) – the pig’s corpse is cut up and the flesh is minced.

What they’re doing to the pig would usually be considered unremarkable, except that, knowing this is a cannibal movie, we expect the same thing will happen to humans somewhere around the end of Act I.

This is an ultra-religious, white family in the rainy Catskills, and everything they do is avowed to be God’s idea. The daughters, Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner from Ozark) explain to their little brother that he can’t have his cereal, because the family is fasting.

Fasting is usually followed by a ceremonial feast, which this family calls “Lamb Day”.

It is a family tradition passed down from 1781 – we get a flashback via a family journal which is handed to Iris – it was started by their ancestor Alyce Parker (Odeya Rush from Goosebumps) when her father fed them their uncle in one of those pioneering cannibalism events with which American history is so replete (think the Jamestown “starving time” several decades earlier, or the Donner Party several decades later). The Parker descendants have been cannibals ever since.

Their religious tradition requires eating human flesh on special occasions; while the wider community’s ritual anthropocentric carnivorous sacrifice requires the (far more regular) consumption of other mammals, such as the pig being carried through the store.

Eating meat requires the “deanimalisation” of the chosen victim, often by dividing the carcass up into named components like “spare ribs” or “rump”. The Parkers work the same way. Like a cooking show, we witness them “process” the carcass, then cook and consume the flesh; only worth filming because we know (or willingly suspend our disbelief) that this is human meat.

Rene Girard says we maintain social amity by the sacrifice of a surrogate victim, a symbolic consumption of our violent impulses – we eat an outsider instead of warring with each other. For most people, it’s a non-human animal; for the Parkers, it’s whoever is unlucky enough to get a flat tyre near their property. In stark contrast, the Parker’s neighbour Marge (Kelly McGillis from Witness) is vegetarian, and her offers of help to the family are variously accepted or brutally rebuffed, depending on whether it’s Lamb Day. Marge gets a hint that cannibalism, extreme carnivorism, runs in the family when she steps in to nurse the sick little brother. Has he inherited the family hunger?

Cannibalism movies often cling to the Wendigo hypothesis – that there is a metaphysical force that drives the eaters, once having tried human flesh, to crave ever increasing amounts of it – to need it for their very survival. A classic of this genre is Antonia Bird’s film Ravenous. In the original Mexican version of this film, the family believe they need their cannibal ceremony to survive. It’s the same in this version, with the father convinced that when he gets shaky and his mouth bleeds, this means God is telling him it’s time for Lamb Day.

But there’s a modern twist. The town’s (apparently only) doctor (Michael Parks) performs an autopsy on the mother, which reveals that her ailments were more closely related to the disease kuru, which killed hundreds of Fore people in Papua New Guinea and was believed to have been caused by eating the brains and spinal columns of dead relatives in funerary rites.

Then the doc’s dog finds a human bone washed downstream by the floods, and he begins to suspect what happened to his own missing daughter.

Kuru is a prion disease, similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or “mad cow disease”), and is often quoted as a reason why we shouldn’t eat people, in case they have abnormal prion proteins, although that argument is no more convincing than the one against eating cows in case they have BSE (safest option for avoiding spongiform encephalopathy is: go vegan). At any rate, this family have been engaging in cannibalism for some 240 years, believing they are doing God’s will, and hey, who invented kuru anyway?

As Hannibal would say – “typhoid and swans – it all comes from the same place”.

The father’s day feast at the end of the movie is spectacular, and the girls drive off with the diary from 1781, unaware of the kuru diagnosis, and presumably still believing in the necessity to obey God’s will and eat people occasionally. Honestly, it wouldn’t be the stupidest thing that’s ever been blamed on the deity.

Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie 86% fresh, with most critics liking it, and a couple of them really detesting it. The London Evening Standard asked:

“Who can resist a good cannibal movie?”

Well, my gentle readers, clearly not us. And this is a good one.

A complete listing of Hannibal blogs can be viewed here:
https://thecannibalguy.com/2020/07/08/hannibal-film-and-tv-blogs/

“Mind the door” [and the cannibal]: DEATH LINE (RAW MEAT) – Gary Sherman, 1972

You know you’re on a good film when the trailer promises “ultimate terror so fearful that no additional scenes can be shown in this preview”. I mean, you have to watch it after hearing that, right?

Actually, DEATH LINE is a really great picture, with the fabulous Donald Pleasance as the London police inspector making a complete hash of his investigation. Terence Pettigrew in his book British Film Character Actors says Pleasence has “the kind of piercing stare which lifts enamel off saucepans.”

The polite British title Death Line was a little too tame for American grindhouse cinema, and it was retitled Raw Meat and disguised as a zombie movie in the USA. The plot involves the last descendants of a dozen railway construction workers who were trapped in a cave-in in 1892 between Russell Square and Museum stations, and have survived in the abandoned tunnels, cut off from civilisation – the last survivors now live by catching and eating commuters on the Underground platforms.

Fortunately, the British are famously reticent on public transport and, once seated, would not even look up from their papers if someone was being eaten next to them. However, a couple of students find a man collapsed on the station steps and report him to the police, but he’s gone when they investigate. Of course, horror movies are morality tales, and the man is a VIP, an important civil servant, who has just come from a strip club and then propositioned a woman on the Russell Street tube station platform. Cannibals, in movies, tend to eat rude people.

Demented cannibals, cut off from civilisation and preying on unsuspecting travellers, hark back to the story of Sawney Bean and his incestuous family, who allegedly murdered and cannibalised more than a thousand men, women and children in 16th century Scotland. Of course, the idea goes back much further than that into antiquity, when anyone outside the centres of civilisation was assumed to be a monster, and probably a cannibal. Maps in the age of exploration would simply have the word “cannibals” written on any parts not yet charted. It’s an evergreen trope, seen over and over in films like Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes and the interminable number of Wrong Turn movies (we’ll get to those one day).

Being a British movie, it’s replete with class struggle. Donald Pleasance (no stranger to horror, having been in five Halloween movies and Prince of Darkness) is Inspector Calhoun, who feels he is lord of the manor in his neighbourhood, bullies his Detective Sergeant (Norman Rossington, the Beatles’ manager ‘Norm’ in Hard Day’s Night), drinks interminable cups of tea, and hates the students on sight.

Calhoun is told to stick to his greengrocers and dentists and leave the investigation of the rich and powerful to MI5, by the elegant figure of Christopher Lee (Dracula and, yes, Saruman from Lord of the Rings!) who reportedly took the part because he admired Pleasance and wanted to be in a film with him, but then they never appeared together, due to their height difference. The scene in which they clash, though, is a highlight of the film.

The cannibal/monster, credited as “The Man”, (a masterful performance by Hugh Armstrong) is dirty, diseased and aphasic (unable to speak – his only vocabulary is “Mind the door” which is what you hear interminably on the London Underground trains), but he is able to express a world of different emotions with these three words, including anger, enquiry, soothing and sorrow. He also has septicaemic plague, which for some reason does not feature much in the plot. Marlon Brando was going to take the role originally, but pulled out for family reasons.

The Man’s first appearance is when he has freshly killed the important guy and is trying unsuccessfully to revive the second-last cannibal – the last female of his clan. He finds a fob watch on his victim and places it tenderly on her chest, as he has done for all the other dead cannibals who are strewn around the abandoned station. His weeping and moaning, his gentle stroking and rough shaking, the blanket he wraps her in as he weeps, his despair and sudden, futile hope that she is still alive – well, it reminded me of King Lear, and also Boris Karloff in Frankenstein.

Foucault in Abnormal : Lectures at the Collège de France 1974-1975 spoke of the “popular monster” – the cannibal who eats the rich, as happened quite a lot during the French Revolution. Foucault specifies two kinds of monster: “the cannibal (the popular monster) and the incestuous (the princely monster)“. The princely monster, the sexually deviant civil servant, is eaten by the popular monster, “The Man”. Yet this film challenges the paradigm, because The Man, the popular monster, is also the prince of his domain (the abandoned tunnels) and presumably the product of the incestuous unions of his predecessors among the descendants of the construction workers. He is both kinds of monster, and still totally relatable and sympathetic – perhaps the most human of all the characters.

Of course, it is the rich who eat the poor most of the time, and so this story fits into the reality of class warfare. The film critic Robin Wood divided horror films into progressive or reactionary, depending on whether the monster is a sympathetic character or not – on that basis, this film about downtrodden and abandoned workers taking revenge on the hierarchies of snobbery above them is, well, revolutionary. The Man may eat the rich guy in the bowler hat (and a few maintenance workers), but he cannot win that war, mainly because the rich don’t take trains.

 Indeed, the real monster in this film is the Underground train system with its interminable corridors and flights of steps, its dark, satanic tunnels and its squalid carriages, imbued with despair. Train stations, the dark tunnels and the impersonal screeching of the train itself are all terrifying.

The cinematography by Alex Thompson, who later shot Alien 3, is outstanding, and the film scored a very creditable 91% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with one reviewer stating:

“Yes, it’s a cannibal film, but it’s also a startlingly tender film about a literal underclass abandoned by the world above, a story that roils in class division.”

Cannibal music – “You know it’s only out of love” – JÓNSI (2020) – and others.

This blog is primarily about cannibalism in films and TV shows, but we take an occasional deviation (love that word) to discuss real-live cases, or other manifestations of the cannibals’ art. So today – cannibal music.

“Jónsi” Birgisson is an Icelandic musician, the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist for the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós. His new album “Shiver” is due in October, and he has just released the song CANNIBAL – the Youtube link is above.

For this one, he collaborates with Liz Fraser. Fraser is a Scottish singer, songwriter and musician, known as the vocalist for the band Cocteau Twins and on several tracks on Massive Attack’s album “Mezzanine”. She was sometimes called “the Voice of God” in Cocteau Twins.

One review says “If anyone could turn a song about being a cannibal for love into a glorious and gorgeous song, it’s the Icelandic singer [Jónsi]”.

You’ve got perfect skin
Soft enough porcelain
White teeth, but you’re sinking in
I’m chewing cartilage
Chewing your carpet
Muscles, veins, and shoulder blades

You know I’m a cannibal, cannibal
I remove your breathing heart

If you want to enjoy a song about cannibals, Jónsi is a nice peaceful place to start.

If peaceful is not your thang, Cannibal Corpse has been putting the death into Death Metal for over thirty years (spooky huh?) I should issue a warning – this is not the album to play if you have a hangover migraine. Oh, also that it has songs with names like

  • Meat hook sodomy
  • Living dissection
  • Under the rotted flesh
  • Vomit the soul
  • I cum blood

Enjoy!

Cannibal’s Hymn is by the brilliant Australian musician, Nick Cave. I have used a line from this amazing song for the title of my thesis: “If you’re gonna dine with the cannibals“.

If you’re gonna dine with the cannibals
Sooner or later, darling, you’re gonna get eaten
But I’m glad you’ve come around here with your animals
And your heart that is bruised but bleating
And bleeding like a lamb.

While we are talking cannibal music, let us recall Katy Perry’s clip where she wanted to be “spread like a buffet”. If you were lucky enough to miss it or forget it, you can refresh the horror here.

Back in 2010, KE$HA released her cannibal song, with lyrics like “carnivore animal, I am a cannibal!” It became a hit all over again in 2020 when people realised it was a nice tune for exhibiting their talents on TikTok.

And let’s not forget (well, we can try) Robbie Williams’ Rock DJ clip from July 2000 where he is stripping for a group of women. When he is completely naked (with the naughty bits blurred out) and they remain unimpressed, he pulls off his skin and starts throwing pieces of his flesh out to the crowd, who eat it.

The video’s director said that the clip had been banned in the Dominican Republic for ‘Satanism’ and that they were ‘wanted in Papua New Guinea for cannibalism’. Now he wants to reshoot it.

It’s interesting from a cannibal studies point of view in that his penis cannot be shown, while his flesh, and the eating thereof, is perfectly acceptable, apparently. Also that cannibalism is depicted as of more interest than sex to his audience. Of course. Cannibalism is about the voracious and insatiable appetite of humans, of which sex is just one aspect.

Interesting, perhaps, but for what it’s worth, my recommendation, both visually and musically, is to stick to Nick and Jónsi.

Virus apocalypse – 28 DAYS LATER (Danny Boyle, 2002)

A highly contagious virus, originating in human exploitation of captive animals, leads to the complete collapse of society. Pretty far-fetched, huh?

Do you remember back in the good old days, let’s say 2019, when “post-apocalyptic” was just a genre, a metaphor, rather than a feature of every evening news bulletin? The Director, Danny Boyle, reveals in his movies glimpses of different worlds, or rather our world, but disfigured by our appetites. In his debut film, Shallow Grave, it was money, in Trainspotting it was heroin, in Steve Jobs it was recognition. In this film, what we consume and vomit out is rage.

Chimp learning rage.

The film starts with a brief explanation of how zoonotic diseases originate; often that happens in a laboratory. In the opening scene, a chimp is tied to a bed and made to watch videos of rage: lynchings, riots, shootings.

The chimps have been infected with an inhibitor that triggers overwhelming rage. It is carried in a virus, and a highly contagious one. When a group of animal liberationists break in to free the tormented primates, the virus is unleashed as well. There is no cure; the infected humans become killing machines.

If they break your skin or their blood enters your bodily fluids, you are then infected too. The cities are evacuated, the affected killed with no warning.

Like the hero of The Day of the Triffids, the protagonist wakes in a hospital. Jim (Cillian Murphy) is a bicycle courier who has been in a coma for 28 days after a run-in with a car.

He wanders the empty streets, and the rest of the movie revolves around his efforts to avoid the infected and find those who are still, well, human. Which means they have slightly less rage.

28 Days Later is a horror thriller, but much more than that. Yes, you will jump when infected people with bright red eyes leap through the window at you, but it also portrays a profound appreciation of loss, particularly when Jim finds his parents, who have suicided, and is informed he is “lucky”. There is also plenty of humour, and some stunning scenes revealing the beauty of a world, how it could be without humans busily killing each other and poisoning nature.

Danny Boyle captures perfectly the imagery of Rainer Maria Rilke:

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”

Jim and his survivor friends find a platoon of soldiers who have varying views of the virus. The Sergeant (Stuart McQuarrie) is a Nietzschean, who sees humanity as a temporary blip on the smooth course of evolution:

“So if the infection wipes us out, that is a return to normality.”

But the Major in charge (Christopher Eccleston) is more Hobbesian, and sees us as creatures of the jungle.

“Which to my mind puts us in a state of normality now”.

But what’s “normal”? What occurs around us, or the global scene? Perhaps it is only their country (it’s set in the UK) that is affected and locked down?

Made in 2002, the film seems very prophetic. COVID-19 is not exactly the zombie apocalypse, but the themes of the attack on nature, the unintended consequences of animal exploitation, the distrust of the authorities, the fear of infection and the pain of quarantine make this movie even more timely now.

And it’s not portraying the zombie apocalypse, because the film is not really a zombie movie. Zombies, after all, are dead, or at least undead, but this lot are living, although ravaged by the virus and prone to uncontrollable snarling and biting. Roger Luckhurst, in his cultural history of zombies, states that zombies are

“a contagion, driven by an empty but insatiable hunger to devour the last of the living… the Rapture with rot”.

Zombies are supposed to shuffle along, with bits falling off. There was an uproar when this film came out – zombies that can run! Fast zombies. Or sick cannibals?

I try to limit this blog to authentic cannibals, living humans who eat or otherwise incorporate body parts of other humans, living or dead. Once I start including the undead, well, it becomes a never ending feast – a lot of fun, but out of scope. Maybe when I run out of cannibal films and TV shows – which is looking increasingly unlikely – we can start on zombies.

The thing about zombies is they don’t actually exist (as far as we can determine). Whereas cannibals – oh yes, they are out there. But who are the cannibals – the contagious, the ones who deliberately developed the virus, or the authorities who use it to their political advantage?

Stephen King and the cannibal: THE OUTSIDER (2020) S01.E01 “Fish in a Barrel”

The Outsider is a mini-series (ten episodes in the Season) based on a STEPHEN KING novel – ‘nuff said? Well, actually there’s a lot more to be said. Richard Price is the Writer and Executive Producer; he adapted the novel for screen. Price is known for a lot of good stuff, including The Wire, The Deuce, The Night Of and Child 44, which had a similar theme – mutilated and chewed children. The stuff that nightmares are made of.

In Cherokee City, Georgia, detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn from Animal Kingdom and Bloodline) is called to a case which affects him greatly – a child has been murdered, a child about the same age as his kid, who died of cancer a while ago.

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A man walking his dog finds the mutilated corpse in a park. It is covered in saliva and human bite marks.

There’s teeth impressions around the edges.
Animal?
No.

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Ralph quickly finds heaps of evidence including security camera footage, as well as witnesses who identify teacher and Little League coach Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman from Arrested Development and Ozark, who also directed this episode).

Ralph, enraged, has Terry arrested very publicly at a Little League game.

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It seems like an open and shut case, until footage turns up from another town miles away of Terry asking questions at a conference, at the time of the murder. There is conclusive evidence of both his guilt and his innocence.

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Normally nope, but in a Stephen King story? A hooded figure is standing outside the little boy’s house, and Terry’s daughter is having wakeful nightmares, of a man in her room telling her “bad things”.

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The plot is taut and intriguing, and the cast is outrageously good: besides Bateman and Mendelsohn, fans of Hannibal will be delighted to see Hettienne Park, who played forensic investigator Beverly Katz in that show, until she went too far with Hannibal.

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The cannibalism is a bonus – I wanted to watch this show, and now I can blog it too!

It asks a key question of cannibal studies – who is the outsider? In classical literature, anyone outside the polis was an outsider, likely to eat you. In colonial times, the conquistadors were outsiders, enslaving or exterminating the indigenous populations of the lands they coveted, and in turn painting those tribes as outsiders, by accusing them of being, yes, cannibals. In recent times, the cannibal outsider has been hidden within our cities, chomping his or her way through fellow humans, but often, like Jeffrey Dahmer, considered by his neighbours, in shocked voices,  as a quiet loner and unremarkable. Like Terry Maitland. Who is the outsider in Cherokee City – the quiet teacher who is evidently both innocent and guilty, the mysterious hooded stranger who visits children in their waking dreams, or the traumatised cop who is trying to suppress his rage?

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The first episode is available for watching for free (if you’re in the US or have a VPN) at:

https://www.hbo.com/the-outsider

If not, there’s still a great interview there with Stephen King, Richard Price, Ben Mendelsohn and others.

You can also watch the opening scene, with the ravishing Mozart Piano Concerto 23 as the soundtrack, here.

 

Immigrants and cannibals: TWO HEADS CREEK (Jesse O’Brien, 2019)

The thread that runs through cannibalism texts, from Homer’s Cyclops to Harris’ Hannibal Lecter, is the social outsider. It is a theme that never seems to age, since humans love to form cliques, united by an irrational hatred of those who don’t belong, even if it’s just because they dress differently or support a different sporting team. The most obvious example at the moment, and for most of modern history, is the immigrant.

Norman is played by Jordan Waller who also wrote the script – you may have seen him appear in the TV series Victoria. He runs his mother’s Polish butcher shop in Slough (it’s a real place, although there is definitely a pun in there). It’s post-Brexit Britain, and the locals scream abuse and paint his windows with dog-shit.

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He’s English, but his shop sells Polish meats, so he is the hated outsider. His twin sister Anna (Kathryn Wilder) is the assertive one, and is totally uninterested in his butcher shop.

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When they discover at their mother’s funeral (held in the butcher shop) that they were adopted, they find a postcard from their mother, postmarked from a small Australian town: Two Heads Creek. Not sure if this is international invective, but in Australia, “two-heads” is pretty much a synonym for “inbred”, and is used to denigrate rural people. The outsider does not need to come from outside – just a different region will do.

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Norman is named after his mothers’ favourite singer, the Australian pop star Normie Rowe, who was enormously popular in the sixties, until the government decided to conscript him to the war in Vietnam as a publicity stunt. Normie’s oeuvre is featured heavily in the soundtrack. Nevertheless, the twins know nothing of Australia as they sell the butcher shop and head “Down Under” to seek their birth mother, except for clichéd English convict stereotypes, so when the customs agent asks if he has a criminal record, Norman answers “is that a prerequisite?” They travel ten hours to the outback town with a group of Asian immigrants, on a bus driven by an Indigenous man, Apari (Gregory J. Fryer) who is treated like dirt by their guide.

This is a blog about movies involving cannibalism, so it’s probably not a big spoiler to mention why the immigrants are being sent to Two Heads Creek.

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Australian governments of both parties have a long-standing practice of locking up refugees in offshore detention and leaving them there to rot or go mad. So far, they have not considered cannibalism as a solution, so we have to hope they don’t see this movie.

There are lots of explicit cannibalism scenes, as well as some cute intertextual references, e.g.

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The movie is far from subtle in its treatment of jingoism, racism, sexism and various other discriminatory practices popular in Australia and elsewhere.

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But an important thing to realise about cannibalism is that it is an ultimate equaliser – although only certain groups may be chosen as victims, once skinned and cooked, we are all the same. Our differences are, literally, skin deep.

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The scenes of cannibalism are accompanied by another soundtrack, this one the Aussie group Skyhooks, with their big hit “Horror Movie” which, in the song, turned out to be about watching the evening news, and so is just as relevant now as ever. Perhaps more so.

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They do get to meet (and almost eat) their mother, yes, she is named Mary (the wonderful Kerry Armstrong from Lantana, Seachange and so much more), who perplexes them by describing their father as “a good man”.

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The final act is a climax of gore, wildly over the top and full of people being stabbed in the crotch, presumably for the 14-year-old-boy market. The main antagonist, Apple (Helen Dallimore) gets shot with an arrow and goes into the giant meat-mincer with her middle finger the final part to be ground up, while screaming the theme of the movie:

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The best line of the film is from their mother, who is hit in the neck by a lethal boomerang studded with nails, but dismisses it as “only a flesh wound”

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Apari, a descendant of the original inhabitants of the land, is left to clean up the blood and corpses that litter the town. With some justification, as he watches the Australians and the English hobble off, he says:

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This well-crafted film is only the second feature from Australian director Jesse O’Brien. He said of the setting, the mining town of Cracow in the Banana Shire, 500km northwest of Brisbane, that

“I think that myth of the outback being ‘a scary place’, which isn’t always true, does fit rural Queensland really well.”

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The cast is great and the film is fresh, funny and still manages to ask some interesting questions about differences and about appetites. It has a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Film Threat described it as:

“A deliciously deranged horror-comedy, overflowing with blood and wit.”

The movie is available on Amazon Prime.

 

Cannibals and Cops: “EATER” (Fear Itself S1E5, 2008)

“Eater” is the fifth episode of season one of the TV horror series Fear Itself, an American horror/suspense anthology television series shot in Canada. This episode, “Eater”, aired on NBC on Thursday, July 3rd, 2008. A later episode featured a Wendigo, and was reviewed last year.

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Officer Danny Bannerman (Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men, Handmaid’s Tale and Invisible Man) is a rookie cop assigned to watch a new prisoner in the Chesterton police holding cell.

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The prisoner, Duane Mellor (Stephen R. Hart), is an “eater” who has murdered 32 people in five different states, killing the men outright but torturing the women before finally killing and eating them, not necessarily in that order.

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In his wardrobe, they found garments made from the skins of his victims. “Just like Hannibal Lecter” says slob cop Marty (Stephen Lee), but Bannerman (her name is straight out of several Stephen King stories) puts them straight – it was Buffalo Bill of course. Hannibal just liked the flesh. As a keen fan of horror, she asks to see the arrest report.

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The Sergeant (Russell Hornsby) warns her: “Hannibal the Cannibal is make believe. This guy isn’t.” Except he is, and rather derivative too – he deconstructs the binary of gustatory (Hannibal) and sartorial (Bill) cannibalism. How postmodern can you get?

Mellor, it turns out, is Cajun, so of course there’s going to be voodoo. He starts chanting in his cell, the lights flicker, and Marty gives her a lecture on Cajun culture and cannibal theory:

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“Down on the Bayou, the Cajun, they use every part of their kill. They’ll take a big, ol’, fat ‘gator, they’ll eat all the flesh, they’ll take the hide, use it for shelter, for clothing, they’ll take the bones, use them for utensils, weapons. I think Mellor’s doing the exact same thing, just doing it with human beings, that’s all… Waste not, want not.”

They discuss the key questions of cannibal studies: why does he do it? “Sexual turn-on” suggests Bannerman, making Marty go all sweaty and silent. Until he sneaks up behind her as she tries to ask the killer about such things, and asks “have you ever wondered what it tastes like… human flesh?”

She replies “just like any other meat I guess”.

“No. I think it’s the power that gets them off… There’s an old voodoo saying that if you cut a man’s heart out and eat it before it stops beating, not only do you gain his strength, but you gain his spirit”.

Marty goes off to investigate a strange noise, Bannerman fetches the keys to the cell (which oddly I found the most disturbing part of the show) and goes to open the cell, and finds the cell unlocked, but the other cop, Mattingly (Pablo Schreiber from The Wire) tells the scared rookie “Stop being such a… woman”. Yes, fear is a female thing, apparently, or at least admitting to it. But shape-shifting – that’s a guy thing, in voodoo at least, and all the men are really Mellor. Maybe all men are eaters?

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The story is tight and taut, and the cast is superb. Elisabeth Moss, like Jodi Foster in Silence of the Lambs, is young and small enough for her vulnerability to engage our sympathy, but also smart, tough, resourceful and brave. Since being kidnapped in West Wing, Moss seems to have making a career in TV and movies where women take on vicious, violent men. This one is as vicious and violent as most of her Gilead mates. Scott Tobias of AV Club said: “If there’s ever been a gorier, nastier hour of network television, then I certainly can’t recall it”.

Now there’s a recommendation.

Director of this episode, Stuart Gordon, also did play about Armin Meiwes, the Rotenburg Cannibal, on the LA stage.

Eater is available (in four parts for some reason) on Youtube.

A complete listing of my Hannibal blogs can be accessed here.