Women’s Health and Cannibalism – DIE WIEBCHEN (Zbynek Brynych, 1970)

In 1967, Valerie Solanas self-published the SCUM Manifesto, a document which began:

“Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.”

SCUM stood for Society for Cutting Up Men, and its manifesto was considered on its release something of a parody, satirising patriarchy; an exaggerated propaganda diatribe for Women’s Liberation, which was making men a little nervous by then (or at least making us reassess some of the previously unquestioned societal beliefs). That changed in 1968, when Solanas bought a gun and shot Andy Warhol in The Factory, his studio in New York City. Apparently, she really did want to cut up men.

This German-language German-French-Italian made film Die Wiebchen, translated variously as “The Females” or “The Bitches” or “Feminine Carnivores” came out a couple of years later, and was certainly influenced by Solanas and her manifesto, and her gun.

Zbyněk Brynych was a Czech director of the New Wave, which emphasised improvisational film-making rather than punctilious adherence to narrative scripts. Die Wiebchen starts with Eve (Uschi Glas) suffering from anxiety attacks. She is sent off to the Van Marens psychiatric retreat, which turns out to be staffed almost exclusively by women, except for a giant who is the gardener, an almost archetypal monster, toothless and with a long scar on his face. Incidentally (fun fact time), When Eve arrives at the health spa, the first woman to greet her is carrying a German translation of Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto. She is examined in stirrups by the head of the clinic, Dr Barbara (Gisela Fischer from Torn Curtain, in which she was also a doctor).

Drugged and disorientated, Eve wanders out of her room and opens a cupboard, out of which falls a man with a knife in his back. Yep, SCUM it is. Men are welcome though – particularly an extremely sleazy guy with open shirt and gold chain who thinks he’s landed in heaven, only to end up in male hell, and a hot oven. Men are lured in for sex and then killed, in the manner of the praying mantis or black widow spider.

Eve wants to warn the other men about the female man-eaters, but, of course, no one believes her. The police chief is, admittedly, male, but also chronically alcoholic, and certainly not interested in investigating murders. “I have three murders a day; they have to wait their turn.”

Dr Barbara diagnoses Eve as suffering from post-traumatic hallucinations and we, the audience, can never be sure whether this is actually the case. There’s certainly meat on the dinner menu, but from which species of animal? No spoilers, but the question of reality is settled at the conclusion, with a surprisingly graphic scene for 1970.

Just in case we haven’t got the point, the women hold a joyous bra-burning ceremony. This movie really has something for everyone. The music is jazzy sixties and the photography tends to the gimmicky with extreme fisheye lenses and trippy montages. It gets a bit annoying, but overall it’s a lot of fun.

Die Weibchen is an interesting entry in the all too brief list of female cannibal films because, while the male reaction against feminism or “women’s lib” as it was known in 1970 is obvious with every slash of the knife and every burnt bra, nonetheless the protagonists are all strong women, with the only men being drooling idiots or sex-obsessed sleazebags.

Uschi Glas wrote in her memoir Mit einem Lächeln (With a Smile) that she was glad to be able to play a new type of woman for the first time, a “beautiful change”. But she regretted that the film never became a big success.

The website Girls with guns summed up:

“If ever a film were guilty of sending out mixed messages, this would be it – but, surprisingly, I didn’t feel that hurt it much.”

My preferred title was the Italian version: Femmine Carnivore: Carnivorous Females. Eating meat is usually considered a male pursuit (strange, in that men don’t menstruate), yet there is a terror of the female, and particularly the fact that we emerge from the womb, and subconsciously fear that we could be reabsorbed into it. Professor Barbara Creed writes about the archaic mother as a “primordial abyss”, the place we all came from, and to which we fear we will return. Unlike Freud’s insistence that boys are terrified of what they see as their potential castration when they perceive their mother’s genitals as “a lack”, the female cannibal with her knife or teeth or her vagina dentata (toothed vagina) demonstrates the real fear felt by men – their cannibalisation by the strong woman. Often she is presented as a monster or possessed by an evil entity, such as in Inseminoid or Jennifer’s Body, or turned into a zombie by some contagious virus such as in Doghouse. But it’s nice to see a movie like Die Wiebchen, where the female cannibals are just – enjoying their dinners.

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