Who’s in your burger? One of the best parts of any news story about cannibalism (and don’t the media just love them?) is the cheeky double entendre, the thigh-slapping pun, the sly innuendo. This story has generated many of them. E.g.
Estefany Benitez wrote in a Facebook post about an incident she alleges occurred on Sunday September 12 at the Hot Burger store in Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia. Benitez claimed that she chewed on a severed finger with her first bite of her hamburguesa magnifica burger.
Accompanying photos show what appears to be a rotting fingertip on the plate next to the burger.
In Benitez’s accompanying video, which currently boasts more than 60,000 views, she says,
“Here we are at the magnificent Hot Burger where a finger ended up in my burger.”
The video shows an employee pleading “Please tell me what you want and we will give it to you.” The young employee tells the angry customer that the burgers arrive at the restaurant pre-prepared and that “nothing like this has ever happened to us before.” But the video claims that the restaurant then reportedly continued “serving customers like nothing had happened”.
UNINTENTIONAL PUN OF THE WEEK GOES TO:
“This issue is out of our hands.”
After the post went viral, a company spokesperson called the discovery an “unfortunate incident” and explained that an employee had lost two fingers while prepping the meat — a story that has been confirmed by local police.
It’s not unusual for customers to discover human body parts in their food. In an incident in 2019, a UK couple claimed they’d found a tooth in their Chinese takeout. This trope of the innocent cannibal eating human body parts under the assumption that they are from some anonymous animal who is not human has been around since the legend of Sweeney Todd, the ‘demon barber of Fleet St’ who processed his customers into meat pies, and who was supposedly hanged in London in 1802. Todd has graced several movies, most recently a musical with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Other similar stories include Motel Hell and the Danish comedy Green Butcher, starring Mads Mikkelsen. Of course, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre famously begins with a group of tourists chowing down on some unnamed “barbeque” before themselves becoming the ingredients.
In the movie The Farm, a group of animal activists make a living cutting up tourists who stop at their hotel, selling their meat as part of a catering business. Female victims are artificially inseminated to make saleable milk. Like the Hot Burger company, they also have production problems, when a customer finds a tooth in his delivery of meat.
In light of the events at Hot Burger, the Bolivian vice-minister for the defense of consumer rights ordered the temporary closure of the burger branch and fined the firm. However, it’s unclear whether Benitez will pursue legal action. Comments on her Facebook page are running hot, many of them condemning her for putting hard-working restaurant staff out of work. And, when you think of it, is it really so very shocking to find meat from a large mammal in a burger?
An Army veteran from Utah who has been accused of assaulting police during the Capitol insurrection was refused bail after he threatened to “eat the flesh” of a probation officer.
Federal prosecutors revealed the threat made by Landon Copeland during a bail hearing on Friday 10 September. They told U.S. District Judge Meriweather that Copeland had been on pretrial release for “all of two days” before making the threat, resulting in him being re-arrested. According to a motion from prosecutors seeking to keep him detained, Copeland told the probation officer,
“I will eat your flesh for nutrients. I don’t think you don’t know what I am”
Copeland later stated “I was well within my First Amendment rights in speaking to him the way I did.” At a Zoom hearing on May 6, Copeland had shouted at a judge and court officials. He then drove to probation services where he spoke to the officer through a glass partition. According to the detention memorandum (page 7), he was “ranting about government conspiracies” and claiming “the government was out to get him. At times, he banged his head against the glass and pressed his face against the glass.”
Copeland said he was furious because, during the May hearing, an attorney for another defendant said his client had become addicted to Fox News and suffered from “Foxitis.” Copeland said the attorney’s comment was “spitting in the face of the 258 million people that tune in to the Tucker Carlson show,” complaining that he was “allowed to lambast all of Fox News’ viewers without objection from the judge or any of the other attorneys present.”
Prosecutors also said during Friday’s hearing that if Copeland is released pending trial and placed on home confinement, multiple agents would be required to conduct check-ins because law enforcement “is not welcome” in Hildale, Utah, where he lives, according to a report from WUSA9’s Jordan Fischer. Hildale is home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, led by jailed president Warren Jeffs.
Copeland’s Defense attorney told the judge Friday that Copeland would abide by release conditions as he had a child, and that he “does renounce what he said, with regards to anything that could be interpreted as threatening or wanting violence.” However, prosecutors countered that Copeland “renounced nothing” during two recent interviews with the media, but “he has a reason for saying something differently today.”
With regard to the insurrection, Copeland has said that former president Donald Trump “invited” him to be there — and that he would “willingly do it again.”
Judge Meriweather concluded Friday that if she only had the January 6 conduct to consider,
“I might not find the threat to be as substantial as I do. But Mr. Copeland’s conduct on the short time of his pretrial release speaks loudly. My concern is that it does appear mental health and substance use played a role in May 6… so I don’t believe that stringent release conditions in this case would adequately ensure the safety of the community.”
Enquiries have not established what or whom Mr Copeland is eating in jail.
This is an American documentary about serial killers, but specialising in those who ate parts of some of their victims. I guess that makes it inevitable that they will throw the name Hannibal Lecter in there, even though the similarities are not immediately apparent.
There are a lot of documentaries about cannibals, some mostly interested in sensationalism, and others seeking some sort of journalistic accuracy. This is one of the better ones, with a good selection of experts commenting on the various cases.
Cannibals, and particularly cannibal serial killers, are a real problem for the media. The difficulty comes from the scepticism that journalists need to cultivate in interpreting a world of stories that are stranger than fiction, or sometimes are fiction disguised as fact, or just fiction that people want to believe. Cannibal books and films fall into the horror genre and are usually lumped together with vampires, zombies, ghouls and other strange monsters out of their creators’ nightmares. So cannibals are a problem.
Cannibals are real. Many cannibals have had their activities thoroughly documented, some are even willing to be interviewed. Jeffrey Dahmer gave a range of interviews in which he spoke openly of the way he lured young men and boys to his apartment in Milwaukee and drugged them, then drilled holes into their heads and injected acid, hoping to create compliant zombie lovers, or else strangled and ate them. Dahmer was killed by a fellow prisoner after serving only a tiny fraction of his sentence of 937 years imprisonment.
But others are still alive – Armin Meiwes is in prison in Germany for eating a willing victim whom he met on the Internet and has willingly given interviews revealing his deepest passions, and he even gets out on day release from time to time. Another documentary reviewed on this site a couple of years ago compared him to, yep, Hannibal Lecter.
Issei Sagawa was arrested in Paris for killing a Sorbonne classmate whose body he lusted after and then eating parts of her, but was not sent to prison as he was declared insane. When the asylum sent him back to Japan, he was released (the French didn’t send any evidence with him), and lives in Tokyo where he has made porn movies, written for cooking magazines, and yes, done interviews for unnerved journalists. There are at least three documentaries on him, which we will get to – eventually.
Documentaries like this one love to compare real-life cannibals, or the much wider field of serial killers, with the fictional character, Hannibal Lecter, “Hannibal the Cannibal”. The problem here is that the serial killers in this doco (or any that weren’t) are not very much like Hannibal. Actual modern cannibals are usually categorised as banal, normal-looking folks who under the polite surface are depraved psychopaths, while Hannibal is civilised, educated, rational, brilliant and independently wealthy. He is a highly respected psychiatrist (until his arrest) and remains a likeable protagonist to many readers and viewers, despite his penchant for murder and guiltless consumption of human flesh. He even introduces his own ethical guidelines: he prefers to eat rude people: the “free range rude” to quote another Hannibal epigram.
Much of the commentary in this documentary is by Jack Levin, a Criminologist with a rather distracting moustache, or perhaps a pet mouse that lives on his upper lip. He sums up the modern cannibal serial killer:
“Many Americans when they think of a serial killer will think of a glassy-eyed lunatic, a monster, someone who acts that way, someone who looks that way. And yet the typical serial killer is extraordinarily ordinary. He’s a white, middle-aged man who has an insatiable appetite for power, control and dominance.”
The standard serial killer appears very ordinary indeed. According to the doco, 90% of serial killers are white males. Many serial killers, we are told, experienced a difficult childhood, abused emotionally, physically or sexually. Hannibal of course saw his sister eaten, and probably innocently joined in the meal, so I guess you might call that a difficult childhood. But of course many people have difficult childhoods (less difficult than Hannibal’s, one hopes) without becoming cannibals or serial killers. Many of these so-called “real life Hannibal Lecters” featured in this program were not even cannibals, such as John Wayne Gacy, who murdered at least 33 young men and boys, but did not eat them, and was not even vaguely similar to Hannibal in appearance, MO, or dining habits. Same with Ted Bundy, who also gets a segment. These killers killed because they enjoyed it – as an act of dominance. Serial killers, Levin tells us, get “high” on sadism and torture. Hannibal, on the other hand, just killed his victims the way a farmer might choose a chicken for dinner – slaughter the tastiest, fattest one, or else the one who has been annoying him.
“There is much discussion as to whether cannibalism is an inherent characteristic in all human beings, our animal impulses, or whether cannibalism stems only from the minds of mad beasts such as some of the most prolific serial killers.” Richard Morgan, narrator.
Eventually, we get to the cannibals. First up is Andrei Chikatilo, the Russian cannibal who sexually assaulted, murdered, and mutilated at least fifty-two women and children between 1978 and 1990. Chikatilo, we are told, liked to cook and eat the nipples and testicles of his victims, but would never admit to eating the uterus – far too abject for his psychosis. Sigmund Freud and Julia Kristeva would find that fascinating.
We look in some detail at Albert Fish, the “Gray Man” who tortured and killed probably fifteen children around the US at the beginning of the twentieth century. He mostly specialised in the children of the poor and people of colour, but was eventually caught because he ate a little white girl, causing the police to take the cases seriously at last.
A large section of the documentary is dedicated to Jeffrey Dahmer, perhaps the most famous of the modern real-life cannibals. Dahmer was not a sadist, disliking violence and suffering, so he did not really fit the description used in the doco, and was certainly no Hannibal.
The other experts wax lyrical about cannibals, such as author and psychiatrist Harold Schechter, who speculates that
“Anthropological evidence seems to suggest that cannibalism was a kind of activity that our pre-human ancestors indulged in with a certain regularity, so I think there is probably some sort of innate impulse towards that kind of activity… serial killers act out very archaic, primitive impulses that clearly still exist on some very very deep level.”
Well, that’s definitely not Hannibal, the Renaissance man, who carefully considers each action and dispassionately stays several steps ahead of his pursuers. Jack Levin again:
“Any serial killer who cannibalises victims has broken one of the most pervasive and profound taboos in all of society. Psychologically, this means the killer has achieved the opposite of what he had hoped… in terms of ego, in terms of self-image, he has got to feel worse about himself.”
That certainly is not Hannibal!
But there are some interesting observations in this documentary if we set aside the obvious problems with the comparisons with Hannibal. Zombie flesh-eaters were first popularised in Night of the Living Dead which came out in 1968, what the documentary calls “the most murderous decade” – the 1960s, followed a few years later by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. People flocked to the cinema to see people being eaten because two Kennedys and MLK were assassinated and the brutal, unending Vietnam war was filling the television screens? Maybe so.
Levin tells us
“Most people don’t see the difference between Hannibal Lecter and Jeffrey Dahmer. To the average person, there is no difference between fact and fantasy.“
Col. Robert K. Ressler, who founded the FBI Behavioural Sciences Unit (which makes him a real life Jack Crawford) points out that there are no serial killer psychiatrists, nor do serial killers normally become well integrated into the upper levels of society like Hannibal. So he’s not helping the Hannibal comparison at all. Nor is Levin, who points out that Dahmer was remorseful at his trial, and went out of his way to avoid inflicting pain, unlike most serial killers to whom the killing is a “footnote” to the main text – the torture of the victim. So Dahmer does not fit into the model of serial killer presented here, and he has nothing in common with Hannibal Lecter.
But author Richard Lourie, who wrote a book about Chikatilo, points out that we, the audience, really want to see the serial killer as a Nietzschean Übermensch (superman) – a brilliant criminal genius. He also tells us that Hannibal seems asexual, above the primal drives that motivate people like Chikatilo and Dahmer. Not entirely true of course, if you have read the end of the book Hannibal or read any of the Fannibals’ fan fiction which speculates on some juicy homoerotic episodes between him and Will.
But there is a point to all these rather painfully stretched comparisons between real serial killers and the fictional Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal, Leatherface, the Zombies, are all the inchoate faces of our nightmares, and horror stories are our way of understanding the terrors that fill the news sites. Hannibal is not typical of the real-life serial killer or cannibal, but remember that the apparently kindly old woman who wanted to eat Hansel and Gretel was hardly typical of the horrors of Europe at the time of famine and plague when the Grimms were writing their stories. Each is a facet of horror.
Schechter talks about the simplistic view that cannibalism is in itself “evil”. Which is actually worse, he asks, to torture and kill a person or to eat their flesh when they are dead, an act which can certainly do them no more harm? Indeed.
Levin sums up:
“It could be argued that cannibalism as this ultimate form of aggression lurks within every one of us…. We have an aggressive part of ourselves, it’s part of basic human nature, and to that extent we are all potential cannibals.“
A kind face, a deceptive smile, a gingerbread house or psychiatrist’s couch can sometimes be more terrifying than the sordid crime scenes left by Chikatilo, Dahmer and Fish. The seeming normality of Albert Fish, Andrei Chikatilo, Jeffrey Dahmer or Hannibal Lecter conceals something that we hide deep within our shadow selves.
Doghouse is a British slapstick / splatter movie. The danger of mixing genres like that is that sometimes neither one will work, and this is a good example of just that. A bunch of young men head off for a weekend to cheer up one of their friends who has just been divorced. The film introduces them one by one with a placard showing their name (hoping vainly that we will thereafter remember them). They are all being verbally abused by their partners for leaving them, a condition sometimes known as being “in the doghouse”. They diagnose their situation as suffering from what they call “social gender anxiety” and plan to do male things like, you know, drink and smoke a piss on trees. They think they are recapturing their animal essences, whereas in fact they are just being dicks.
They head for a little town where, they have heard, the women outnumber the men four to one. Their minibus driver tells them that it is the middle of nowhere, and hey, there are worse things than divorce.
They are expecting
“an entire village of man-hungry women, waiting to jump the first band of desperadoes rolling up from London.”
Turns out that’s exactly what they get (yes, such subtle irony) because the women have all been infected with a virus in a biological warfare trial intended to turn one half of an enemy population against the other, and isn’t that a decent summary of human history? This virus turns them into what these guys call
“an army of pissed-off man-hating feminist cannibals”
Each woman is a caricature of her womanly role – a bride, a hairdresser, a grandma, etc.
While this is a remarkably silly film, it does illustrate quite nicely the themes of abjection and the monstrous feminine. Monsters are by definition outsiders, but more so when their appearance and violent activities are in a female form, because we are reminded of the archaic mother – the authority figure of early childhood who toilet trained us, dominated us, exemplified adult sexuality and offered us both nurturing and the threat of Oedipal competition with the father and ultimately castration or reabsorption. Just so, the women of the town represent female roles: the crone (one of the men’s gran), the bride (in virginal white), the hairdresser, the barmaid, the traffic warden. Freud might have enjoyed this film – the women carry castrating weapons – knives, scissors, axes, teeth, a dental drill. Even stilettos. One woman represents voracious appetite and therefore body dysmorphia (obesity) – she has an electric carving knife and kneels in front of her victim in a recreation of every fellatio-gone-wrong castration nightmare, cutting off his, well, his finger. But you know, symbolism.
In case the symbolism is still not clear, the local shop, with a mummified penis in the display case, is called
The men plan a violent exit, declaring “Today is not the day to stop objectifying women”. This gives the film an excuse to answer the women’s cannibalistic violence against the men with some very nasty misogynistic attacks by the surviving men, the ones who were the most obdurate male chauvinists, using ‘male’ weapons like fire and vehicles and sporting equipment, resulting in women being variously burnt, having their teeth knocked out, beheaded and beaten to death with golf clubs. At the climax, one of the surviving men growls “give me a wood” – yeah, you get the picture. There would be a certain section of the audience cheering those scenes, I suspect.
I have in my (very odd) library a title called The In Vitro Meat Cookbook. It has a series of recipes, none of which you can cook, because they require as their main ingredient meat grown in the laboratory rather than cut from the quivering corpse of an animal who probably lived her whole life in horrendous conditions. When this lab meat becomes commercially available, it will doubtlessly be great news for the billions of animals who die in terror for our plates each year, but these recipes go beyond the meats you might see at a butcher shop to such suggested dishes as Dodo Nuggets and Dinosaur Leg and, yes, Celebrity Cubes:
“Forget autographs and posters. Prove that you’re the ultimate fan of a celebrity by eating him or her.”
Pop stars in whiskey glaze. If that isn’t intimate enough, how about “IN VITRO ME”? Yep, it’s grown from your own stem cells, and it’s “best shared with a lover as the ultimate expression of unity”.
I digress, but it is relevant to this week’s movie. Antiviral is a film even more relevant now than when it was released a decade ago. For a start, the daily news speaks of little else than viruses and antivirals, and when they do turn to other issues, these usually involve celebrities. This film covers both. It is set in an alternative present, where the obsession with celebrities has moved past adulation and stalking (and occasional cannibalism) to a lucrative business – selling their diseases. For a lot of money, you can suffer the same symptoms and weeping, bleeding pustules as your favourite star!
The movie is the first work by Brandon Cronenberg, the son of body-horror pioneer David Cronenberg (The Fly, The Dead Zone, A History of Violence, etc), sometimes known as “the King of Venereal Horror” or “the Baron of Blood”. Quite a legacy to live up to, but Brandon Cronenberg does it brilliantly in this work, which features cannibalism among its panoply of abjection. The imagery is stunning – bleak scenes in monochromes, then a flash of crimson – blood or lipstick. Needles sticking in arms and gums, lumps of meat grown from celebrities and sold to customers desperate for a touch and a taste of their favourite star.
The protagonist of the film is Syd (Caleb Landry Jones from Get Out, Nitram etc), an employee of the Lucas Clinic. Syd sells customers the dream of being close to their favourite celebrity. What does the avid fan do after already seeing all the movies, reading the magazines, collecting the images? In this world, they pay to get the same diseases as the celeb. Syd knows how to sell, he talks a fan into a dose of herpes simplex, collected by his employer from the superstar Hannah Geist, whom he describes as “more than human”. She had the pus-filled blisters on the right of her mouth, so you really want to be infected on the left, because
Syd is a trusted employee of Lucas (where the archivist is played by Lara Jean Chorostecki, who played Freddie Lounds in Hannibal!), but he is ambitious, hoping to sell the virus that is killing Hannah on the black market. He takes some of her blood (Lucas Clinic has exclusive rights to Hannah’s diseases) and infects himself, then waits, taking his temperature, doing things with cotton probes that we all now understand.
He is hoping to sell the new virus through the specialist butcher Arvid (Joe Pingue), whose business Astral Bodies does a thriving trade in celebrity cell steaks – edible flesh grown from the cells of celebrities.
Syd tells Arvid “I don’t understand how this is not considered cannibalism”. Arvid is more philosophical. What does it mean to be human, he asks – is the human “found in its materials” or is it something more religious, as the law currently tends to assume – a soul perhaps?
“But we’ll see what happens when we go from growing celebrity cell steaks to growing complete celebrity bodies.”
When Hannah’s death is announced, Syd’s diseased blood is suddenly in demand – those who have already eaten Hannah now want to either watch him die the way she did, or buy the virus and die along with her. Syd has to escape the virus coursing through his body, and the various business types who want it.
Anything related to a celeb is valuable. Lucas Clinic is even planning to sell ringworms from Hannah’s dog. Or if you don’t want a disease, you can get a skin graft from your favourite celebs, as Hannah’s doctor, Dr Abendroth (played by the magnificent Malcolm McDowell) shows Syd.
What does it mean to “go viral”? This humble blog has gone viral (a very mild, non-toxic one) in that it is viewed thousands of times a month, presumably because wonderful readers like you share it (please?) on social media, or perhaps (socially distanced) word of mouth. But a celebrity who goes viral has his or her impact measured not in the thousands of views but in the millions. Celebrity becomes the message in itself; as the head of Lucas Clinic says, when asked if the current crop of celebs deserve to have the levels of mania surrounding them,
“Anyone who’s famous deserves to be famous. It’s more like a collaboration that we choose to take part in. Celebrities are not people. They’re group hallucinations.”
Hannah’s doctor Abendroth is more metaphysical, musing that
“there is a power, something in the thrall of the collective eye, that can be consumed and appropriated.”
Certainly we devour our celebrities, with the paparazzi as the hunters and the rest of us sitting with a magazine or a tablet and consuming them – think of Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson and many, many more. Unlike most of us mere mortals, the celeb who has gone viral remains consumable after death, perhaps more so. So it is with Hannah.
The marketing of Hannah’s “afterlife” expresses the vulnerability of humans, the paragon of animals, to a virus, a type of genetic code so tiny that we are not even agreed on calling them “alive”.
“From the perspective of the virus, the human being is irrelevant. What matters is the system that allows it to function. Skin cells, nerve cells, the right home for the right disease.”
But no spoilers – go get this one out and watch it (if you’re not the squeamish type) – it is well worth it.
We long for connection. Cronenberg mentioned a moment of inspiration:
“A friend of mine said he was watching Jimmy Kimmell one night and Sarah Michelle Gellar was on the show. She said she was sick and if she sneezed she’d infect the whole audience, and everyone just started cheering.”
The philosopher Blaise Pascal said that there was, in every human, an “infinite abyss [which] can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object”. He suggested that this infinite and immutable object should be God. Humans are big on eating gods – Dionysus was torn apart and reborn by means of his mother eating his heart, which made her pregnant. Christians eat the Eucharist – the body and blood of Jesus, according to John 6:55-66
“For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.”
We live vicariously, by eating our gods. But in our culture, the celebrity is god. The viral, consumable, more-than-human celebrity.
Imagine a place where your wildest dreams come true!
Suppose your fantasy could materialise – would you still want it? Fantasies are often best left in the realm of the imagined – that’s why people watch BDSM instead of actually torturing partners, or play war games on the computer instead of getting a gun and going out hunting people. A fantasy which became reality would come with consequences that you might not enjoy so much. But it’s fun to imagine, and I suspect many of my readers would have “wildest dreams” that no television network would dare portray! Have you checked Tumblr lately?
Fantasy Island originally came from the prolific mind of Aaron Spelling, who was producing hit shows from 1959 until his death in 2006, so you’ve probably brushed against his work somewhere in your life: from Burke’s Law (1963-66) to the Mod Squad (1968-73), Charlie’s Angels (1976-81), Fantasy Island (1977-84), The Love Boat (1977-86), Dynasty (1981-89), Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990-2000), Melrose Place (1992-99) and dozens of others. So prolific was he, that many of the series he produced overlapped – Fantasy Island was introduced in made-for-TV movies when Charlie’s Angels was just setting the television world alight. It then ran for 152 episodes over five years, followed by less successful revivals, including a pretty awful horror movie in 2020. This new reboot began airing on Fox on August 10, 2021.
Spelling said in an interview that the idea came from a joke: he was pitching ideas to ABC, and they had rejected six different ones, when he finally exclaimed:
“What do you want? An island that people can go to and all of their sexual fantasies will be realized?”
They loved that one.
The original featured the great Mexican actor Ricardo Montalbán as Mr. Roarke, the white-suited proprietor of the island, a kind of wizard who could make any wish come true, but often foresaw that the results would be not as desired, or that the motivations of the fantasy were misunderstood. This new series created by Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fain takes up that scenario, but now it’s Rourke’s grandniece, Elena (Roselyn Sánchez from Without a Trace), still all in white, and still dispensing fantasies. A photo of her granduncle is on her desk.
The formula usually has two different story arcs happening simultaneously. The one we are interested in for this cannibalism blog is the one involving Christine (Bellamy Young from Scandal) as a television newsreader in Phoenix, who is oppressed by body shaming, that turns out (in an island-inspired memory) to spring from an abusive step-father.
Christine’s rather disappointing fantasy is to be able to spend the visit to the island eating anything and everything she wants, and not gain a pound.
Of course, the island knows that her hunger is much more elemental. Long story short (or as Elvis sang “I said all that to say all this”) – the stepfather turns up on the island, still abusive, and [SPOILER ALERT] she kills him and ends up eating him, roasted on a spit.
Have you seen Mike White’s TV series White Lotus yet? Everyone seems to be talking about it. Rolling Stone magazine called it “Class Warfare Comes to Fantasy Island.” It kept coming to mind when I watching this first episode of FI. Of course, no one is technically eaten in White Lotus, but it is a kind of Fantasy Island for the rich, a place where they expect their every wish to appear, not by wizardry but because of their obscene wealth, and it sees their schemes backfiring sometimes, as the Fantasy Island ones often did. Of course, like all fairy stories, Fantasy Island has a moral lesson; no such luck for White Lotus. In reality, the rich always eat the poor. Like Nine Perfect Strangers, the rich also have their suffering to deal with from past trauma or abuse, and revisiting that hurt is supposed to start the healing. In Christine’s case, it is food that brings all her misery rushing back in; Elena refers to Proust’s memory-laden madeleine cakes which bring childhood memories flooding back.
When I say no one is eaten on White Lotus, I mean only literally. Allegorically, though, the rich gobble up the serving people, using and abusing them, stealing the lands of the indigenous families and employing them as servants and entertainers, exploiting and discarding the others. The staff are instructed to be “generic” – almost invisible, as are the billions of animals we humans eat each year. The first step in cannibalism is objectification of the victim.
Just so, Christine’s step-father offers, in a flash-back, to fix her teeth so she can become a star, but we know there is a price. He objectifies and belittles her, telling her:
There are a lot of animal references in this episode. Christine, as a child, is compared to a heifer, that is, a cow who has not yet been mated. The implication is that his abuse is sexual as well as mental. He, in turn, is referred to as a pig – Elena tells Christine that the abuser died in 2012, that she met on the island not him, but his cruelty and her trauma, and devoured them:
It’s a bit of a cop-out, IMHO. She is so relieved to realise that she killed and ate her abusive stepfather’s poisonous effects by – eating a pig? Why such relief? Eating bits of an innocent pig, killed and cooked on a spit roast, is OK to her, but not a man who mentally and probably physically abused her?
If anyone deserved to be killed and roasted, it was not the pig.
Of all the (sometimes) wonderful cannibal movies and shows I have reviewed in this blog, my personal favourite is still The Silence of the Lambs with Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal the Cannibal. It was the first film I reviewed on this blog (does that mean I liked the others less each time? Not at all), and interestingly, it does not actually feature any cannibalism, although we hear a lot about it.
So I was pretty chuffed to find that The Silence of the Lambs is the favourite horror movie of the State of Utah, according to the Horrornews.net website. They used information from Rotten Tomatoes and Google Trends, and partnered with Mindnet Analytics, to analyse how interest in horror movies varied in each US state and the District of Columbia (DC). The results are presented on their website:
This survey covers all horror, whereas in this blog we concentrate on the cannibal, so please let us know your favourite cannibal film (or TV show, but if it’s a series, your favourite episode) either in the comments at the bottom of the page (after a few suggestions) or at email@example.com. I’ll let you know the results.
I expected this to be either graphically violent or else painfully dull, but it was neither. It is quite different from any cannibal movie I have reviewed on this blog.
Deathmaker (German: Der Totmacher) is a re-enactment of the transcripts of the interrogation of the serial killer and cannibal Fritz Haarmann who killed and ate parts of at least 24 homeless boys between the end of the Great War in 1918 and his eventual capture and execution in 1924-5.
Haarmann became known as the “Vampire of Hanover” for killing his victims with a “love bite” that went right through their windpipes. He made a living selling the victims’ clothes and flesh (marketed as “pork”) on the black market to grateful customers who were barely surviving the collapse of the German economy after the war.
There are no flashbacks or re-enactments of violent incidents, just three men sitting in a room, and only two of them speak. Imagine it as a play that has been recorded to film. Or think Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre mixed with In Treatment. The great German film maker Ulli Lommel had made a re-enactment of Haarmann’s killing spree some twenty years earlier called The Tenderness of Wolves (Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe). The two films are a wonderful glimpse into the mind of a cannibal, although the characterisation is so different as to be almost unrecognisable
Almost the whole film is set in one room in an asylum, with psychology professor Ernst Schultze (Jurgen Hentsch) interviewing mass-murderer and cannibal Fritz Haarmann (Götz George, who won best actor at Venice Film Festival for this role) to determine if he is sane, or at least lucid enough to be tried and executed. Except for entrances and exits and the occasional visiting doctor, no other people are present, and the only other member of the cast is the stenographer (Pierre Franckh) – whose notes of the meetings this film used as its script – he is variously terrified, fascinated and sympathetic to Haarmann, all depicted entirely in his face, as he never says a word.
The Director, Romuald Karmakar, is known for producing thoughtful films that often follow perpetrators who are responsible for their own downfall. The professor asks unexpected questions about maths or geology, while Fritz plays the clown, but as the questions close in on his life and sexuality, he becomes more lucid, trying to justify his actions, and trying to win the sympathy of his interrogator. The professor has full control over the hulking Fritz, who is soon describing exactly how he killed the boys and young men during sex, with graphic details of how he dismembered them and disposed of the body parts.
“Took out the bowels. And threw them in a bucket. Dumped them in the toilet. It’s all rumpled up. I cut them up and threw them away.”
Haarmann’s boyfriend, Hans, would acquire the boys, sometimes just because he wanted their clothing, and knew he would get it after Fritz finished with them.
The professor, unlike modern psychs, pours scorn on Fritz, contemptuously condemning his homosexuality and violence and dismissing his claim that he will be allowed into Heaven to meet his mother. Would Haarmann have acted as he did if his homosexuality had been accepted? We can’t know that, but we do know that German laws against homosexuality were made more draconian after Haarmann’s case in 1924.
The boys won’t be able to testify against him to the heavenly judge, Haarmann says, because he caved their heads in, and he demonstrates how he did it, smashing his fist into his hand repeatedly.
He laughs, he boasts, he complains, and eventually he cries as he realises that his rampages, which he at first maintained were not his fault, will surely have him condemned to the guillotine.
The subject of cannibalism is barely mentioned, even though that is about all that Haarmann is remembered for now.
The professor tells him there is plenty of evidence that Fritz fried shrimps in human fat, made bouillon, sausages and brawn
We are told that he stripped the flesh from his victims and sold their clothes, and finally we get a quick reference to “Haarmann’s sausages”, almost as a double entendre joke. The ethical debate between the professor and Fritz is not about cannibalism but about the families who lost their sons, and his response each time is that they were just “joy-boys”.
The basis of exploitation, killing and eating others is objectification. A cow or pig can be “just an animal” and a homeless boy can be “just a joy-boy”. Just words, but powerful enough to allow the most despicable acts, as they strip all moral value from the intended victim. Haarmann claimed he did not remember killing them, they would just be lying next to him, dead, next morning. And of course, once they were dead, they were no longer “just joy-boys” and were instead now just meat. Our ability to objectify does not necessarily stop at the species line.
The film received several awards and nominations from the Deutscher Filmpreis in 1996 including Best Feature Film, Best Direction and Best Actor. Götz George is simply superb in the role, for which he also won the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival. Deathmaker was chosen as Germany’s official submission to the 69th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, but did not manage to receive a nomination.
It is not a film for everyone, both because of the descriptions of the dismemberment of human bodies, as well as the fact that, if you don’t speak German, following the dialog in subtitles can be wearing for some people. But it is quite brilliant, and if you can’t find it on a streaming service, it is available on DVD at Amazon. Well worth the effort.
This is a cannibal film, also a Western and a horror movie, so it has something for (almost) everyone. Although a low budget work by a first-time film-maker, the film has been widely recognised for the excellence of the script and direction, and the characterisation by a team of top actors. And the graphic nature of its climax.
Bone Tomahawkis set in a small town in the last days of the Old West, a frontier society held together by a sheriff, Franklin Hunt, played by Kurt Russell (who managed to fit in a starring role in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight that year as well), with an understated calm and a brooding power. A drifter comes into town and Hunt shoots him when he tries to run from the saloon, necessitating Samantha (Lili Simmons from Banshee), who practices medicine, to treat him in the jail. She, the drifter and a deputy are all abducted during the night – the only evidence is an arrow in the wall, and a dead African-American stable boy. Who could have done that?
We assume Indians, but a Native American they trust, “the Professor” (Zahn McClarnon, from Longmire and Fargo), tells them these are not the “Indians”, or at least the ones with whom the American invaders have been at war. They are a tribe with no name, no language (i.e. less than human). The local Indians call them “troglodytes”, cave dwellers,
The Sheriff, his “back-up deputy” and comic relief, Chicory (Richard Jenkins from Six Feet Under and Shape of Water), the mysterious Indian-fighter Brooder (Matthew Fox from Party of Five and Lost) and Samantha’s husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson from Fargo) with a broken leg that is fast turning gangrenous, set out in pursuit. Most of the film, until the climax when they meet the trogs, is more a road movie than a Western or a cannibal horror film. It’s four cowboys against the elements. On the long ride out to the land of the trogs, they come across two Mexicans and Brooder kills them, suspecting that they are scouts for a bandit gang. Chicory explains
“Mr Brooder just educated two Mexicans on the meaning of manifest destiny”.
Manifest destiny was a widely held cultural ideology that proposed that the culturally and racially superior American settlers were destined to expand across North America. Inferior, backward, savage peoples were meant to get out of the way, or be exterminated. Even the horses were supposed to be racially intolerant. When the rest of the gang comes in the night and steals their horses, Brooder is incredulous that his horse would allow a Mexican to ride her.
Discrimination, be it racism, speciesism, ageism, ableism or any other, is never all-encompassing. Most racists don’t hate everyone, or at least not equally. The settlers in areas like the old West hated the ‘Indians’ for defending their lands, which the white men wanted. Even in the era when this movie is set, sometime in the late nineteenth century, some Native Americans like the Professor were accepted as, if not equals, at least semi-civilised negotiating partners, while others, who maintained their resistance, were considered bloodthirsty savages, and portrayed as killers, rapists and sometimes cannibals.
In this film, this second group is distilled into a people so inhuman that they do not even have language, which is often the first thing quoted in defining the supposed gulf between humans and other animals. They are accused of raping and killing their mothers and, worse yet, abducting and raping white women, requiring the gallant sacrifice of heroes such as depicted here. One of the party, Brooder, boasts of having killed more Indians than all the rest of the town put together. When pressed, he admits that not all were men, as Indian women and children can also handle an arrow or a spear, and he tells of losing his mother and sisters to an Indian massacre when he was ten. For Brooder, white vs red, civilised vs savage is no different to good vs evil. He is an absolute racist, but for what he considers good reasons.
Yet even these less-than-human troglodytes are racists – they left the black stable-boy behind, because “they don’t eat Negroes”. No explanation is given, and it makes no sense since, under the skin (of whatever colour) we are all red meat. Yet their refusal to eat black people paints the white supremacism of the others as less vile somehow – look, these brutal savages must be exterminated – and they’re racists too, so it’s OK for us to discriminate against them.
Of course, those we wish to destroy must be dehumanised, vilified, and preferably accused of vile crimes, of which cannibalism usually seems to be the leading contender. But there is little evidence of Native Americans indulging in the flesh of their victims, whereas only fifty years before the demise of the Old West, the Donner Party had tucked into the remains of the members of their party who had died in the bitter winter snows of the Sierra Nevada in 1846-47. When they ran out of corpses, they murdered and ate their Native American guides.
The film is written and directed by S. Craig Zahler who also wrote the music with Jeff Herriott. It is a tour de force, a modern film that manages to bring to life the Western, a genre that, like its heroes, does not ever seem to die. American Frontier scholar Matthew Carter points out that this story is
“informed by one of white America’s oldest and most paranoiac of racist-psychosexual myths: the captivity narrative”
In these narratives, civilised society is threatened by an evil outside force, and something precious (usually a woman) is stolen and must be recovered. In Bone Tomahawk, traditional narratives are challenged to some extent – the women are not passive, Brooder’s prejudice is challenged, the savages are motivated by the drifters desecrating their burial ground. But the heroes are white men, the story is told from their perspective, the fear of the outsider or alien (remember this is only a few years after 9/11) offers a stark binary which equates civilised with good and savage with evil. It is the myth that was used to justify manifest destiny and the genocide of the Native American tribes. The trogs are barely human – they are covered in white mud which disguises their humanity and they have whistles implanted in their throats instead of having voices, so they cannot be engaged in rational discussion. We see a prisoner scalped and then cut open while alive, to establish their monstrosity.
Their own women, we see at the end, are heavily pregnant, blinded and their limbs removed, so they are simply breeding machines for more warriors, a reference, intentional or not, to the way anti-Islamic propaganda depicts Moslem women as blinded by fundamentalist controls and their burqa.
But perhaps the Professor is the most interesting character. In Westerns, there were good Indians who were assimilated into the dominant culture, often assisted in spreading ‘civilisation’ (think Tonto in The Lone Ranger).
Then there were the evil Indians – the outsiders, vicious and merciless, uninterested in accommodating the invaders on their land, and often (although not always) portrayed as cannibals.
This is one of those horror flicks that’s a bit hard to categorise. It’s an Italian “cannibal boom” film in the tradition of Ruggero Deodato’s classic Cannibal Holocaust which came out the same year, as well as earlier efforts such as Deodato’s Last Cannibal World, Joe D’Amato’s Black Emanuelle films, and the one that started the Italian cannibal boom, Umberto Lenzi’s The Man from Deep River. But Antonio Margheriti, using his alias Anthony M. Dawson, turned the genre on its head. The cannibal boom movies were usually set in the jungle, where tribes of primitive savages killed and ate Western interlopers, who richly deserved their fate. In other words, the archetypal colonialist cannibal story with a post-colonial twist (revenge!)
This one starts in the jungle too, but it’s a jungle in Vietnam, and the Western interlopers are American soldiers prosecuting the disastrous and eventually futile Vietnam War. A squad led by super-macho Norman Hopper (John Saxon from Nightmare on Elm Street) lands in a village and torches the place, after getting blown up by a dog (yeah, it gets worse). They find some POWs captured from their squad, Tommy Thompson (Tony King, who is now head of security for the hip-hop group Public Enemy) and Charlie Bukowski – a intertextual reference to the poet Charles Bukowski I guess, although the link seems tenuous. Bukowski (the soldier, not the poet) is played by John Morghen from Cannibal Ferox, an actor who pretty much always dies horribly in every movie he’s been in, and this is no exception.
They have somehow caught a virus (?) which makes them crave human flesh. That makes it sound more like a zombie movie than a cannibal one (think 28 Days Later), but let’s give it a cannibal pass by referencing the Wendigo films like Ravenous or Eater. Or you could claim, as the doctor says to Norman, it’s a “form of rabies.”
No, it isn’t. He really should have gone with Wendigo, a mythical figure – giant, fierce and cannibalistic, who gathers strength from feeding on human flesh, but the flesh makes him grow larger, and so his appetite can never be satisfied. He is sometimes protective (like Norman), and sometimes a figure of revenge (like Charlie and Tommy). The Wendigo gets inside people who are weak, hungry, or filled with rage.
Anyway, the squad is using flamethrowers to fight the Vietcong (and their women and small children) and one burning woman falls into the pit where the POWs are confined, making for a cooked meal. No home delivery jokes please.
Back in the States, Norman is having nightmares of being bitten by the POWs as he rescued them from their meaty pit. He realises something is wrong with him (the virus from getting bitten maybe?) and stares in horror and fascination at a bleeding lump of flesh in the fridge. Why is there flesh left to bleed in the fridge – isn’t that a health hazard?
One of the rescued POWs, Bukowski, suddenly phones him – he’s on day release from the “Hospital for Nervous Disorders”, or what the cops call a “loony bin”. Norman can’t meet him because the teenage neighbour is lasciviously pointing a hairdryer at him, and he is drawn to her lower regions, but for someone infected with the cannibal virus, ‘eating her out’ means something different to what she expects. She drops by later to tell him that she enjoyed being bitten. What do you know.
Meanwhile, Charlie has gone to see a war movie, as you do when you’re been treated for months for severe PTSD. It’s Umberto Lenzi’s From Hell to Victory, a lovely in-joke among amici, with lots of explosions and deaths. But no one is watching the war.
In front of him, a couple are doing oral things – exchanging saliva and sucking on boobs, erotic cannibalism, but Charlie joins in by taking a healthy bite of the girl’s neck as she leans back in her seat. He runs, there’s a shootout, he kills and eats a bikie and a security guard – it’s all downhill from here. The Atlanta police chief wants to know about him, not his name (despite it’s fascinating intertextuality):
Is he a subversive, a queer, a black, a commie, or a Moslim fanatic?
No, he’s a clean cut all-American (Italian) Vietnam vet, who wants to eat people.
Lots of people get bitten or scratched – a cop, a nurse, who then bites off the doctor’s tongue, and of course there’s that wanton teenager from next door (what horror film would be complete without promiscuous teenagers?), who was infected by Norman’s bite, even though he thought he could overcome the craving for meat.
Point is, they all have the cannibal virus, and the cannibals end up in the sewers (apparently hoping to hoof it to the airport and hop on a flight back to Vietnam), where they are chased by men with guns and flamethrowers; it’s really just like Nam, but now they have become the enemy.
The movie was one of 39 films to be prosecuted in Britain during the 80s as a ‘video nasty’. The acting sometimes leaves a little to be desired, but the main characters, Saxon and Morghen, are great. The special effects are by the legendary Giannetto De Rossi and are, like most of his work, spectacularly abject. The music is a mix of elevator and disco, creating what TV Tropes calls “soundtrack dissonance” – it’s either disturbing or just annoying, I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
In his commentary on the film, the director Antonio Margheriti proudly states that this film was Quentin Tarantino’s favourite of his movies. Tarantino referenced the film a couple of times: in Inglourious Basterds, Donnie Donowitz uses an alias “Antonio Margheriti”, while in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Leonardo DiCaprio character goes to Italy in 1969 to star in Spaghetti Westerns and also one Bond-type spy thriller supposedly directed by Margheriti titled Operazione Dyn-o-mite.
But video nasty or not, Cannibal Apocalypse has some interesting things to say about the fallacies and phalluses of war and cannibalism. The cannibal virus comes back to the USA with Vietnam veterans, a group who were sent to fight a vicious and often brutal war, often against civilians, and returned to abuse or neglect, with far more veterans dying from suicide than died in that war. They also brought back with them, on top of their trauma, exotic diseases, drug habits, and acute psychological damage. Many went as conscripts, and came back as severely damaged killing machines, metaphorically lusting for human flesh and spreading the anger and violence to all those near to them. It’s happened over and over in every war – a culture of killing leads to a spiral of violence. Even when you think the nightmare is over and all the cannibals dead, there’s still the teenager and her little brother to consider (hey, it’s been over forty years – where is the sequel this seems to promise?)
The drive to kill and to eat flesh are closely linked in human history. Consider the words of Isaac Bashevis Singer in the forward to the book Vegetarianism, a Way of Life, by Dudley Giehl:
As long as human beings will go on shedding the blood of animals, there will never be any peace…
If you think Cannibal Apocalypse sounds interesting but you’re short of time, most of the good (gory) bits are covered fully in the review by Mike Bracken, AKA The Horror Geek (@horrorgeek). Mike’s vodcasts are always very entertaining, but this review had me guffawing out loud, which is a bit weird when you’re watching with headphones, in apparent silence, and pretending to be writing an academic thesis. In fact, Mike’s review is much better than the film, IMHO.