Dexter is delicious: “What’s Eating Dexter Morgan?” DEXTER Season 8 Episode 3

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Dexter is a television series that ran for 96 episodes from 2006-13. This episode is from the final season, and is the only one to feature a cannibal, which seems like a pretty shocking oversight really.

Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall, who played David Fisher in Six Feet Under) is a serial killer who also works as a blood spatter technician for the Miami metro police. There’s a lot of analysis of how he got that way (didn’t help that he saw his mother chopped up with a chainsaw when he was little) but, as he is not the cannibal in this tale, we don’t have to concern ourselves too much about that. Interesting to note, though, that although he is presented as a psychopath, he is often shown to have emotions and feelings that might not result in that diagnosis. In fact, Dexter only kills very bad people (just as Hannibal Lecter mostly only kills very rude ones) so he is really more a vigilante than a psychopath, and is motivated by a sense of justice that the Nietzschean Dr Lecter might find laughably absurd. We would have to conclude that both, however, are trying to improve the world by removing objectionable characters from its surface.

Dexter follows a suspect, Ron Galuzzo (Andrew Elvis Miller), to the mall where he sells exercise equipment. Galuzzo measures Dexter’s body/fat ratio, a wink to what we are about to find out about the dude and his culinary interests.

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Dexter breaks into Galuzzo’s house and it’s a mess, except for the kitchen, which is clean and spotless. Dexter opens a crock pot and finds a finger in the stew. Dexter is horrified, because I guess serial killers are not used to seeing body parts. Or perhaps Dexter is secretly a vegan.

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In the fridge, Dexter finds plastic containers containing various body parts. One of them holds a whole brain marinating in a garlic sauce.

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Dexter has a killing ritual, in which the victim is bound and gagged; in this case, it takes place in Galuzzo’s kitchen.

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He first lectures Galuzzo on the evils of cannibalism (bit of a nerve from someone whose hobby is slicing people up) then admits that he thinks that he and Galuzzo are alike, because

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Of course, Dexter has a rather better set of knives than most cannibals.

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Galuzzo is the only cannibal featured in the TV series, which is all based around the first book of an entertaining and highly amusing series of eight novels by Jeff Lindsay. A quite different case of cannibalism is featured in the fifth novel, Dexter is Delicious (2010). In the book, Dexter faces a coven of cannibals who eat (sometimes willing) victims in a Dionysian romp.

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The story revolves around Dexter and his sister, Deb, trying to save a young girl who doesn’t want to be saved; she wants to be eaten. I shall leave the cannibal unnamed in this extract, so as not to be accused of spoilers.

“Some of them do. They want to be eaten – just as much as I want to eat them…. Almost makes you believe in a benevolent God, doesn’t it?”

The book (IMHO) offers a much better cannibal story than the one in this episode, and we can only wish that the television gods had adapted it instead of this rather insipid character who presents no real challenge to Dexter, beyond offending his delicate sensibilities. Maybe Legal forbade it. Fine to tie a cannibal up, abuse him and slaughter him, but to eat someone who wants to be eaten? Now there’s an ethical dilemma for our times.

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Cannibalism as female empowerment: JENNIFER’S BODY (Karyn Kusama, 2009)

Jennifer’s Body is classified as a comedy, even though it’s rated R for sexuality, bloody violence, language and drug use. Well, all those things can be funny. Even cannibalism is sometimes the butt of jokes (well, quite often), and a lot of people get eaten in this movie.

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The story does not start with Jennifer (Megan Fox) but with her nerdy bestie Needy (Amanda Seyfried), “short” for Anita, although no one calls her that. Needy is revealed to be an ultra-violent resident of an asylum.

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The rest is flashback. Jennifer is the popular girl, the sexy girl, the one no one can believe is friends with the boring Needy, but she is bored in their little town of – wait for it – Devil’s Kettle. Jennifer wants to get off with the big city band in town, Low Shoulder. At their gig, Needy hears them arguing about whether Jennifer is a virgin, and leaps to her friends defence

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Jennifer later tells her that’s not even close to the truth.

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Now, when men are looking for virgins, there are only two possible explanations, depending on whether they are of a metaphysical bent, and these guys are very bent. So telling them Jennifer fits their shopping list turns out to be a very bad idea. Jen gets in the band’s truck as the venue burns down. Needy is distraught.

But she meant well. And later that night, here’s Jen, looking quite sanguine, in both sense of the word.

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Jennifer has been a virgin sacrifice to a demonic force, which promised greatness to the band. However, not being a virgin (even backdoor) means that the sacrifice, instead of killing her, left her possessed by the demon, a succubus.

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Yeah, OK, but the audience needs a good reason for a woman to start eating her dates (even if, after 100+ blogs, you and I could think of a dozen good ones). So she is possessed, and eating people. When she’s hungry, she’s weak and unhealthy, but when she’s fed (and cleaned up) she’s the life, or undeath, of the party.

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This is a really good film, with all the ingredients of greatness: the cast are excellent, the director, Karyn Kusama, is in her element (she made Destroyer with Nicole Kidman recently) and it was written by Diablo Cody, fresh from the triumph of Juno, for which she won an Oscar for best original screenplay. But the film bombed at the box-office, the accepted wisdom in those days being that successful films were made exclusively for 14-year-old (white) boys. This one wasn’t, it was about strong and often violent women, and has been gathering a cult following in the decade since its release.

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There have been many horror movies about women, often (e.g. Carrie or Teeth) involving revenge for something done to them. This fits with the cultural expectation that men will be the aggressors and the monsters, and from this fetid swamp arose the slasher movies, including most cannibal films. Jennifer herself has been sexualised by most of the men and boys who appears in the plot. She is kidnapped and murdered by the band, despite begging for mercy.

But Jennifer is not seeking revenge on the band – that will (but not until the credits) be Needy’s job.

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Jennifer is a monster for all the males who have objectified her.

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The film plays with the assumptions about male power and appetite. The boys Jennifer eats are gentle and considerate, not violent or aggressive – the huge line-backer she tears apart after her return is seen first crying for his friend, who died in the fire.

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Everyone assumes, of course, that his killer is male.

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But the body when found is being eaten by a gentle fawn.

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Despite widespread cultural beliefs, female monsters are not rarities.  Earliest mythology tells of the Medusa, the sight of whom “made the spectator stiff with terror” (much to Freud’s amusement) and even earlier, there are claims that Lilith, Adam’s ex before he met up with Eve, was, or became, a succubus. Jennifer is an ideal example of what film scholar Barbara Creed calls “The Monstrous-Feminine”, a concept of monstrosity that depicts not a female version of male monsters, but a cultural force defined by male fears about the feminine. These fears include being castrated (Freud’s favourite explanation), as well as confronting “the monstrous womb” – a terrifying image of a “black hole which threatens to reabsorb what it once birthed” (Creed, The Monstrous-Feminine, p. 27). As the writer, Diablo Cody, says, it is an unashamedly feminist horror movie.

Jennifer’s Body was before it’s time. In an article explaining the woeful critical reaction to the film, Vice summed up:

‘Jennifer’s Body’ Would Kill if It Came Out Today

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“In the Belly of the Beast” HANNIBAL Season 3 Episode 5 “Contorno”

Cannibalism is at its heart all about food, food from a particular species of animal. This episode, Contorno (Italian for side dishes) is also about food – our choices, our enjoyment, how food affects us and how it identifies us.

We start with Chiyoh and Will on a train to Italy. Chiyoh fills in a little bit of what we don’t know about the early Hannibal. Chiyoh was sent to be attendant to Hannibal’s aunt, Lady Murasaki. The young Hannibal was there, an orphan. He was meant to be with his sister, but he was alone. We don’t know why, although we will be told (episode 7) that Hannibal ate, but didn’t kill, his sister, Mischa.

They get talking about snails, a side dish of which we know Hannibal is inordinately fond, particularly when they have been snacking on human flesh. Chiyoh observes:

“Birds eat thousands of snails every day. Some of those snails survive digestion and emerge to find they’ve travelled the world.”

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Then we see Hannibal feeding snails to Bedelia – he explains that, as a young man, he kept sea-snails to attract fireflies.

“Their larvae devour many times their own bodyweight. Fuel, to power a transformation into a delicate creature of such beauty.”

Snails, Hannibal tells Bedelia, follow their nature. She dismisses his metaphor: fireflies live such brief lives. A bit more evidence follows that Hannibal is a Nietzschean:

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In a scene in which Hannibal is clearly checking whether Bedelia is ready for dinner yet (his), they move on from snails and fireflies, a story about transformation, to a discussion on Hannibal’s other main interest: Will Graham. In particular, Will’s fascinating struggle to retain his ethical certainty in the face of Nietzsche’s amor fati – the love of fate, and his true nature as a hunter.

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Bedelia protests: “Almost anything can be trained to resist its instincts. A shepherd dog doesn’t savage the sheep.”

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Still on the food theme, Alana has laid out Hannibal’s table setting for Mason Verger – she has worked out that he can be traced through his exquisite purchases, just the way Clarice did in the book Hannibal. She has tracked him to Florence through receipts for Bâtard-Montrachet (Chardonnay) and tartufi bianchi (white truffles). Mason, never one for social niceties, observes that Hannibal must have liked the taste of her too, and perhaps she enjoyed her own taste of him. He offers a double-entendre that the Guardian critic described as

“actually the most disgusting part of the episode. That’s pretty impressive given the extreme close-ups on snails and Pazzi’s bowels flopping to the ground as he is hanged from a window”.

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Chiyoh is not really getting Will. She cannot seem to see the attraction between the men, just the shared aptitude for violence: “If you don’t kill him”,

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He agrees. So she pushes him off the train. As you do.

No humans were eaten in the making of this episode; snails are the man-eaters. But we do get the gory killing of police inspector Pazzi, who goes as his ancestor went – hanged with his bowels out as punishment for treachery. His ancestor tried to kill Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1478; this Pazzi recognised Hannibal and tried to sell him to Mason Verger rather than turn him over to the FBI.

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Hannibal shows Pazzi a woodcarving of his ancestor’s death, and mentions that the Archbishop bit Francesco.

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Running out of time, Hannibal just tells Pazzi “I’ve been giving very serious thought to doing the same” (although in the book and film Hannibal, this line was “I’ve been giving very serious thought to eating your wife”).

No one actually gets eaten, but Hannibal gets a solid beating from Jack Crawford, who has just dumped his wife’s ashes in the Arno and is fighting mad, particularly after spending the afternoon with Pazzi’s soon-to-be widow. Some readers interpret this scene as Hannibal finally discovering he is not as smart and invulnerable as he thinks, but I hold to the oft-stated theme that Hannibal is always way ahead of the plot. The beating that Hannibal takes is almost without resistance; as if he somehow feels that he owes Jack a chance at revenge for betraying his friendship, a chance to grow into a predator.

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So Jack pushes Hannibal out the window, but he catches himself on Pazzi’s corpse and limps off. The inspector is without his bowels, but not without his uses.

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Rage and appetite: SKIN AND BONES S1E08 of “Fear Itself” (Larry Fessenden, 2008)

Fear Itself was an American horror/suspense anthology television series shot in Canada. It began airing on June 5, 2008.

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Look, it’s a TV video nasty, but the cast is great, and it features a Wendigo, a figure made famous in Hannibal and the movie Ravenous.

The Wendigo (sometimes called Wetigo) is a figure from North American Algonquin folklore. He is a mythical figure – giant, fierce and cannibalistic. He 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, and sometimes a figure of revenge (Cartman may have been taken over by a Wendigo in last week’s blog!) In this story, the Wendigo is “the spirit of the lonely places” and is all about revenge. The Wendigo gets inside people who are weak, hungry, and filled with rage.

We know what’s going to happen. So does the token wise old Native American, Eddie Bear (Gordon Tootoosis) who knows all about Wendigos, as did Joseph Runningfox in Ravenous. Of course, no one is interested in metaphysical explanations from those who might understand the land, so it just escalates from there.

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“Don’t matter what you call it. It’s a madness, it’s fierce, it’s a hunger that can’t be satisfied. It’s an anger that can’t be settled. It’s the Wendigo!”

Grady (Doug Jones from Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy II and Star Trek Discovery) has a ranch but knows nothing about living off the land. His brother Rowdy (John Pyper-Ferguson) is running the ranch, and is clearly making out with his wife Elena (Molly Hagan). There are two children (Cole Heppell and Brett Dier, who you might recognise as Michael from Jane the Virgin).

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The kids challenge Rowdy with the usual line “You’re not our father!” so of course we know he must be. The Wendigo has taken over Grady while he was on a hunting trip (with Chuck and Billy who have, you know, disappeared: down the hatch) and when Grady stumbles back to the ranch, he is skinny, covered in frostbite, and remarkably creepy. And hungry. So hungry, he could eat a horse (and does).

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But he certainly doesn’t want Elena’s soup. When she feels his forehead, he licks her arm, and mutters, “tastes good!” Soon he is feeling fine. And still hungry. Soon it’s Rowdy’s turn to be the family meal. He makes Elena cut up and cook and then eat his brother. OK, he’s possessed by a Wendigo, but it’s still cannibalism in my book.

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CUT IT UP AND COOK IT! …it’s just meat.

Director Larry Fessenden had made an earlier Wendigo movie called, well, Wendigo, which got a respectable 60% on Rotten Tomatoes.

If you want to know what happens in this one (and you can really sort of guess), you can watch the whole episode on Youtube.

It’s worth watching, if only for Doug Jones’ performance as the Wendigo.

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“I could feel a rage growing up inside me. A rage that would not let me die!”

Sounds like an allegory of twenty-first century politics.

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“You’re only as good as you taste”, Cannibal Christmas

I was hoping to review Cannibal Claus, for those of you reading blogs on Christmas day (and a fine way to spend the day it is to be sure). No sign of it in the usual sources, but since IMDB says it was made with the impressive budget of $1,200, it may not be widely available. Let me know if you find it.

There’s quite a funny review of it here.

 

So…

If you celebrate Christmas, have a merry one, and think about who you put in the fridge.

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Awkward family photos

 

Cartman’s Cannibalism: SOUTH PARK S5E4 “Scott Tenorman Must Die” (Parker & Stone, 2001)

“Scott Tenorman Must Die” was the 69th episode of South Park, and first aired on July 11, 2001. It contains nods to a number of classic cannibal narratives.

Eric Cartman’s cousin, 8th-grader Scott Tenorman, tricks Cartman out of $16.12 in return for some pubic hairs, the possession of which, he tells Cartman, means that he has reached puberty. Realizing that he has been tricked, Cartman swears revenge.

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“Did you see that movie Hannibal? Where the deformed guy trained his pigs to eat his enemy alive? Well, if we find a pony, we can train it… to bite off Scott Tenorman’s wiener.”

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The pony misunderstands the training.

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Cartman’s schemes become more convoluted, involving a letter to the band Radiohead asking them to visit South Park, where Scott will be humiliated as his favourite group get to watch the pony mutilate his member.

Cartman arranges for Scott’s parents to be killed.

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He steals the bodies and cooks them up for his “chili con-carnival.”

After Scott eats the chili, Cartman asks him:

“Do you like it, Scott? I call it Mr and Mrs Tenorman chili.
Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah – I made you eat your parents”.

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Cartman enjoys licking up Scott’s tears.

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We have here a passing reference to Hannibal again, in which Mason Verger collects the tears of orphans to make into his favourite cocktail.

But the main reference is to all revenge cannibalism narratives, from the Greek legend of Atreus and Thyestes to Titus Andronicus, to Liver-eating Johnson, John R. Weber and Omaima Nelson, and of course the Tim Burton version of Sweeney Todd.

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Cartman is not a cannibal in this episode, but he facilitates an act of cannibalism as revenge, just as Sweeney Todd did. Eating a relative, as Scott Tenorman (and Thyestes) unwittingly did, is horrific not because of the flavour – they find the fare delicious. It’s because a life you cared about was snuffed out, not just extinguished, but totally annihilated by digestion, just as we do to those we eat every day, whose lives may have been just as precarious and precious – to someone.

 

Remembrance of Things Past: HANNIBAL Season 3 Episode 4: “Aperitivo”.

There was a “Hannibal” in Proust: Comte Hannibal de Bréauté-Consalvi in The Guermantes Way. Now there is some Proust in Hannibal – everything in this episode is à la recherche du temps perdu – “Remembrance of Things Past” or, more accurately, “In Search of Lost Time”.

Hannibal, let’s be clear, gets into people’s heads (including those of his loyal Fannibals). That of course is his job as a psychiatrist, but he takes it well beyond work hours, getting into the heads of everyone with whom he deals, including Miriam Lass, who was his captive for a long time, and shot Frederick Chilton, because Hannibal was in her head.

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It’s episode 4, and we are finally finding out what happened to all the people knifed, shot and pushed out of windows (or made to eat their own faces) in the previous season. Those still alive have it in for him, are hunting him in their own ways. Mason Verger, whose fortune is based on breeding and killing pigs, wants to catch Hannibal and feed him to those pigs. He has offered a reward of one million dollars for his capture. Chilton, less one eye and half his teeth from Miriam’s bullet, just says “Happy hunting!” Verger’s words about Hannibal are taken from the Bible, the Book of Job, where Satan tells God he has been “going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it”. He is relating Hannibal to a supernatural being: Satan. But also to an edible being: a pig. This can’t end well.

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We know Will was cut up good in his last dance with Hannibal, but we get a new perspective in the next scene after the credits – we are inside Will’s body cavity, in the coil of guts, looking at the stomach skin as it is punctured by Hannibal’s linoleum knife. Waking up in the hospital, he is visited not by Abigail, as he had hoped and imagined in episode 2, but Chilton, who wants help catching Hannibal, who would be a prize specimen for his “hospital” for the criminally insane.

Will spurns Chilton’s offer of compassion and friendship, which leads to one of Chilton’s best lines of the show:

The optimist believes we live in the best of all possible worlds;

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Will is still imagining scenarios – in the next scene, he and Hannibal are plunging knives into Jack Crawford in a scene that could only have been inspired by Julius Caesar.

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But Will finally didn’t go with Hannibal, and Jack’s not dead – he’s tracking to Will’s boatshed to seek Will’s help, just as he did at the beginning of Red Dragon, where the whole saga started. Will admits that he warned Hannibal, wanted him to run, because “he was my friend”,

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Alana is still alive too, despite being pushed out of a first storey window. She wakes up full of rods that hold her together. The doctors have told her that a lot of marrow got into her bloodstream from her multiple broken bones, so she should expect to think differently. And she does.

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She goes to see Mason Verger, who tells her he has found religion, been saved by the risen Jesus or, as he familiarly calls him “the Riz”. As a believer, he says he has forgiven Hannibal. Alana is not so convinced.

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Jack remembers his apparent death at Hannibal’s hands, but has somehow recovered. His health, not his career – he has been forced to retire from the FBI. The culture has found a new nightmare to slap its clammy flab and ruin its sleep.

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He also remembers waking up in hospital, lying next to Bella, his wife, who is continuing to die without him as it turns out. He takes her home, sits with her, holds her while her heart stops and her brain dies. He dresses for church and visualises their wedding, but it’s a funeral, she is in a casket, and there is a splendid bouquet from – who else – Hannibal. The card contains a John Donne poem and finishes “I’m so sorry about Bella, Jack”. Fighting to the death does not, apparently, reduce the respect or affection Hannibal feels for his opponents.

Everyone, everyone alive that is, wants to find Hannibal, and most of them want to kill him. What does Will want, as he embarks on a sustainable sailing voyage to Europe to find Hannibal? We don’t know. Mason Verger is talking transubstantiation – his face has been (somewhat) restored by extensive surgery, now he wants to transubstantiate Hannibal. In most ceremonies

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He is planning a more elaborate ceremony. He tells his major-domo nurse Cordell

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Alana is helping, telling Verger that Hannibal will be traceable because, wherever he goes, he will be ordering the very best wine, truffles, etc. She tells him “You’re preparing the theatre of Hannibal’s death. I’m just doing my part to get him to the stage.”

It sounds like they are all conspiring against poor Hannibal. But remember what Alana told Jack when they thought they were outsmarting him – Hannibal is always in charge of the narrative. Whatever the others are doing, he wants them to be doing. Or as Bedelia said, he is drawing them to him. Nietzsche wrote:

“In your friend, you should possess your best enemy. Your heart should feel closest to him when you oppose him.”

While everyone else is remembering things past, or searching for lost time, Hannibal is making friends.