Human Pork Buns: THE UNTOLD STORY (Herman Yau, 1993)

The Chinese title of this movie apparently translates to HUMAN PORK BUNS which is a more accurate description of the film, and also a lot more fun.

It’s a 1993 Hong Kong crime-thriller directed by Herman Yau who has made a few “cult classics” including EBOLA SYNDROME which I reviewed a while ago, and which the director said was his best work.

Both movies revolve around restaurants which serve human meat to unsuspecting diners.

This film is based on a true story – the so-called PORK BUN MURDERS which took place in August 1985 at the Eight Immortals restaurant in Mutya, Macau. A gambler named Huang Zhiheng was charged with the murder of a family of ten in their restaurant, after the father failed to repay gambling debts. Huang moved into their house and took over the restaurant, which he ran for eight months. Body parts from family members were washed up on local beaches and proved to have been severed with precision (discounting the original theory that they had been victims of a shark attack).

As Huang had cut the bodies up, and run the restaurant for some months, rumours naturally started that the flesh of the murdered family had ended up in the pork buns. After all, we (humans) apparently taste pretty similar to pigs. There is no evidence that he actually did this, and he committed suicide before his trial, but anyway, it’s the premise of this movie, which claims to be no more than a fictionalised version of the Pork Bun Murders.

Look, it’s pretty graphic – there are beatings, torture, a rape (involving chopsticks), murders with broken bottles and cleavers and even a stationery spike, a guy gets burnt alive, and small children get chopped up,

…and of course a lot of meat gets put into buns and fed to “innocent cannibals” dining in the restaurant.

If that’s not your thing, you might want to skip this one, but it’s somehow mixed in (minced?) with a light-hearted humour, and there are great, over the top performances from Anthony Wong as the perp Wong Chi-hang and Danny Lee as Inspector Lee, the cop on his trail.

Inspector Lee is right – you can never really be sure what meat you are being served. The killing industry is a business, and always puts profits first. Find out what people want, then sell it to them. Even if it’s made out of them.

“I used the flesh to make what you guys loved to eat and didn’t pay for … HUMAN MEAT BUNS”

The full movie, when last checked, can be streamed on-line.

Or you could just watch the always entertaining review by Mike Bracken at THE HORROR GEEK.

Christmas slasher: “THE 12 DEATHS OF CHRISTMAS (MOTHER KRAMPUS)” James Klass, 2017

In case you are breathing a sigh of relief that Christmas has been and gone, here’s the latest news – it goes for twelve days, and involves a lot of odd things like lords leaping and pear trees containing medium sized birds. This film covers the twelve days, but omits French hens and turtle doves, etc, in favour of lots of blood and gore.

“Bah! Humbug” always seems like a pretty good response to the confected cheer of Christmas, particularly to those who do not, for various reasons, celebrate the event or conform to the voracious consumerism that accompanies it. If you are one of the many who is over the Christmas rom-coms and tear-jerkers, you may have already come across the German Christmas demon Krampus, who appeared in a 2015 movie from Michael Dougherty, involving goblins, killer toys, malicious snowmen and a jack-in-the-box that eats a child whole, although he has been punishing naughty children for a lot longer than that, and may date back to pre-Christian folklore.

The cannibal movie reviewed today, though, was originally called The 12 Deaths of Christmas and features a different villain – a Christmas witch named Frau Perchta who, according to legend, steals a child each of the twelve nights of Christmas. The witch is also said to slit open the bellies of disobedient children (not dissimilar to the threats of cannibalism which Andre Chikatilo’s mother used to keep him in line). The film’s name was changed to Mother Krampus for the American audience, many of whom have adopted Krampus as a sort of anti-Santa. Frau Perchta does not have nearly the same fan base.

The Santa Claus dogma is of course about socialisation – children are told that a large stranger will sneak into their houses at night and reward them if they are “good”. What if they are not good? Who will sneak into their house then, and what mayhem will ensue? Krampus was one answer, Frau Perchta another. Then there was Santa’s assistant, Père Fouettard who, like the Australian Prime Minister, hands out lumps of coal to children who are not deemed to have been good, and sometimes whips them too (the name Père Fouettard translates as “Father Whipper”. Following Santa around appears to have been his punishment for engaging in a bit of entrepreneurial cannibalism, in which he and his wife drugged three children, slit their throats, cut them into pieces, and stewed them in a barrel, to be sold as Christmas hams. The taste, allegedly, is almost identical.

But today’s film is not just about stealing the bad children, and perhaps killing them, no, it’s all about the punishment of the wicked being extended to the following generations – a popular theme in the Bible (check out Deuteronomy 5:9 for some unfair shit). Perchta is coming for the children of adults who wronged her.

One of these children, and the protagonist of what passes for the plot, is Amy (Faye Goodwin – Mandy the Doll). Her mum is Vanessa (Claire-Maria Fox of Suicide Club and Bride of Scarecrow), and Vanessa’s dad – Amy’s grandpa – (Tony Manders, from The Young Cannibals) lives outside the village, near a scary forest in Belgrave (the UK one), and asks her to drive him, on Christmas no less (no Ubers I guess) to the Church, where a bunch of locals want to discuss the focal local issue – lots of village children are disappearing. There we finally get to hear the legend of the witch:

“Frau Perchta was a witch, who over Christmas stole the souls of children.”

Dad admits to Vanessa that the peaceful villagers got together to kill an old woman 25 years ago (in 1992). We, the audience, know the background, through an endless voiceover accompanied by cards at the start of the movie. 12 kids disappeared over the 12 days of Christmas in 1921, and none were found, except for one girl whose mind was gone, and she could only scream “the witch! The witch!”

Then, in 1992, five more kids disappeared, their bodies were found in the forest, and the villagers believed, for reasons far from clear, that a nice old lady was the killer and was in fact Frau Perchta the witch, so they stabbed her and lynched her, as you do if the local constable is on leave, in a backward and primitive town like Belgrave, which apparently hosts the National Space Centre!

But as she died, she shouted a curse – that Frau Perchta would be back to wreak revenge on them, and their children. So, maybe she wasn’t quite so nice. Yeah, that’s about it for plot – we see (several times) the stringing up of the old woman, we see the risen witch. The witch kills lots of people in creative ways, including one who is cut up and made into a Christmas light show, another whose flesh is pressed into a cookie cutter to make Christmas peoplebread men, while another is trussed up like a Christmas turkey with an apple in her mouth and carved up, and her flesh cooked and fed to her boyfriend, who is Amy’s absentee dad. Then dad has his heart pulled out and eaten (not uncommon in cannibal stories – think Fresh Meat or even Hannibal).

The climax of a horror film (or any action movie) is usually the last ten minutes, in which the story is resolved and the bad guy defeated (until the sequel). This one goes on (and on and on) for about half an hour, presumably to ensure the film is considered a full-length feature, and it resolves nothing much, with a twist at the end that makes no sense at all. But lots of people get killed, and several have parts of them eaten, which is enough to get a mention in this blog, I guess. The plot is thin, the acting is often appalling, the continuity director in some parts seems to have been taken into the forest and eaten. But it’s presented as a low-budget slasher, and that’s what they are often like – they are not dramatic masterworks, but gruesome pantomimes. The idea of one child’s aunt walking him home through the dark forest at night when bodies are turning up everywhere is narratively absurd but, in a panto, we want to anticipate the villain, we want to guess what is going to happen, and yell at the actors to “look behind you!” And the gore, and the fright factors, are quite well done.

The moral of the story, if there is such a thing, is pronounced by a mysterious woman who turns out to be Amy’s grandma, not that it does her much good.

“Taking it into our own hands, playing God. That’s why all this is happening.”

Isn’t that exactly what humans do – play God? Nietzsche told us that God is dead, we killed him, so we have to become God. We play God in so many ways – the Christmas story in essence is about a Jewish family trying to escape one of the many psychopaths who have played God over the centuries. We play God when we nominate ourselves as above nature, more angel than animal, and proceed to destroy our own ecosystem. Who bears the suffering from such follies? The children, who are the ultimate examples of what Judith Butler calls “precarious life”. Like Frau Perchta, our vicious brutality usually comes back to haunt us, through the generations.

At the time of writing, the full movie (should you wish to bother) was available on YouTube.

Cannibals in the Soviet paradise: CITIZEN X (Chris Gerolmo, 1995)

Three years ago (where has the time gone?) I reviewed a pretty great movie called Child 44, with Tom Hardy as a Soviet investigator in pursuit of a murderer, based on the most prolific serial killer of the Soviet Union (excluding Stalin), Andre Chikatilo. Yes, pretty great, but it had some problems; from the point of view of this blog, it barely mentioned cannibalism. The murderer was “just” a psychopathic sadist. It also changed all the names and dates, presumably to protect the guilty.

But ten years earlier, today’s film Citizen X was made as an HBO television movie, based on Robert Cullen’s non-fiction book The Killer Department. This is a much more accurate rendering of the career of Andrei Chikatilo, the “Rostov Ripper”, who was eventually convicted of 52 murders, although he confessed to several more.

Chikatilo was able to continue killing for seventeen years, from 1978 to 1995, due to a combination of general ineptitude, official denial of the possibility of such a thing as a Soviet serial killer (they considered it a bourgeois American crime, inconceivable in the workers’ paradise), and luck (apparently his semen was found to have a different grouping to his blood). The authorities preferred to round up the Rostov homosexual community because of some absurd reasoning that homosexuals are also paedophiles, and some of the victims had been boys, which resulted in some gay men committing suicide in custody.

Chikatilo claimed that his mother had told him that his older brother had been kidnapped and cannibalised by starving neighbours when he was little. This may have been her way of trying to scare him into behaving, but he had been born in Ukraine at the time of the Holodomor, when Stalin was busy starving millions of people to death as part of the process of Collectivisation, so could well have been true.  Chikatilo was a self-confessed cannibal, stating that he gained sexual satisfaction from torturing his victims, and would sometimes drink their blood and eat their genitals, nipples and tongues.

This film is presented as a true-crime documentary. The viewer knows very early who the killer is – Chikatilo, a loser driven insane by rejection and humiliation at work and in bed.

Chikatilo is played with nerdish rage by Jeffrey DeMunn, who we know now as Charles Rhoades, Sr. in Billions; no wonder he captures a psychopath perfectly. The rest of the cast is just as impressive – the forensic cop is played with tightened jaw and occasional tears by Stephen Rea (The Crying Game, Interview with the Vampire), his wife is played by the iconic actress Imelda Staunton, and his boss, Colonel Fetisov, is the wonderful Donald Sutherland, looking uncomfortable in a Soviet army uniform yet getting away with it due to his devilish grin.

The psychiatrist who helps them crack the case is played by the doyen of cinema Max von Sydow, who played chess with Death in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, played Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told and even got an Emmy nomination for his role in Game of Thrones. With a cast like that, what could go wrong?

Roger Ebert nominated Citizen X as his example of a movie that totally immerses the viewer in a believable reality:

“We experience the hopelessness, self-loathing, fear, and bleak reality displayed by most of the characters, regardless of station, age, self-discipline, or level of humanity.”

Chikatilo, the very image of the alienated outsider, preys on society’s lost and abandoned, befriending them (like Fritz Haarmann in Germany in the 1920s) and then luring them to their death.

The story shows a lot of murders, children falling backwards, blood dribbling from their mouths, knife plunged into their defenceless breasts.

We see graphic scenes of their post mortem examinations after the bodies are eventually found.

But that’s not really what the film is about – it takes us into the stultifying atmosphere of a grey bureaucracy in which truth is determined not by facts but by favouritism, prejudice and nepotism. In that sense, it is a fascinating portrait of the closing years of the Soviet Union, but it also jolts us into the realisation that we have all been there, a system where, in order to make any progress, you have to play along with the idiots in charge. A world where who you know is more important than what you do, a frustration that is felt universally. It is really a psychological thriller more than a murder procedural. The militsia make little progress, stymied by the bureaucracy, the unwillingness to admit to the fact that a serial killer could inhabit the workers’ paradise, by the apparent blunder in typing Chikatilo’s blood and semen, and by the insistence that the hectoring interrogation is the only way to succeed in getting the truth.

Ultimately, it is the psychiatrist, reading his paper, in which he had earlier tried to profile the killer, that makes Chikatilo confess, recognising that someone has finally understood the torments churning inside him.

The story is not about Chikatilo’s hunger for flesh, but his appetite for compliant sex, for a partners unable to resist his sexual appetite, because they are dead or squirming in agony. Children were ideal objects for his cravings, particularly young ones who were lost, homeless or runaways.

“Citizen X has probably had a tendency towards isolation since childhood. His internal world, filled with fantasy, is closed to those around him, even those close to him. The adolescence of such a person is, as a rule, painful, because he is often subjected to the laughter of his peers, at a time when success among them is the subject of his secret dreams. His sexuality is not noticeable to those around him, however it is an external asexuality that frequently coincides with steady masturbation and wild erotic fantasies. He is painfully sensitive in company, incapable of flirting and courtship, however it cannot be excluded that he has fathered a family.

There is reason to think that Citizen X has a weakness of sexual potency.He sits or squats astride his victim. The orgasm and ejaculation most likely occur at this stage of the act and in this position, sitting on the victim in the period of her agony…. You ejaculated while stabbing them.”

The film scored an 86% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The director, Chris Gerolmo, also wrote the screenplay, which earned him an Emmy nomination, a Writers Guild of America Award, and an Edgar Award. It’s an absorbing film, the acting is great (although the fake Russian accents don’t really convince anyone), but I still have an issue. Chikatilo is known for being the most prolific serial killer in the Soviet Union. But he is most notorious for being a cannibal, and that is barely mentioned.

What is it about cannibalism that makes it so comprehensively abject that a film about a serial killer who admitted to murdering over 53 people, 35 of them children, cannot bring itself to mention his regular feasting on the bodies?  Evidence aplenty spoke of the mutilation of the victims, particularly their eyes and sexual organs, and Chikatilo admitted in court that he had eaten the sexual organs. Yet the film, like the later Child 44, skipped over this aspect except for one brief glimpse.

Freud wrote that the two primary taboos of humanity are incest and cannibalism. It seems that his words are still accurate. We routinely see murder in films and television series – but it happens to someone else, and our attention is usually on the authority figure solving the crime. Cannibalism though is different – it opens up the human body and shows that we are made of meat, just like the animals we so carelessly torment and kill by the billions. Unlike the sometimes shocking, sometimes light-hearted killing of other people, cannibalism shows us what is inside us. It shows us our own mortality.

Cannibal supermodels: THE NEON DEMON (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016)

Marcellus (Hamlet Act I, scene iv) claimed that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”, but it’s not their cannibal films or actors. The Neon Demon is directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (currently in trouble with PETA for killing a pig for a TV series). Refn has made several movies (Pusher, Valhalla Rising, etc) starring Mads Mikkelsen, probably known best by the readers of this blog as Hannibal Lecter, or perhaps Svend in Anders Thomas Jensen’s The Green Butchers. This film does not have Mads in it, but it does have Elle Fanning as a sixteen-year-old model who, we just know, is going to be chewed up, swallowed and spat out by the Los Angeles fashion industry.

Books about screen-writing always stress the opening image – it sets the scene, establishes the atmosphere, tells the viewer what to expect. Well, this one sure does.

Jesse (Elle Fanning from The Great) dead on a couch, blood caked onto her throat and down her arm. A grim male gaze from a photographer. The killer? Police forensics?

No, he’s an amateur photographer doing audition shots for her, and is probably the only nice guy in the story, and we all know where nice guys finish. Anyway, Jesse is befriended, as she wipes off the fake blood, by a make-up artist named Ruby (Jena Malone from The Hunger Games), who takes her to a party to meet the LA fashion scene.

The other models hate her for being young and pretty and not needing the constant plastic surgery to fix all the things the surgeon and our culture say is wrong with their bodies. In the bathroom, as you do, they discuss lipsticks, which they note are always named after either food or sex, and speculate on this new commodity, Jesse. Is she food or sex?

Either way, it’s about appetite. Think of an animal, any animal – a snail, a snake, a human. What is the animal thinking about? It’s almost certainly food or sex. This film combines the two. The men have the power – the celebrity photographer, the fashion designer, even the sleazy motel manager (played with black humour by Keanu Reeves) – Jesse is their fresh meat.

The young, hopeful girls have their looks, and a useful booster of narcissism, a taste for the neon demon of fame, which fuels their journey through the fashion jungle.

When they get “old” (over twenty apparently), they inject various toxins and go under the plastic surgeon’s knife to fix what they are convinced are their failings. But it’s never enough. Jesse sees visions which confirm her own beauty in her eyes:

Women would kill to look like this. They carve and stuff and inject themselves. They starve to death, hoping, praying that one day they’ll look like a second-rate version of me.

But once used up, the women and girls are rejected, discarded, left to fight among themselves – to the death. Jesse is edible to them too, but not in the male way, more in the way that Elizabeth Báthoryis alleged to have bathed in the blood of virgins to keep her youth.

That’s a small taste of the real cannibalism in the film, which infiltrates the metaphoric cannibalism of the meat markets of advertising and fashion. There is an ancient tradition, from the earliest days of tribal ceremonies and the Wendigo to Richard Chase and Armin Meiwes, that eating the flesh or drinking the blood of a victim (preferably a young fit one) will transfer their strength and attractiveness to the eater. If you can keep them down of course.

An even older tradition talks of killing and eating the gods of the harvest, in order that they may be reborn and bring with them next year’s prosperity. The tradition survives in the transubstantiation of the Eucharist service. Jesse is a young and beautiful. She is, or thinks she is, a goddess. How can she not be eaten, in this film both metaphorically and literally?

There is no point in going on with the plot, it’s filled with rape, paedophilia, murder, masturbation, necrophilia, and of course cannibalism, but you really need to see it yourself, and anyway, the plot is not the point. Brian Tellerico, the reviewer from Rogerebert.com, summed this up:

It is a sensory experience, driven by the passion of its fearless filmmaker and a stunning central performance by Elle Fanning.

The director called the film an “adult fairy tale”:

“I woke up one morning a couple of years ago and was like, ‘Well, I was never born beautiful, but my wife is,’ and I wondered what it had been like going through life with that reality. I came up with the idea to do a horror film about beauty, not to criticize it or to attack it, but because beauty is a very complex subject. Everyone has an opinion about it.”

Everyone had an opinion about The Neon Demon too, with some of the audience at Cannes booing it and the rest giving it a standing ovation. You can make up your own mind – it’s an Amazon original, so you should be able to find it quite easily wherever you are in the world. It is a beautiful film, the acting is superb, the direction is assured and precise. The horror is not so much from the gore, as the scenes of young girls being treated as meat. But that is exactly the point.

The French philosopher Jacques Derrida spoke of what he called “carnivorous sacrifice”:

“The establishment of man’s privileged position requires the sacrifice and devouring of animals.”

The animals we sacrifice and devour are little more than infants – chickens for example are slaughtered at seven weeks of age. Pigs are killed at six months (less if they run into Refn, apparently). We no more eat old animals than photographers seek out old models. Remember Curtis’ line in Snow Piercer:

“I know what people taste like. I know that babies taste best.”

Or the words of John Jacques Rousseau:

The animals you eat are not those who devour others; you do not eat the carnivorous beasts, you take them as your pattern. You only hunger after sweet and gentle creatures who harm no one, which follow you, serve you, and are devoured by you as the reward of their service.

Cannibalism is no more or less than the sacrifice and devouring of animals – in this case, the Great Ape known as Homo sapiens. As voracious consumerism and greed extends its reach, to plunder the entire planet, the distinction between us and the other animals seems increasingly to evaporate.

Skin in the Game: PETA’s URBAN OUTRAGED campaign, 2021

https://www.urbanoutraged.com/

This website purports to sell leather goods: shoes, belts, coats, etc., all made from human body parts. And like many websites in this competitive time, they offer free shipping!

The campaign is from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and started back in June with a poster from celebrity photographer Mike Ruiz, who has photographed Kim Kardashian, Ricky Martin, Katy Perry, and Paris Hilton, as well as being a judge at America’s Next Top Model and RuPaul’s Drag Race.

PETA’s press release stated that leather production isn’t just cruel, but also contributes to the climate crisis, releasing hazardous chemicals. The World Bank has also cited cattle ranching as one of the largest drivers of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Farming, transporting and killing animals for meat and leather is responsible for a very large proportion of global greenhouse emissions.

Here’s the poster near Penn Station in New York.

On the Urban Outraged website, the items for “sale” reveal human faces, human teeth, and oozing blood. Each item is named after an individual who was “killed” for it and is “reviewed” by customers. (“I’m not really a boot person, but I’m glad Meg was, because these are the best boots I’ve ever worn.”). Users can even send a fake “gift card” to their friends’ emails using the form on the last page.

After the initial page, the website gets deadly serious and asks:

Why is it OK to raise sheep just to shear off their wool?
Why is it OK to kill a cow for leather?
Why aren’t you horrified by what’s already in your closet?

“While Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Free People (all owned by Urban Outfitters, Inc.) don’t actually kidnap, abuse, or kill humans or other animals for their products, they do sell skin and other animal-derived materials from farms and suppliers that exploit and kill animals.
Every year, billions of animals suffer and die for wool, cashmere, leather, down, mohair, silk, and alpaca fleece production. Sheep are often beaten, stomped on, and kicked in the wool industry. Goats exploited for cashmere scream out in pain and terror as workers tear out their hair with sharp metal combs. Later, their throats are slit in slaughterhouses and they’re left to die in agony. And cows are routinely beaten and electroshocked for leather at some of the largest suppliers

Many cannibal films featured in thecannibalguy depict not just the consumption of human flesh but the use of other body parts, particularly skin. Think of Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, wearing a mask made of human skin. Or Jame Gumb, “Buffalo Bill” from The Silence of the Lambs, making a woman suit because he is frustrated at being diagnosed as not a true transsexual. Both characters, as well as Norman Bates from Psycho, were based on the real-life “Butcher of Plainfield” Ed Gein, who did kill a couple of women but mostly sourced his body parts from gravesites, and produced a bewildering array of  chairs, waste-baskets, bedposts, bowls, corsets, masks, belts and lampshades from human skin and bones.

The use of human skin, including for binding books, is known as anthropodermic bibliopegy. Human skin used as a medium goes back into prehistory, and was reportedly popular among the Assyrians, who would flay their prisoners alive and display their hides. Perhaps the best known modern examples were the lampshades of Nazi concentration camp guards, but it was also not uncommon among slave owners, who felt that, since they owned the slave, they could use his or her body as they wished.

People have expressed shock and outrage at PETA’s new website, but that really was the point. Such atrocities against humans were carried out by people who saw nothing particularly wrong with what they were doing. The workers who skin cows and sheep, minks, snakes and crocodiles, dogs and cats and so many other animals are just, they say, doing their job. But that acceptance of appalling suffering for the sake of meat or clothing brings us closer to the possibility of adding one more species to the list of edible, flayable animals.

“We’re NOT Maori cannibals”, FRESH MEAT (Danny Mulheron, 2012)

New Zealand has produced some world class directors; think of Jane Campion, or Peter Jackson. Not a lot of cannibal movies unfortunately, considering the country’s reputation – Jackson’s first feature film Bad Taste had a lot of humans being eaten but, unfortunately for this blog, the eaters were space aliens, so not technically cannibals. Jackson’s Braindead was closer, involving zombies. Can you be a cannibal if you are undead? We’ll have to consider that question some time, perhaps when we run out of movies about living cannibals (probably about the time we get to net zero).

But Danny Mulheron gets right into freshly killed, cooked (and sometimes raw) human body parts in this film. Like Jackson’s Bad Taste, Fresh Meat was Mulheron’s first feature film, and it’s an impressive inception.

The plot involves a family of Maoris, recently converted cannibals, being taken hostage by some bumbling criminals. Rina (Hanna Tevita) is home from her lesbian explorations at “St Agnes Boarding School for Young Maori Ladies” when a bunch of criminals break in to her home to hide from the police, having killed some prison guards to free their boss from a prison van.

But that’s Rina’s second shock of the day; the first was finding her parents’ new eating regime in the fridge.

Turns out her Dad (Temuera Morrison from Once Were Warriors and The Mandalorian)  is reviving an “eighteenth century post-colonial religion” – he has found the prophecies of Solomon Smith and become a “Solomonite”; he now believes that eating people (“taking their life-force”) will cause the family to flourish.

Yes, among the satire on Maori and Pakeha cultures, there is the odd dig at Christian transubstantiation.

Mum (Nicola Kawana) produces hugely popular cooking shows and books, she’s a Maori Nigella, into marinades, and she describes the meat she uses:

Rina is shocked that her brother (Kahn West) would agree to eat human flesh, until he tells her about the pork and rosemary pies that her family sent to her at school. It wasn’t a choice.

The subsequent bloody altercation with the criminals is set to fill the larder nicely. Dad tells the last living criminal, Gigi (Kate Elliott), who is hanging upside down ready for slaughter, that

“ritualistic cannibalism dates back to 1000BC to the Hun phase in Germany. The Bible itself refers to the siege of Samaria in which two women made a pact to eat their children. The Aztecs, the French, the Brits… Your ancestors probably did it. I know mine did.”

There is lots of Maori humour, and not all relating to cannibalism. Dad is an Associate Professor at the University, and blames white racism for his failure to be given tenure as full professor. When the cops knock at the door, he complains

Rina’s neighbour is a white boy who is in love with her. When he appears and is invited in (“we’ll have him for dinner” says Dad – yes, Hannibal lives), he points out that he is a vegetarian, but politely eats what turns out to be a human testicle, only getting suspicious when he spots something else on his plate.

Even when they have him tied up in the basement ready for slaughter, he politely tells them

Dad replies with the best line of the movie:

“Oh, we’re not Maori cannibals. We’re cannibals… that just happen to be Maori.”

But Dad has his own agenda: to become immortal:

“By eating the still-beating heart of my youngest son, I’m halfway towards immortality. But I still need to drink the blood of my virgin daughter.”

Doesn’t quite work out that way, Rina’s not a “virgin” after that scene in the shower with her girlfriend. Or does it?

What is it about virgins and blood sacrifices anyway? Are the rest of us not good enough to sanitise humanity’s sins with our polluted blood? We exploit the innocent and gentle ones, and then expect that, by slaughering them, we somehow clear our guilt at doing so. Remember the line from Leonard Cohen’s song Amen:

Tell me again
When the filth of the butcher
Is washed in the blood of the lamb…

Anyway, the takeaway from this movie is that Maoris, traditionally accused of cannibalism, can be Maoris and cannibals without being “Maori Cannibals”. The two identities can be separated, even as they coexist. There are other families of cannibals who are not defined by their race; consider the Mexican film Somos lo que hay or its American adaptation We are what we are.

In cannibal studies, it is not unusual to be buttonholed by someone who has become aware of your field of interest and told with great solemnity “the Maori were cannibals, you know.” I tend to politely thank the informant for sharing a “fact” that almost everyone “knows”. But if I am feeling feisty, or have had a few drinks, I might invite them to unpack that statement – which Maori, whom did they eat, and what evidence are you presenting for this?

The British invaders of New Zealand were keen on declaring that the indigenous peoples, of wherever they went, were cannibals – it made their job of invading, enlightening and/or exterminating the inconvenient locals so much easier. But there is some evidence that much of the talk of Maori cannibalism was either misinterpretation or just slander – imperialists in the age of expansion tended to use words like “savage”, “barbarian” or “cannibal” pretty interchangeably – if you had dark skin and didn’t speak English, you were probably a cannibal, with no evidence required other than some hearsay from conquistadors or missionaries. But if an alien civilisation invaded Earth and found a copy of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales in a bookshelf, they might well assume that it was a history book, and that we were all cannibals.

Amazon.com: Cannibal Talk: The Man-Eating Myth and Human Sacrifice in the  South Seas: 9780520243088: Obeyesekere, Gananath: Books

Ganath Obeyesekere’s excellent book on cannibalism in the South Seas makes clear that the oversimplification of Maori culture and mythology (and perhaps humour) probably led to often tragic misinterpretations of local customs. In fact, he says, it is likely that many Maori were convinced that the British were cannibals. And who could blame them? If those aliens mentioned above put down Grimm’s Fairy Tales and took a look inside our industrialised slaughter factories, where 135,000 farmed animals are killed every minute, they would assume we were far more bloodthirsty than they, or the Brothers Grimm, could have imagined. No wonder they don’t make contact.

It is interesting to consider the differing responses to cannibalism in the family of this film. Social Psychologist Melanie Joy calls the ideology surrounding and justifying the eating of meat, dairy and eggs “carnism” – a set of largely unconsidered beliefs in three beliefs that start with the letter N: that these products are “normal, natural and necessary“. We drink milk, eat meat, scramble eggs, based on the insouciant assumption that all these things are normal, necessary and natural (and, a fourth N, nice to taste). The family members reflect these views, but in relation to a different food source: Homo sapiens. Dad thinks eating humans is “necessary” in order to absorb the life force of the victims, and make himself immortal. Mother is a celebrated chef; for her, eating meat is “natural”, and where it comes from is not an issue, as long as it cooks well and tastes good. Rina’s brother finds the whole thing “normal” – his parents do it, and he wants to learn from them, and make them proud. Only Rina objects, although she was willing to eat the pies they sent her when she thought they were bits of a different animal. She’s like a vegan at a barbecue, heart-broken to see her family so unthinkingly accepting the death of animals, or at least, those that she can see and talk to.

Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism, 10th  Anniversary Edition - Kindle edition by Joy, Melanie, Harari, Yuval Noah.  Politics & Social Sciences Kindle eBooks @

If you don’t like gore and body parts (and violence and lesbian kissing) then you might want to skip this movie. But if you don’t mind all that, and like a rip-snorting plot, plenty of humour, a little suspense, and lots of intertextual winks to cultural foibles, some (perhaps unintentional) observations on the ideology of carnism, as well as some great acting and direction, then watch Fresh Meat. Recommended.

“FERAL” (American Horror Stories, episode 6 – August 2021)

Last week’s blog was not a film or TV story but a real event, the account of displaced people being kidnapped for ransom by Mexican cartels, and chopped up for their meat if the money was not found. This segues nicely into this week’s blog, in which a boy disappears and the parents suspect a cartel kidnapping, but in fact (spoiler alert) he has joined a group of feral cannibals.

The response to news of cartels, kidnapping and cannibalism is to shake our heads and ask how people can DO such things. The assumption behind such a question is that we have ‘progressed’ and, while cannibalism may have been a part of our savage past, it should have been left behind in today’s enlightened civilisation. Yet we are aware that cannibalism continues to exist, and that it can reappear when food is short, as in the siege of Leningrad, or for revenge like the man who killed and ate up to thirty women because he resented their rejection of him, or sexual attraction and desire to keep the person with us (or within us) like Jeffrey Dahmer and Armin Meiwes, or just for fun and profit, like Fritz Haarmann.

Sigmund Freud wrote of an ORAL SADISTIC or CANNIBALISTIC STAGE, which coincides with the time babies’ teeth start to erupt. We recognise our mother’s breast as external to us, and wish to retain ownership, by biting and swallowing it. At the same time, the aggression is tempered or sometimes instead magnified by anxiety at the potential loss of the other (mothers don’t like to be bitten) or fear that the much stronger parent will instead choose to devour the child. Our first instance of logical reasoning – if I can bite her, she can surely bite me harder. These early influences may sink into the sludge at the bottom of our unconscious minds as we grow up, but they remain there, and can reappear at any time in different forms.

It is tempting, therefore, to see acts of cannibalism as simply throwbacks – to our earlier social models (savagery) or to psychotic deviance dredged up from tortured unconscious memories. Civilisation, we think, can conquer such eruptions. But not always, and not in this episode of American Horror Stories, another episode of which we considered recently.

This one is set in, and against, nature. A man, woman and three-year-old boy are driving into Kern Canyon National Park in California for a camping trip. The father wants to return to nature, get them out of their comfort zone. The mother points out that “out of the comfort zone” is equivalent to “uncomfortable”, and the little boy wants a TV. A phone call on the way tells us that the father is a lawyer defending a “greedy-ass corporation” – the type that exploits and destroys the environment for profit. This is going to be about nature, red in tooth and claw, and revenge.

The boy, Jacob, disappears while camping with his family. Ten years later, his father, Jay, is approached by a hunter who tells him that he believes Jacob is alive, kidnapped by a drug cartel running pot farms in the park. The hunter leads Jay and Jacob’s mother, Addy, into the woods to look for him. The Park Ranger, who for some reason is Australian, warns then not to go, but of course they head off and, like last week’s Mexican abduction, it’s a trap.

Deep in the woods, they are attacked by wild, human-like creatures, who eat their abductor. Jay and Addy seek refuge at the Park Ranger’s station, where the Ranger tells them that the National Park Service was created by the government

“…to keep Americans from things that would kill and eat them.”

These are feral humans, he says, possibly descendants of Vikings, or of mountain men who never came down from the mountains, or maybe Civil War soldiers who never surrendered. Or people who just checked out, had enough of the world. In any case, they have gone back to nature, gone feral, and so are a threat to the civilised, cultured humans who use and abuse the natural world. The Ranger tells them there are are tribes of ferals in every National Park – over 2,000 people have vanished from the parks over the years. There are certainly people living off the grid in the wild areas of the world, but not necessarily feral cannibals. Why is it kept top secret?

“Governments need their citizens to believe they are in control. Plus, the National Parks generate billions of dollars in revenue every year. Capitalism, baby! If people knew there were feral cannibals running around, attendance might drop off.”

The Station is attacked by the feral cannibals, and the ranger is killed. Jay and Addy are taken to the leader of the creatures, seated on a throne of skulls, looking remarkably like a Renaissance Jesus.

Of course it is Jacob (speculation is already mounting that Jacob, the cannibal king, might get his own spin-off series). Jacob seems to recognise his parents, but when one of the creatures asks Jacob who they are he answers, “dinner“. Freud would have enjoyed the feast that follows: the “primal hordes” overthrowing and eating the father; Jacob, frozen in his infantile cannibalistic phase, tasting his parents’ blood.

This episode is also a study in what Georgio Agamben calls the “anthropological machine”, a paradigm that we use to separate ourselves from other animals. In the pre-modern machine, non-humans were depicted as human-like to draw the distinction – we spoke of werewolves, minotaurs and cyclops; in this episode they evoke Bigfoot or the Australian equivalent, the Yowie. But the modern anthropological machine instead declares certain humans to be less than human or else inhuman – race, ability, gender or social status may be used to divide us into human and “other”. The ferals are inhuman because they have regressed to savagery, chosen nature over civilisation. For hundreds of thousands of years, we existed in small clans, and anyone outside the immediate family was assumed inhuman. We need to fear, and sometimes eat, the outsider, because we evolved to do so.

We like to think that this is all ancient history. But our sanguine belief in social progress lulls us into supposing that that acts of cannibalism (as depicted in this blog thecannibalguy.com, for example), are simply aberrations, throwbacks to a savage past, or unfortunate outbursts by deranged or psychopathic individuals. What this confident diagnosis ignores is the inherent violence of the human species.

As sociologist Zygmunt Bauman points out, the civilising process has simply presented a “redeployment of violence”. Instead of hunting animals or, more recently, slaughtering them in the street in what used to be called “the shambles”, we now mass produce death in huge factories called abattoirs, which are placed away from residential areas and surrounded by high walls and sophisticated security systems. Violence against our fellow humans has been similarly redeployed, with drones and smart bombs replacing hand to hand conflict. Fear of social sanctions or maybe divine punishment keep us in control of our internalised aggressive drives against our fellow citizens, at least some of the time. But at any moment, for reasons usually unclear, we can loose this violence, together with the voracious appetite that characterises consumerism, and redeploy it against adversaries. Call it feral, as per this episode, or perhaps, instead, call it authentic, cannibalistic humanity.

Satanic rituals and forced cannibalism. How many refugees share this fate?

The news service Noticias Telemundo recently reported a case of kidnapping, murder and cannibalism which, it seems, may not be so uncommon among refugees trying to cross Mexico into the United States.

Noticias Telemundo Investiga interviewed 32 migrants kidnapped from 2019 to 2021 in Mexico and the U.S. Their relatives were made to pay $1,500 to $5,000 as ransom to criminal gangs for the release of the kidnapped migrants.

The latest story follows the ordeal of a young man named David Sanabria and his little girl Ximena, who are from Honduras.

David Sanabria had arranged a coyote (smuggler) to escort them to the Texan border, where he planned to turn himself and his daughter in to U.S. immigration authorities and seek asylum. But when they reached Reynosa in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, the coyote turned them over to a cartel gang. David and other captives were repeatedly made to call relatives to ask for a ransom, and were beaten if the relative said they couldn’t afford it. The victims are not US citizens so relatives cannot ask for help from the FBI, and in many cases the local police in Mexico are in the pay of the cartels.

If the ransom was not paid by the deadline, the captives would be murdered. David said:

“With a machete they dismembered them, killed them, and the only thing I could do was cover my daughter’s eyes and ears so that she would not know what was happening, nor would she have those memories for her whole life.”

After that, the corpses were cooked and the surviving migrants were made to eat the human meat, “so that there would be no trace of anything — that’s what one had to eat.” The term “innocent cannibal” is usually reserved for those who are not aware that human meat is in their meal, but in this case, I think we can apply it to David and Ximena.

At night, the kidnappers performed satanic rituals. “They knelt down. They had images of the devil, of Santa Muerte. They made pleas. They made offerings. It was something horrible,” he said. Several survivors who spoke to Noticias Telemundo Investiga talked about the kidnappers’ “cult of death”.

David’s brother borrowed money from his co-workers, friends and relatives and even asked strangers for money on the streets of Nashville. He eventually raised the $7,500 ransom and David and Ximena were released. David waded across the Rio Grande with Ximena on his back. So they made it to the US border where they were detained for three days, but then were returned to Mexico. Under Title 42 to curb the spread of COVID-19, migrants who are detained at the border are returned to Mexico while their petitions for asylum are processed. This year, 100,000 migrants a month are being returned to Mexico.

They were put in a shelter by the National Migration Institute of Mexico, and Al Otro Lado, which provides free legal assistance to migrants from Baja California, helped David fill out an asylum application.

In August, the U.S. granted David and Ximena humanitarian parole so they could enter the country and live with his brother in Tennessee while they await the results of their asylum petitions.

This is Ximena in the shelter.

The United Nations estimates there are over 82 million people in the world who have fled their homes, of whom 26 million are refugees, half of those under the age of eighteen. That means one in every ninety-five people on earth has fled their home as a result of conflict or persecution.

Imagine, if you can, being a refugee, anywhere in the world. You are fleeing from a place which doesn’t want you, and where people are possibly threatening to imprison or kill you, to another place that also does not want you and may send you back, and almost no one will support you en route. Men, women and children are helpless, easy prey for unscrupulous smugglers and criminal gangs. If you disappear, no one will find you, particularly if you have been eaten.

Migrant kidnappings happen all the time. Mexican authorities at the beginning of September 2021 reported a total of 697 migrants kidnapped and rescued in just 10 days. These are not statistics. They are people like David and Ximena, who may be robbed, kidnapped, beaten, killed, forced into cannibalism, and even eaten themselves, as the world ignores them. In a world where we capture, kill and eat some 350 million animals every hour of every day, is it really surprising that we sometimes do the same to members of our own species?

It made me think of the last line of the film Cannibal Holocaust:

“An army of pissed-off man-hating feminist cannibals” DOGHOUSE (Jake West, 2009)

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.

The movie managed to stumble to a surprising 48% on Rotten Tomatoes, with the Guardian reviewer summing it up as:

“misogyny and creative bankruptcy in Jake West’s Brit gender-wars comedy horror about a bunch of hen-pecked blokes stuck in a village of cannibalistic women”

If I still haven’t dissuaded you, the full movie can be watched (when I last checked) on YouTube.

“From the perspective of the virus, the human being is irrelevant” – ANTIVIRAL (Brandon Cronenberg, 2012)

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.