“The most violent film ever made” – CANNIBAL FEROX (Lenzi, 1981)

The US distributor of this film (where it was renamed Make Them Die Slowly) made the claim that it was the most violent film ever made, and had been banned in 31 countries.

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Both claims are highly dubious, but it is certainly one of the nastiest of the so-called “cannibal boom” movies that came out of Italy in the 1970s and 1980s. These films depicted a savage world in which the primitive natives were merciless cannibals, while the white victims were mostly corrupt and exploitative thugs, who invariably brought on the savagery by their own greed and violence (this one involves eye-gouging and penisectomies as well as brain and intestine munching). They deserved to be killed and eaten, especially since they were aware that all primitive people are cannibals. This from the civilisation that brought you Christopher Columbus, who coined the term “cannibal” and demonised the diverse nations of a whole continent.

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Lenzi’s film was made a year after the most famous of the Italian cannibal slashers, Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust. Although Cannibal Ferox seemed to be a rip-off of Deodato’s magnum opus, let us not forget that Lenzi started the boom back in 1971 with Man From Deep River. That in turn was lifted from the Mondo films like Mondo Cane, films which showed the disturbing violence within nature and primitive societies, and pointed out that such dark forces still swirled within the well-dressed breasts of modern, cosmopolitan Europeans.

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Look, I’ve been kinda avoiding reviewing this one, not because I  thought you couldn’t handle it (you are reading a cannibal blog fergoodnessake!) but more because I was wondering if I could. More gratuitously violent than Cannibal Holocaust, the scenes of torture are really all that this one is remembered for (certainly not for the plot or acting). Make up artist Gianetto de Rossi created the realistic special-effects, most infamously remembered for the scene where a woman is hoisted in the air by hooks through her breasts. De Rossi had previously worked on Emanuelle in America and Zombie II, the latter becoming famous as the goriest movie ever made.

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There’s a convoluted plot that you can follow on Wikipedia if you want, or even watch the movie if you must. It involves drugs, the Mafia, cannibals growing drugs for the Mafia, and cannibals eating greedy and vicious, or stupid and naïve, white people. The interesting part of the plot, from a Cannibal Studies point of view, is that the stupid, innocent Westerners who find themselves being caught up in all this (and tortured and eaten) are there on a fool’s errand – one of them, Gloria, is writing a thesis that is going to prove that cannibalism doesn’t exist and never existed. Her thesis is entitled “Cannibalism: End of the Myth”. [Holy excreted humanflesh; that’s kinda what I’m doing!] Radical as this thought is, it had actually been presented in an academic form by William Arens two years before this movie, in his book The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy. Don’t you love coincidences like that? Wanton violence, abusive sex, torture, cannibalism and academic dishonesty – an honest portrait of the PhD process. Then there’s the invariable PhD curse – half way through your research, someone sits down with a bowl of intestines and screws up everything you’ve written.

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Cannibal Boom movies cannot be accused of involving any sort of academic rigour, concentrating instead on slaughter, torture, exploitative female nudity (and more torture) and cannibalism, as well as the totally gratuitous filming of real animal abuse. Italian cannibal directors love to put real footage into their stories of fake violence. Look, they say, a real animal suffered and died, so now you’ll accept that the actors were also killed. Actually, that sort of worked for Deodato, who was almost tried for murder,until he was able to get his Cannibal Holocaust actors to appear in court, to prove they were still alive.

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The German version was called “Revenge of the Cannibals”

Cannibal Ferox is torture-porn – it didn’t invent the genre, but it took it to new levels and laid the foundations for some of the grindhouse horror that was to follow. For example, the scene of a skull being opened and the brains eaten from it had already appeared in Deranged (Gillen & Ormsby) in 1974, and was perfected in Hannibal (Ridley Scott, 2001).

Cannibal Ferox managed to scrape together a 40% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, from only five critics, one of whom summed up that “it both feeds and condemns our desire for the taboo sensations promised by its title”.

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

If you can’t be bothered watching the whole thing but would enjoy some highlights, this video review by “The Horror Geek” is hilarious!

“Cannibal Ferox” means fierce cannibals. In the US, it was renamed “Make Them Die Slowly”, and in Australia “Woman from Deep River”. Not sure if that reveals some sort of cultural distinction right there.

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Would you like virus with that? EBOLA SYNDROME (伊波拉病毒) (Herman Yau, 1996)

Director Herman Yau has made a bit of a career from telling stories of “innocent cannibalism”, in which diners in restaurants unknowingly eat human flesh. His 1993 film The Untold Story was based on the “Eight Immortals Restaurant murders” of a family of ten, which took place in August 1985 in Macau. Portions of the bodies were never found, leading to speculation – yeah, you got it.

Following Gordon Gecko’s statement that “greed is good!” in Wall Street (1987), the 1990s saw a spate of films about entrepreneurs selling human flesh for fun and profit. Beside The Untold Story, Untold Story II and Ebola Syndrome from Hong Kong, we saw Delicatessen from France, Aranyak from India, The Deathmaker from Germany, Perdita Durango from Mexico, while the Americans contributed Ice Cream Man and Fried Green Tomatoes.

You see what I’m up against, trying to update you on all these masterpieces?

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This film gets even weirder, because there is also a pandemic involved – Ebola, the so-called “flesh-eating” disease. Ebola never really got the public going like COVID-19, maybe because it only affected people in places like the Congo and so did not keep the rest of us awake at night. Also, it spreads much more slowly but, if you do get it, you have a 50-90% chance of dying, and it isn’t “just” pneumonia – it is haemorrhagic, meaning that you can bleed out “through your wazoo”, as they say in Last Man on Earth.

“People with Ebola first have symptoms of influenza, but within 72 hours after infection, the virus will dissolve the internal organs”

Ah Kai (Anthony Wong) is an escaped criminal from Hong Kong who bolts to South Africa after killing his former boss, his boss’s wife and another employee. Here is an image showing Hong Kong industrial relations in action.

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In South Africa, he works at a Chinese restaurant and one day travels with his boss to a Zulu tribe that is infected with the Ebola virus [NOTE: there is no record of Ebola among the Zulu]. He comes across a woman dying of the disease, and decides to rape her – he’s that sort of guy.

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He is immune to the effects of the virus, so becomes a living carrier, spreading the disease to others through his bodily fluids. He kills his new boss and his boss’s wife and cousin (seems to be becoming a habit), but he has already given the virus to them, so when he cuts up their corpses and serves them as hamburgers in the restaurant, he spreads the virus all over South Africa.

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He heads back to Hong Kong with the boss’ cash and moves into a fancy hotel, where he proceeds to spreads the virus to the prostitutes he hires, and everyone else he encounters – dramatic music accompanying each new infection.

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Cannibalism as a carrier for pandemics seems apposite right now. Cannibalism and incest, Freud said, were the two great taboos of civilisation, but their prohibitions also define civilisation, so it is not unreasonable to expect at least one of them to pop up in a civilisation-wide disaster. COVID-19 hasn’t been spread by cannibalism yet, or incest (as far as we know) but this movie looks at more than just crime and disease as social disrupters. Ah Kai is aggressive and violent to anyone whom he believes bullies him, usually the rich people who take advantage of his fugitive status. In South Africa (not a place known for Ebola), he is subject to casual racism from the whites, including prostitutes who refuse him their services. The whites, he complains, treat him like a black, and the blacks treat him like a white. He and his victims are dehumanised, which is a precondition for cannibalism – humans are animalised, animals are objectified and become meat.

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Chinese restaurants, where he works, use a lot of pork, and several scenes problematise the close proximity of pigs to humans in the way they look and, according to some informants, the way they taste. The Ebola is caught at a Zulu camp where multiple people are dying from it; Kai and his boss are there because the racist white butcher is charging too much for pigs.

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When they go to pick up their purchases, Kai uncovers human bodies instead, before he finds the pig corpses.

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Is there really such a difference between corpses? More than 75% of emerging diseases originate in other animals. COVID-19 is said to have originated at a fish market, where close contact between humans and live animals in a small space made it easy for the virus to jump species. Other coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), not to mention bird flu and swine flu, all spread due to the human appetite for flesh.

We used to assume that exotic diseases came from wilderness areas where they had been hosted in exotic animals, which then, like the dying Zulu, were used and abused by humans. But a lot of current research seems to indicate that it is actually our destruction of habitat and biodiversity that causes the spread of diseases like Ebola and COVID-19.

“We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbor so many species of animals and plants — and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses. We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”

David Quammen in the New York Times January 28, 2020

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Really?

Dread Central summed up the movie:

“The horrid acting and paper thin story are forgivable only for the hilarity with which it’s presented.”

That’s a bit harsh! Chinese movies are not as a rule exemplars of subtlety, but Anthony Wong as the virus super-spreader gives it all he’s got, and a bit more too. It’s a rollicking yarn, and it asks some serious questions too. I was surprised to find I quite enjoyed it.

The full movie can be watched at:

Batman and the cannibal: BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHT (2008)

Batman: Gotham Knight (バットマン ゴッサムナイト, Battoman Gossamu Naito) is a 2008 anthology animated superhero film consisting of six shorts, supposedly set between the films Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) although the narrative connection is tenuous.

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So, of course it has a cannibal in it! Killer Croc, who has been a Batman villain since the 1980s, although getting a grenade down his throat in this episode might, you would think, slow him down a bit. But no, he was back in the computer-animated TV series Beware the Batman in 2013-14. In that one, he bites Batman and boasts that he tastes like chicken. Perhaps a subtle insult rather than a gastronomic judgement. Anyway, that was a prequel, so let’s not give up on grenades just yet.

Batman is looking for a large, scaly monster. He finds some homeless dudes in the “ghost stations” under Gotham and asks them if they’ve seen the monster. In one of the great lines of all Batman stories, they answer:

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Ain’t it the truth.

Killer Croc’s real name is Waylon Jones, and he is a cannibalistic serial killer. The urban legend goes that he was an infant born with the disfiguring skin disorder epidermolytic hyperkeratosis and that his mother abandoned him in the sewers of Gotham City.

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Probably having scaly skin and looking like a croc didn’t do much for his self-image either. As an adult, he files his front teeth into points to complement the reptilian appearance of his skin and became a circus sideshow performer. Later, he changed his name to Killer Croc and went on a killing spree that eventually landed him in Arkham Asylum. There, his homicidal impulses intensified during “fear aversion therapy”. Croc escaped from Arkham and fled to the sewers with a handful of escaped Arkham inmates. There, he had fear toxin injected into parts of his body. When Scarecrow orchestrates the kidnapping of Cardinal O’Fallon, Croc infiltrates the church and carries him down into the sewers. Batman comes to investigate, but Croc ambushes him, biting and infecting Batman with the fear toxin that is coursing through Croc’s own body.

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Well, of course Batman works through pain, as he tells the cops. But why did the underground monsters kidnap the cardinal?

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Yeah, they’re mighty cranky with that Cardinal.

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Batman: Gotham Knight is the first animated Batman film to be rated PG-13.

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Cannibalism costs an arm and a leg: THE BAD BATCH (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2017)

What do we do when dystopian stories start to look like the daily news? This film was made in the first year of the Trump presidency, which, you will remember, was partly won on the promise to build a “big beautiful wall” to keep criminals and rapists out of the USA. But what do you do with the criminals already inside the big beautiful wall? “Non-functioning members of society” are, in this dystopia, exiled, quarantined as “bad batch”.

Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is bad batch number 5040, a number which is tattooed behind her ear, similar to the way Holocaust victims were stripped of their names and their humanity and became just numbers. She is then sent through the wall into a vast desert with little more than a sandwich and a bottle of water.

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She is almost immediately captured by the cannibals, the “bridge people”, who live in crashed planes and work out like Muscle Beach.

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The two women who caught Arlen hacksaw her leg and arm off, cauterise the stumps with their frying pan, presumably to keep the rest of her fresh, and go off to cook the limbs.

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Arlen escapes on a skateboard, pushing with one arm and one leg, and, just as she is about to be eaten by crows, is found by a hermit (an unrecognisable Jim Carrey!)

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The hermit takes her to Comfort, a settlement which seems to be a continuous rave club, run by a charismatic cult leader, The Dream (Keanu Reeves), who throws the parties and has his own harem of pregnant young women. In Comfort, they seem to prefer to eat noodles and rabbits (and lots of drugs) to human flesh, but – who knows? Like the bad bunch people, the camp structures are the rejects and wreckage of society – yet there never seem to be serious shortages of anything, particularly drugs. And The Dream lives in luxury, on the proceeds of the drugs, which are the currency of Comfort.

The folks at Comfort have given Arlen a prosthetic leg, but she still misses her arm. But one hand is enough to handle a gun. Is there some symbolism here that is even more Freudian than Trumpian?

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Meanwhile, back at cannibal HQ, the leader, Miami Man (Jason Momoa- you might remember him as Aquaman), is killing and carving up a woman for dinner.

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Is this going to be a simple good (rabbit eaters) vs evil (human eaters) story?

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Not quite. How can there be good and evil, when everyone is on the wrong side of the wall? Miami Man turns out to be a devoted Dad; he has a cute little daughter, and you know how much kids eat, right? Some of his tribe collect rubbish from the tip, others collect humans for dinner – is there a difference in a world where value is only assigned to those deemed worthy of being on the right side of the big, beautiful wall?

Arlen is gunning for revenge. She comes across the little girl and one of the bridge people women who kidnapped her, foraging for plates.

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She shoots the woman and takes the girl back to Comfort, buys her a rabbit. But then Arlen takes drugs, handed out at the party like Eucharist wafers, and wanders into the desert, to wonder at the glories of the galaxy, as you do when you take psychedelics (or so I hear).

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Well, we know there is going to be a meeting and a reckoning with the cannibal king. It’s hard to tell, though, who are the good guys in a world where everyone is an exile, and maybe a cannibal? As Arlen says to MM:

“Here we are in the darkest corner of this Earth, and we’re afraid of our own kind.”

The film is loosely based on a true story: the so-called “Cannibal Island”, a small island called Nazino in Siberia to which Stalin deported around 4,000 people declared to be “declasse and socially harmful elements” including political dissidents, disabled or impoverished people and criminals. They were dumped on the island with no food except some raw flour, which gave them dysentery. Before long, they turned to cannibalism. Two thirds of the deportees were killed or died of hunger and disease.

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It makes Comfort look positively comfortable.

The Vancouver North Shore News said “The Bad Batch could as easily be described as “a Futuristic Cannibal Spaghetti Western,” a dystopian genre mash-up.” It has a disappointing 44% on Rotten Tomatoes, and is admittedly a bit slow in parts (and a bit daft in others), but the cast is great, the photography often superb, and the political timing spot-on. Walls lead to wars, and the phrase “dog-eat-dog” should really be “human-eat-human”. Eating rabbits, eating humans.

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Because when it all hits the fan, whether it’s outside the wall or sleeping in the streets eating Soylent Green, humans are usually only one species barrier away from cannibalism. Expelled from under the thin camouflage of civilisation, we are all bad batch cannibals.

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Hansel, Gretel and incestuous cannibalism: WE ARE THE FLESH – Tenemos la carne (Emiliano Rocha Minter, 2016)

It’s Hansel and Gretel, Captain, but not as we know it. This Mexican film is a visual experience, rather than a traditional narrative. It is set, like many of the films we have covered in this blog, after what appears to be an unexplained apocalypse. The “witch” is a crazy old guy named Mariano (Noé Hernández) who makes fuel out of old bread and trades it to persons unknown, through a hole in the wall, for food – mostly eggs and meat. Mariano is more Satan than witch.

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He believes in chance, which, he says, is “the greatest criminal to ever roam the Earth.”

He is an aficionado of solitude, but when a young brother and sister, Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) and Fauna (María Evoli), appear in his abandoned apartment, he feeds them and puts them to work on ever more peculiar projects, such as a womb-like cocoon, made of wooden struts and vast amounts of packing tape.

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Mariano receives some meat through the hole in the wall, and cooks it for his guests. But there’s a problem: Lucio is a vegetarian. Fauna tucks into her steak, rather reversing the normal situation where Hansel ignores Gretel’s warnings and eats the gingerbread. But Mariano has laced the meat with poison that, he says, the Nazis used to kill Jews. He won’t give Fauna the antidote until Lucio eats his meat.

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So, it’s all about transgression, overcoming taboos, abandoning inhibitions, accepting pleasure rather than bothering with difficult questions of ethics. Mariano then decides that the kids need to have sex, and Lucio’s objection, that she is his sister, is dismissed:

“Do you think your cock gives a damn about her being your sister?”

So then there’s lots of incestuous sex, some of which is captured in lurid neon heat-map images. Mariano sings to them and masturbates as they perform for him, finally fainting as he ejaculates. Or dies, but is resurrected, because, as we know, the monster is never really gone.

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The Brothers Grimm was never like this. Although who knows what siblings Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm got up to before they became philologists?

Anyway, we finally get to the cannibalism, about an hour into the film, as Mariano captures a soldier, tells him exactly what they have planned.

“We won’t kill you for money. We won’t kill you for an ideology. Or for the pleasure of watching you suffer. It’s not revenge for what you have done. We are neither avengers nor executioners.”

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They sing the Mexican anthem and then slit his throat, catching his blood in a container. Various body parts are rendered into liquid and sealed into buckets, presumably to be traded through the hole in the wall.

Another girl comes into the maze looking for shelter, but is instead raped by Fauna and then Lucio.

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Have we shattered every convention and broken every taboo yet?

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Not quite. Mariano celebrates his naming day, a party in which all sorts of weirdos turn up and get it on. Mariano is to be the guest of honour, but also the main course.

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“It is also the day I’ll live inside your squalid bodies. Don’t forget that the spirit does not reside in our flesh. Flesh is the spirit itself! So I kindly ask that all you lowlifes devour me until there is nothing left.

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There’s a twist at the end, but hey, enough spoilers. Go watch it – it’s only 80 minutes.

Catherine Bray in Variety called the movie a “joyously demented portrait of humanity.” She summarised the theme very well:

“Much of its most vivid imagery is purpose-built to interrogate the moral values society projects onto biological matter: human meat ground to a slush, slopping about in a bucket; a clitoral close-up; a pipette inserted casually into a hole in a boy’s temple; a sister’s gelatinous menses dripping into her brother’s mouth.”

The stubborn belief that humans, unlike other animals, have some sort of spirit that elevates us into the ranks of demi-gods and therefore justifies the havoc we unleash on the rest of nature has crumbled. As Mariano insists, flesh IS the spirit. We are meat, driven by our appetites. Our carefully crafted moral convictions can vanish like smoke in the face of hunger or desire.

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Hansel and Gretel is a seminal cannibal text of course: innocents, abandoned for daring to expect to be fed, and left to face the voracious appetite of the outside world. Many of us probably first heard about cannibalism while sitting on a parent or relative or baby-sitter’s knee, crafting our next nightmare as they read us stories from the Brothers Grimm. Variants of the story are everywhere – a new movie is due soon (I’m looking out for it) called Gretel and Hansel. Here’s the trailer:

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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“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