Cannibalism as eating disorder: FEED ME (2022)

So, the buzz for this movie is ‘Ted Lasso goes cannibal’. By that, they don’t imply we will need to sit through any football matches, but that there is going to be a lot of American “can-do” ardour, conflicting with British reticence and melancholy. Also some dark humour, and a whole lot of gore, which some may find objectionable. Consider yourselves warned.

Feed Me is directed by Adam Leader and Richard Oakes (Hosts). XYZ Films released the horror-comedy on October 27 2022 on digital and on demand platforms. Feed Me follows Jed (Christopher Mulvin) whose life is shattered when his wife Olivia (Samantha Loxley) suddenly dies, leaving him feeling guilty. The blurb says:

“Spiralling into an abyss of depression, he finds himself in a bar with a deranged cannibal, Lionel Flack (Neal Ward) who convinces him he can redeem himself through the glorious act of allowing himself to be slowly eaten to death.”

Suicide, usually unassisted, is sadly common in modern society, and besides making the relatives wretched, it is also an enormous inconvenience to the police, medics and trauma-cleaners who have to deal with it. So why not benefit someone – the local cannibal who promises a painless death that will not require housekeeping, because he will eat the resulting mess? Jed moves in with Lionel, whose tiny house is filthy and full of body parts. But Jed is ready, eager to die, and Lionel is tremblingly eager to eat him.

Cannibalism, particularly vorarephilia (the erotic desire to consume or be consumed by another) can be seen as a type of eating disorder, particularly in cases where there are other foods readily available, but if that is the case, so can any form of carnivory. The film starts and finishes with such reflections – Jed’s wife is a beautiful young woman who is convinced she is fat and ugly, and eventually dies from the effects of bulimia – she starves herself and vomits out whatever nourishment she does eat, until her body closes down.

As Jed explains it, her mental illness meant that she “was eaten from the inside out.” Lionel’s solution is that, if Jed is determined to kill himself, he should do it from the outside in.

Lionel quotes some fake anthropology – a tribe called the Yiurkun who, he says, live in perpetual happiness,

His offer (and there is a written contract involved) is to eat Jed, quickly and painlessly, so he can join his beloved. Why not, Jed thinks, since Olivia has effectively (in his dreams) eaten his heart?

Lionel starts small – local anaesthetic, one finger chopped off with secateurs and carefully cooked, the wound cauterised with a hot clothes iron. “How do you feel?” Lionel asks.

But of course you can’t eat a whole person one finger at a time, and it’s not long before Lionel is removing limbs, but now without anaesthetic, because he gets mad at Jed.

Lionel says he has heard that

“some cultures believe that torturing the animal alive improves the taste and quality of the meat.”

This is not an invention of the director – it’s well known that dogs and cats and other animals are often beaten or burnt or at least made to watch the death of other animals, to make the terror and agony generate adrenalin, which is supposed to add flavour. Astonishingly, Hillary Clinton was accused of doing the same to small children. Other politicians have had the same accusations hurled at them. While these are almost certainly nonsense, it is true that almost every one of the seventy billion land animals humans eat each year will go through extremely painful ordeals, and all of the trillions of sea creatures. Jed is just one more animal in agony.

When the neighbour calls police about all the screaming going on, Lionel invites them in and feeds them some of his “mild veal”.

The enjoyment of food depends largely on what we believe about it. The actor playing the cop is probably in fact eating a piece of veal. His character, the cop, believes he is indeed eating veal. The audience, us, suspends disbelief so we can imagine that he is actually eating part of Jed’s leg. This turns the meal from gourmet to horror – a simple change of species, entirely within our imagination. The title, FEED ME, challenges the assumption that food will be prepared and served with our preconceptions catered for – it will be tasty and uncontroversial. In this society, eating a baby cow who wanted to live is praiseworthy; eating a man who wants to die is horrific.

The title reminded me of a foodie show called “Somebody Feed Phil” which sees writer and producer Phil Rosenthal (Everybody Loves Raymond) travelling around the world eating huge dishes of food while adding no weight to his irritatingly slim frame. In a recent episode, Phil lands in Madrid and apologises to a suckling (newborn) pig –

“you’re very cute, but I’m going to eat you.”

Most cannibals, like carnivores everywhere, do not usually have their victim’s permission, and usually do not apologise either, although they may feel some cognitive dissonance, knowing that their meal required the suffering and slaughter of the animal whose flesh is involved. Phil didn’t kill the new-born baby pig, but did apologise for eating him. Jeffrey Dahmer killed seventeen men and boys and also didn’t apologise (until it was far too late). The closest parallel to the plot of this film (the trailer above states it was “inspired by true events”) is the true case of Armin Meiwes, who advertised for a man who wished to be killed and eaten, had dinner and sex with the only genuine respondent, and then killed and ate him. He felt there was no apology needed, since Jorgen Brandes had wanted, indeed demanded, to be eaten. So it is with Lionel, who offers to kill and eat Jed, and then slowly and gradually makes good on his promise.

Neal Ward plays Lionel as an over the top, twitchy, verbose American con-man, the kind of man we like to think serial killers and cannibals look like, because that would make them easy to spot. Yet the essence of the real modern cannibal is his (or sometimes her) completely normal and unremarkable appearance – they walk among their peers, unknown and unidentified until their arrest (if they are ever found). Neighbours, for example, praised Meiwes as a nice young man who would mow the lawn for them. Issei Sagawa was so small and apparently innocuous that the young woman he killed and ate had been happy to come to his apartment to read poetry together.

The tagline for this movie is

“You are who you eat…”

The concept is interesting – if you are who/what you eat, do you want to eat pigs or chickens or sheep, all of whom are used, quite unjustly, as common insults (for gluttons, cowards or mindless followers). If you are what you eat, Lionel tells us, you should eat humans.

The anthropologist Marvin Harris wrote in his book Good to Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture that, while humans are clearly not obligate carnivores, “our species-given physiology and digestive processes predispose us to learn to prefer animal foods”. This presents a problem for him, since “strictly speaking, human flesh itself contains the highest-quality protein that one can eat”. Lionel’s pathology stems from his calculating, impeccable logic.

The film is a fascinating study of love, loss, despair, friendship, loneliness and appetite. The gore is perhaps a bit over the top, but no longer unusual in modern films. The acting, despite what other reviewers have said, is great and the story compelling. Neal Ward plays Lionel as both a monster and a clown, a hard role to portray, but he is, in the end, seeking the same as all of us – self-acceptance, love, a validation of his humanity, and a good meal.

The cannibal ogre – PRINCESS FIONA (Andy Chen, 2022)

Last week we reviewed a fan-fiction prequel of the cannibalism classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Fan-fiction allows anyone with a keyboard or, in these cases, a camera, to tell alternative versions, or fill in story elements that seem to be missing from their favourite narratives. Future targets of horror remakes include The Grinch and Winnie the Pooh!

This week’s short fan-fiction fills in the back-story of Princess Fiona from the Shrek movies.

Fans of the SHREK films will remember from the first movie in 2001 that Princess Fiona who had been imprisoned in a tower and with whom Shrek the ogre had fallen in love, turned out also to be an ogre. Fiona was voiced by Cameron Diaz who became one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses due to her role in the Shrek franchise, earning three million dollars for the first film and around ten million for each sequel.

Ogres are usually presented as cannibals, often eaters of babies and children as their first choice (see Marina Warner’s study of the ogre as the symbol of “monstrous paternity”). Shrek himself doesn’t really do that, although he does mention in the 2007 third movie, Shrek The Third, that he does not want to be a parent because his own father “tried to eat me”. Nonetheless, Fiona and Shrek end up with little ogre triplets at the end of the third movie.

“Ogre” comes from the Italian word OGRO meaning monster, which in turn came from the Latin word ORCUS (fans of Tolkien will recognise this etymological hint). Ogres have been eating children, sometimes their own, since the tale of Kronos, the king of the Greek gods, who was told that he would be overthrown by his own child, and proceeded to eat each baby as it was born (much like Shrek’s dad). Rubens painted a ferocious image of Kronos (identified as Saturn) eating his child in 1636.

Goya created a dark, even more desperate late painting, around 1821-3.

Kronos’ wife, Rhea, saved the last child, Zeus, by wrapping up a stone which Kronos ate, leaving Zeus to kill his father and become supreme deity. Such are the role models of Western civilisation.

Charles Perrault wrote a series of fairy stories that were published in French in 1697, and included such perennials as Puss in Boots, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty (later adaptations have taken a lot of the violence and gore out of the narratives). In one called Hop O’My Thumb (Le Petit Poucet), the hero is lost in the forest with his brothers and sisters and takes shelter in the house of an ogre, who is fond of eating small children. In the English version of the story, the ogre growl:

Fee, fau, fum, I smell the blood of an English man,
Be he alive or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.

Hop notices that the baby ogres wear crowns on their heads, which he puts on his own brothers, so when the ogre wakes up and fancies a snack, he slits the throats of his own daughters instead of the boys.

But what happens when ogres grow up (assuming no unintentional paternal consumption)? We rarely see female ogres, and the Shrek story seems to imply that perhaps female ogres are as violent and dangerous as their male counterparts, or even more so. Fiona has been put under a spell, which we are led to believe turns her into an ogre at night, necessitating her imprisonment in a tower. This spell is broken when Shrek kisses her, returning her to her proper self, but it turns out that her real self is ogre, and the only reason she appeared human during the day was the magic spell. She would become her true self, presumably a violent ogre, at night.

So we come to our short fan-fiction film made in Los Angeles by director and writer Andy Chen. A brave knight in armour explores a castle, eventually finding the beautiful princess, Fiona.

But when he offers to rescue her, night is falling, and she tells him it’s too late, and she turns into an ogre (wearing a crown still, like the ogrelings in Perrault’s story). Well, you can guess the rest. Fiona has been kept locked away at night for good reason. Everyone has a dark side, a hidden cannibal, even a beautiful princess. Perhaps especially a beautiful princess.

The film is quite splendidly put together, with plenty of dark, gothic imagery. The full film (it’s only four minutes, unfortunately) is on the locustgarden YouTube site, below.

Young Leatherface: THE SAWYER MASSACRE (Steve Merlo, 2022)

This full-length feature was released on YouTube on 21 October 2022. It is a “fan film” – you’ve heard of fan fiction, where people like Fannibals extend the stories they love into new avenues (often erotic ones). Well, this team made a whole tribute movie to the cannibalism classic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (TCSM) came out almost fifty years ago, and was named by Total Film as number one of the fifty greatest horror movies of all time, as well as being the one that began the boom in slasher movies.

The Sawyer Massacre is the brainchild of Steve Merlo, a Canadian Musician from Kelowna British Columbia, who also wrote the score. Merlo described the original TCSM as “the first film to truly give him nightmares”. He financed the production through crowd-funding site Indiegogo, and somehow produced a film at least as well made and arguably better written and acted than the other sequels and reboots that have come out in the past several decades.

Presented as a prequel to the original TCSM, the film is set during the Vietnam War, as America fed half a million young soldiers into a futile conflict, thousands of whom did not come home alive. The pointless violence of that war and the battles between young counter-culture demonstrators and Establishment law enforcement is reflected in the gore that this film so generously doles out. The original TCSM was set in the Nixon years as the “silent majority” was taking control, the hippie dream having died at Altamont, in the streets of Chicago and on the campus of Kent State. This is a prequel, so it’s set a bit earlier – LBJ is in the White House and America still thinks its invincible military can defeat the Viet Cong. The young people who blunder into the wilds of Texas are not looking for gravestones as in the original movie, they are looking for themselves, seeking enlightenment and adventure. Jimmy has gone away with his friends to seek redemption for a family tragedy for which he blames himself, another family is looking for a camping site where they can get away from it all, and they certainly do. They inevitably end up on the point of the same knives, meat-hooks, and chainsaws as in the original. Some things remain constant, regardless of politics. And of course, movies like this always start off with a decrepit, run-down gas station.

If you’re not familiar with the TCSM, there is a review at this site, but basically it involves a lot of young city folks blundering in to an inhospitable part of Texas, where a family of killers, formerly abattoir workers, now ply their trade by slaughtering passing visitors and selling their meat to other tourists. In other words, they have done what business coaches always tell us to do – they have diversified. They are still killing animals for food, but now a different species – Homo sapiens. The original film did not go much into explanations, but the characters are there – Leatherface, the hitchhiker, even grandpa, who is rather more sprightly in this version.

In fact, the characterisation is far better in this one than the original, in which few characters lived long enough to have a back-story. And this Leatherface, with his range of masks for any occasion (including, shall we say, love interest) is much more a real person, showing not just the expected psychotic rage but fear, disappointment and even lust.

I’m trying to avoid any spoilers because the film is meant to be seen – it is available on YouTube in its entirety. If you loved the original TCSM, I think you’ll love this one too – for a film made on a tiny budget, it feels well made – the cinematography, direction, scenery, special effects, even the acting (which was pretty woeful in some of the sequels) is spot on. The feeling of claustrophobia inside the house is palpable and dials up the suspense – watching the film requires some restraint to avoid yelling at the victims to get the hell out of there – in that sense, it’s like the old pantomimes. The film also works well as a prequel – it feels like you could finish it, have a strong drink, and move straight into watching the original TCSM without losing any continuity, a tribute to the esteem in which the director holds the original.

 Steve Merlo also has a YouTube session in which he comments on the making of the film and explains some of the questions you may have, but [spoiler alert] don’t watch it until you’ve seen the movie at least once.

The full movie is currently available to watch at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-GssBcG5fk

Butchering vegans: SOME LIKE IT RARE – Barbaque (Eboué, 2021)

The French are sticklers for correct grammar. Bien sûr! Grammar, and particularly syntax, are importants! For example, there is a tendency in animal rights literature for people to declare: “I am vegan.” Simply untrue – you are made of meat, comrade, red meat to be precise, as this film sets out to demonstrate, and at some length.

The correct syntax is “I am A vegan”, that is, a person who tries to avoid eating the flesh of, or otherwise exploiting, any animal. This is usually for ethical reasons to do with the undoubted suffering caused by the modern industrial animal businesses, but sometimes for health reasons (e.g. Bill Clinton) or the environment, because the animal industries cause massive amounts of greenhouse emissions, use absurd amounts of land and water, and are the main cause of deforestation, particularly in the Amazon.

But none of these arguments are likely to persuade the protagonists of this quirky French comedy Barbaque released, for those of us outside of France, under the title Some Like it Rare. Husband-and-wife Vincent (Fabrice Éboué who also wrote and directed the film) and Sophie (Marina Foïs, who managed to make three other movies in that same year) are running a failing butcher shop called Pascal Boucherie, assailed by vegan activists who throw blood (I guess red paint) around their store in protest at their bloody business.

When they see the man who threw the paint riding his bike on the road (of course he rides a bike – this is satire), they stop their van suddenly and reverse, unintentionally (perhaps) causing him to crash into their vehicle and die.

What to do with the corpse? They can’t call the police, because Vincent has already reported the damage done to his store by the dead vegan activist, and it would be assumed to be a revenge murder. But alors, they run a butcher shop, so they have all the tools to dispose of the evidence. Sophie is watching true crime documentaries on TV (aren’t we all?) and tells Vincent to chop the body up and dump the pieces in the garbage. Vincent starts chopping, watched by his dog, who eagerly gobbles up a piece of the vegan that falls onto the floor. Vincent gives the dog an ear, then realises – hey, humans are made of meat!

Chopping up bodies is easy for a butcher, but then Sophie, thinking he has already thrown out the body parts, puts the meat on the shelves. Turns out the flesh of vegans is delicious (grain fed?) and there is a rush of customers seeking what Vincent decides to call “Iranian pork”. With enthusiastic customers in the store, Vincent does not stop Sophie tasting it. Afterwards, she asks

“Vegan” says Vincent.

It’s the perfect crime, the evidence is not just eaten but, as Sophie says, “shat out” afterwards. There are lots of cannibalism jokes, such as the local policeman promising to catch the vegans who attacked the store,

It’s not exactly a new idea. Mads Mikkelsen had the same problem and the same solution (after accidentally locking their electrician in the meat freezer) in the Danish movie The Green Butchers, together with a haircut that would have shocked the normally unshockable fans who loved him in Hannibal. And let us not forget the many variants of the Sweeney Todd story which saw the “demon barber of Fleet St” feeding meat pies filled with his hairdressing clients to the grateful populace of nineteenth century London, as well as a classic of kinky Hollywood cannibalism, Eating Raoul. Butchering people for meat has appeared in several other movies including the much-underrated film The Butchers and the animal revenge movie The Farm.

At first glance, this is a satire on veganism, but then there are all the references to how delicious their flesh tastes.

The only really dislikeable character in the film is their extremely carnivorous and insufferable friend who owns a chain of butcher shops and makes a fortune selling inferior and tainted cuts of meat. He is racist, sexist, and talks only about money. When Vincent has a scuffle with him and bites his ear off, he says “you taste disgusting – you should eat more veg.” Eating meat, Vincent has discovered, makes you taste bad. Maybe that’s why we don’t eat lions.

Vincent and Sophie discuss the logistics of their new business, in the same way other meat and dairy executives talk about the “growing” and “finishing” of the victim animals, as production units. They could farm vegans, they say, and she could milk them. Vincent points out that the best meat comes from castrated steers, he wants to find

There are references to Hitler being a vegetarian (it’s not true) and still being a butcher. Sophie tells how the rabbit she loves when she was little was turned into a stew by her father, and

“although I loved Thumper more than anything in the world, I loved him more as stew.”

They then proceed to kill a plump vegan who they’ve tied up in a bathtub. Most of the film’s action is slapstick hunting sequences as Vincent and Sophie stalk and kill vegans for their shop, interspersed with discussions about hunting a black woman, from which Vincent recoils, until Sophie tells him

They both spot a plump young boy, but Vincent draws the line at killing children, with Sophie complaining

It’s easy to see it as a commentary on the commercial meat corporations, which kill most animals when they are still little more than juveniles or (for veal) babies, and exploit female animals twice – for the production of their young (and sometimes their milk) and then for their flesh when they are worn out – what Carol Adams calls “feminized protein”. All Sophie wants to do (or wants Vincent to do) is apply the same methods to human meat.

The film currently has an unbeatable 100% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with The Guardian critic Cath Clarke saying:

“Some Like It Rare is a tasty treat for herbivores and carnivores alike, and it honestly doesn’t feel like an anti-vegan film.”

Martin Unsworth in the Starburst magazine said:

Some Like it Rare is a non-meat eater’s idea of extreme horror, and if you’re upset by the sight of meat being prepared, you should avoid it at all costs.”

Yes, but that’s not really true. I know plenty of meat-eaters who scrupulously avoid knowing the source of their main course. That’s why animals are butchered in remote slaughterhouses with high walls and maximum security, by anonymous, minimum-wage workers. On the other hand, it is the vegans who climb those high walls and take videos (YouTube is full of them). So while they don’t like what’s going on, the “extreme horror” is probably more applicable to those who are assailed with the cognitive dissonance of knowing they support corporations that do what Vincent and Sophie do, albeit to other species (as far as we know).

If you don’t mind subtitles (or are fluent in French) this is well worth a viewing. Let me know what you think the message is.

Cannibalism in the Ukraine: GHOUL (Petr Jákl, 2015)

Ghoul is a “found footage” movie, a postmodern affectation that pretends it is a documentary that has been ‘found’ after some gruesome disaster. The genre was popularised (although not originated) by the Blair Witch Project in 1999 which, like Ghoul, had young film-makers heading off to investigate the paranormal, and wishing they hadn’t. One of its most famous antecedents was Cannibal Holocaust in 1980, which was purportedly a documentary about missing documentary makers, and was (purportedly) believable enough to lead to a court case in which the actors had to be produced to prove they had not in fact been killed in some sort of snuff movie. This was of course great publicity for the film, as was the fact that it had been banned in several jurisdictions. The very first film in the genre was probably Punishment Park in 1971, in which anti-Vietnam War demonstrators are supposedly dropped in the desert and hunted by Nixon’s cops.

The main point of interest in this film (the found footage itself being unoriginal and totally preposterous) is the fact that it is set in The Ukraine which, at the time of writing, is again suffering from decisions taken in Moscow. The “Holodomor” (literally “murder by starvation”) was an event that took place in the Ukraine in 1932-3, during which the population was deliberately decimated by the collectivisation of the farms and seizure of food stores. As starvation set in, corpses began to disappear, and the government response was simply to put up signs saying, “Eating dead children is barbarism”. Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands, the history of Nazi and Soviet mass murders between the wars, examines the incidents of cannibalism in the Ukraine and Poland, and concludes “With starvation will come cannibalism”. When there is no bread or other meat, human flesh becomes the currency. Snyder describes several reports, including an orphanage in Kharkiv where the older children began eating the youngest, who himself joined in, “tearing strips from himself and eating them, he ate as much as he could.”

Pretty difficult to invent a story worse than such a reality. So to add some spice, we have in Ghoul an amateur film crew from America who are fascinated by cannibalism (as, apparently, are very many people: this blog is currently receiving over 10,000 views per month – THANK YOU for reading!) They are researching evidence of cannibalism during the Holodomor, as part of a planned television series on cannibals of the twentieth century. They are conducting interviews in Kyiv of elderly survivors of that time, but they are also hoping to interview a man named Boris who was arrested rather more recently for eating a colleague, confessed to the crime under hypnosis, but then was released, as the body was never found. He said that he was made to do it. By whom, they wonder.

The crew are taken to a local psychic/witch, who tells them that paranormal entities were behind that murder. The crew dismisses this as superstition, getting drunk and getting her to perform a séance involving a pentagram, in which they mockingly summon the ghost of Andrei Chikatilo, a notorious serial killer and cannibal who killed and partially consumed dozens of women and children in the late 1970s and 1980s.

The next morning is full of strange and uncanny events, but the crew are unable to leave for help. The Ukrainian psychic tries but fails to evict Chikatilo’s presence, with no luck: he’s back now, and killing again. The idea is that Chikatilo forced Boris, their reluctant interviewee, to kill and eat his victim. He possesses (as in takes over the body of) a cat, then Boris, who proceeds to chase the young filmmakers, screaming, through various dark, gothic passages.

WTF? (Or що за біса as they say in The Ukraine). The film’s poster (below) says “INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS”. But where is the connection between Stalin’s attempted genocide in the 1930s and the ghost of a cannibal who had been active in Russia in the 1970s and 80s and was executed by a bullet behind his ear in 1994? Well, turns out Chikatilo had a brother that disappeared during the famine, and his ever-loving mummy told him the brother had been kidnapped and eaten. This may have just been to make him behave better (spoiler: didn’t work very well). So anyway, he decided to become a cannibal, specialising in small children. A real piece of work, and not one you’d want to reawaken from the dead.

I find hand-held filming annoying even in the hands of an expert, and this lot are supposed to be a bit sloppy, so the picture is jumping all over the place, to the point of seasickness. Reminds me of my dad’s Super-8 home movies (although he didn’t have a cannibal ghost to film, just bored kids). If you are patient enough to put up with the soundtrack (annoying bangs meant to scare you) and the shaky camera, the concept of a massacre being presented through the dispassionate eye of a video camera is interesting, in that it could be interpreted as the way the universe indifferently watches the suffering of its animals as they eat each other or, more immediately, the way the world watches as Russia tries to cannibalise Ukraine.

But besides the irritating camera work and the noisy things that go bump in the night, the plot is absurd – you have a historical tragedy, an imaginary murderer and the supposed ghost of a real murderer, who is somehow able to take over cats, people (including during sex) and of course kill people. The whole thing is frankly a bit of a yawn. It somehow managed to get to 22% on Rotten Tomatoes, with the LA Times critic summing it up well:

“Ghoul” can’t decide whether it should be about cannibals, serial killers, ghosts or demons. The found footage trivializes rather than reflects the horrific events that serve as the film’s basis.

According to IMDB, Ghoul was the highest grossing horror in Czech history. It also won the Vicious Cat Award at the Grossmann film and wine festival. Not sure if that will impress you or not.

The full movie was available on YouTube last time I checked, but all the dialog is in Czech and Ukrainian. Even if you speak both fluently, I wouldn’t bother.

“Our women can’t get pregnant” A BOY AND HIS DOG (L.Q. Jones, 1975)

“Dog eat dog” is an odd expression. Dogs generally don’t eat each other. The phrase is really a euphemism for the way humans will exploit and kill (and sometimes eat) each other. Accusing the dogs is more socially acceptable, but the phrase is more about our own predilection for devouring our own kind to satiate our various hungers, particularly in times of societal collapse.

This cannibalism blog has reviewed a number of post-apocalyptic films, the best known being Soylent Green, Delicatessen, The Bad Batch, Snowpiercer, 28 Days Later and The Road. Lesser known films include No Blade of Grass, We Are The Flesh, Cadaver, The Girl With All The Gifts, Tear Me Apart and of course several versions of the H.G. Wells classic, The Time Machine.

Clearly, we love bad things happening, preferably well into the future (800,000 years in The Time Machine), and to other people. It’s Greek tragedy but set in our future, warning us of the inevitable unwinding of society and, as we have found, often the eating of the most vulnerable. In most such movies, food is the obsession of both the protagonist and the various antagonists that must be overcome.

The protagonist of such movies is almost always male, and males, in most cultures, are conditioned to eat meat. If humans are the only meat available, that will often do just fine. Other appetites appear occasionally (there was a controversial rape scene in No Blade of Grass), but Freud’s insistence on the primacy of the sexual urges is put on the backburner (sorry) when it comes to eating.

Not this one though. The film is a post-apocalyptic black comedy (we see mushroom clouds at the start, and are told that World War 4 (in 2007) lasted five days – enough time to empty the missile silos). This film is set in 2024 (well, Soylent Green was set in 2022, so now seems like a good decade for disasters). The humans who survive work together in “rover packs” or else hunt alone as “solos”. There is an implication that the rover packs are happy to engage in a bit of cannibalism, as we see a small child carried, struggling, into a campsite.

The main character is a solo – his name is Vic, and he is played by Don Johnson, who a decade later would become a huge star and win a Golden Globe for his role in Miami Vice.

Did I say main character? Arguably, the star of this film is Blood, a shaggy dog.

Blood is smarter, better informed, has an advanced sense of humour and irony (he calls Vic “Albert”, after the rather more conventional dog stories of Albert Payson Terhune), has a superb sense of smell, and can converse telepathically with Vic. But the genetic modification that allowed this telepathy (designed for war of course) also removed his ability to hunt for food. So, Vic and Blood are symbiotes – Vic hunts for food, while Blood smells out women for the sexually voracious appetite of Vic.

In this ultimate extension of what Barbara Creed calls “aggressive phallicity”, the frontier of the rugged individual, the gun is king and women are purely there as rape targets. In the opening scene, Blood finds a woman, but a rover pack has arrived first, and they have knifed her after they have had their fun. Vic’s anger is purely selfish – that she could have been used a few more times. Blood mocks him “you’re so funny when you’re sexually frustrated.”

Later, Blood discovers a woman, Quilla (Susanne Benton) in disguise at the movies (there is one rover pack that exists as a sort of neutral space, putting on movies, running a brothel and selling popcorn). They put on old movies and cheesecake for lonely solos to beat off to. They watch Fistfull of Rawhide (it’s a real movie, from 1969) as Vic waits for the girl to leave and head someplace isolated where he can accost her.

They follow her to a deserted gymnasium, where she is getting changed from her male disguise, and he is enchanted by her youth, beauty and cleanliness.

Quilla comes from a different world, the “Downunder”, a series of underground cities where traditional American values rule – raised hats, marching bands, picket fences, apple pies, civility). Everyone is made up in white-face – everyone is Middle America is white, and seem to need confirmation. Quilla, it turns out, was “the cheese” – she came to the surface to tempt Vic, like Eve tempted Adam, so he would enter the underground world, and bring his sperm with him.

Yes, the solid citizens of the symbolic order or language and laws have become sterile. But Blood, she says, wouldn’t fit in there. Trouble in paradise. Blood, badly wounded defending Vic, who had refused to leave Quilla to a rover pack, waits at the portal as Vic descends like Orpheus in search of Quilla. They want Vic’s sperm, because being underground has made their men sterile, but it’s not going to be the orgiastic event Vic imagines – they strap him down and connect his member to an electro-ejaculation machine, just as modern agriculture does to prize-winning bulls and rams. Such a device is normally inserted into the rectum and positioned against the prostate, and an electric charge causes involuntary ejaculation. To the townsfolk, Vic is an animal to be milked of sperm and then killed when they are done with him.

The film is available on YouTube (at the time of writing) so I won’t give too many spoilers. It’s well acted, the dog is delightful, the plot is pretty faithful to the novella of the same name, which came from the brilliant mind of Harlan Ellison. Ellison published the story is a collection called The Beast That Shouted Love At The Heart Of The World, in the introduction to which he objected to the term “new wave science fiction”, and cast bitter scorn on the “clots” who called his work “sci-fi”. Ellison was known for his brilliant writing but also his outspoken, combative personality; the Los Angeles Times described him as “the 20th-century Lewis Carroll” while Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, called him “the only living organism I know whose natural habitat is hot water”. The story’s concept remains original and the narrative sparkling, even half a century after the book and film were made.

The genius of this story, captured in the film, is the deconstruction of some of the most basic assumptions of our (pre-world war IV) societies. One, Derrida tells us, is common to all philosophers up to now – that we look at animals, but assume they do not look back. It is the basis of anthropocentrism (human supremacism) to assume that only humans are aware, are subjects who think and observe. But in this film Vic is the dumb animal that only knows how to fight and fornicate, while the “rational animal” who keeps him alive, teaches him and cares for him, is Blood, the dog.

Then there is the myth of the hero, the man of action – men like Vic seem to be a dying breed. Vic is only interested in “getting laid” – and believes that is only possible through violent rape. But Quilla is smarter than Vic, manipulative and calculating, as well as having a stronger libido – “I’m the one who’s supposed to want it” he complains. Socially too the dominant male is an anachronism. Above ground, the solos are being recruited into rover packs or killed, while below ground, the patriarchal symbolic order that is trying to recreate America of the 1950s is dying out – the males infertile.

Finally, I need to address the question of cannibalism, because, hey, this is a cannibalism blog. There is an implication in the film that the rover packs are kidnapping children from other packs for dinner (we all know that babies taste best). That’s what happens after an apocalypse – check out the gangs in The Road. But there is an implication that the society below ground also eats meat, and the only animals we see are humans, plus one small white dog. Those who disobey “The Committee”, a triumvirate who rule the place, are sent to “the farm”, to be killed and perhaps eaten. That’s what farms do – provide food.

And what about Blood and the other dogs – dogs are scavengers, but they usually prefer meat. While Vic collects pre-war cans of food, and Blood is very pleased to eat popcorn at the movies, there are certainly a lot of bodies lying around. But we see no evidence of anyone, human or canine, eating (adult) humans, until, like most apocalypse movies, there is no choice.

Or rather there is a choice – sex or love.

There is a popular ethical question about whom you would save from a burning building – a human stranger, or your dog? I suspect most people who have dogs would feel required to answer “the human”, but sotto voce would answer “my dog of course”. When Vic emerges from the Downunder with Quilla, he finds Blood badly injured and starving. Quilla tells Vic she loves him, tells him to leave the dog and go live with her. There’s lust, and there’s love. What will a boy do for his dog?

“They’re not psycho killers, they’re small business owners” 100 BLOODY ACRES (Colin and Cameron Cairnes, 2012)

There just aren’t enough Aussie cannibalism films (IMHO), particularly since the earliest movie I could find showing (purported) cannibalism, The Devil’s Playground, was made in Australia, way back in 1928. What few have been made are pretty great, including movies like The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce (about a cannibal convict) and more recently Two Heads Creek, which saw immigrants to the Australian outback being cooked and eaten. There was also a movie made about the so-called Snowtown murders (most of which did not take place in the town of Snowtown) but it avoids mentioning the cannibalism of the last victim, for some reason.

Presenting country folk as hicks, rednecks, hillbillies, etc is certainly not exclusive to Australian films. In the US, such plots are usually presented as slasher horror, such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, and their endless sequels and prequels. In Italy during the “Cannibal Boom”, the primitives were tribes of savages, eating people for revenge, but also because they were yummy. But Australians love to see the humour, even (especially?) in a rapidly mounting body count and spurting arterial blood. 100 Bloody Acres is right in that tradition, filled with colourful rural characters who mispronounce words and aren’t that smart, taking it out on city slickers who stray into their territories.

This one stars two brothers, Reg (Damon Herriman, who (fun fact) played Charles Manson in both the Netflix series Mindhunter and in the Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and Lindsay (Angus Sampson who was in Mad Max: Fury Road, Fargo and most recently The Lincoln Lawyer). The Morgan brothers own and operate a small blood and bone fertiliser business in South Australia, the motto of which is:

“We’ll fertilize ya!”

Their business has been booming in the area, we are told, where six Salvos (Salvation Army workers – everything in Aust. is abbrev’ed) have disappeared without trace – not hard to see where this plot is going. Reg is on his way to deliver blood and bone fertiliser when he sees a road accident, hauls out the body of a man and puts him into the back of his van, less a few fingers, due to his clumsiness in closing the doors. Meant to be shocking or hilarious? Subjective I guess. Reg then picks up a young woman and her two male companions whose car has died on the way to a music festival, because he fancies the woman. The men go in the back of the truck with the bags of fertiliser and the car crash victim, and predictably freak out when the body is revealed by the bumpy road. Reg takes the trio to the factory, where they are tied up and made to watch the car accident victim, who turns out to be alive, lowered into the meat grinder.

Reg tries to rescue him, but ends up covered in blood and holding just his legs and, perhaps the area between them that attracts his befuddled gaze. There is a theory that movies, particularly thrillers and horror stories, are aimed at 14-year-old boys, and I’m sure they would find this scene side-splitting.

Turns out that blood and bone made from humans is far better (as fertiliser) if they are alive and scared and in agony; it’s all in the hormones. This why torment is a crucial part of the dog-meat industry, and also not far from the way we treat other animals we confine and slaughter.

The older brother, Lindsay, tests the blood from the mixture and declares it “liquid gold”.

The rest of the movie is slapstick gore involving chases, more victims being killed or losing body parts, and other merriment. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 77% fresh rating, and Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com called it:

“a smartly written and acted and exceptionally well-directed movie.”

The Guardian’s Australian Editor, Lenore Taylor, was not so enthusiastic, declaring it,

“a splatterfest that abandons suspense in favour of sniggers.”

100 Bloody Acres is not nearly as shocking as it imagines itself to be (unless maybe I’ve watched too many cannibal movies) but it is entertaining, well made, stylishly directed, and the actors are top-notch. It hums along, and may even be seen as satirising the more strait-laced and dour cannibalism films from the USA and elsewhere. If you like black comedy and gore, this one may impress.

From the point of view of Cannibal Studies, it raises some interesting questions.

  • Is it still cannibalism is you kill someone not to eat, but to use, for example, as blood and bone (or for their skin and bones, like Ed Gein or Jame Gumb)? Does cannibalism require oral ingestion, or does any use of the human body count?
  • Is cannibalism of the dead less repugnant if the intended meal is already dead? In this film, the brothers collect dead bodies from road accident sites (human roadkill) and grind them up into blood and bone. While roadkill of wild animals is not a hugely popular source for food or other uses, it is actually more acceptable to some animal activists than confinement and slaughter, in that the animals may not have known what hit them, and in any case are killed without murderous intent. So why not human roadkill (maybe making sure they’re actually dead)? Is it really worse to eat (or otherwise utilise) a dead human, who can feel no pain, than a living, terrified cow or pig? Consider the outrage in Illinois when a satirical site claimed the local morgue assistant was using body parts from deceased men to help her win a spaghetti-cooking competition. It was a hoax, but there have been other cases, such as journalist William Seabrook, who purchased human flesh from a hospital and cooked it just to see what it tasted like. What exactly is the problem?
  • And most intriguingly, why do we stroll nonchalantly past the blood and bone bags in the hardware store, yet can be shocked at the thought of human blood and bone? As Shylock asked, “if you prick us, do we not bleed?”

We are all made of blood and bone.

“After you’ve taken everything, what will be left?” THE FEAST (Lee Haven Jones, 2021)

First things first, and this is a first – the first time THECANNIBALGUY.COM has reviewed a Welsh film. They are not as rare as we imagine (particularly in Wales) but the fortunate coincidence of Welsh language and cannibalism has not raised its head before. Luckily, this one makes up for lost time – Dread Central called it

“a delightful, sumptuous dish from start to finish”

And that is exactly what we are served – a fancy dinner party in which the hired help, Cadi (Annes Elwy) has a lot more to offer than just laying the table and preparing the feast. The feast is to be held in the Welsh mountain home of a rich family who clearly owe their fortune to outrages against the environment. They have invited a sleazy businessman, Euros (Rhodri Meilir), who has been drilling for oil on their land.

The film opens with the contrast of the green fields (and how green is Wales!) being penetrated, raped, by a giant exploration-drilling rig. A man standing next to the machine is then seen staggering through the fields, only to collapse with blood streaming from his ears.

This is a cannibalism blog, and the cannibalism takes place near the end of the film, so I apologise for spoilers. The Feast is on Hulu or available for purchase or rent on the usual platforms, so if you’re going to watch it, and don’t like spoilers, go and watch it then come back (please) for my analysis. Then again, the Director recommends watching it several times, saying you’ll get more out of it each time. So it is not really a mystery, more a mood piece, and knowing what is going to happen may actually enhance the enjoyment of the story.

Cadi as a hired kitchen hand is the epitome of the saying “you can’t get good help anymore” taking ages to actually do any work, and getting it all wrong – she knows nothing of human etiquette. Turns out she is a nature goddess, disturbed by the drilling, taking the body of a woman who has just drowned, and she knows the humans in that house are up to no good. She is badly frightened by the sound of the father, the local (and clearly corrupt) politician, shooting rabbits. Her hands excrete mud, and she stains the pure white tablecloth she has just laid out; messy nature is invading the stark and sterile human house. When he brings the rabbits for her to skin, she flees into the fields, where one of the sons tells her that’s why his father likes to come back to Wales from Parliamentary duties in London.

The MP’s wife Glenda (Nia Roberts) takes over the skinning of the rabbits, much to Cadi’s disgust. Nature, as Tennyson told us, is red in tooth and claw, and rabbits routinely come to a sticky end by way of fox or disease or trap. But Cadi, who it seems is not too worried by bloodshed when it comes to humans, is horrified not at the slaughter and plunder, but at the use of technology to do it – guns, oil rigs. Nothing natural enters this human world, because civilisation, in its modern technological form of patriarchal capitalism, is built on the rejection of animality and domination of nature.

The man most guilty is Euros (Rhodri Meilir), an oil driller who is hoping to use the dinner party to persuade the family’s neighbours to allow drilling on their land. Euros arrives in his fancy car and admonishes Cadi for slacking off, whereupon he drops (perhaps with her magical intervention) a bottle of expensive wine. Told to clean it up, Cadi tastes the wine on the driveway and then inserts a piece of the broken bottle in her vagina, with no sign of any discomfort. This acts as a vagina dentata; she subsequently uses it to kill one of the sons by offering him sex.

He’s the one who had left medical school to prepare for a triathlon, part of his training involving eating nothing but raw meat. And he’s not the weirdest person there. Nor is his the most gruesome death.

Some people don’t like subtitles, but generally hearing the words in another language adds a dimension, a music or poetry, and this film would not have been as powerful in English, even though the patriarch is an MP who spends most of his time in London. As the Director put it,

“Our culture’s incredibly rich in terms of myths and legends.”

The film adapts various Welsh folk legends. One is the story of Blodeuwedd, who was made of flowers by two magicians in order to help their protégé, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, who’d been cursed by his mother never to take a human wife. Jones explained:

“This wizard harnessed the forces of nature and put her in a body of flesh and blood. But, of course, Blodeuwedd was very frustrated by that, and therefore decided to get her revenge. The character of Blodeuwedd is very definitely in the DNA of Cadi.”

The drilling site is called “The Rise”, a burial site that is considered sacred, although modern, rationalist people like Glenda scoff at this, claiming it was just a way to frighten children away from the fields. But Cadi is the goddess who was resting in The Rise, and they have disturbed her. She is out for revenge.

Freud wrote about the “death drive” which propels all life in the direction of death, a return to its original organic form. In The Future of an Illusion, he described how humans connect this death drive to nature, which is interpreted as the enemy of civilisation. Humanity therefore fights an unremitting war with nature, seen as the cause of the excruciating “riddle of death”, a war in which we may win every battle but, as mortals, we must lose the war.

German philosophers Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno wrote in Dialectic of Enlightenment that

“Human beings are so radically estranged from themselves and from nature that they know only how to use and harm each other.”

Humans invented the “seven deadly sins” to judge themselves and others. So now Cadi, or the goddess who controls her body, judges and executes judgement on the family according to their sins. The father represents greed (taking bribes even though he is already rich), the mother exhibits envy, trying to bully her friend, who is content being a simple farmer, into giving in to the oil company’s plans, and the sons exhibit wrath and lust (one is a drug addict who is furious with his family for confining him in the country, and the other has been fired from the hospital for raping sedated patients). Then there is Eunos, the skinny man who offers the perfect image of gluttony; the corrupt capitalist is voraciously eating everything left on their plates, his face plunged into the food, not bothering with cutlery. The mother, in a trance, butchers her son’s body and puts slices of his leg in front of the insatiable Eunos, who gobbles them down. This is the “feast” of the title, and it’s the last supper for that family.

Eunos falls into food catalepsy, and when he awakes, Glenda has a shotgun pointed into his mouth, and asks him the question that sums up the film, our society, Western civilisation and the era that has come to be called the Anthropocene.

“After you’ve taken everything, what will be left?”

The final scene of the film is a tour de force by Annes Elwy, no longer Cadi but now the goddess, covered in blood, at first smiling at her triumph, but then sinking into grief at the prospect that the war will continue until either humanity or nature (including us) is destroyed utterly.

Like Helen Mirren in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, she is looking directly at us, the viewers, accusing us of complicity, both in the war and the cannibal feast.

The film scored a very respectable 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning that four times more critics liked it than didn’t. Those who didn’t carped about it being slow in the first half, a criticism that is often levelled at movies sold as horror but offering more intelligent themes than just slasher gore. The acting is superb, the photography is stunning, particularly of the natural environment and the contrast with the stark family home, and the soundtrack is never less than interesting, and often (especially the Welsh songs) quite enchanting. Well worth seeing, and perhaps, as the Director suggests, more than once.

The Butcher of Plainfield: ED GEIN (Chuck Parello, 2000)

Ed Gein is an important figure in the study of American cannibalism, not because he ate a lot of people (we can’t be sure how many) but more for the inspiration his deviant activities furnished to some great books and movies, after his arrest and incarceration.

This film, called Ed Gein in the US and Australia and In the Light of the Moon in other markets, follows the life and crimes of the Wisconsin man who became known as “The Butcher of Plainfield”. Plainfield is a little town in Wisconsin, about forty miles from Chicago. Gein would haunt the cemetery at night to dig up corpses of recently deceased women, take them home and make all sorts of things out of their body parts. As well as chairs and lampshades covered in skin, bowls made of human skulls and belts made of nipples, ideas inspired by his fascination with Nazi atrocities, Gein would make women suits out of human skin (which inspired Jame Gumb – “Buffalo Bill” – in Silence of the Lambs) and then dress up as his Mama (which inspired the book and later hugely successful 1960 Hitchcock movie Psycho). His facemasks made out of human faces inspired the character Leatherface in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Truly a seminal figure in cannibal studies!

The plot is pretty much an accurate retelling of his hijinks, as far as anyone can tell without asking him (and he claimed he couldn’t remember anything about the murders, plus he’s dead now anyway). Ed (Steve Railsback, who had played Charles Manson several years earlier) grew up with a mother (played by Carrie Snodgress of Diary of a Mad Housewife fame) who was a vituperative fundamentalist and beat the fear of God into her children.

Ed worshipped her and thought she was a saint, and went batshit crazy when she died.

But in a tiny little town like Plainfield WI, everyone was a bit weird (the film starts with some genuine interviews of the locals, and they look even stranger than Ed). Local people thought him odd but harmless, and even employed him to babysit their kids. He seems to have had no interest in women, until the ghost of his mother appears to him in a burning bush (I kid you not, this is how much he is Biblewashed).

Meanwhile, Ed spends his nights digging up recently deceased women and souveniring their parts, particularly their lady-parts, which he has researched pretty solidly.

His house if full of his trophies: lamps made from human spines, and shrunken heads.

But what he really wants is for Mama to return from the dead. He practices on his excavated corpses to see if he can command them to “AWAKE – AND ARISE!” and one seems to turn her head, but by now we are deep in his psychosis. He visits his mother’s grave and begs her to return.

He reads books about head-hunters, Nazis, and even the pulp detective comics that he used to get into trouble for wanking to in his younger days.

There are flashbacks to those younger days, including the funeral of his brother (whom, the movie tells us, he killed, which may also be true). Ed hugs his Mama, telling her it’s just the two of them now, but she pushes him away, feeling his overenthusiastic erection. Ed is a sinner, and he needs his saint.

So anyway, Mama’s ghost tells him that the women of the town are all sinners, whores, and he must visit God’s judgement upon them, then she will be able to return to him. Pretty clear to us, the audience, that he is having psychotic delusions, but to him it’s all very real, so he heads off to shoot, kidnap and eventually fillet and cook two of the townswomen – the one that runs the bar in town and the one that runs the general store. He also collects mementos like noses and breasts, and he particularly likes vulvas.

The rest of the bodies are not wasted either.

He has no neighbours within screaming distance, so he can get up to whatever he wants, including dancing in the moonlight in what Hannibal would call a “vest with tits”.

But bloodshed is not really his thing (even though he killed his brother, but that was for insulting their mom). The men of the town go off hunting deer as soon as the season starts, but Ed tells one of his prospective victims that he hates hunting.

But Mama has other ideas, and it’s clear that Ed has learnt, as a good Wisconsin carnophallogocentric man, how to dress a carcass. The men of the town are spending their nights inculpably slitting open harmless ruminant mammals of the family Cervidae, but are shocked and nauseated when the carcass in Ed’s basement turns out to be of another species. The word “butcher” has dual meanings – the butchers of Plainfield are horrified by activities of the “Butcher of Plainfield”. Put a capital B on the word butcher and it moves from blameless to shocking. But it’s hard not to notice that, until his psychotic delusions of mother take over, poor Ed is doing what everyone else is doing, but he’s doing it to dead bodies rather than living white-tailed deer.

Once the cops finally accept that Ed is not a harmless eccentric, they find lots of interesting things in his house.

This was a huge story in 1957!

So that’s Ed, our modern, domestic cannibal – a man (usually) who seems a bit odd but, everyone thinks, is apparently harmless. Think of the big names of modern cannibalism – Albert Fish, a sweet old man who took ten-year-old Grace Budd off to a purported children’s party, but really took her home for his dinner. Jeffrey Dahmer, who took young men home for photography and sex but then drugged them, drilled holes in their heads and ate parts of them. Armin Meiwes, who advertised on the Internet for someone who wanted to be eaten, and ate the successful applicant. Issei Sagawa, who shot a fellow grad student at the Sorbonne because he wanted to have sex with her corpse and then eat bits of her. Each of them were described by their neighbours as either “normal” or a bit odd but harmless.

Chuck Parello and Steve Railsback won Best Film and Best Actor respectively at the 2000 Sitges Film Festival, one of the leading festivals featuring horror and fantasy films. But the film scored a wretched 10% on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics calling it “dry and dull.” I beg to differ. Ed is played as dull, because he appeared to be so, right up until he imagines Mama riling him up to declare war on loose women. His dullness and misapprehension of social and religious conventions that are usually unquestioned, is the whole point of the film, and the two main actors, Steve Railsback as Ed and Carrie Snodgrass as Mama, do a superb and convincing job. The slow, rural pace makes the sudden appearance of violence and body parts all the more shocking, and there’s plenty of both. The deaths when they happen are slow and wretched, as they would no doubt be in real life. There’s a surprising amount of suspense, the soundtrack admittedly is incredibly annoying, but other than that it’s a pretty great cannibal film, with lots of interesting philosophical questions to chew on.

“Drowning in a river of blood”, SON (Ivan Kavanagh, 2021)

Children as cannibals seems to be the fashion, with fans of Timothée Chalamet waiting impatiently for the new cannibal romance movie Bones and All due towards the end of 2022 (maybe). Chalamet teams up with Taylor Russell, who plays a girl that has been a cannibal since she grew her first teeth. Yeah, I read the book, but no spoilers here. A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the movie It’s Alive, which featured a man- (and woman-) eating newborn baby. Combine that hungry little fella with the cannibal kids in The Girl With All the Gifts and some baffled doctors in Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist or The Omen and we get this little boy named David (Luke David Blumm from The Sinner), who is a sweet little boy, except that he kills and eats people.

His mother, Laura (Andi Matichak from Halloween) kicks off the movie as she escapes from a religious cult, hugely pregnant, and gives birth in her car as a King Lear level storm rages outside. Yes, there be some devil work afoot – those demons love a young virgin. Or is she escaping extreme sexual abuse? Or is she chronically delusional?

Eight years later, Laura and David are a happy, well-adjusted family of two, until one night she goes into David’s room and there are a whole bunch of people standing around his bed, which she is not happy about – has the cult come back for David? He seems OK, though, with the normal hopes and dreams of an eight-year-old boy.

The cops think she’s crazy, except for Paul (Emile Hirsch from Into The Wild) who seems to have no police work to do other than sympathise with Laura. David starts having seizures, skin irruptions and internal bleeding, which the doctors are baffled by, as they normally are in this genre. Some of them seem to be in cahoots with the cult members who want not Laura, but David. The cult’s slogan is “HE IS COMING”. It turns up, written in blood, all over the place.

There is only one thing that makes David feel better – a nice dose of human body parts. Not a cure exactly, but it seems to clear up the crusty sores and vomiting of blood very nicely. Laura escapes the hospital with David when she figures the doctors are all involved in the cult, and flees to the home of her friend Susan. She leaves David with Susan while she gets a few essentials from home, but when she comes back, David is feeling much better, and Susan much worse. Yes, some fresh human flesh is a great aid to healing, apparently.

And so it goes. Laura washes David down in the shower and subsequently listens to his entreaties (“It hurts, mom!”) and his threats (“Get me some fuckin’ food, you bitch!”).

But eventually, she does what any good mother would do when faced with a hungry child – she finds him some food. But not just, you know, anyone; like Hannibal who prefers to eat rude people, or Sheila from Santa Clarita Diet who wants to eat “someone bad, who deserves it… the prototype would be a young, single Hitler”, Laura sees a very nasty pimp beating up one of his girls, and decides to invite him around for dinner.

Of course, one of the worst parts of being a parent is cleaning up after dinner.

So it’s a cannibal mystery. Laura is really named Anna and, according to the newspapers of the time, she was repeatedly raped by her father and a whole lot of men to whom he sold her from the age of ten. A paedophile cult!

If you can’t accuse someone of being a cannibal, call them a paedophile. But her childhood friend, who admittedly is now a hopeless junkie, tells her that in reality her father didn’t touch her; she was sacred.

The cult would torture and kill animals in her bedroom then force her to chant a spell to summon a demon named Palystes (fun fact, that is not the name of a demon but of a spider) who would rape her and, yep, get her with child. Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen for a new century, a new, improved version, now with cannibalism. Her shrink (retired) tells the police, who are interested in talking to her about the hollowed out friend Susan, that she is psychotic and imagined the whole cult thing. The cops, even Paul who’s really into her, decide she is having a psychotic episode and is the one killing and dismembering people.

Well, it’s a new movie and you might want to catch it, so no spoilers (although so many reviewers say the ending is obvious). The directing by Irish filmmaker Ivan Kavanagh is sure footed, the Irish certainly know their way around devils and the children of supernatural beings. The actors are great, particularly Andi Matichak as Laura and Luke David Blumm as the junior cannibal, the plot rolls along well and if the continuity is a bit jumpy, well, that’s part of the psychotic story arc. For those who like that sort of thing, there is a LOT of gore, and having a cute little boy doing the killing and eating is a nice touch. Although why no one believes a little boy could be a cannibal killer baffles me. I was a little boy once, and I wouldn’t put anything past the kids I knew.

Son scored a respectable 76% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, with the Los Angeles Times calling it “an amped-up version of everyday parental paranoia” and the San Jose Mercury News saying “it’s engrossing and well-made, but you’ll need a strong stomach to get through it”.

Son asks some interesting questions about trauma, believing victims but also questioning false memories, fear of the past and vengeance. It also reminded me of people who are shocked at cannibalism movies, but even more shocked at vegans who, they complain, are neglecting their children by not feeding them meat. David has no such problems in this movie. As Hannibal would say, “nothing here is vegetarian”.