Thank you!

This blog reviews films and TV shows involving human cannibalism. Sounds creepy, well, it is a bit, but it’s part of an exercise investigating how we decide what is edible and what is repulsive. Why are we happy to kill for food an animal that doesn’t want to die, yet unwilling to eat another animal that is already dead? Every work considered contributes to the answer to that question, some more than others of course.

Anyway, this post is to say thanks for reading this blog. In May, for the first time, the blog received well over 1,000 views, which is very exciting. As a special thank you, here is one of my favourite cannibal songs, by the wonderful Mr Tom Lehrer.

And remember:

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Man-eating Mermaids: THE LURE (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Look, if you somehow managed to miss the Disney version of The Little Mermaid (1989) or the live action version in 2018, you were probably, as a defenceless child, read the 1837 Hans Christian Andersen story. A mermaid is an outsider – neither fish nor human. A sea creature, yet capable of living on the land as a two-legged person, and falling in love, and all those complications. She is often also mad, bad and dangerous to know.

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The Lure is a Polish version of this mermaid myth, in which the mermaids, Golden and Silver, get a job in an adult entertainment nightclub (mermaids have beautiful voices – remember the “sirens” in Homer’s Odyssey?) and for part of the time, when not performing, they lure men to their deaths, and eat them. Love is tricky, since they are, in human form, devoid of genitals, but hey, pour a glass of water on them, or throw them into the swimming pool, and problem solved.

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Is a mermaid eating a human really cannibalism? Well, they are half human, so I guess we could conclude that it’s half-cannibalism. As Hannibal Lecter said, “It’s only cannibalism if we’re equals”. They do seem to be mammals though.

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Maybe they are whalemaids? Anyhoo, there’s that very long fish tail, that was a bit of a problem, even in 1837, but can be overcome – they can change. Silver loves the hot bass player and has her tail cut off, and legs grafted on. The Polish doctors seem to be pretty damn good at what would have to be considered very serious surgery.

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What happens when you lose your tail – will you be accepted as “normal”? Well, ask any immigrant to anywhere – it’s not that easy. Silver loses not just her scales but her singing voice. The bassist digs her dedication to his love, but is disgusted when he tries to have sex with her and ends up covered in blood (definitely a risk if you have just had a WHOLE NEW LOWER BODY grafted onto your tummy).

The AV reviewer said the film “celebrates the animalistic, the feminine, and the intimate intersections between the two”. It does not resile from the blood or, indeed, their fishy smell, a popular misogynistic trope.

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The changing body is not restricted to young mermaids, but is common to those suffering puberty. As the director Agnieszka Smoczynska said of becoming young women, “they menstruate, they ovulate, their bodies start smelling and feeling different”. And another problem, in terms of social acceptance, is their teeth, with which they tear people to pieces. Teenager girls can be so mean.

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In the Disney version, Ariel becomes human and lives happily ever after (sorry, but not much of a spoiler – what do you expect from Disney?) This one is closer to the Andersen fairy tale, which means: much darker.

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The prince marries someone else, and the mermaid can only recover her fishiness by eating him; if she doesn’t, she’ll become sea-foam. In this dissonant, modern version, the kingdom is the Warsaw nightclub, the prince is a bass player, and people get eaten – why waste a good corpse? The sea-foam – that, of course, is the constant of every good (and not so good) movie.

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Anyway, this film is a hoot, and well worth seeking out (not so easy, but persevere). The Roger Ebert reviewer called it “sadly not as joyfully deranged as it could be”, but it has 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty good!

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The Lure is a movie that (hopefully) will leave you thinking about its themes long afterwards. Why can Silver not exist if her prince/guitarist marries someone else? Why does he only want her when her natural pudenda (in her tail) are removed and replaced with someone else’s, between human legs? Eating flesh makes the girls strong, but love can turn them into sea-foam? Like all cannibal movies (maybe all movies?) it’s all about fear and appetite. The club staff and patrons go wild with desire when the mermaid sisters sing, but they also fear and hate them for being different, for being monsters, and they are shamelessly exploited and underpaid. Go read Barbara Creed on female monsters – men don’t fear them because they appear to have been castrated as Freud thought, rather they dread them as castrators, the bearer of the toothed vagina, and of the womb from which we all come, and into which we subconsciously fear being reabsorbed, eaten and digested, until we, not Silver, are just sea-foam once again.

At the end of every good cannibal movie, we should leave the cinema (or nowadays the couch) asking, “who, exactly, was the monster?”

“FLESH EATING MOTHERS” (James Aviles Martin, 1989)

OK, I’m posting this on Mother’s Day, and a very happy occasion may it be for those who have a mother, particularly one who doesn’t routinely eat her children. But the film is also about a deadly virus, one which has been covered up by the authorities, so it’s not just schlock horror, but also somewhat prophetic.

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This has it all: cannibalism, domestic violence, murder, lots of blood, adultery and filicide – yes, the mothers eat everything in the fridge and then start on their kids. Early in the piece, one mother stuffs a whole sandwich in her mouth (possibly the most abject scene) then starts on her son, who is still, absurdly, wearing his baseball mitt.

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Her husband is a cop and manages to shoot her as she nominates him as main course, then he’s arrested, has to prove his innocence with the help of a scientist who is being stymied by official obstruction, and at this point there is a tendency to turn off and watch something else, particularly as the acting is so bad that one suspects it has to be deliberate.

This one literally is the best actor in the film:

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You get the idea. One mother makes her son special creamy mashed potatoes, which he eats as she describes the process of producing milk-fed veal. Is there a message here – a cream-fed kid who is about to be her dinner?

“Milk-fed baby cows…. The calf is taken from the mother and put in a small room, so small that he can’t move around, see, so that his muscles are real tender. And they don’t feed him anything but milk, so that he’s really soft by the time they kill him. And so he’s really delicate to eat.”

She pours him another glass of milk.

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“Mom’s on the rag again” he complains to his friend after he escapes, adding that he doesn’t blame her: “it’s all society’s fault”.

The kids work out what’s going on and unite in opposition, but not until plenty of makeup and fake blood has been added to this powerful stew of nonsense.

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“My mother ate my brother.”
“My mother too!”
“My mother ate my father.”
“She’s never done anything like this before!”

Look, it’s all very light-hearted, despite the R rating, and it’s a bit unfortunate that I decided to review it the week after one of the greatest cannibalism movies, Fritz Lang’s M. But there’s an important point here, for us keen Cannibal Studies scholars. So many cannibal films feature male cannibals, from Hans Beckert to Sweeney Todd to Hannibal Lecter. Yet as Barbara Creed told us in The Monstrous Feminine, published not long after this movie hit the big screen, mythical tales and modern horror films teem with female monsters. But the stereotype for cannibal films is the male cannibal and, often, the female victim. Where monsters are female, they often follow Freud’s odd designation of women as terrifying and abject because little boys are supposed to see their lack of a penis as proof their mothers were castrated. Thus, we get the dumb teenager saying “Mom’s on the rag again”. She is, even after trying to eat him, a victim in his eyes.

But Creed, and this film, argue that the female monster relates not to her lack but her centrality to reproduction and nurturing. Woman is the all-consuming womb, the witch, the vampire, the castrator rather than the castrated. We know we came out of her, and fear we may be reabsorbed. But hey, the scene of the battered wife eating the fist of her abusive husband fills us with a certain satisfaction.

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Of the more than 300 films involving cannibalism that I will be discussing in this blog (eventually), only a handful involve female protagonists or even female directors. When they do, they are often presented as comedy as (I presume) this film is; films such as Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death or Santa Clarita Diet. Even in those, though, as in the more serious offerings such as Raw or Jennifer’s Body, cannibalism is presented as a form of empowerment, never as a lack.

Here’s the virus under a microscope.

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The authorities knew about it, but kept it hidden, apparently because they thought it was a punishment for adultery. Plenty of Trump supporters who doubtlessly believe the same about COVID-19. Luckily, there’s a smart scientist with an instant vaccine.

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This is a very silly movie, but it’s refreshing to see some women do the flesh-eating for a change.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

Fritz Lang’s Cannibalism Masterpiece – “M – EINE STADT SUCHT EINEN MÖRDER”, (1931)

Fritz Lang considered this film to be his magnum opus. It regularly appears on lists of the best movies ever made, it was voted the best German film of all time by the Association of German Cinémathèques, and it is one of the few movies with 100% on the website Rotten Tomatoes. It set the standard by which police procedurals and serial killer stories would be judged for the next century. But is it a cannibal movie?

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The story starts with a group of small children standing in a circle, and a little girl, Elsie, is choosing who is eliminated from the game, using a song:

“Soon will come the man in black for you…”

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Ja, it’s a cannibal film. We don’t see anyone get eaten, but that is not unusual, particularly in the older films from the cannibal genre.

Elsie is heading home after school, bouncing her ball, past a poster seeking information about the murderer of eight children.

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A nice man, Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre in his first major film role), compliments her colourful ball and offers to buy her a balloon. He is whistling Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. The music is best known for its use in Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, which is not actually a cannibal story, but does involve a lot of stuff about trolls eating people.

Soon we see the ball rolling away, the balloon floating off, briefly caught on telegraph wires.

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Like most modern cannibals since Jack The Ripper, the killer is indistinguishable from the rest of the public – just a normal guy (well, as normal as Peter Lorre could ever be).

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The panic over the ninth murder makes everyone a suspect, particularly after Beckert writes to the papers, boasting that he’ll keep on killing.

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The police raid the criminal underground every night, which is terrible for business.

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The bar owner complains to the police that even the hardest working prostitute…

“hides a mother inside… I know many hard crooks whose eyes mist up looking at the little children playing.”

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And so it goes. The coppers can’t catch him, so the underworld decides they will catch him, just so they can get back to business as usual.

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The police have their own theories of why they cannot catch him:

“He’s not a real crook! Maybe he’s somebody who shows the harmless look of a good citizen who wouldn’t kill a fly.”

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“If it wasn’t for this… apparent innocence of murderers, it would be unthinkable that a man like Grossmann* or Haarmann* could live for years next door to their neighbours, without raising any kind of suspicion”.

The police follow leads from the asylums; the crooks have other methods. Of course, everyone is a suspect, except – the beggars. The heads of the underworld offer them a reward to watch all the children of the city. Meanwhile, Beckert is watching little girls in shop window reflections.

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The “M” of the title is chalked onto his coat by one of the beggars, as he is taking away his next child.

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No more spoilers. Let us just say that the climax is a trial, in which Lang asks some hard questions about whether we are responsible for our actions, even when we cannot control our own minds.

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The moral of the story is presented by Elsie’s mother, sitting outside the court, who says:

“This will not bring our children back to life. People should take better care of their children!”

Indeed.

No mention is made of the precise fate of the victims in the movie – Lang leaves that up to our imagination, and some knowledge of German serial killers of that time. They disappeared without trace for some days and…

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*   Some critics and reviewers claim that M was based on serial killer Peter Kürten—the Vampire of Düsseldorf—whose murdered at least ten people including several children in the 1920s and achieving sexual climaxes from the killings, and from drinking the blood of some of the victims. He was also keen on writing to newspapers, as is depicted in the film. Kürten was beheaded in 1931 for his crimes, so would have been very much in the news at the time of the film’s creation.

Fritz Lang, however, in an interview in 1963 with film historian Gero Gandert, denied that M was based solely on Kürten

“At the time I decided to use the subject matter of M, there were many serial killers terrorizing Germany—Haarmann, Grossmann, Kürten, Denke”

The first two are actually mentioned in the film. Fritz Haarmann, known as the “Butcher of Hanover”, killed at least 24 boys and young men between 1918 and 1924, often by biting their throats, and then allegedly eating or selling the meat from their corpses as pork or horse-meat. Carl Großmann was arrested in 1921, a suspect in up to 100 murders of women and girls, whose flesh he was suspected of selling on the black market and from a hot-dog stand in Berlin during the Great War. Karl Denke killed and sold the flesh of dozens of homeless vagrants and travellers from 1903-1924.

The fact that Lang quoted those four serial killers as his models indicate that he certainly had cannibalism in mind when creating the role presented by Peter Lorre – the serial killer who cannot control his urges.

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M is highly recommended as a classic, not just of the cannibal genre, but of cinematic art.

The full movie is currently available (and with excellent quality) on Youtube:

Essential worker cannibals: THE TIME MACHINE (Wells, 2002)

Those of us who can get away with it are locked up at home, some of us writing blogs. Meanwhile, outside in the world, the ‘essential workers’ – doctors, nurses, check-out operators, delivery drivers, teachers and, of course, hairdressers – have never been busier. We are splitting into two groups – the enforced idle, and those with hazardous, possibly lethal jobs, upon whom we rely. That will last, we are told, until a COVID-19 vaccine arrives, but those identities are already forged and will leave their cultural fossils behind. The idle, basking in their gardens (if they have them) and the toilers, looking after them. Both, of course, share the need to eat.

In 2011, Guy Standing released a book called The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class.  It was about how a new class was being produced by neo-liberal capitalism – people whose jobs, lifestyles and sense of stability had been devastated by the imposition of the free market and globalisation. The divergence between rich and poor has never been greater, and not just in the “developed” nations. Workers everywhere are being cast down into poverty and despair, not just by their bosses, but by workers in other countries who are willing to work for a pittance. The precariat, said Standing, “are prone to listen to ugly voices, and to use their votes and money to give those voices a political platform of increasing influence”.

Neo-libs found a voice in Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and later the Tea Party in the USA. Trump, Putin and Brexit and fascist leaders in Hungary and Brazil rode to power as those ugly voices grew, looking for a scapegoat, an “other”, to blame. The splits in our societies continue to widen, so the ugly voices, and the hunger, increase. Fritz Lang in the film Metropolis (1927) told of workers being condemned to work in the dark caverns underground while the rich enjoyed life in skyscrapers.

What do these two trends have in common? Enforced idleness, medical or economic, and frantic toil, often with disproportionately meagre rewards, often in appalling conditions. The calls to strike out against real or imagined elites. It’s taken to its logical conclusion in THE TIME MACHINE, the original 1895 book by H.G. Wells, George Pal’s 1960 film, and this 2002 DreamWorks remake, directed by Simon Wells (the great-grandson of H.G.), which takes a new look at this story of human evolution. Where exactly are we heading?

In this version, unlike the original, “the Time Traveller” has a name: Dr. Alexander Hartdegen, associate professor of applied mechanics and engineering at Columbia University. He is played by Guy Pearce, an Aussie actor whom we know from Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Memento, Jack Irish and of course Neighbours. Pearce has also appeared in a couple of cannibal films, including the lead role in Ravenous and “the Veteran” in The Road.

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Modern movies insist on specific and personal motivations – think of Sweeney Todd, who in Tim Burton’s 2007 version was motivated by revenge for his wrongful transportation to Australia while his wife and child were abducted by the judge. In the 1936 version, however, he was just a greedy bastard who liked killing people and stealing their goods (and selling their flesh). Just so, in this 2002 Time Machine, professor Hartdegen’s fiancé is murdered in a mugging gone wrong, and he is driven to invent a time machine to see if he can go back and save her.

In the book and the 1960 movie, the humans of the future had regressed, defying the then (and still) popular concept of a “great chain of being” in which evolution inexorably means progress to ever higher forms. This ideology had become known as “social Darwinism” although the assumption of progress would have baffled Charles Darwin, who saw evolution as natural selection of those species who best fitted an environment. Darwin did not, therefore, involve subjective terms like “progress” in his theories (much). In H.G.Wells’ vision, the effete ruling classes had become the beautiful but useless Eloi, who sat in a bucolic paradise picking flowers. They were, in turn, picked off at night for dinner by the cannibalistic Morlocks, descended from the workers, who had gone underground and were now subterranean predators, spooky, but easily defeated by shining lights in their eyes (or by the ham-like fists of Rod Taylor – another Aussie who played the Time Traveller in the 1960 movie).

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But the Eloi of the year 802,701 in this 2002 version are a somewhat sterner lot, building sanctuaries high in the mountains to avoid the nocturnal depredations of the Morlocks, but fatalistically accepting what would probably happen to them one dark night.

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Hilariously, they have set up a shrine to the America of our time, and learn from childhood a perfect 21st century American English, taught by the film’s love interest (and damsel in distress) Mara (played by the Irish singer Samantha Mumba).

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The Morlocks are a far more formidable foe too, appearing from the ground, in daylight, and capturing their prey with poisoned darts; they are immensely strong, not too smart, and hideously ugly. They are also, like the humans of the present and most other periods, voraciously hungry, and capable of eating all their supplies (roasted Eloi) at once if not controlled.

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And here is the main interest in this story – the Morlocks are controlled, psychically, by an “Übermorlock” (Jeremy Irons, looking a lot like the late, great Tom Petty).

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Civilisations, as this story illustrates, do not trend toward constant progress, but rise and fall in cycles, as John Gray has been trying to tell us,

“To believe in progress is to believe that, by using the new powers given to us by growing scientific knowledge, humans can free themselves from the limits that frame the lives of other animals. This is the hope of nearly everybody today, but it is groundless.”

As if to prove this point, a quick trip to the year 635,427,810 shows a burning wasteland with armies of soldiers or slaves wandering in the desolation.

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At their most perilous, civilisations turn to power-hungry dictators – think Caligula, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or the Übermorlock. They offer simplistic solutions to increasingly complex problems. Those solutions find a scapegoat, an alien group, an easy sacrifice, and death for those target populations is common, as is their consumption, if not as food, then as slaves.

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The Übermorlock explains that the underground workers and the above ground hedonists evolved into two separate species, and that within his own type, castes developed – the brutish predators and the intelligentsia, who use mind control. The Eloi are simply “livestock” and the Übermorlock is unimpressed by our hero’s attempts to impose the anti-cannibal ethics of 800,000 years ago.

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And is he wrong? Think of the COVID dialogues about letting the vulnerable old people die to allow the economy to grow.

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Yes, the Morlocks, like humanoid coronaviruses, find it much easier to catch old people. The rest of the Eloi are allowed to get fat and sassy until time for slaughter – just like some seventy billion other animals we inculpably slaughter and eat every year. Hartdegen does not realise this until he falls into the Morlock waste processing system.

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Are the Morlock’s evil? Perhaps by the standard of 20th century liberal humanism. In 800,000 years, or now if we choose, we may have other ideas.

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Rotten Tomatoes gave it a paltry 29%, saying

“This Machine has all the razzle-dazzles of modern special effects, but the movie takes a turn for the worst when it switches from a story about lost love to a confusing action-thriller.”

Bit harsh, IMHO. The cast is good, the special effects great fun, and the reimagining of the story shows some interesting thoughts about evolution and human ethics. Entertaining and worth a look, I’d say.

Cannibals in quarantine: THE PLATFORM (Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, 2019)

As we isolate ourselves in our homes (if we have homes) and wait for the storm of contagion to whistle past outside, we can imagine, rather more easily than was the case ‘way back’ in 2019 when this film was made, what it would be like to be locked in a room with an uncertain supply of food. Would we turn to cannibalism?

Netflix have released The Platform, a Spanish film that has been widely described as “stomach churning”. You’d think a churned stomach would be the bare minimum for cannibal movies! More temptingly, an Indian website called it “Just The Film To Stay Away From During Corona”:

“This Spanish film vomits its venomous bile on a depraved civilization with graphic description of cannibalism and excretion, not in any particular order. Human beings are shown as survivalist degenerates.”

The Platform offers a metaphorical analysis of neo-liberal capitalism (but also Stalinist communism), through the lens of a prison, in which there is plenty of food, if only everyone would share! With true, deadly, neo-lib efficiency, the prisoners are not fed by the labour intensive method of guards delivering food, but by a platform that descends from the top of the building, stopping briefly at each level. The inmates at the top have their choice of the gourmet food, and those further down on each level get the left-overs. “What are we going to eat?” Asks Goreng.

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Of course, the people at the top gorge, binge and horde, occasionally defecating and spitting on those below, and those at the bottom starve or turn to cannibalism. Así es la vida.

“There are three types of person: those at the top, those at the bottom, and those who fall.”

Goreng (it’s a pun – the Indonesian/Malay word for fried food) is played by Iván Massagué, who finds himself in a prison cell with Trimagasi (another Malay pun, meaning “thank you”), Zorion Eguileor. They become friends, for a while, motivated by their shared misfortunes, and then are driven apart by the same thing.

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The people at the top get first pick of the superb feasts prepared by a team of chefs, while at the bottom of the platform are the homeless, sleeping rough, hopefully 1.5 metres apart.

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By the time the platform gets to the bottom levels, there is not a scrap of food. Trimagasi has spent a month down there. He tells Goreng about it. “I didn’t say I didn’t eat anything…”

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Those on the middle levels hope to find some sustenance in the trickle-down from those above them, who in turn consider them barely human.

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Goreng is there for six months to earn a college degree, while Trimagasi is in for manslaughter. His crime was getting mad at the ads and throwing his TV out the window, where it killed an illegal immigrant who was passing by. “He shouldn’t have even been there!” Trimagasi cries. Both actors are best known for playing comedic roles, and there is a surprising amount of humour found in what is otherwise quite a bleak story.

The woman who processed Goreng turns up in his cell, and tells him the prison is a “vertical self-management centre”, an experiment in “spontaneous solidarity”. But it turns out to be closer to a social experiment about weakness, and irresistible hunger, reminiscent of Mason Verger putting two dogs who were friends in a cage with no food, to see who would eat whom.

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Interest is cannibalism grows apace. A recent article stated that cannibal stories typically emerge at times of social unrest and uncertainty. 2019 and the first quarter of 2020 presented us with plenty of evidence of that, with a plethora of cannibal movies released or in production, including:

She Never Died Audrey Cummings
Corporate Animals Patrick Brice
Pet Sematary Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Big Top Evil Sean Haitz, Chris Potter
The Young Cannibals Kris Carr, Sam Fowler
Aamis (Ravening) Bhaskar Hazarika
The Perfect Patient Mikael Håfström
The Platform Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Mr Jones Agnieszka Holland
Two Heads Creek (Aust) Jesse O’Brien
Wrong Turn 7: 2020 Mike P. Nelson
Cannibal Christmas Massacre Nick Heinrichs Jr
Gretel and Hansel Oz Perkins
Human Hibachi Mario Cerrito III
Evil for Dinner Travis Youngquist
Antlers Scott Cooper
Cannibal Comedian Sean Haitz
The Dinner Party Miles Doleac

Look, I’m not going to tell you what happens in The Platform or discuss the rather ambiguous ending (you can google all sorts of explanations, including one from the Director). It would be too easy to drop spoilers, and you really should see this one – it’s a corker, and it’s available on Netflix, so if you have that, watch it while we all stay home isolated or in quarantine. Then turn on the news and watch people fighting for toilet paper.

The battle cry of humans when they fear scarcity:

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This film is the perfect metaphor of the fear and greed displayed by those hoarding during the pandemic:

Goreng is haunted by the words of Jesus as he descends to the lowest level:

“If you drink not of the flesh of the Son of Man, nor drink of his blood, ye have no life…. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me, and I in him.”

This is our new reality – cannibalism. The coronavirus is showing us the limits to growth. Voracious appetite, incapable of sharing or even consideration of others, can only lead to one place. When the good times roll past, our flesh is meat indeed.

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The film premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Award for Midnight Madness. It was released on Netflix on March 20, 2020.

“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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