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

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

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

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

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Ain’t it the truth.

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

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

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

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Yeah, they’re mighty cranky with that Cardinal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It makes Comfort look positively comfortable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Have we shattered every convention and broken every taboo yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s quite a funny review of it here.

 

So…

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

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Awkward family photos

 

Cannibalism rocks! THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (Jim Sharman, 1975)

This movie was a cultural phenomenon. The critics hated it; the fans loved it. More and more viewers kept turning up to midnight showings, dressing the part, dancing the dances, singing the songs. It remains the longest running theatrical release in history, because somewhere a cinema will have it on, at midnight, tonight.

Shot in the style of Hammer Horror films, it is an affectionate satire on the science fiction and horror films that developed in the 1930s, and never went away. There are a mix of tropes, the main ones being the mad scientist (based on Frankenstein) creating life in his lab, and an innocent young couple knocking on the door of a spooky old house after their car breaks down. They are clean-cut Brad and Janet from middle-America town Denton (Barry Bostwick and the brilliant Susan Sarandon).

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They find themselves in the midst of Dionysian scenes of rock, dancing and sex, presided over by Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry, who later played Pennywise), a self-proclaimed “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania”. How could this not be popular?

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So why is this movie on a cannibal blog? Oh right, EDDIE (Meat Loaf). Some saw Eddie as representing old-time Rock & Roll, being annihilated by Glam Rock, with its emphasis on costumes and makeup. I prefer to speculate that the movie glimpsed the future, say the end of the 2010s. If Frank is alternative, iconoclastic culture, Eddie is one of the basket of deplorables, crashing the party on a motorbike, leather clad and bleeding, part of his brain removed to make the new creature, and preaching the joys of cis-masculinist rock and roll. His knuckles are tattooed “love” and “hate”. We are told that all Eddie wanted

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Until Frank takes to him with a pickaxe.

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So, what happens to dead Eddie? Well, that’s how we ended up on the cannibal blog. The narrator (Charles Gray, a regular Bond villain) announces what could almost be the mission statement of cannibal studies

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Frank is carving a roast, with an electric knife (anyone remember them?). When the subject of Eddie comes up, he says

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Just in case there was any doubt, Frank pulls off the tablecloth, revealing the rest of Eddie, inlaid in the table

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The narrator sums up

“Just a few hours after announcing their engagement, Brad and Janet had both tasted forbidden fruit”

Taboos are the sweetest fruit. Brad and Janet have engaged in debauched sex and cannibalism – two areas where humans imagine themselves demarcated from other animals. In fact, the 2016 remake of this film by Fox found the cannibalism scene a bit rich for network television, and when the tablecloth is removed, Eddie is there, dead, but intact and fully dressed.

In our strange moral system, murder is fine, but cannibalism is still the final frontier. And it seems to be a universal moral imperative – Frank’s flunkies depose him and kill him because

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That’s what makes cannibal studies so fascinating.

Anyway, turns out that Frank and his staff are aliens from the planet of Transexual in the galaxy of Transylvania, and the castle is their spaceship. The humans are left crawling in the dust and smoke after the takeoff, and the narrator tells us

“And crawling on the planet’s face, some insects called the human race.
Lost in time and lost in space. And meaning.”

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Next week: ‘HANNIBAL’ Season 3 Episode 4, ‘Aperitivo’.

 

“The lucky ones died first” THE HILLS HAVE EYES (Wes Craven, 1977)

The Hills Have Eyes has become a cult classic of the American horror film genre, as well as an important part of the cannibal studies canon.  The film follows the Carters, a suburban family targeted by a family of cannibal savages after becoming stranded in the Nevada desert.

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Wes Craven’s directorial debut was The Last House on the Left (1972), an American version of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (Swedish: Jungfrukällan), a movie that shocked (at least in 1960) with its themes of rape, torture and murder. Craven became known as a “Master of Horror”, and went on to make such classics as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996).

Other influences on this film include John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Like The Last House on the Left before it, the film also drew influence from the work of European masters such as François Truffaut and Luis Buñuel.

Wes Craven liked to find inspiration in the classics, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They say there are only seven or so archetypal stories in literature, and all the others are variations on a theme. So, The Hills Have Eyes is based on the legend of cannibal Sawney Bean, a story that Craven saw as illustrating the fine line between civilized and savage. Bean was believed (and how do we ever sift the fiction from the fact in cannibal stories?) to be the patriarch of a 48-person incestuous Scottish clan which murdered and cannibalised more than one thousand men, women and children in the 16th century. When the King and his soldiers finally caught up with the family, according to the Complete Newgate Calendar,

“The men had their hands and legs severed from their bodies; by which amputations they bled to death in some hours. The wife, daughters and grandchildren, having been made spectators of this just punishment inflicted on the men, were afterwards burnt to death in three several fires.”

Just like the Sawney Bean legend, the violence of the cannibal family in this film is matched by the ferocity of their victims. Unlike Texas Chain Saw, where escape by the “final girl” is victory enough, this movie ends with the “last boy” (as it were) savagely stabbing the last cannibal, and continuing to do so long after he is dead, watched by the “final girl” who is an abused and therefore redeemable member of the cannibal clan. The end of the film is not a fade to black but a fade to red.

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Craven saw this treatment of the Bean clan by supposedly civilised people as paralleling the clan’s own savagery, and illustrated the point graphically in this film.

Chain Saw and Hills showed a slice of American life that doesn’t usually make it on to the screen – the “flyover states” where industry and agriculture have closed up shop, and the air force use the “empty” desert for nuclear testing. The remnants of the population, mutated by the radiation (the gas station dude’s baby, who became the cannibal patriarch, was at birth “twenty pounds and hairy as a monkey”), survive in the economic wasteland by doing whatever they can. In Hills, as in Chain Saw, they do it by capturing “civilised” folk who blunder into their killing fields. The survivors of the American Dream have become depraved cannibals, not just eating their victims, but first raping and tormenting them. In both movies, there is what, in his excellent review, Bloody Disgusting’s Zachary Paul called an archetypal “gas station of doom”, a final point of no return. They, and you the viewer, have been warned.

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As a classic horror film, it is actually quite dull in large sections. This is not a fault of the production so much as the budget: the whole thing was made for peanuts and shot on 16mm film, on cameras that were borrowed from a Californian pornographer. There was not a lot of spare cash for gore, so the episodes of violence are extreme, but short. The sudden jolts of music make up for the missing build-ups.

The symbolism of the film is unsubtle. The cannibals are freaks and monsters, although remarkably technology-savvy:

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The family of victims are the tough patriarch, a former cop, who cannot save them and is crucified by the cannibals, the virgin daughter who is raped by them, and a baby who is stolen and almost (until they changed the script) eaten (they describe her as “a young Thanksgiving turkey”).

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But by the end, both families have descended into mindless brutality.

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A sequel was made by Craven in 1984 called The Hills Have Eyes Part II. Although the villains were allegedly cannibals, there is no cannibalism in it, so I won’t be wasting our time on it in this blog, particularly as it managed a score of ZERO on Rotten Tomatoes, which is quite a feat.

Both films were remade in 2006 and 2007, and we’ll get to those, eventually.

The Hills Have Eyes was part of the “new wave” of horror that arose in the 1970s. Other notable directors who made up this new wave were Tobe Hooper, George Romero, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter and Brian De Palma. Horror had moved away from outsiders (monsters, aliens, vampires, etc) to humans, usually the victims of pervasive social dysfunction and degeneracy. Cannibalism was getting closer to where we live – our species. Later films would move the cannibal into our cities, and then finally into our homes.

Our voracious appetites continue to turn inward.

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American cannibal: THE DONNER PARTY (T.J. Martin, 2009)

The Donner Party was the name given to a group of pioneers heading from Missouri to California in 1846. They became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada over winter, and famously turned to cannibalism to survive. Only 48 of the original 87 members of the party survived.

There have been quite a few films and books about the events of that winter, including documentaries such as “Trail of Tragedy: The Excavation of the Donner Party Site by US Forest Service” and an episode of the PBS series American Experience (Season 5 Episode 3) called “The Donner Party” (you’ll need a VPN if you are outside the US). There are also a few supernatural potboilers like Donner Pass, about evil forces that turned poor George Donner and his mates into ravenous cannibals, and will do the same to any nice-looking millennials who stumble into the region. I am not intending to write about them until I run out of movies about “real” cannibals, which looks like it will be in several years, at the present rate.

Look, this movie doesn’t mess about with any set up. The opening is some written explanation of how they got into that mess

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Then there’s a dude, who turns out to be William Eddy (Clayne Crawford) pointing a gun, with his voiceover

“In situations like this, some men may abandon their obligations. This being said, I am resolved to provide for my family.”

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He goes back to camp with some meat (a bear? In winter?) which he shares with William Foster (Crispin Glover from lots of things including Back to the Future and American Gods). Eddy is the group’s guide, and feels that he was pressured to lead them the wrong way, onto the Hastings Cutoff; Foster argues that they all agreed to take the “short cut”. The audience by this point is yawning. From there, as Homer says, “it just gets worse and worse”. The Foster camp is running out of food when the “rescue party” reappears – with no rescue and no food. One of them dies on arrival and they bury him in the snow. Clearly, they had never seen Alive! Once you die, you’re assigned to the frozen food department.

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But as they set out for a last ditch expedition, later called “The Forlorn Hope”, Foster boasts that they have maintained a “clear line of civility”. We know from history that this won’t last.

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There is talk of going back to the camp, but Franklin Graves (Mark Boone Jnr from Sons of Anarchy and Memento) disagrees.

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As they get colder, hungrier and weaker, Foster suggests what we’ve been waiting 51 minutes to hear:

“In the misfortune that one of us should pass, in death we may save the living.”

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In a scene worthy of Monty Python, they all start volunteering. Eddy suggests he and Foster

“fight to the death, the loser dies like a man, feeds the group”.

Instead, they draw straws – Dolan (Crispian Belfrage – who is a bit wasted in this flick) gets the shortest stick and Foster shoots him (not what really happened, BTW). Eddy refuses to join in the lottery or the meal, but then it turns out he has a lump of bear that his wife smuggled into his backpack, so he’s doing OK.

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Graves stabs himself and becomes the next course. Before each meal, they say grace and thank God for what they have received. When they run out of those guys, Foster decides, against Eddy’s opposition, that the “Indian” guide will be the next course. This is the hierarchy of eating – the plant, the animal, the human, with the sub-human squeezed in there, defined by layers of contemptuous racism that was standard procedure in 19th century America (and in some places still is). Rather than wasting bullets, he uses the gun as a club.

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There are long scenes of the group trudging through the snow, interspersed with the survivors sitting around the campfire chewing on some guy and looking vaguely disgusted, but not looking all that gaunt. I guess it would require some pretty good makeup or CGI to make someone look to be genuinely starving, so I can accept that.

What I found disappointing was the total lack of moral debate – one person complains “we’ll go to hell” and Eddy points out that the “Indian” is a man, but still hands the rifle to Foster so he can do the deed. Foster, the gentleman, points out that he is their only hope because he is the only one willing to do whatever it takes. The fascination of the movie Alive! was the deliberation in the plane of the ethical situation, the immortal soul having fled, etc. This lot are devout enough that they could make it a lively discussion, the nature of humanity, why they think it’s wrong to eat white people but not “Indians”, but it never gets past the look of distaste as they chew on bits of other humans. The best scene is the long shot of Foster, the man of God, the keeper of civility, turning into a cannibal king as he watches his flock, waiting to see who will die next.

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It’s a fictionalisation of a true event, which is always fraught, because the historians will object to the inaccuracies, and everyone else to the squalid reality. But as an imagining of one incident from the Donner story (Donner himself never gets a look in) it’s not a bad taste of nineteenth century morality and its fragility. The disappointment is that the cannibalism is direct and honest, but never considered as anything other than abject but necessary. This is one of the defining stories of modern America, and much more could have been made of it. However.

Now, I’ve seen some great cannibal films and some pretty awful ones, and I don’t always agree with the verdicts of the reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes, but I think this is the first one I have seen where none of the reviewers even bothered to see it.

HorrorNews.Net gave the film a positive review, writing

“Overall The Donner Party was a nice change from the hard core horror films that I usually watch. … I also recommend that you have something to eat on hand while watching it as I was starving by the time I was done watching it. Then again, maybe I have issues.”

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The log line “They survived by doing the unthinkable” is clearly borrowed from Alive! (“They overcame the impossible by doing the unthinkable”).

THE CANNIBAL CLUB – O Clube dos Canibais (Guto Parente, 2018)

This is a movie about privilege – the rich literally eating the poor. It may be a metaphor, but it is particularly apposite to current Brazilian politics, where the destruction of the Amazon is threatening to kill and consume us all. But is there a nation, even a community, where someone is not eating someone else, if not literally then practically? The film was made in 2018, before President Jair Bolsonaro was sworn in and gave the green light for the burning of the Amazon rainforest. But the cannibalism of this club is not just political – it is about the consumption of the poor by those who own the wealth. It would have made the same points whatever the results of the election.

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Otavio (Tavinho Teixeira) and Gilda (Ana Luiza Rois) have a hobby – Gilda seduces members of their staff and Otavio watches from a distance then kills the worker with an axe as they both climax. They then prepare the meat for their dinner.

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A bit over a year ago, this blog looked at the film “Eat the Rich”, in which the workers fought back against their effete bosses. Pure fantasy of course; in reality, the rich eat the poor: they swallow their surplus labour, they squeeze rent from them, they sell them their shoddy products paid for by lending them money at ruinous rates, and they send their children off to war. Why not go the next step and literally cook them for dinner?

The rich also hang out together with other rich people, and despise the poor. Everything decadent is considered better and more desirable.

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The club in the title is an elite group of privileged and powerful men – women are not invited. For their pre-dinner entertainment, they sit and watch two performers have sex, during which they are beaten to death and subsequently served at the black-tie dinner.

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Their chairman is the influential politician Borges (Pedro Domingues) who rails against the depravity of those who threaten the traditional morality of Brazil, whom he describes as “poors, delinquents, pederasts and filthy scum”. That makes is awkward when Borges is seen by Gilda as he is being buggered by a servant.

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This puts Otavio and Gilda in peril – they have a secret that Borges will happily kill to conceal. But can they kill Borges first? In the funniest line of the movie, Otavio objects to Gilda’s murderous plan:

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Because to the rich, killing and eating the servants is no more murder than beheading a chicken. So they plan to get the new caretaker, Jonas (Zé Maria) to do the dirty work, then they will go through their ritual: Jonas will have sex with Gilda, then at the climax, Otavio will kill him with an axe.

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Of course, these things never go as smoothly as the conspirators wish.

It’s pretty slapstick cannibalism, which is a shame, because it’s a Brazilian film, and that should make it a bit more interesting – Brazil was the source of so many of the stories of cannibalism that early explorers brought back to shock the gentle folk of Europe and secure funds for journeys of colonialism and genocide. The Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, in his book Cannibal Metaphysics (2014), sought to ‘decolonise’ anthropology by challenging the increasingly familiar view that these stories were mere fictions of colonialism. Rather than deny the existence of cannibalism, which would simply reclassify the Amerindian peoples as ‘like us’, de Castro examines the details of Tupinamba cannibalism, which was ‘a very elaborate system for the capture, execution, and ceremonial consumption of their enemies’. This alternative view of Amerindian culture rejects the automatic assumption of the repugnance of cannibalism – instead, it owns the history or mythology. This could have been a far more interesting film if the cannibalism had been owned by all sides and interpreted as a unique identity, rather than just being a rather crude metaphor of class struggle.

The film got 57% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is not bad, but not good. The reviewer from Variety said

“A diverting, stylish, but ultimately rather trite satire whose social critique and grand guignol aspects never quite come to a full boil.”

By the way – check out the Cannibal Club in Los Angeles.

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No, I haven’t been there. I understand they do not have a vegetarian option.

Also, it’s a fake website. Sorry.

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The Cannibal as superhero – “HE NEVER DIED” (Jason Krawczyk, 2015)

This is a smart, sassy and quite funny cannibal movie, which does not conform to most genre rules. I wanted to review it now, because the next movie in the series (not exactly a sequel), She Never Died, is going to be released this year.

The protagonist (I won’t say hero, even though modern superheroes shares a lot of his alienation and angst) is Jack (Henry Rollins). Rollins is wonderful in the role, making the film seem a lot less silly than it really is. The critic from rogerebert.com said:

“You don’t need to know anything about Henry Rollins to appreciate his tongue-noticeably-in-cheek action hero performance in horror/superhero genre hybrid “He Never Died.

Unlike most superheroes, Jack is immortal, indestructible, and a cannibal. As a result of the first, he is deeply depressed, and as a result of the third, he has found a quiet routine (watching TV, playing bingo at the church hall) to keep his cannibalistic tendencies under control. Why bingo?

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As a cannibal who doesn’t want to eat people, he has to buy blood from a hospital intern. A couple of thugs come looking for the intern but Jack beats them up and throws them out. When they find the intern, Jack rescues him, because he needs the blood. It satisfies his cravings, without actually having to kill anyone.

Then he discovers he has a daughter from a failed marriage. Andrea (Jordan Todosey from Degrassi) has her own problems with alcohol. Everybody has problems involving consumption, but isn’t that universal? She also asks a lot of questions. She is surprised when Jack says he doesn’t eat meat, I guess he looks pretty macho, and meat is so – well – culturally male.

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Which is weird since he eats blood all the time. Sort of a reverse kosher rule I guess. Andrea asks if she can stay with him for a few days, which is another problem for his routine. Don’t we all sometimes wake up at night with the munchies?

When the thugs come looking for Jack, he tears the throat out of one of them, and eats it. It revives his hunger for flesh.

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Jack then eats a particularly obnoxious neighbour. He walks the streets looking for people who deserve to be eaten (a bit like Sheila from The Santa Clarita Diet). He drops a wad of cash, but the proposed victim hurries to return it to him, making him apparently ineligible for consumption. He bumps into the leader of a gang of men on a dark street, but the man apologises, much to Jack’s disappointment. Luckily, he vomits on a bunch of street toughs, one of whom is aggressive enough and old enough to eat. Yes, there is also an age-limit to his cannibalism.

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When he goes back to the diner, he is no longer a vegetarian. Well, cannibalism will do that. Lévi-Strauss wrote in “A Lesson in Wisdom from Mad Cows” about the link between a meat-based diet and cannibalism.

“The link between a meat-based diet and cannibalism (a notion broadened to take on a certain universality) thus has very deep roots in thought…. Indeed, a day may come when the idea that human beings in the past raised and slaughtered living things for food and complacently displayed slabs of their flesh in shop windows will inspire the same revulsion as what travellers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries felt about the cannibal meals of American, Oceanian, or African indigenous peoples.”

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So, in life there’s appetite, and there’s love. A phone message informs Jack that Andrea has been kidnapped and her mother killed, but he hardly reacts, doesn’t even go to the assigned rendezvous. But then Jack walks home Cara, the waitress from the diner (Kate Greenhouse), and is surprised by a sudden show of affection.

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He rushes home, intent on going back to his peaceful life of drinking blood and not killing people, but spills the last bag of blood all over the floor. He tries to lick it up, sponges up what he can, squeezes it into a glass, but it’s not enough. It’s never enough.

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When the bad guys turn up at the diner and kill the boss, Jack wipes them out, snacks on parts of them, and goes looking for his daughter. Love, supported by appetite.

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He gets shot in the head and has to borrow Cara’s toolkit to get the bullet out, because otherwise it will heal over and he’ll get migraines. She is starting to realise he is not what she expected.

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So we find out what we sort of knew from the unfortunate, spoiler title of the movie:

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Yes, Jack is Cain, son of Adam and Eve, who killed his brother Abel and has been cursed to wander the planet ever since. Cain makes another appearance in the TV series Lucifer, but not as a cannibal, so outside the scope of this blog. Good show though.

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The bad guys have turned Jack back into one of them. But there’s all sorts of dodgy metaphysical questions raised, most of which don’t get answered. Since when is Cain a cannibal? Why has he been involved in famines and massacres throughout history? Who is the dude in the pork pie hat who appears only to Jack?

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Cain was a peaceful grower of crops, a tiller of the land, while Abel was a shepherd, presumably killing his lambs for his sacrifice. How does that make Cain the bad guy in the argument? Anyway, why do we need a reason for Jack’s cannibalism: a divine punishment? Can’t it be enough that he just is the way he is? As Hannibal says: “nothing happened to me, Agent Starling. I happened.”

Jack cannot die, and cannot live without being a cannibal.

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But isn’t that the story of Homo sapiens?

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The movie has 87% “fresh” rating on the Tomatometer.

 

Apologies to those who noticed that I mentioned in last week’s blog that the next review would be Beneath the Planet of the Apes. An otherwise excellent academic text on cannibalism spoke of “an underground tribe of post-apocalyptic mutant cannibals” in that film, so I eagerly watched the whole turgid 1.5 hours. Not a sign of cannibalism anywhere. It was, in fact, one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, so it has moved all my other bad movies up one notch. Every cloud…
Next week: COPYCAT KILLERS episode 8: “A real life Hannibal Lecter comes to light.”