“Do you want to eat me?” TEAR ME APART (Alex Lightman, 2015)

This is an English film, unlike most of the reviews in this blog, which overwhelmingly come from the USA or, if we are thinking real video nasties, Italy. It falls into the delightful genre of dystopian cannibalism films, in which some disaster, often unnamed, has stripped the thin veneer of civilisation from the survivors and left them with one option to survive – human flesh. There are lots of films in the survivor genre – The Time Machine is a classic, set thousands of years in the future, but most are set in the very near future or even an alternative present – think Soylent Green (set in 2022), 28 Days Later or Delicatessen.

The closest to Tear Me Apart, though, is the chilling 2009 film version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, in which an unnamed man and boy travel through a world stripped of all animals and plants except for a few humans, most of whom have become cannibals to survive. Will they maintain their anthropocentric belief in the sacredness of human life and flesh?

In this film, it’s two brothers, also unnamed, the younger as naïve and clueless as the little boy in The Road. But it’s also a coming-of-age story, because one of the proposed victims who they intend to feast on is a young woman (like us, the older brother says, only different), perhaps the last surviving woman on earth, and do they really want to eat her?

Making the story line more intriguing is the constant presence of the ocean, the source of all life, the original mother, where the young men wait for a father who has long since vanished. The ocean supplies them limited amounts of fish to eat, but in the opening scene, the younger brother smothers a man, cuts and eats pieces of his flesh, only to be admonished by his brother –

“What would father say? I won’t warn you again – NEVER PEOPLE!”

Father may have left them on the beach to “wait it out” but now he is a mythical figure, whose rules override the primal instincts of the unschooled younger boy, who constantly gets in trouble for snacking on his victim. Because, you know, “he’s a man!” But his instinct is to fight, to kill, to eat. He is the carnivorous male, unpolished and uninhibited by social morality; as his brother says “he doesn’t know the difference between eating a fish and eating a human”. This is precisely the point – the young man has no social conditioning – he is not the vicious cannibal of so many horror films; he eats humans because he is hungry, just as a hungry dog or any other animal might.

He is a savage, simian Adam in Eden, following the rules without understanding them, rules passed down by a “father” he scarcely remembers, who may offer a second coming in some indefinable future, and who has bequeathed dietary restrictions that must be followed even though they make little sense.

But then he comes across the young woman, no physical threat but much smarter than both of the brothers. In a piece of blindingly obvious symbolism, she hands the young man an apple, with a smile. She’s also looking for her dad. Aren’t we all?

The boy goes back to his brother, who takes the apple and tells him “don’t eat this stuff, OK? It’ll make you ill”. We’re still referencing Genesis, a fierce version, in which they may eat of anything in the garden (even people) but not of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Her fruit actually does make him ill, because he hasn’t eaten fruit for many years. This is the carnivorous virility that Derrida said was the basis of subjectivity, but without community it turns back onto his own gut.

The brothers don’t have names because names don’t mean anything, at least until the “old world” comes back. But she has a name, Molly, and she declares the younger man will be called Joe. Like Adam, she gives names to all the animals. She makes them bury the stiff they have been eating, because, she says, the world can’t survive like this.

She even rigs up a cross for his grave, just as Joe chews the last of the dead man’s flesh.

But she has introduced them to temptation. Also to vegetarianism:

“You can’t eat meat forever. The people you eat – they have people who loved them.”

A beautifully simple argument against eating meat.

She takes his hand and puts it on her breast. Bright eyed and vulnerable, she asks “do you want to eat me?” The double entendre here is far from Biblical.

There may perhaps not be any other women left – Molly says that there was a collective in “the town” – the symbolic civilisation for which both fathers have disappeared while searching for it – but now that is just a myth as well. Well, there is one other woman but she has become “an animal” – growling and threatening. A Lilith reference perhaps? But there are certainly other men, not just the lone men who Joe ambushes and eats, but a more vicious group, with guns. Like The Road, but with a touch of On the Beach.

The trio learn fear, hunger, desire. Molly tells Joe “You don’t have to follow the rules any more.” There’s a menage-a-trois which of course leads to jealousy and we get a serve of Cain and Abel as the brothers brawl. Molly’s father makes a brief appearance, as (spoiler alert) a good meal for their return to the beach, their wild Eden. So now we’re dipping into the New Testament, eating the blood and body of their saviour. Yes, the last humans, like the first humans, have truly eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The film is only 82 minutes, but a lot of reviewers thought that it drags. I didn’t see it that way – the story is low key but the acting is great and the characterisation is quirky and interesting in its peeling back of the sociality we take for granted. I think a lot of critics watched the film expecting a cannibal gore-fest, and that it is not. It’s a low budget film, yet the cinematography is splendid with the scenery of the sea (it’s filmed in Cornwall) quite beautiful. It may be hard to find, but at the time of writing the full film is available on YouTube, with Arabic subtitles. Since the Scottish accents are often impenetrable, that will prove quite useful – if you speak Arabic.

Our own flesh: HONEYDEW (Devereux Milburn, 2021)

This cannibal movie starts with the standard building blocks of so many cannibal/horror films: car breaks down, isolated farmhouse, friendly but weird person answering the door, munching of human flesh. Think Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Farm, or even The Rocky Horror Show. Going to strange places, meeting weird people, eating unknown things – these are what our mothers warned us against, and so does the horror genre.

This one starts with a biblical quote, from Corinthians 6:19-20:

“do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?”

While we listen to this from a cassette tape (younger readers may need to google what that is), a young woman eats meat and eggs, while an older woman grinds peanuts. We finally meet the protagonists – Sam (Sawyer Spielberg – yep, you know his dad) is an aspiring actor, Rylie (Malin Barr) is a botanist, investigating an outbreak of a fungus called sordico (an invented name for ergot), which poisons farm animals who must then be “put down”. It’s a metaphor for what we call “sin”.

We hear another recorded piece, this time about the fungus and its resulting diseases, including images of “ignorant peasants” baking the fungus into their bread and suffering gangrenous wounds requiring amputation, and eventually madness. The disease was considered a punishment for sin. Yes, this is the formula for the movie.

Sam and Rylie’s car GPS loses its signal and Sam asks directions from a weirdo on a bike, who just stares at them. Think the hitchhiker in Texas Chain Saw.

They camp in a field while Rylie photographs plants and Sam practices an elusive script. They have sex in their tent, a sure sign in most slashers that divine punishment is coming. But divine punishment can come from eating the wrong things (fungus) or from other people, who have their own interpretations of sin. Rylie and Sam are judged by Karen (a masterful performance by Barbara Kingsley from Jessica Jones) and Eulis (Stephen D’Ambrose), who have become sort of Gretel and Hansel cannibals due to their crops going bad, and of course eating crops poisoned with sordico.

Karen offers them dinner, red meat, but Sam is off it because of his cholesterol, and Rylie is a vegan. More judgement – Sam can’t resist Karen’s red meat and cakes. His appetite is his undoing. Like the cattle, he’s eaten the wrong stuff.

Karen and Eulis capture random travellers, lobotomise them to keep them compliant, and then eat their body parts. The man Karen claims to be her son, disabled by being kicked in the head by a bull, is actually a hunter gradually being eaten. A brief cameo by Lena Dunham (or at least Lena without arms and legs) as Karen’s daughter Delilah, indicates the fate of Sam and Rylie – they are to be lobotomised, stripped of limbs and Sam is to be bred with Delilah: “we’re aiming for grandbabies. Bring some sunshine into this black world”. The meat is kept Fresh by keeping it alive as long as possible.

Karen explains her thinking:

“We are living in a time of tribulation. We have perverted God’s divine love to abuse his gifts. We were overindulgent in God’s food, and so he took it away, forcing us to seek more sources, so that he may not forsake us… we have been given an opportunity for absolution, a second chance, to sustain life by consumption of what we can access, of our own flesh, so we may be judged in His image.”

The term “rump steak” may never seem the same when you see what they do to Sam.

The film achieved a respectable 67% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, with some critics loving it and some repulsed. The Guardian critic gave it 3/5, a fresh score (only just), saying it “plays interesting variations on an all-too-familiar plot premise.” The RogerEbert critic on the other hand said “This listless genre exercise mostly plays like a film-school-spun tribute to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre with some Hansel and Gretel clumsily mixed in, but without a political or philosophical foundation to stand on.”

I found the score annoyingly obvious, indulgently raising our tension level (which is its job) but a bit too perceptibly. The plot would have made a good episode of American Horror Stories, but at 107 minutes, I found it dragged. I’m not sure if it is fair to say it has no philosophical foundation – the nature of our food choices and nature’s revenge on human greed through spores, bacteria or viruses is right up to date. Moreover, Karen and Eulis are simply doing to their “guests” what farmers have always done – domesticated them and performed surgeries to make them docile – castrating bulls or destroying the frontal lobe of humans (or removing their tongues as in Motel Hell). It’s what Jeffrey Dahmer wanted to do when he drilled holes in his lovers’ skulls and poured in muriatic acid in an attempt to create living sex zombies. These guys just use a screwdriver through the eye-socket.

Anything for a steak, apparently.

Man-eaters – POSSIBLY IN MICHIGAN (Cecilia Condit, 1983)

I don’t usually review short films in this blog, only because there are so many feature-length films demanding my attention, as well as news stories filling my feeds. But this one caught my eye. It’s the story of two young women who are followed home by a cannibal, and that dynamic of the apparently vulnerable females turning against the aggressive male reminded me inexorably of a movie I reviewed recently – Fresh, in which a young woman meets and dates a charming guy who turns out to be an entrepreneurial cannibal.

This film, Possibly in Michigan, is a 1983 musical horror film by artist Cecilia Condit about two young women, Sharon and Janice, who are stalked through a shopping mall by a cannibal named Arthur. The three protagonists (there is no one else in the mall, adding to the dreamlike mood) have two things in common – violence and perfume. Perfume of course is the distillation of desire, as shown in the film Perfume. Arthur follows them home, and the victims become the attackers. Is violence the only possible response to violence? Perhaps, the film seems to suggest. But the key song line is:

“Love shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg”

All the men in the film are masked as animals – pigs, dogs – and all have an aura of violence. But the actual violence, the offer to eat the women one limb at a time, comes from an unmasked man named as “Prince Charming.” The modern monster is always indistinguishable from the “normal”.

This is not the kind of short film created in the hope of discovery and a career in blockbusters. The artist is a retired professor in her seventies, a video artist who creates feminist fairy tales, and the film itself is in the permanent collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art. The New York Times called it a

“brutal, surreal and darkly funny 1983 art musical”

I loved the comments on YouTube, many of which said that it was “unsettling” rather than scary. Exactly what horror should be – like dreams, horror is really a release of repressed feelings. Some of the scariest dreams don’t involve slashers or monsters, they just touch a nerve; something we have kept buried inside is, for a few unconscious seconds, brought to the surface and examined in the light.

Another comment stated:

“As someone who’s been repeatedly abused by narcissists where it felt like they were eating my very energy and being, this was extremely ‘healing’ in a weird way. Thank you.”

Cannibalism is about power, and power can be transferred, as happens in this film. But the original monster is Arthur, a faceless man wearing an expressionless mask, the very image of impersonal, brutal menace. Cannibalism bothers us because it reminds us we are made of meat like the animals we eat, but meat is, in Western cultures at least, a symbol of male power over nature, which includes and is represented by the female. Carol Adams sums this up by saying meat is “the final stage of male desire” – men eat red meat, which comes from animals, the females of whom have already had their babies, their milk and their eggs taken from them for human consumption, until they are “spent”, at which time they are minced up for ‘pet’ food. What Adams calls “feminised protein” represents the suffering of female animals for the appetite of male humans like Arthur.

The film was rediscovered by Gen Z when a 15-second clip from one of the songs was loaded onto TikTok. I recommend the film to you – the link to the clip is at the top of this blog, where I usually load trailers – this is the whole work.

Leatherface is back (again): TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (David Blue Garcia, 2022)

Netflix released the latest Texas Chainsaw instalment (the ninth!) on February 28th. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Easter (as in: how many ways can you tart up hot cross buns?) but there are some nice features to this one. For a start, well, it’s on Netflix, so a bit less likely to disappear into the Texan mud without trace, like some of the earlier versions. There have been eight sequels and prequels and unrelated but similar-named movies in this franchise, as well as comics (sorry, graphic novels) and a video game of the original.

The original film, in which “chain” and “saw” were two words, is still widely acknowledged as the best, despite its paltry budget and apparently impossible working conditions for the crew. It was released in 1974 by Tobe Hooper, who made a somewhat light-hearted sequel in 1986. It was a pioneer in “slasher” films and drew cannibalism out of the gothic into the sunlight, showing an alienated workforce in “flyover” states turning their (now unwanted) skills in killing steers toward killing tourists instead. It finished with Sally, the “last girl” escaping from a frustrated Leatherface, who was wearing his mask of human skin (fully biodegradable but not much use against viruses) and wielding his chainsaw in a way that buzzed of potential sequels.

This sequel takes place 48 years after the original (yep, now) and blithely ignores any plot points from the intervening movies, comics, etc. Leatherface is back, older but no wiser and still intent on killing teenagers, and so is Sally, the survivor, who is now a Texas Ranger and set on revenge.

And the cute teens, well, they’re everything that the locals hate – inter-racial, trendy, Gen Z “Influencers”, what the creepy gas-station owner (and there’s always one to set the scene) calls “gentrifuckers”.

They want to gentrify the town and set up a trendy area of gourmet cafes and authentic looking but modernised shops and galleries. Leatherface is in retirement in an abandoned orphanage, and Sally, well, she’s been looking for him for a long time apparently, although when last seen in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (not an episode of Star Trek), she was catatonic and strapped to a gurney. But now she’s hardass. When we first see her, she’s gutting a pig, just as Leatherface is slaughtering humans. The special effects are pretty similar for both, as are the body shapes, and, frankly, the characterisations. The original actors who portrayed Leatherface and Sally are both dead; the only original cast member is John Larroquette who does the voiceover, which half-heartedly tries to sound like a true-crime documentary, as he did in the original. The new Sally is Olwen Fouéré, the Irish actor, although this Sally seems to be more based on Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode in the 2018 reboot of Halloween.

The class struggle of the original Chain Saw has been lost here. The Texas of the original was filled with pockets of people abandoned by modern capitalism and so falling into degeneracy and violence. The new movie seems to valorise the “ordinary” folks who brook no bullshit from the “me generation” and defy the dehumanising effects of capitalism. It’s hard to feel sympathy for the influencers with their real estate auctions and cutesy town planning, or to feel terror at the thought that people might chop you up, but only if you insist on being a dick.

The terror of Leatherface himself revolved not around his nasty dental problems, badly fitting masks and noisy chainsaw, but around his family, the Sawyers, a group of odd but not obviously psychotic individuals who nonetheless were more than happy to chop up and eat innocents from the outside world, which had forsaken them. It felt like this could be any of us, screaming and dying and becoming the family’s dinner, should we venture into the wrong part of the Badlands. This new version is all Leatherface. Somehow, he now has a “mother” who looks after him in an abandoned orphanage, and she dies of a heart attack when the trendies tell her she has to move out, leading to his much delayed rampage. But Leatherface was always the weapon, not the villain, sometimes killing, and sometimes donning an apron and cooking for his dominant family. He doesn’t really work as a lone psycho, particularly when we sort of sympathise with him – he’s just lost his mum, weeps as he wears her face as a mask and then applies her makeup like Norman Bates in Psycho. Who can stay mad at that?

Tobe Hooper’s classic broke new ground in cannibal films and in horror generally. It encapsulated the early 1970s as the endless war in Vietnam and the demise of the hopes of the flower power generation ran into the chainsaw that was Nixon’s silent majority. The new one seems to reflect our time, where the young and idealistic are capitalistic exploiters and Leatherface and the Texan gun-toters are just being pushed too hard into the chainsaw of QAnon. Politics and war are no longer about truth and justice but just fake news in pursuit of tribalism. The film sums this up sardonically in the climactic scene where the busload of influencers are confronted by Leatherface and his chainsaw and respond by pulling out their phones and live streaming the whole massacre.

As Marx said, great historical entities (like Leatherface) appear in history twice – the first time as tragedy, the second time (or perhaps the ninth) as farce.

But here’s my problem with this film. After 83 minutes (which seemed much longer) I looked up from the screen and screamed (internally) “where’s the cannibalism?” Yes, there was a lot of flesh on display, and broken bones, and the occasional internal organ. But none of it got eaten, which, if I had more time, would have disqualified it from this blog. The thing is, cannibalism is not just one more nasty thing that mean people might do to you and me. It is the ultimate act of dehumanisation. Sally’s friends and family in the original were turned into slaughter-animals, chopped up, eaten, and presumably ended up in the family’s outhouse. That’s what we do to those we objectify: pigs and sheep and cows, and we do it to distinguish ourselves from other animals as somehow non-animal, part-god. The slasher might kill us, but the cannibal converts us into shit. Otherwise, we are all potential wielders of the chainsaw.

Without the cannibalism, this is just another slasher with too much emphasis on special effects rather than characterisation.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2022 has a 33% “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with one audience critic summing up:

“it isn’t very scary — and it definitely doesn’t help that the story hardly makes any sense.”

Cannibal Romcom: FRESH (Mimi Cave 2022)

If you’ve heard about this new movie, you’ll know it’s a sort of cannibal romcom.

Perhaps the first romcom was Adam and Eve – she was created from his rib, as “an help meet” (Genesis 2:18-21) because he was incapable of looking after Eden on his own. And he was, you know, horny. Ever since, relationships have been tricky – they’re about status, property rights and, above all, appetites. Feudal lords sealed alliances by betrothing their children, often marrying their small child off to a complete stranger. For most of human history, women were property, owned by their fathers until ownership was transferred to their husbands. What happened to them after that was up to the appetites of the man. It often still is.

Modern dating has in many ways returned to the realm of the unknown betrothal. Pictures appear on a phone screen and are assessed in an instant. If a candidate is deemed possibly sponge-worthy, a meeting is arranged and may lead to casual sex, long-term commitment or, in unfortunate cases, cannibalism.

What do we know about the person on the dating scene? Each click, each drink, is a contract, the person being (inter)viewed is already objectified by the algorithm that has decided he or she may be suitable. Relationships are chosen in the same way (and often with less forethought) as an Uber-eats meal. The app reduces us to our basics – appearance, tastes – we’re just meat.

This movie, Fresh, the first film by director Mimi Cave and writer Lauryn Kahn (good interview here but beware of spoilers) and produced by Adam McKay (Don’t Look Up), takes the metaphor to its logical conclusion. Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones from Normal People), finds herself dating boors who feel entitled to comment on her appearance, are interested exclusively in themselves, and abuse her if she dares to refuse sex. As a woman, her body is their entitlement.

Noa meets Steve (Sebastian Stan from Winter Soldier), not on her dating site, which has been a huge disappointment to her, but in a supermarket. Steve seems charming, clever, and doesn’t press her for sex. When he draws back from sex on their first date, the first time a man has done that in her experience (maybe in history) she asks him if he wants something to drink or eat, and he says “no, just you”. He ruins her enjoyment of her spare ribs by saying “I don’t eat animals.” He means non-human animals, but it’s a common piece of lazy language; he eats humans, and humans are of course animals.

Noa agrees to a weekend getaway with Steve after only a few dates. Bad idea. This starts as a romcom but ends up covered in blood and body parts. Images of other animals waiting to be eaten reinforce the point.

Steve wants to know whom Noa has told. Who knows she is going away with him?

Steve drugs Noa (another common dating strategy) and only then do the credits start, some 33 minutes into the film, as she collapses to the floor.

Steve imprisons her, finally revealing his plan: to keep her alive and slowly sell her meat to his wealthy cannibal clients, keeping the rest of her alive and “fresh” (thus the film title) as long as possible.

Sounds grim? Sure, but also darkly funny. Steve is witty and charming apart from the, you know, kidnapping and cannibalism, and Noa is smart and tough, as she has to be in this dog-eat-dog, or man-eat-woman, world. She has to woo her abuser, as so many women do, in order to escape, even if that means eating human flesh, even perhaps her own.

This is a smart and gripping cannibal film from – wait for it – Disney! Produced by Searchlight, the studio of Nomadland and The Shape of Water, it premiered at Sundance in January this year and was released on Disney+ in the UK but Hulu in the US. It certainly is a long way from Mickey Mouse and Snow White. Yet, like them, it has a moral of sorts. As one reviewer put it:

You will want to become a vegetarian after watching “Fresh.”

Another reviewer (beware of spoilers in this link) wrote:

I don’t know about you, but I, for one, am never eating meat again.

Noa is the protagonist, and the main plot involves her predicament and her attempts to escape (no spoilers!) But Steve is a fascinating character in that he really likes Noa, feels a little bit bad about what he does, but likes the money more. Does that remind us of the farmers who claim to “love” their animals, even as they fatten them up for the abattoir? How many stories have we heard of country kids who befriend a baby lamb or calf or piglet and weep when dad appears with a cleaver, only to get over it and become killers themselves. Steve is the same, but his “livestock” are young women. He likes them, but it’s a business – he packages up their meat, their hair, even their underwear for those who want them. His cold room is full of chilled meat, carefully labelled with the names of the women it came from.

Steve’s wife, who knows exactly what he does, asks him “how was work?” He replies that he is very busy with the “new product”.

He can’t afford to care. Nor can his wife, who is missing a leg. She is a “product” whom he adopted. She knows the answer to the header of my blog “what’s it like to be edible?

It reminded me of an interview with a slaughterhouse worker in Gail Eisnitz’s extraordinary book Slaughterhouse about the workers who kill for a living and the animals who we choose to eat, the ones that are least aggressive, the gentle and friendly species:

If you work in that stick pit for any period of time, you develop an attitude that lets you kill things but doesn’t let you care…. You may want to pet it. Pigs down on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them – beat them to death with a pipe. I can’t care.

This is not a dystopia, it is our world, now, a world in which the rich can buy anything they want including the labour, homes and bodies of others. Steve describes them as the “one percent of the one percent” – they want what no one else can have.

And it’s women they want to eat, because it’s all about ownership and power.

Think of Jeffrey Epstein who supplied underage girls to the rich and powerful. Gary Heidnik started a church which made him a lot of money and then, like Steve in this film, kidnapped, tortured, and raped six women, killing two of them and allegedly feeding the survivors with the flesh of one of the dead. Patrick Bateman was a (fictional) cannibal in the book (if not the film) of American Psycho, consuming human brains because there were absolutely no limits to his appetites.

Is there really anything to stop the “one percent of the one percent” paying to satisfy their cannibalistic appetites? If they are tired of beef and lamb, what meat is next? Millions of people disappear each year, and many are never found. Could some of them be ending up on the plates of the rich?

What Steve does to the lonely women he kidnaps is shocking. But so is what we pay minimum wage workers to do to other species. As Hannibal said, “It’s only cannibalism if we’re equals”. Eating other mammals such as Bos taurus, Ovis aries or Sus domesticus is only one thin red species line away from eating Homo sapiens.

Fresh is currently showing 81% fresh (has to really) on Rotten Tomatoes.

Women’s Health and Cannibalism – DIE WIEBCHEN (Zbynek Brynych, 1970)

In 1967, Valerie Solanas self-published the SCUM Manifesto, a document which began:

“Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.”

SCUM stood for Society for Cutting Up Men, and its manifesto was considered on its release something of a parody, satirising patriarchy; an exaggerated propaganda diatribe for Women’s Liberation, which was making men a little nervous by then (or at least making us reassess some of the previously unquestioned societal beliefs). That changed in 1968, when Solanas bought a gun and shot Andy Warhol in The Factory, his studio in New York City. Apparently, she really did want to cut up men.

This German-language German-French-Italian made film Die Wiebchen, translated variously as “The Females” or “The Bitches” or “Feminine Carnivores” came out a couple of years later, and was certainly influenced by Solanas and her manifesto, and her gun.

Zbyněk Brynych was a Czech director of the New Wave, which emphasised improvisational film-making rather than punctilious adherence to narrative scripts. Die Wiebchen starts with Eve (Uschi Glas) suffering from anxiety attacks. She is sent off to the Van Marens psychiatric retreat, which turns out to be staffed almost exclusively by women, except for a giant who is the gardener, an almost archetypal monster, toothless and with a long scar on his face. Incidentally (fun fact time), When Eve arrives at the health spa, the first woman to greet her is carrying a German translation of Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto. She is examined in stirrups by the head of the clinic, Dr Barbara (Gisela Fischer from Torn Curtain, in which she was also a doctor).

Drugged and disorientated, Eve wanders out of her room and opens a cupboard, out of which falls a man with a knife in his back. Yep, SCUM it is. Men are welcome though – particularly an extremely sleazy guy with open shirt and gold chain who thinks he’s landed in heaven, only to end up in male hell, and a hot oven. Men are lured in for sex and then killed, in the manner of the praying mantis or black widow spider.

Eve wants to warn the other men about the female man-eaters, but, of course, no one believes her. The police chief is, admittedly, male, but also chronically alcoholic, and certainly not interested in investigating murders. “I have three murders a day; they have to wait their turn.”

Dr Barbara diagnoses Eve as suffering from post-traumatic hallucinations and we, the audience, can never be sure whether this is actually the case. There’s certainly meat on the dinner menu, but from which species of animal? No spoilers, but the question of reality is settled at the conclusion, with a surprisingly graphic scene for 1970.

Just in case we haven’t got the point, the women hold a joyous bra-burning ceremony. This movie really has something for everyone. The music is jazzy sixties and the photography tends to the gimmicky with extreme fisheye lenses and trippy montages. It gets a bit annoying, but overall it’s a lot of fun.

Die Weibchen is an interesting entry in the all too brief list of female cannibal films because, while the male reaction against feminism or “women’s lib” as it was known in 1970 is obvious with every slash of the knife and every burnt bra, nonetheless the protagonists are all strong women, with the only men being drooling idiots or sex-obsessed sleazebags.

Uschi Glas wrote in her memoir Mit einem Lächeln (With a Smile) that she was glad to be able to play a new type of woman for the first time, a “beautiful change”. But she regretted that the film never became a big success.

The website Girls with guns summed up:

“If ever a film were guilty of sending out mixed messages, this would be it – but, surprisingly, I didn’t feel that hurt it much.”

My preferred title was the Italian version: Femmine Carnivore: Carnivorous Females. Eating meat is usually considered a male pursuit (strange, in that men don’t menstruate), yet there is a terror of the female, and particularly the fact that we emerge from the womb, and subconsciously fear that we could be reabsorbed into it. Professor Barbara Creed writes about the archaic mother as a “primordial abyss”, the place we all came from, and to which we fear we will return. Unlike Freud’s insistence that boys are terrified of what they see as their potential castration when they perceive their mother’s genitals as “a lack”, the female cannibal with her knife or teeth or her vagina dentata (toothed vagina) demonstrates the real fear felt by men – their cannibalisation by the strong woman. Often she is presented as a monster or possessed by an evil entity, such as in Inseminoid or Jennifer’s Body, or turned into a zombie by some contagious virus such as in Doghouse. But it’s nice to see a movie like Die Wiebchen, where the female cannibals are just – enjoying their dinners.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or the words of John Jacques Rousseau:

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

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