Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s CANNIBAL THE MUSICAL (Trey Parker, 1993)

Ever wondered what Trey Parker and Matt Stone did before South Park? Here’s a surprise – they went to college, where they wrote, directed, produced, co-scored and acted in a musical about cannibalism. This is it.

How’s your American history? It’s certainly never dull – full of wars, insurrections, and also a good deal of cannibalism – historical and contemporary. Probably the most famous incident is the Donner Party, a group of families who became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada over winter 1846-47, and famously turned to cannibalism to survive. Also up there in the mythology is the story of the famous typo, Alferd Packer, a prospector and self-proclaimed wilderness guide, who confessed to cannibalism during the harsh winter of 1874. Packer and five other men had attempted to travel across the San Juan Mountains of Colorado through the bitter winter snow, and Packer was the only one to arrive, some two months later, at the Los Pinós Indian Agency, near Saguache, Colorado. He first claimed the other men had abandoned him, then changed his story to tell of shared cannibalism of the men who had died of the cold, but was eventually charged with murder.

The real Alferd (Alfred) Packer

Incidentally, in case you’re wondering, his name was probably Alfred, but according to some sources, he changed it to Alferd after a mix up with a tattoo. Don’t know if that’s true, but just think of Jame Gumb in Silence of the Lambs, who refused to correct his birth certificate by adding an S to his first name. The author of that book, the meticulous researcher Thomas Harris, may have been having a wink at Alferd with that one.

According to a book on Packer, the judge at his trial sentenced him to death, saying:

Stand up yah voracious man-eatin’ sonofabitch and receive yir sintince. When yah came to Hinsdale County, there was siven Dimmycrats. But you, yah et five of ’em, goddam yah. I sintince yah t’ be hanged by th’ neck ontil yer dead, dead, dead, as a warnin’ ag’in reducin’ th’ Dimmycratic populayshun of this county. Packer, you Republican cannibal, I would sintince ya ta hell but the statutes forbid it.

Packer was not hanged, due to a legal technicality – he was sentenced under state law, but Colorado was not a state at the time of the cannibalism. Antonia Bird’s film Ravenous was also partly based on Packer.

That is pretty much the story that Trey Parker tells, using the names, dates and versions of the events that happened, and even in musical form, he tells it rather more accurately than an earlier biopic called The Legend of Alfred Packer (1980); also a lot more accurately than a later film called Devoured: The Legend of Alferd Packer (2005), which offered audiences the ghost of Alferd eating people in the modern day. Parker and Stone add lots of humour and gore and some very impressive and catchy songs, all written by, and mostly sung by, Trey Parker. Parker and Stone are masters of irony, and it is laid on thick, starting with the card at the beginning saying that the film was originally released in 1954 (some 15 years before Parker and Stone were born) but was eclipsed by the release of Oklahoma. The card goes on to claim that the violence has been edited out, and they follow this with a scene showing Packer killing the other members of his group by biting their necks and tearing off their arms.

The film moves between Packer’s trial (the bloody scene at the start is the prosecution lawyer re-enacting the alleged crime) and Packer’s description of the actual events, complete with dance routines and love songs to his horse, Liane.

The group who persuade Packer to be their guide are totally unprepared for the march from Utah to the Colorado gold fields over the snowbound Rockies, and are warned not to proceed into a big storm by a tribe of Indians, played by Japanese foreign exchange students, who speak Japanese, and even carry Samurai swords.

In a nice bit of cannibal intertextuality (Homer’s Odyssey), they try to kill a sheep belonging to a one-eyed cyclops (actually a Confederate soldier who lost his eye in the civil war). Early shades of South Park, as the cyclops squirts pus from his missing eye.

Sitting around the campfire, starving, they recall the story of the Donner party, and that gives them an idea. Yeah, they eat the guy who was an incurable optimist, who they shot for wanting to build a snowman. Look, it makes sense at the time. They even discuss not exactly the ethics of cannibalism, but at least the aesthetics – they won’t eat the dead guy’s butt, and Packer (Parker) is sick at what part Humphrey (Stone) chooses to eat.

There’s a ballet dream with Alfred dreaming of a reunion with Lianne (the horse), who has run away with a gang of trappers. Yeah, you’ll have to see it.

But the snow has them trapped, and they run out of food, and now the discussion is not which parts of a corpse to eat, but which member of the team should be sacrificed for the next meal. There is a hugely extravagant massacre, following which Packer waits out the winter, but now with plenty of meat, and then heads into town with his story of losing the rest of his party. That doesn’t wash, particularly when the well chewed bodies are found.

There’s a bar fight, pretty much de rigueur in Westerns, and Packer escapes to Wyoming, which he says is worse than being torn apart by the furious townspeople. Eventually he is arrested and brought back to Colorado. During his trial, there is a love interest, Polly (Toddy Walters), who interviews Packer through the bars of his cell in a scene that kept reminding me of Clarice Starling interviewing Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, which had swept the Oscars in 1992, the year before this was made. She becomes convinced of his innocence and – well, it’s complicated. But the film is well worth your 100 minutes, just to see what Parker and Stone could do with real people instead of simulated cut-outs.

The film had mixed reviews, with some of the reviewers not knowing what to make of it. The critic score on Rotten Tomatoes is only 65%, but the audience score is 82%. The critic from Empire said: “there’s an air of genial enthusiasm, tempered by sick humour, that is surprisingly engaging”.

The tagline for the film is:

“In the tradition of Friday the 13th Part 2… and Oklahoma… comes the first intelligent movie about cannibalism!”

Parker and Stone are not shy about their fascination with cannibalism, for example, check out the South Park episode “Scott Tenorman Must Die”, in which Cartman takes revenge on a boy by killing the boy’s parents, and cooking and feeding them to him.

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For a movie made by a couple of students at the University of Colorado, this is very impressive. It’s well made, the cast is great and the music is hard to get out of your head afterwards. I guess not so surprising, when we consider that four years later, in 1997, Parker and Stone launched South Park, which has been running ever since with over 300 episodes shown so far, and more seasons booked until at least 2022.

Modern geniuses.

Cannibal music – “You know it’s only out of love” – JÓNSI (2020) – and others.

This blog is primarily about cannibalism in films and TV shows, but we take an occasional deviation (love that word) to discuss real-live cases, or other manifestations of the cannibals’ art. So today – cannibal music.

“Jónsi” Birgisson is an Icelandic musician, the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist for the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós. His new album “Shiver” is due in October, and he has just released the song CANNIBAL – the Youtube link is above.

For this one, he collaborates with Liz Fraser. Fraser is a Scottish singer, songwriter and musician, known as the vocalist for the band Cocteau Twins and on several tracks on Massive Attack’s album “Mezzanine”. She was sometimes called “the Voice of God” in Cocteau Twins.

One review says “If anyone could turn a song about being a cannibal for love into a glorious and gorgeous song, it’s the Icelandic singer [Jónsi]”.

You’ve got perfect skin
Soft enough porcelain
White teeth, but you’re sinking in
I’m chewing cartilage
Chewing your carpet
Muscles, veins, and shoulder blades

You know I’m a cannibal, cannibal
I remove your breathing heart

If you want to enjoy a song about cannibals, Jónsi is a nice peaceful place to start.

If peaceful is not your thang, Cannibal Corpse has been putting the death into Death Metal for over thirty years (spooky huh?) I should issue a warning – this is not the album to play if you have a hangover migraine. Oh, also that it has songs with names like

  • Meat hook sodomy
  • Living dissection
  • Under the rotted flesh
  • Vomit the soul
  • I cum blood

Enjoy!

Cannibal’s Hymn is by the brilliant Australian musician, Nick Cave. I have used a line from this amazing song for the title of my thesis: “If you’re gonna dine with the cannibals“.

If you’re gonna dine with the cannibals
Sooner or later, darling, you’re gonna get eaten
But I’m glad you’ve come around here with your animals
And your heart that is bruised but bleating
And bleeding like a lamb.

While we are talking cannibal music, let us recall Katy Perry’s clip where she wanted to be “spread like a buffet”. If you were lucky enough to miss it or forget it, you can refresh the horror here.

Back in 2010, KE$HA released her cannibal song, with lyrics like “carnivore animal, I am a cannibal!” It became a hit all over again in 2020 when people realised it was a nice tune for exhibiting their talents on TikTok.

And let’s not forget (well, we can try) Robbie Williams’ Rock DJ clip from July 2000 where he is stripping for a group of women. When he is completely naked (with the naughty bits blurred out) and they remain unimpressed, he pulls off his skin and starts throwing pieces of his flesh out to the crowd, who eat it.

The video’s director said that the clip had been banned in the Dominican Republic for ‘Satanism’ and that they were ‘wanted in Papua New Guinea for cannibalism’. Now he wants to reshoot it.

It’s interesting from a cannibal studies point of view in that his penis cannot be shown, while his flesh, and the eating thereof, is perfectly acceptable, apparently. Also that cannibalism is depicted as of more interest than sex to his audience. Of course. Cannibalism is about the voracious and insatiable appetite of humans, of which sex is just one aspect.

Interesting, perhaps, but for what it’s worth, my recommendation, both visually and musically, is to stick to Nick and Jónsi.

“Got me spread like a buffet” – KATY PERRY “Bon Appétit”

Katy Perry goes full cannibal? Her 2017 online clip Bon Appétit was a huge hit, with 14 million hits in the first 24 hours. But is it liberation or just lunch? Well, she claims it is about liberation, posting that  she is “hot and ready to serve but make no mistake I’m not your piece of meat”.

Katy Perry about to be prepared by an array of chefs in the Bon Appetit video.

The clip shows her being covered in flour and kneaded by a bunch of chefs, her limbs stretched out, then dropped into a steaming cauldron to baste herself. At one point, her tongue is burned by the kind of torch you might see in a French or Japanese restaurant.

Katy Perry is stretched like dough by chefs in her video.

One tweet stated that Perry was “targeting the cannibal demographic”. Was she appealing to the voraphilia market, or criticising the objectification of the female body?

Baste it: Katy Perry is dropped into a large vat of water.

Appetite for seduction
Fresh out the oven
Melt in your mouth kind of lovin’
Bon a, bon appétit, baby

It looks a lot like exploitation pseudo-porn. But hey, maybe it’s a subtle and clever dig at the way artists, and particularly women, are ‘consumed’ by their fan-base. Yes, and maybe cannibal movies are a subtle and clever dig at the anthropocentric objectification of certain species to satisfy the voracious appetites of humans. Seems unlikely to be intentional but, perhaps at some level, that is what is happening here.

Katy Perry's new music video Bon Appetit had 14 million views on You Tube in 24 hours.