“FERAL” (American Horror Stories, episode 6 – August 2021)

Last week’s blog was not a film or TV story but a real event, the account of displaced people being kidnapped for ransom by Mexican cartels, and chopped up for their meat if the money was not found. This segues nicely into this week’s blog, in which a boy disappears and the parents suspect a cartel kidnapping, but in fact (spoiler alert) he has joined a group of feral cannibals.

The response to news of cartels, kidnapping and cannibalism is to shake our heads and ask how people can DO such things. The assumption behind such a question is that we have ‘progressed’ and, while cannibalism may have been a part of our savage past, it should have been left behind in today’s enlightened civilisation. Yet we are aware that cannibalism continues to exist, and that it can reappear when food is short, as in the siege of Leningrad, or for revenge like the man who killed and ate up to thirty women because he resented their rejection of him, or sexual attraction and desire to keep the person with us (or within us) like Jeffrey Dahmer and Armin Meiwes, or just for fun and profit, like Fritz Haarmann.

Sigmund Freud wrote of an ORAL SADISTIC or CANNIBALISTIC STAGE, which coincides with the time babies’ teeth start to erupt. We recognise our mother’s breast as external to us, and wish to retain ownership, by biting and swallowing it. At the same time, the aggression is tempered or sometimes instead magnified by anxiety at the potential loss of the other (mothers don’t like to be bitten) or fear that the much stronger parent will instead choose to devour the child. Our first instance of logical reasoning – if I can bite her, she can surely bite me harder. These early influences may sink into the sludge at the bottom of our unconscious minds as we grow up, but they remain there, and can reappear at any time in different forms.

It is tempting, therefore, to see acts of cannibalism as simply throwbacks – to our earlier social models (savagery) or to psychotic deviance dredged up from tortured unconscious memories. Civilisation, we think, can conquer such eruptions. But not always, and not in this episode of American Horror Stories, another episode of which we considered recently.

This one is set in, and against, nature. A man, woman and three-year-old boy are driving into Kern Canyon National Park in California for a camping trip. The father wants to return to nature, get them out of their comfort zone. The mother points out that “out of the comfort zone” is equivalent to “uncomfortable”, and the little boy wants a TV. A phone call on the way tells us that the father is a lawyer defending a “greedy-ass corporation” – the type that exploits and destroys the environment for profit. This is going to be about nature, red in tooth and claw, and revenge.

The boy, Jacob, disappears while camping with his family. Ten years later, his father, Jay, is approached by a hunter who tells him that he believes Jacob is alive, kidnapped by a drug cartel running pot farms in the park. The hunter leads Jay and Jacob’s mother, Addy, into the woods to look for him. The Park Ranger, who for some reason is Australian, warns then not to go, but of course they head off and, like last week’s Mexican abduction, it’s a trap.

Deep in the woods, they are attacked by wild, human-like creatures, who eat their abductor. Jay and Addy seek refuge at the Park Ranger’s station, where the Ranger tells them that the National Park Service was created by the government

“…to keep Americans from things that would kill and eat them.”

These are feral humans, he says, possibly descendants of Vikings, or of mountain men who never came down from the mountains, or maybe Civil War soldiers who never surrendered. Or people who just checked out, had enough of the world. In any case, they have gone back to nature, gone feral, and so are a threat to the civilised, cultured humans who use and abuse the natural world. The Ranger tells them there are are tribes of ferals in every National Park – over 2,000 people have vanished from the parks over the years. There are certainly people living off the grid in the wild areas of the world, but not necessarily feral cannibals. Why is it kept top secret?

“Governments need their citizens to believe they are in control. Plus, the National Parks generate billions of dollars in revenue every year. Capitalism, baby! If people knew there were feral cannibals running around, attendance might drop off.”

The Station is attacked by the feral cannibals, and the ranger is killed. Jay and Addy are taken to the leader of the creatures, seated on a throne of skulls, looking remarkably like a Renaissance Jesus.

Of course it is Jacob (speculation is already mounting that Jacob, the cannibal king, might get his own spin-off series). Jacob seems to recognise his parents, but when one of the creatures asks Jacob who they are he answers, “dinner“. Freud would have enjoyed the feast that follows: the “primal hordes” overthrowing and eating the father; Jacob, frozen in his infantile cannibalistic phase, tasting his parents’ blood.

This episode is also a study in what Georgio Agamben calls the “anthropological machine”, a paradigm that we use to separate ourselves from other animals. In the pre-modern machine, non-humans were depicted as human-like to draw the distinction – we spoke of werewolves, minotaurs and cyclops; in this episode they evoke Bigfoot or the Australian equivalent, the Yowie. But the modern anthropological machine instead declares certain humans to be less than human or else inhuman – race, ability, gender or social status may be used to divide us into human and “other”. The ferals are inhuman because they have regressed to savagery, chosen nature over civilisation. For hundreds of thousands of years, we existed in small clans, and anyone outside the immediate family was assumed inhuman. We need to fear, and sometimes eat, the outsider, because we evolved to do so.

We like to think that this is all ancient history. But our sanguine belief in social progress lulls us into supposing that that acts of cannibalism (as depicted in this blog thecannibalguy.com, for example), are simply aberrations, throwbacks to a savage past, or unfortunate outbursts by deranged or psychopathic individuals. What this confident diagnosis ignores is the inherent violence of the human species.

As sociologist Zygmunt Bauman points out, the civilising process has simply presented a “redeployment of violence”. Instead of hunting animals or, more recently, slaughtering them in the street in what used to be called “the shambles”, we now mass produce death in huge factories called abattoirs, which are placed away from residential areas and surrounded by high walls and sophisticated security systems. Violence against our fellow humans has been similarly redeployed, with drones and smart bombs replacing hand to hand conflict. Fear of social sanctions or maybe divine punishment keep us in control of our internalised aggressive drives against our fellow citizens, at least some of the time. But at any moment, for reasons usually unclear, we can loose this violence, together with the voracious appetite that characterises consumerism, and redeploy it against adversaries. Call it feral, as per this episode, or perhaps, instead, call it authentic, cannibalistic humanity.

“…would break people’s souls”: AMERICAN HORROR STORIES Episode 3 “Drive In”

American Horror Stories is part of the American Story franchise. It is a 2021 spin-off of the hugely popular American Horror Story, an anthology series created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, who were responsible for other terrifying shows like Nip/Tuck and Glee. American Horror Story is currently in its tenth season, and has been renewed for seasons 11-13. Each season is a self-contained mini-series, whereas in this new series, American Horror Stories, each episode is a self-contained narrative.

While there were cannibals in American Horror Story, (the Raspers in season 2 and the Polk family in season 6), the new series seems to be a lot more into them – the first season has two cannibal stories out of the seven episodes, an impressive 28.6% (if anyone is counting).

Episode 3 is called “Drive In” because that’s where most of the gore happens. Kelley (Madison Bailey) and Chad (Rhenzy Feliz) have been arguing about her reluctance to have sex with him, even though he is playing Bob Ross The Joy of Painting on his laptop (he’s been told it’s a sure fire aphrodisiac due to its reputation for causing a relaxed, tingling sensation known as ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response). Anyway, that trick doesn’t work on Kelley.

Bob Ross is an interesting choice for a horror story opening, as he seems to live on through Twitch and the internet, despite having died in 1995. So much horror is about the undead stalking promiscuous teenagers!

Chad’s friends assure him that ASMR won’t work – what he needs is horror! That’s why horror films are so popular, they are aphrodisiacs, OK? The link between fear and sex – the subject of a whole new dissertation.

Chad’s friends have one ticket left for the drive-in screening of a film called Rabbit Rabbit. The film was banned by Tipper Gore (Amy Grabow) after the audience at the only showing in 1986 started to massacre each other, and she ordered all prints of the movie destroyed. Except they missed one: the director’s cut. Chad dismisses this whole massacre business as an urban legend, but takes the ticket.

As they drive in, a lone woman is protesting, demanding the screening be stopped. She tells Chad she was at the showing in 1986, where her boyfriend plucked out her eye and ate it before being killed himself. He listens politely, but then Kelley turns up with the biggest bucket of popcorn ever created, and he has to, you know, go. Presumably now full of popcorn, Kelley tells Chad that she is finally ready to have sex with him, and various cannibal metaphors fill the cars before the movie starts – Chad and Kelley pashing in his car, fellatio in his friend’s car next door.

Chad and Kelly’s steamy petting fogs up the car windows, so they cannot see the film, nor do they see the mayhem erupting outside, where people are attacking and devouring each another. They try to drive away when a cannibal smashes through their window but they crash, and have to retreat to the projection room, where we see Chad, who just yesterday was trying to seduce his girlfriend by playing The Joy of Painting, use the last copy of Rabbit Rabbit to cave in the skull of the projectionist, who has just eaten her assistant.

Of course, it’s not the last print. There is a rumour of another print being shown next night. Their mission, should they choose to accept, is to find the director and destroy the NEXT last copy.

So, we finally get to the cannibalism, and it’s plentiful and gory, as we would expect. Those affected by the film get bloodshot eyes, their veins swell, and they are only interested in one thing – human flesh. Chad’s best friend approaches as they leave, eyes bloodshot, veins swollen, and Chad appeals to him to THINK! Remember when we were two little boys, innocently watching porn in the afternoons? Now, according to Aristotle’s theory of the human being as the rational animal, Chad’s appeal to reason, love, friendship, shared porn, should have broken through the spell. Ha!

So what’s with this movie, with the most innocuous title imaginable: Rabbit Rabbit? The rabbit is a gentle, timid, vegan animal who is massacred pretty much everywhere he is found, due to his propensity to breed – a lot! Sounds kind of human?

Chad has done some research before going to the movie; he watched, on YouTube, Tipper Gore’s committee condemning the movie and having it banned after the audience massacre in 1986. Banning things is popular in America due to deep religious convictions, but also not popular due to, you know, the First Amendment. Tipper Gore, married to Vice President Al Gore, was responsible for making music companies add warning labels to songs with explicit content around that time, after finding her 11 year old daughter listening to Darling Nikki by Prince, so this is not just idle chatter – she was seriously into banning stuff.

But why is the government banning Rabbit Rabbit and destroying all copies (or so they imagine)? Well, the director, who glories in the name Larry Bitterman (John Carroll Lynch from Fargo and The Drew Carey Show) is asked by Tipper about his claim in Fangoria Magazine that his movie:

“…would break people’s souls, and anyone who saw it would be damaged forever.”

Publicity hype, laughs Bitterman, but Tipper is worried about the effects of violent content on society, which must be an in-joke for Murphy and Falchuk, after presenting us with ten seasons of violent content, and now this gorefest. Critics have been warning about that sort of thing forever. Civil society has been threatened by the Internet, porn mags, the horror genre, and before that television, movies, radio… hell, conservative Cro-Magnons were probably warning about the evils of cave paintings 40,000 years ago.

Is there any sense to it? Can porn turn us into sex offenders, horror stories into cannibals? The internet certainly turns some people into trolls. Bitterman wants to make cinematic history – he tells the teens that this “was his finest hour” – a cinematic happening, a horror movie where the horror isn’t on screen, it’s in the audience. He refers to Friedkin’s (actual) use of subliminals in The Exorcist – two frames of a demon’s face in reel six had people throwing up in the aisles and women going into labour. Rabbit Rabbit took this to the next level,

“The universal combination of image and sound that would trigger the fear centre of every human brain. I studied intrusive memory formation, the CIA hijinks with MK-Ultra…”

Bitterman had jumped the hearing bench and attacked Tipper Gore when she boasted about destroying the prints of his movie, which resulted in him being locked up for fifteen years for assault. His conclusion: “a society that locks up its artists doesn’t deserve to survive.”

There’s another in-joke – the series was made by FX for Hulu. What if a film like Rabbit Rabbit was to appear on, I dunno, a rival streaming platform – imagine the damage it could do!

But there’s another question for us among all the hacked flesh and explosions. Have you ever felt like you are in a horror movie? Maybe while in the throes of a personal tragedy, or watching a pandemic unfold, or contemplating changing climate. Perhaps you’ve wondered if “they” are playing with your brain. Or perhaps they really are breaking your soul. Or maybe eating you alive. Cannibalism is a brutal metaphor for pretty much every atrocity we visit on our fellow earthlings. A movie, a cataclysm, political upheaval – what would it take to start us eating each other?

“What will satisfy your hunger?” FANTASY ISLAND (Craft and Fain, 2021)

Imagine a place where your wildest dreams come true!

Suppose your fantasy could materialise – would you still want it? Fantasies are often best left in the realm of the imagined – that’s why people watch BDSM instead of actually torturing partners, or play war games on the computer instead of getting a gun and going out hunting people. A fantasy which became reality would come with consequences that you might not enjoy so much. But it’s fun to imagine, and I suspect many of my readers would have “wildest dreams” that no television network would dare portray! Have you checked Tumblr lately?

Fantasy Island originally came from the prolific mind of Aaron Spelling, who was producing hit shows from 1959 until his death in 2006, so you’ve probably brushed against his work somewhere in your life: from Burke’s Law (1963-66) to the Mod Squad (1968-73), Charlie’s Angels (1976-81), Fantasy Island (1977-84), The Love Boat (1977-86), Dynasty (1981-89), Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990-2000), Melrose Place (1992-99) and dozens of others. So prolific was he, that many of the series he produced overlapped – Fantasy Island was introduced in made-for-TV movies when Charlie’s Angels was just setting the television world alight. It then ran for 152 episodes over five years, followed by less successful revivals, including a pretty awful horror movie in 2020. This new reboot began airing on Fox on August 10, 2021.

Spelling said in an interview that the idea came from a joke: he was pitching ideas to ABC, and they had rejected six different ones, when he finally exclaimed:

“What do you want? An island that people can go to and all of their sexual fantasies will be realized?”

They loved that one.

The original featured the great Mexican actor Ricardo Montalbán as Mr. Roarke, the white-suited proprietor of the island, a kind of wizard who could make any wish come true, but often foresaw that the results would be not as desired, or that the motivations of the fantasy were misunderstood. This new series created by Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fain takes up that scenario, but now it’s Rourke’s grandniece, Elena (Roselyn Sánchez from Without a Trace), still all in white, and still dispensing fantasies. A photo of her granduncle is on her desk.

The formula usually has two different story arcs happening simultaneously. The one we are interested in for this cannibalism blog is the one involving Christine (Bellamy Young from Scandal) as a television newsreader in Phoenix, who is oppressed by body shaming, that turns out (in an island-inspired memory) to spring from an abusive step-father.

Christine’s rather disappointing fantasy is to be able to spend the visit to the island eating anything and everything she wants, and not gain a pound.

Of course, the island knows that her hunger is much more elemental. Long story short (or as Elvis sang “I said all that to say all this”) – the stepfather turns up on the island, still abusive, and [SPOILER ALERT] she kills him and ends up eating him, roasted on a spit.

Have you seen Mike White’s TV series White Lotus yet? Everyone seems to be talking about it. Rolling Stone magazine called it “Class Warfare Comes to Fantasy Island.” It kept coming to mind when I watching this first episode of FI. Of course, no one is technically eaten in White Lotus, but it is a kind of Fantasy Island for the rich, a place where they expect their every wish to appear, not by wizardry but because of their obscene wealth, and it sees their schemes backfiring sometimes, as the Fantasy Island ones often did. Of course, like all fairy stories, Fantasy Island has a moral lesson; no such luck for White Lotus. In reality, the rich always eat the poor. Like Nine Perfect Strangers, the rich also have their suffering to deal with from past trauma or abuse, and revisiting that hurt is supposed to start the healing. In Christine’s case, it is food that brings all her misery rushing back in; Elena refers to Proust’s memory-laden madeleine cakes which bring childhood memories flooding back.

When I say no one is eaten on White Lotus, I mean only literally. Allegorically, though, the rich gobble up the serving people, using and abusing them, stealing the lands of the indigenous families and employing them as servants and entertainers, exploiting and discarding the others. The staff are instructed to be “generic” – almost invisible, as are the billions of animals we humans eat each year. The first step in cannibalism is objectification of the victim.

Just so, Christine’s step-father offers, in a flash-back, to fix her teeth so she can become a star, but we know there is a price. He objectifies and belittles her, telling her:

There are a lot of animal references in this episode. Christine, as a child, is compared to a heifer, that is, a cow who has not yet been mated. The implication is that his abuse is sexual as well as mental. He, in turn, is referred to as a pig – Elena tells Christine that the abuser died in 2012, that she met on the island not him, but his cruelty and her trauma, and devoured them:

It’s a bit of a cop-out, IMHO. She is so relieved to realise that she killed and ate her abusive stepfather’s poisonous effects by – eating a pig? Why such relief? Eating bits of an innocent pig, killed and cooked on a spit roast, is OK to her, but not a man who mentally and probably physically abused her?

If anyone deserved to be killed and roasted, it was not the pig.

What’s your favourite cannibal movie?

Of all the (sometimes) wonderful cannibal movies and shows I have reviewed in this blog, my personal favourite is still The Silence of the Lambs with Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal the Cannibal. It was the first film I reviewed on this blog (does that mean I liked the others less each time? Not at all), and interestingly, it does not actually feature any cannibalism, although we hear a lot about it.

Fun fact!

So I was pretty chuffed to find that The Silence of the Lambs is the favourite horror movie of the State of Utah, according to the Horrornews.net website. They used information from Rotten Tomatoes and Google Trends, and partnered with Mindnet Analytics, to analyse how interest in horror movies varied in each US state and the District of Columbia (DC). The results are presented on their website:

Best Horror Movies: Which Does Each US State Love Most?

This survey covers all horror, whereas in this blog we concentrate on the cannibal, so please let us know your favourite cannibal film (or TV show, but if it’s a series, your favourite episode) either in the comments at the bottom of the page (after a few suggestions) or at cannibalstudies@gmail.com. I’ll let you know the results.

Cannibal comedy: THE IT CROWD (2007)

The IT Crowd is a British comedy series about a couple of socially inept geeks who are employed as computer support in a fancy corporation. They are Moss – Richard Ayoade (Travel Man) and Roy – Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids, Girls), and their manager Jen – Katherine Parkinson (Doc Martin, Humans). It is a hilarious study of the absurdity of ‘normal’ interrelationships, portrayed through the eyes of the social outsiders. Moss and Roy are great with computers, but clueless with humans.

In Season 2 Episode 3, they realise their dependence on each other’s company has made them seem like ‘an old married couple’, so Moss decides to get out and see other people. He signs up for what he believes is a course of German cooking. But the cook is Johann (Philip Rham, who played a Death Eater in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Moss goes to see Johann, who is based on the Rotenburg Cannibal Armin Meiwes, who is hoping to cook him.

Johann has placed an ad saying “I want to cook with you.” This is roughly parallel to Armin Meiwes, who was a German computer technician and “vorephile” (a person with a sexual fetish for eating, or being eaten by, another human). He advertised in 2001 on a fetish website called The Cannibal Café for “a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed”. The only reply that seemed sincere was from a man named Jürgen Brandes, whom he killed (or at least assisted to suicide) and then ate over several months. Like Meiwes, Johann wants a volunteer – he is into homicide, but not murder.

Moss is amused to discover the misunderstanding.

Johann is very disappointed, because he really wants a volunteer. This is exactly what happened with Armin Meiwes, who had interviewed several men before finally finding one who was actually willing to be killed and eaten. In one of the great lines from any cannibal show, Moss reflects

Roy is impressed with the story Moss tells at work next day.

Jen demands to know why Moss didn’t call the police, because

Moss is right; surprisingly it’s only illegal if it is done without consent in most jurisdictions. The legal problems arise with the slaughter before the eating. Then Roy decides he wants to consent, just so he can watch a pirated movie on Johann’s big-screen TV.

It’s a hilarious episode, particularly if you are an aficionado of cannibal studies. When the cops arrive, it’s not to arrest the cannibal, but to nab Roy and Moss for video piracy.

Cannibalism is usually classified as horror, but is often recategorised to comedy. The serial killers like Dahmer and Chikatilo are rarely considered humorous, although the light-hearted TV series Rake started off with its own interpretation of the Meiwes case. But the ‘savage’ with the grass skirt and the bone through his nose has been fair game for comedians since the earliest movies like Be My King (1928) and Windbag the Sailor (1936) as well as cartoons like Jungle Jitters and television shows like Gilligan’s Island. Cartoons are full of ‘savage’ cannibals, despite anthropologists having long since relinquished the colonial belief that all colonised peoples are people-eaters.

http://bizarrocomic.blogspot.com.au/2010_09_01_archive.html

Cannibalism is useful as a humorous allegory for the limit of civil behaviour. When comedian Jon Stewart was asked by Late Show host Stephen Colbert to say something nice about President Donald Trump, he hesitated and eventually blurted “Donald Trump – is not – a cannibal”.

Colbert followed this up a year later suggesting Trump eats human flesh, but only “it’s very well done with some ketchup”. Essayist Katha Pollitt wrote in the subsequent election year that getting rid of Trump was so important that she would “vote for Joe Biden if he boiled babies and ate them”, a reference to the Sicilian tyrant Falaride who, Ateneo reported, “boiled babies and ate them” and even ate his own children, according to Aristotle. Cannibalism is an ideal hook for humour, because it is the extreme example of carnivorous virility and often encapsulates abuse of power.

What we find outrageous and therefore humorous about the Armin Meiwes case is not his appetite for human flesh, but the fact that his victim volunteered and even encouraged him to fulfil the agreement. But isn’t that what we all do when we cede our power to corrupt or inept leaders? Perhaps we are laughing at ourselves.

The Silence of Hannibal: CLARICE episode 1 (CBS 2021)

So first the bad news – due to contractual arrangements, Hannibal Lecter does not make an appearance in the new TV series called Clarice. He can’t – the DeLaurentiis company (which produced Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal as well as the movies Manhunter, Hannibal, Red Dragon and Hannibal Rising) has exclusive rights to the characters originating in the novels Red Dragon, Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, and MGM have exclusive rights to The Silence of the Lambs, and own the movie too. Clarice Starling first appeared in Silence of the Lambs, so can be revisited in this series, while Hannibal and Will Graham originated in Red Dragon, so can come to life in Fuller’s brilliant series, but the three of them cannot ever meet. With intellectual property as hot as the characters that came from the Promethean mind of Thomas Harris, sharing it around among production companies is about as likely as two dogs with one bone.

The good news is that Clarice is a damn good show, and Rebecca Breeds, the Aussie actor with the West Virginia accent (it sounded good to me, although I’ve never been to WV) is just right in the role. In the pilot, she manages to convey a complex picture of a young woman who is smart, resourceful and tough, fighting for her place in a man’s world, while still haunted by untreated PTSD from her run-in with Buffalo Bill in the movie.

This is a sequel to Silence of the Lambs, and while there is no appearance from Hannibal (who, after all, was on the run after his gory escape in the movie), there are plenty of references to the film, particularly Buffalo Bill (Jame Gumb), the serial killer whom Clarice killed at the climax of the film.

A year after the events of the film, Clarice is waking up at night from nightmares full of violence and deaths-head moths.

She is attending mandatory psychiatric sessions, which she is not happy about, and tries to joke, argue and obfuscate her way out. The therapist says that is

“understandable, given that your last therapist was an inmate in the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane,”

If you remember Silence of the Lambs, you will recall that the serial killer, Jame Gumb, had captured Catherine Martin, whose mother was a US Senator, and was about to skin her to make a “vest with tits” as Hannibal so elegantly put it. The mother, Ruth Martin (Jayne Atkinson), is now Attorney General of the US, and determined that a new serial killer will not be running wild on her watch.

Ruth Martin drags Clarice out of the Quantico FBI HQ where she has been hiding and doing data entry, and attaches her to the new ViCAP (Violent Crime Apprehension Program) task force. She tells Clarice,

“You saved my little girl. You are a woman with a very public reputation for hunting monsters, Clarice.”

The pilot episode is largely procedural, as was Hannibal when Season one started. Someone is killing women and mutilating them. Is it a crazed serial killer? Well, he is biting them, so that qualifies him for this cannibalism blog, but Clarice notices something odd about the wounds. There’s no intimacy. No frenzy.

 “A true psychopath? We’d still be looking. But a true sociopath – they wouldn’t have left their faces.”

The ongoing antagonist in this is Paul Krendler (Michael Cudlitz from Walking Dead) who barely appeared in the film Silence of the Lambs, although he was an important opponent in the book, and became more important as he destroyed her career in the book and film Hannibal in revenge for her unwillingness to indulge his sexual appetites. In this series, he is a cranky old man, dubious of her talents (he thinks she just got lucky in pursuit of Buffalo Bill) and not willing to let her play hunches.

The FBI grunts play tricks on her, putting lotion on the handles of her desk drawers and telling her

Which of course were Gumb’s instructions to Catherine, using the impersonal pronoun ‘it’ to dehumanise her.

Clarice remembers what Hannibal taught her about the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, with a little prompting from her friend Ardelia (Devyn A. Tyler).

She works out that the wounds are “desperately random”, which is what Hannibal told her about the apparently random dumping of the bodies by Jame Gumb. She realises that the murderer is not a crazy serial killer but is cold, calculating and has a set of targets. The rest of the episode is about her tracking him down, while still haunted by her past. Meanwhile, Catherine Martin is frantic to talk to her; Catherine is now an anorexic recluse, because Gumb only took big girls, whose skin would fit on his frame (but at least she has Gumb’s dog Precious, who I always thought was a nod to Tolkein). Clarice suffers flashbacks and nightmares: Catherine in the oubliette, Jame Gumb sewing a garment of human hide.

The press are obsessed with Clarice, the National Tattler calling her (as in the movie), the “Bride of Frankenstein”.

Krendler wants her to toe the official line and tell the press that this is a crazy guy. But this is Clarice. She’s going to tell it like it is.

Now, I know a lot of Fannibals would have preferred a fourth season of Hannibal to a new series about Clarice (and have said so quite vociferously). But let us not forget what Clarice meant to Hannibal, or at least Hannibal in his twentieth century persona. She was one of the first to interview him successfully in his solitary cell. He found her fascinating and was, let us admit it, somewhat smitten with her, in the books and the films. Remember Hannibal’s words:

“I think it would be quite something to know you in private life.”

So let’s not disparage our opportunity to know her. In the movie Hannibal, he points out that he has travelled half way around the world to watch her run, and wonders why she won’t now let him run, then chops off his own hand rather than harm her.

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Unlike many male authors, Thomas Harris can write female protagonists as real, complex people, and he does it so well; not just Clarice Starling, but also the central characters of his first and most recent novels (both non-Hannibal stories) – Dahlia Iyad in Black Sunday (1975) and the eponymous protagonist of Cari Mora (2019).

Hollywood was not willing to countenance a romance between a law officer and (as they saw it) a psychopathic serial killer. But in the novel, the relationships are far more complex: Hannibal hopes Clarice might provide a position in the world for Mischa, his sister, who was eaten by Nazi collaborators during the war. Clarice suggests an alternative: Mischa can live through him, Hannibal, instead, and “she” and Clarice can be like sisters. Remembering Hannibal’s question to Senator Martin (in Silence of the Lambs), she asks if he was breastfed, and if he ever felt that Mischa had made him give up the breast when she was born. Well, he won’t have to give up this one: she offers him her breast, with a warm drop of Chateau d’Yquem suspended from the nipple. He sucks it, but not as a cannibal; as a child, or as a lover. Freud of course would wonder if there is actually a difference.

Unlike the film, in the book Hannibal and Clarice are presumed live happily ever after; the asylum guard Barney sees them at the Teatro Colon, the opera house in Buenos Aires. They are watching Tamerlane, an opera that starts with an Emperor in chains, and ends with a love duet.

This new series, Clarice, is what happens between Hannibal`s escape at the end of Silence of the Lambs and their renewed encounters in Hannibal. It’s important history, one which those of us who loved the books and movies need to explore, even if we loved the Hannibal TV series too.

Clarice is on CBS (where you can watch the first episode if you are in the USA or have a VPN) and streaming on Stan in Australia.

A complete listing of my Hannibal film and TV blogs is at https://thecannibalguy.com/2020/07/08/hannibal-film-and-tv-blogs/

“There’s something evil in those woods”: SUPERNATURAL Season 1, Episode 2 “Wendigo”

Supernatural is a TV series created by Eric Kripke, first broadcast in 2005. Fifteen seasons later, the final episode (there were 327 in total) aired on November 19, 2020. You could call that a successful series.

The plots follow two brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester, who hunt demons, ghosts, monsters, and other supernatural beings. The first two episodes were directed by David Nutter, who later won an Emmy for Game of Thrones.

Sam and Dean’s origin story in the pilot episode shows an idyllic home with a loving mother, doting father, and a demon who drips blood into baby Sam’s mouth, then ties their mom to the ceiling where she bursts into flames. Well, you can’t blame them for being a bit down on supernatural entities.

Dean’s metaphysical mission statement is:

“Killing as many evil sons of bitches as I possibly can.”

In episode 2, the boys come across a Wendigo, normally explained as a human transformed into a monster by the act of cannibalism. They find a love interest in a girl who is looking for her brother, one of a group of campers recently snatched by said Wendigo while playing computer games with friends in their tent in the deep woods (as you do) and reading Joseph Campbell’s book about the hero’s journey

Turns out the Wendigo eats a sounder of people every 23 years, and they find a man who, as a child, was attacked by the monster in 1959 but survived, with massive scars. He tells them:

Well, they finally get around to reading their Dad’s journal – he has a slim leather volume of handwritten notes on every evil thing you could need to know about. They explain the Wendigo to the other campers.

Cultures all over the world believe that eating human flesh gives a person certain abilities: speed, strength, immortality. You eat enough of it, over years you become this less-than-human thing. You’re always hungry.”

You can’t kill a Wendigo with bullets or knives.

Dean attempts to draw the Wendigo away from the others, with the hilarious taunt:

“You want some white meat, bitch?”

The Wendigo is a figure from Algonquin folklore, a spirit who possesses his human victim, giving him an insatiable hunger for human flesh, but the flesh makes him grow larger, and so his appetite can never be satisfied, thus the emaciated form.

The Wendigo is said to have a heart, or whole body, made of ice. The creation of the Wendigo, like Nietzsche’s Übermensch, is a “becoming” which requires the destruction or transformation of lesser beings, just as humans like to believe that the processing of “lower” animals into meat is required for their continued existence. In the television series Hannibal, Lecter is often shown as a dark figure with antlers, a Wendigo, who manifests and wreaks carnage (e.g. the episode “Hassun”).

Margaret Atwood in her lecture on the Wendigo pointed out that, unlike most monsters, the Wendigo offers two different terrors – being eaten by it, but also transforming into it. While all cannibals threaten us with physical dissolution through their digestive tracts, a simple bite from the Wendigo, or being possessed by its spirit during the act of eating human flesh (even if the act is necessary to survive) can destroy one’s will and endanger the whole tribe.

To the First Nations people, the Wendigo represented winter, hunger or selfishness and, particularly in subsistence communities, there is a direct causal link between those things – winter means shortages, which lead to hunger and struggles for resources, and sometimes cannibalism. In times of starvation, we are capable of anything. Cannibalism stories were not uncommon on the American Frontier, and popular culture has often told tales of white-man cannibalism using the Donner Party, Alferd Packer and the Wendigo, sometimes all mixed together, as in Antonia Bird’s Ravenous.

But when the Europeans came with their ships and guns and viruses, those they dispossessed, enslaved, raped, tortured and massacred came to the obvious conclusion that the white man must be possessed by a Wendigo spirit. This Wendigo spirit of ruthless and voracious consumption may be less blatant in the twenty-first century, but is still evident in the exploitation of sweat-shop workers, in human trafficking, and in the intensive factory farming that turns sentient animals into commodities by the billions. Also in the covert sexism and racism in shows like this, that depict “cis-het” white men taking on the world of evil and saving civilisation from the outsiders and aliens that haunt our dreams.

Racists and Cannibals: JUNGLE JITTERS (Friz Freleng, 1938)

Not a movie this week, but a cartoon! Even today, many cartoons depict racist and sexist stereotypes, but JUNGLE JITTERS was so gratuitous that it was placed on a list known as the Censored Eleven, a list of  Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons taken off television in the United States in 1968 because of their offensive stereotyping of black people. The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia links to this cartoon, as well as to several other real stinkers.

This cartoon, which is well under a hundred years old, followed the favoured interpretation of colonialism – the native people were uncivilised savages, probably cannibals, waiting for the white man to bring them into the modern age. This process was always violent and exploitative and often involved the expropriation of their lands and even extermination. But the public image of colonialism was the semi-human cannibals, as amusing as apes, and the civilised Europeans, who might be running the place, or could be poaching in a cauldron. This cartoon managed to fit all of that ideological baggage into less than eight minutes.

The idea that those who are not part of the Western liberal tradition must be primitive cannibals seems strange to us now, but let’s not forget that Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel and many other European philosophers considered indigenous people, whose strange customs were reported by the explorers, to be primitive savages, urgently in need of enlightenment. H.G. Wells in his 1920 book Outline of History wrote, “At first, the only people encountered by the Spaniards in America were savages of a Mongoloid type. Many of these savages were cannibals”. Even in this century, the weary trope continues to raise its head – a British Secondary School exam board recently apologised for approving a psychology text that contained a question on teamwork, involving a group of cannibals cooking a missionary.

In the “plot” of this cartoon, a travelling salesman brings a case of useless consumer goods to a fenced village. At first, the natives don’t want to let him in, but then change their perception of him.

Of course, he is soon in a cauldron, with jokes about “hold the onions” etc.

Then there is the love interest. This was a problem – depicting primitive natives indulging in cannibalism was unproblematic, but the “Hays Code”, which set the moral guidelines for American cinema from 1934-1968, definitely frowned on miscegenation – any hint of sex between the races.

The solution in this was to make the Queen into a white woman, without explanation, and have her see the salesman not as the cooked chicken envisaged by her tribe, but as Clark Gable and Robert Taylor.

While he appears to be some sort of dog, she seems to be based on a chicken (but not edible for some reason) and of course she is the kind of spinster that Hollywood loved to show as desperate and dateless.

She arranges an instant wedding, but he is repelled by her and, hilariously, chooses to leap back into the cauldron, expressing the hope that

“…they all get indigestion!”

I guess people still make racist and sexist videos today, in ever greater numbers, probably, but at least they are no longer distributed by major entertainment companies and aimed at children. Perhaps we are making progress. Or is racism and sexism simply becoming more sophisticated?

Stephen King and the cannibal: THE OUTSIDER (2020) S01.E01 “Fish in a Barrel”

The Outsider is a mini-series (ten episodes in the Season) based on a STEPHEN KING novel – ‘nuff said? Well, actually there’s a lot more to be said. Richard Price is the Writer and Executive Producer; he adapted the novel for screen. Price is known for a lot of good stuff, including The Wire, The Deuce, The Night Of and Child 44, which had a similar theme – mutilated and chewed children. The stuff that nightmares are made of.

In Cherokee City, Georgia, detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn from Animal Kingdom and Bloodline) is called to a case which affects him greatly – a child has been murdered, a child about the same age as his kid, who died of cancer a while ago.

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A man walking his dog finds the mutilated corpse in a park. It is covered in saliva and human bite marks.

There’s teeth impressions around the edges.
Animal?
No.

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Ralph quickly finds heaps of evidence including security camera footage, as well as witnesses who identify teacher and Little League coach Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman from Arrested Development and Ozark, who also directed this episode).

Ralph, enraged, has Terry arrested very publicly at a Little League game.

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It seems like an open and shut case, until footage turns up from another town miles away of Terry asking questions at a conference, at the time of the murder. There is conclusive evidence of both his guilt and his innocence.

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Normally nope, but in a Stephen King story? A hooded figure is standing outside the little boy’s house, and Terry’s daughter is having wakeful nightmares, of a man in her room telling her “bad things”.

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The plot is taut and intriguing, and the cast is outrageously good: besides Bateman and Mendelsohn, fans of Hannibal will be delighted to see Hettienne Park, who played forensic investigator Beverly Katz in that show, until she went too far with Hannibal.

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The cannibalism is a bonus – I wanted to watch this show, and now I can blog it too!

It asks a key question of cannibal studies – who is the outsider? In classical literature, anyone outside the polis was an outsider, likely to eat you. In colonial times, the conquistadors were outsiders, enslaving or exterminating the indigenous populations of the lands they coveted, and in turn painting those tribes as outsiders, by accusing them of being, yes, cannibals. In recent times, the cannibal outsider has been hidden within our cities, chomping his or her way through fellow humans, but often, like Jeffrey Dahmer, considered by his neighbours, in shocked voices,  as a quiet loner and unremarkable. Like Terry Maitland. Who is the outsider in Cherokee City – the quiet teacher who is evidently both innocent and guilty, the mysterious hooded stranger who visits children in their waking dreams, or the traumatised cop who is trying to suppress his rage?

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The first episode is available for watching for free (if you’re in the US or have a VPN) at:

https://www.hbo.com/the-outsider

If not, there’s still a great interview there with Stephen King, Richard Price, Ben Mendelsohn and others.

You can also watch the opening scene, with the ravishing Mozart Piano Concerto 23 as the soundtrack, here.

 

Cannibals and Cops: “EATER” (Fear Itself S1E5, 2008)

“Eater” is the fifth episode of season one of the TV horror series Fear Itself, an American horror/suspense anthology television series shot in Canada. This episode, “Eater”, aired on NBC on Thursday, July 3rd, 2008. A later episode featured a Wendigo, and was reviewed last year.

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Officer Danny Bannerman (Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men, Handmaid’s Tale and Invisible Man) is a rookie cop assigned to watch a new prisoner in the Chesterton police holding cell.

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The prisoner, Duane Mellor (Stephen R. Hart), is an “eater” who has murdered 32 people in five different states, killing the men outright but torturing the women before finally killing and eating them, not necessarily in that order.

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In his wardrobe, they found garments made from the skins of his victims. “Just like Hannibal Lecter” says slob cop Marty (Stephen Lee), but Bannerman (her name is straight out of several Stephen King stories) puts them straight – it was Buffalo Bill of course. Hannibal just liked the flesh. As a keen fan of horror, she asks to see the arrest report.

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The Sergeant (Russell Hornsby) warns her: “Hannibal the Cannibal is make believe. This guy isn’t.” Except he is, and rather derivative too – he deconstructs the binary of gustatory (Hannibal) and sartorial (Bill) cannibalism. How postmodern can you get?

Mellor, it turns out, is Cajun, so of course there’s going to be voodoo. He starts chanting in his cell, the lights flicker, and Marty gives her a lecture on Cajun culture and cannibal theory:

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“Down on the Bayou, the Cajun, they use every part of their kill. They’ll take a big, ol’, fat ‘gator, they’ll eat all the flesh, they’ll take the hide, use it for shelter, for clothing, they’ll take the bones, use them for utensils, weapons. I think Mellor’s doing the exact same thing, just doing it with human beings, that’s all… Waste not, want not.”

They discuss the key questions of cannibal studies: why does he do it? “Sexual turn-on” suggests Bannerman, making Marty go all sweaty and silent. Until he sneaks up behind her as she tries to ask the killer about such things, and asks “have you ever wondered what it tastes like… human flesh?”

She replies “just like any other meat I guess”.

“No. I think it’s the power that gets them off… There’s an old voodoo saying that if you cut a man’s heart out and eat it before it stops beating, not only do you gain his strength, but you gain his spirit”.

Marty goes off to investigate a strange noise, Bannerman fetches the keys to the cell (which oddly I found the most disturbing part of the show) and goes to open the cell, and finds the cell unlocked, but the other cop, Mattingly (Pablo Schreiber from The Wire) tells the scared rookie “Stop being such a… woman”. Yes, fear is a female thing, apparently, or at least admitting to it. But shape-shifting – that’s a guy thing, in voodoo at least, and all the men are really Mellor. Maybe all men are eaters?

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The story is tight and taut, and the cast is superb. Elisabeth Moss, like Jodi Foster in Silence of the Lambs, is young and small enough for her vulnerability to engage our sympathy, but also smart, tough, resourceful and brave. Since being kidnapped in West Wing, Moss seems to have making a career in TV and movies where women take on vicious, violent men. This one is as vicious and violent as most of her Gilead mates. Scott Tobias of AV Club said: “If there’s ever been a gorier, nastier hour of network television, then I certainly can’t recall it”.

Now there’s a recommendation.

Director of this episode, Stuart Gordon, also did play about Armin Meiwes, the Rotenburg Cannibal, on the LA stage.

Eater is available (in four parts for some reason) on Youtube.

A complete listing of my Hannibal blogs can be accessed here.