“I’m just gonna make you my zombie”: DAHMER: MONSTER – The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (Murphy and Brennan, Netflix, 2022)

This new docudrama (I can’t believe that’s a word) is quite a big deal in the highly respected academic discipline of Cannibal Studies. While many people think of Hannibal Lecter when the subject of cannibalism arises, in terms of contemporary culture (and therefore putting aside the Donner Party for now), Jeffrey Dahmer, known as the “Milwaukee Cannibal”, is a crucial figure, not least because he really existed, we know a lot about him, and we have a good understanding of what he did. Dahmer typifies the modern cannibal in that he seems so unremarkable; we have seen, and perhaps remarked at, his cool demeanour and the fact that he seemed like just an ordinary, everyday boy next door.

There have been a few Dahmer movies and documentaries, including some interesting interviews with the man himself, arranged in jail, before a fellow prisoner caved his head in with a metal bar. This new one has a pedigree though. First of all because it is presented by Ian Brennan (Glee, Scream Queens, The Politician) and  Ryan Murphy, who signed a $300 million deal with Netflix in 2018 and who brought us such enormous and terrifying hits as Glee, Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story and American Horror Stories.

Monster – the Jeffrey Dahmer Story runs over ten episodes, released concurrently on September 21, 2022. The length alone (almost nine hours) makes it more comprehensive and immersive than the other treatments. It is also different to most serial killer / cannibal documentaries and films in that it is presented not from Dahmer’s point of view, but from that of those around him – the victims, but also the family and the neighbours (who had to put up with the appalling stench of death that always emanated from his rooms or apartments).

“We had one rule going into this from Ryan, that it would never be told from Dahmer’s point of view.”

The first episode drops us into the main event – Dahmer in his Milwaukee apartment, trolling gay bars and offering young men and boys money to come home with him for a photo session, where he drugs them and attempts to turn them into love zombies by drilling holes in their skulls and pouring acid into their brains. When this doesn’t work, he has sex with their corpses, and harvests their meat.

One man escapes and flags down the police, who arrest Dahmer. The series then turns back to his childhood, his parents’ messy divorce, and the isolation which left him free to hatch his murderous plots. Later, we meet some of his victims, and his neighbour Glenda Cleveland who repeatedly tried to notify the police and FBI of what she heard, saw and smelled, but was comprehensively ignored and even threatened for her interventions.

“What do you do in there? The smell, power tools going all hours of the night, I hear screaming coming from your apartment.”

Dahmer, threatened with eviction due to her complaints, offers her a sandwich, saying “I used to be a butcher. I made that just for you.” Glenda refuses to eat it, and we know why – it looks like a chicken sandwich (and probably is).

But our willing suspension of disbelief declares it human meat, which is not kosher in any religious tradition. He tells Glenda to “eat it!”

Most of this documentary is very true to the facts as we know them, but in any re-enactment, there will be gaps to fill in or characters that need to be heard, without filling the cast list with an unmanageable number of people to remember. So the sandwich was apparently a fact, but was not given to Glenda but to another neighbour, Pamela Bass, who thought he was a generous if shy young man, and admitted that she ended up eating it.

Glenda, played superbly by Niecy Nash (from Scream Queens and Claws), is a strong woman caught in one of those nightmares where you know there is horror, but no one will believe you.

She demands to know what is in the sandwich.

“It’s just meat… It’s like a, uh, pulled pork.”

This is a regular theme of cannibal texts: they remind us that humans are animals, and our flesh and organs are made of meat. It’s a popular meme on animal rights social media sites. This one shows the real Dahmer, in case you’ve forgotten what he looked like.

Dahmer was looking for love, but he was not willing to risk losing it, so he tried to conscript his victims as undead zombies or as corpses, skeletons, or just happy meals. He showed affection – he is seen lying with his corpses, holding their hands, preserving their body parts. He loved them in much the same way that farmers often claim to love their cattle, sheep, pigs, etc, just before putting them on the abattoir trucks.

Dahmer is played brilliantly by Evan Peters (American Horror Story, X-Men, Mare of Easttown), who looks a lot like Dahmer, but with a touch of the young Malcolm McDowell – imagine Clockwork Orange but with cannibalism. If you want to know what Dahmer might have looked like forty years after his arrest, check out McDowell in Antiviral.

Jeffrey Dahmer murdered and dismembered seventeen men and boys between 1978 and 1991, thirteen years during which the police had no clue about his serial murder spree and, some might say, didn’t care much, since most of the victims were people of colour. And this is the heart of this rendition of Dahmer’s story – he was protected by the racism and incompetence of the American justice system. Here was a clean-cut white man, and people of colour disappear without trace all the time, apparently, so the police did not bother him, while the judges treated him as just a naughty boy.  Glenda’s frantic calls were met with apathy or rudeness.

He kept getting away with everything – one of the most extraordinary moments is shown in flashback in episode 2. On May 27, 1991, Glenda Cleveland called the police to Dahmer’s apartment after her daughter, Sandra Smith, and her niece, Nicole Childress, found a bleeding, naked and incoherent boy on the street who was running from Dahmer. Dahmer appeared, white and polite, and told the police that the boy was his 19 years old boyfriend.

He said the boy was drunk and they had been in an argument, and so the cops helped him take the boy back to his apartment, had a quick look around, made homophobic remarks about AIDS, and left the boy there.

The boy was bleeding from a hole drilled in his skull. After the police left, he was dead within the hour. It was later discovered that the boy was 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone, Dahmer’s 13th victim. Incredibly, Dahmer was actually on parole for an earlier arrest for the molestation of another child, who was one of Konerak’s older brothers.

When Cleveland spotted Konerak’s photo in a missing person alert in the newspaper days later, she realised he was the young boy Dahmer had claimed was his boyfriend. She contacted the police and the FBI yet again, but they didn’t even return her call. Five of Dahmer’s seventeen murders, including that of Konerak, were carried out after Cleveland began contacting police. All but three of Dahmer’s victims were non-white.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson, a leader in the Civil Rights movement since the time of MLK, got involved in the case despite the urgings of some of his supporters, who didn’t think the movement should be linked to “a gay serial killer who eats people”. But as he says:

“I realised it was not just a gruesome horror show. It’s a metaphor for all the social ills that plague our nation. Bad policing, underserved communities, the low value we assign to our young Black and brown men, especially if they happen to be gay.”

The old profiling stereotypes no longer work, in fact never did. Dahmer was a serial killer who was ignored by the law for thirteen years, because he was white and male. In the Soviet Union at the same time, Andrei Chikatilo was killing and eating parts of over fifty women and children, ignored by the police force, because serial killing was considered impossible in the “workers’ paradise”. But those profiles still endure: a Black man on the street is instantly suspected of criminal intent, a white man, even Jeffrey Dahmer, is largely untouchable. In that sense, society dehumanises the poor, the coloured, the disabled, just as effectively as Dahmer did to his prey.

As the philosopher Michel Foucault observed, the world outside was a scary place filled with monsters up to the seventeeth century, and those monsters were thought to be probably criminals. But in modern times, the criminal is considered likely to be a monster. Ancient monsters were recognisable – usually grotesque and often hybrids of humans and other animals. But the contemporary monster looks, speaks and eats pretty much like the rest of us. Like Jeffrey Dahmer – the boy next door.

Having old friends for dinner – YELLOWJACKETS (episode 1, 2021)

This new Showtime series (this first episode aired November 14 2021) crosses many genres. There’s the whole Mean Girls range of stories about the angst of going through puberty and surviving high school, where everyone else seems desperate to drag you down in order to lift themselves up. There’s the Lost genre of survival stories that started with Robinson Crusoe (first published in 1719) and its bastard child, Gilligan’s Island. There’s psychological thrillers and murder mysteries with a twist like Psycho. And, of course, there is cannibalism, the subject of this humble blog. Yellowjackets is all the above, with an ensemble cast.

Yellowjackets jumps between eras, with the main characters portrayed by teenage (or close) actors in 1996, and adult actors as them 25 years later – now. The pilot episode shows a terrified girl running barefoot through the snow before she plunges into a bear pit. Then we’re back in grungy 1996, surrounded by teenage angst and jealousy, following the girls in a champion New Jersey soccer team called the “Yellowjackets” as they prepare to fly from New Jersey to Seattle for a championship match. A yellowjacket is a predatory wasp who attends picnics and can get very antisocial very quickly. It’s a nice metaphor.

The plane crashes in a frozen Canadian wilderness; it’s one of those stories where our pretensions of human supremacy are stripped away by the fragility of our technology and the awesome and indifferent might of nature. Right away, we are thinking Alive, the story of the Uruguayan footballers who crashed in the Andes in 1972 and survived on the flesh of their dead teammates. The action moves back and forth from the pre-crash period to the present, as the survivors interact and relive their guilt and PTSD, which have been festering for 25 years. There is a deep, dark secret which is not fully revealed in the first episode (although it’s mentioned prominently in every review). We see that girl falling into the trap and being impaled on stakes, her bloody body being dragged through the snow then strung from a tree and sliced open.

We see her meat being cooked and served to a group of girls in animal furs and full savage garb, including the horned headdress that is the symbol of primitive cannibals in so many movies.

Later episodes will show that the girls didn’t sit about and discuss divinity like the Uruguayan footballers in Alive. We viewers are in on the secret – they split into warring, cannibalistic tribes and survived on human flesh, but not necessarily already dead bodies like Alive. These girls go hunting girls. And like many cannibal narratives, including most of the “evidence” presented by missionaries and explorers to demonstrate the savage nature of the people they were invading, the evidence is often more to do with the detritus left from the feast than the feast itself.

This is Alive meets Lord of the Flies, but with girls. Although the movies of Lord of the Flies did not offer any explicit cannibalism, Golding’s book made it pretty clear that the other boys intended to do to Ralph what they did to the pig they captured, i.e. a barbecue. This post-war (well justified) pessimism about the way our thin veneer of civilisation can so easily be stripped from us was the origin of both the misanthropic 1960s view of society and, later, reality TV; and the two are profoundly related.

Lord of the Flies showed us that boys will be boys (AKA vicious cannibals). Mean Girls showed us the hidden savagery in teenage girls. Yellowjackets puts these together and shows girls as cannibals, which makes it that much more sensational. We’ve seen cannibal girls in films like, well, Cannibal Girls, where the cannibalism derives from supernatural sources, and The Lure, which shows us the dangers of hooking up with human/fish hybrids, but this may be different, unless the producers decide to introduce some sort of entities driving the cannibal mayhem (please don’t). So far, Yellowjackets seems to be much more interesting than just another Wendigo story; it’s what Freud (in The Future of an Illusion) warned about when he spoke of the “instinctual wishes” for cannibalism, incest and murder that live in each of us, and are “born afresh with every child.” We are barely capable of civilised interactions in high school, so how are we going to relate to each other in a disaster? We are animals who deny our animality, and we normally consume each other in such polite, socially acceptable ways. Until we don’t.

The series was created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson (Narcos and Dispatches from Elsewhere), who were inspired to do the show when they saw the scorn social media keyboard warriors poured on the idea of a female Lord of the Flies. In a New York Times interview, Lyle recalls an on-line comment she read that inspired her to conceive Yellowjackets:

One man’s comment read, “What are they going to do? Collaborate to death?”
Lyle recalled what she immediately thought in response: “You were never a teenage girl, sir.”

The first episode is directed by Karyn Kusama, who seems to specialise in movies about female rage, including the wonderful Jennifer’s Body.

With 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this is one to watch, and maybe keep watching.

“It’s primitive as can be”: GILLIGAN’S ISLAND (1964-67)

A tweet making waves the other day from film director James Gunn reminded me of the many hours I wasted spent as a child watching the seemingly endless travails of the seven castaways on the TV series Gilligan’s Island. Being shipwrecked on a desert island with Mary Ann and Ginger did not seem such an ordeal to my pubescent mind, except every now and the group would be threatened by the arrival of – yep – CANNIBALS!

English professor Priscilla Walton observes that her first encounter with cannibals was also on her television, watching the enormously popular show. The series ran from 1964-67 over some 98 episodes plus occasional reunion movies.

Gilligan’s Island (GI) was a clever reboot of the first English language novel, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (even mentioning that story in the closing song).

“No phone, no lights, no motor car, not a single luxury. Like Robinson Crusoe, they’re primitive as can be.”

Unlike Defoe’s story, Gilligan (Bob Denver) was not a lone survivor of a shipwreck but the hapless “first mate” on a little cruise boat, The Minnow. Gilligan, his skipper (Alan Hale) and five tourists left a tropical port for a three-hour tour, and instead were marooned on an uncharted island, apparently interminably. Various commentators with too much time on their hands have suggested that the seven castaways represent the seven deadly sins (e.g. Ginger was lust and Mary Ann envy). I’m not going near that one, fascinating as it is, because this is a cannibal blog after all. And cannibalism is neither illegal, nor one of the seven deadly sins. It just misses out on all the gongs.

Robinson Crusoe worried ceaselessly about his lack of company, eventually adopting Friday, a local ‘savage’ whom he rescued from a tribe of cannibals. He also spent a lot of the book and some of the movies worried about what to eat, and nervous that Friday might eat him. Like those of us marooned on this planet rather than an island, major preoccupations are always fear and appetite. Appetite is all about food and sex. Fear is about being killed and perhaps eaten.

The obsessions of Gilligan and the other all-white islanders were the same. Of course, it was the sixties, so no sex could be shown except for the movie star, Ginger (Tina Louise) who used her flirty charms to inflame and coax the men into various (non-sexual) activities. But – what did the castaways eat? Well, it was an island, so presumably the would eat sea animals, as well as various plants (including some that grew from a box of radioactive seeds in one episode). There seemed to be a lot of coconut pies.

Then of course, like Crusoe, there were the natives who, like most depictions of indigenous peoples until fairly recently, were assumed to be primitive savages and so, ipso facto, cannibals. No evidence was presented, and no one was ever eaten. From the earliest days of the movie, and well before, indigenous peoples who were being dispossessed by European explorers were declared cannibals, with no evidence needed other than their lack of “civilisation.” Think of movies like Cannibal Holocaust and the various Italian movies of that period, or old classics like Windbag the Sailor, Be My King, or the early racist cartoons like Jungle Jitters.

Sheer Eurocentric racism of course, as I suppose was the choice of the Irish name “Gilligan” for the show’s clown, a boy/man who is usually responsible for thwarting their rescue through his clueless blunderings. The “natives” were invariably people of colour wearing grass skirts with bone piercings in ears, noses, etc and horns on their heads. This probably is the image that springs to mind even now when a cannibal scholar mentions cannibalism in polite company – primitive savages who threaten our safety and bodies if we fall into their clutches. Of course, as Walton points out, the island was the traditional home of the “natives” – it was Gilligan and the castaways who were the intruders, introducing baffling technology and probably a few new pandemics to the locals. There’s a comprehensive study of GI Natives on a Gilligan fandom page. Yes Virginia, there is a GI fandom site.

But the cannibal has moved on. From the outsider who was only sighted by explorers or conquistadors, the cannibal has firmly come home and, since the time of Jack the Ripper who boasted of eating the kidney of one of his victims, the vast majority of reports of cannibalism involve people in urban cities and communities eating their neighbours. Generally, they are dismissed as psychotic personalities who know not what they do. That discourse has become ever less convincing, with cannibals like Fritz Haarmann or Armin Meiwes or even Jeffrey Dahmer all seeming to know exactly what they were doing. The ultimate example of the civilised, enlightened, urbane cannibal is of course Hannibal Lecter, who simply sees eating inferior or rude humans as no worse than eating pigs or fish. Unlike the other examples, Hannibal is fictional, but perfectly represents the cultural trend toward the modern, domestic cannibal.

So, who would the cannibals have been in a re-booted Gilligan’s Island? There are clues. While the men seem largely asexual (Gilligan and the Skipper could perhaps be considered bunk-mates, while the Professor is married to science and Thurston Howell III to Lovey and therefore to asexual domesticity), the women are given standard feminine stereotypes of the virgin (Mary Ann), the whore (Ginger) and the symbolic mother (Lovey). Barbara Creed‘s “The Monstrous-Feminine” emphasises the importance of gender in the construction of female monsters, and so it is not totally surprising that when people turn their fantasies beyond the wholesome storyline of the series, it is the gentle, subservient Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) who becomes the knife-wielding cannibal.

The 2002 comic strip Cool Jerk (above) depicted Mary Ann, or maybe a look-alike, as a cannibal named Mary Annibal. The Silence of the Lambs had swept the Oscars in 1992, and the sequel, Hannibal, had come out in a blaze of publicity in 2001.

Cannibalism on a desert island (or in an inaccessible place like the Andes) is a long tradition, and a rich source of humour. Above is the cover of the Horror Society’s Summer 2015 issue. Can you spot the Cannibal Holocaust reference?

More recently, James Gunn, the director of Guardians of the Galaxy, Suicide Squad and many others (and a known provocateur with a wicked sense of humour) suggested that he and Charlie Kaufman had wanted to restart “Gilligan Kimishima” as a cannibal movie. He tweeted an image of his entry in a Twitter trend that asked people to “pitch a movie with two pictures, no captions.” He juxtaposed the GI tribe with Theodor de Bry’s 16th century engravings of the Tupinambá in Brazil, a series of engravings he based on the sensational accounts of Hans Staden and Jean de Léry, both of whom gave graphic descriptions of cannibalism (hey, it sells books).

Gunn went on to explain that this was a true story. He and Charlie Kaufman had pitched a movie version of Gilligan’s Island to Warner Bros. in which the starving castaways would kill and eat each other. Unfortunately, the creator of GI, Sherwood Schwartz (and later his estate) refused to let it go ahead.

Such a shame. Of course, most of the original GI actors are now dead (Dawn Wells sadly died from COVID-19 just before New Year), but with modern artificial intelligence and deepfake technology, who says we couldn’t have a cannibal feast on an avatar Gilligan’s Island? It would at least be white meat.

Keep “me” out of meat – BOB’S BURGERS Episode 1, “Human Flesh”

Bob’s Burgers is a hugely popular animated sitcom that has been running since 2011. It has been renewed for a 12th and 13th season, and has spun off a comic book series, a soundtrack album and a movie which, although delayed by the pandemic, is due for release in 2022. TV Guide ranked it among the sixty greatest TV cartoons. Bob and his family have even appeared in a “couch gag” in an episode of The Simpsons, a show that has had its own cannibal stories. This first episode, Human Flesh, aired on Fox on January 9 2011 and was viewed in 9.41 million homes in the US.

Bob’s Burgers is due to reopen after a series of disasters, staffed by his family – his wife Linda (John Roberts) and three kids. The Health Inspector arrives to investigate reports that Bob’s burgers are made out of human meat from the crematorium next door, a rumour started by youngest daughter Louise (Kristen Schaal from Flight of the Conchords and Last Man on Earth) at her school ‘show and tell’.

The Health Inspector is a jilted lover of Linda and tells Bob (H. Jon Benjamin):

“We’ll test your meat. If it contains human flesh anything above the four percent allowable by the FDA, then your restaurant will be closed, and you, sir, will be going to jail!”

The public response is to run screaming from the door, although one old lady says she’d try it, and at least there’s no waiting line.

An angry mob gathers outside the shop.

Bob addresses them, appealing to them to consider the living, rather than the dead.

“we mistreat the living and no one seems to care, but once that body’s dead, it’s ‘don’t mistreat the dead body, hey, don’t eat the dead body, that’s the ultimate crime, right? Murder, no big deal; cannibal? Whoaaa!

The burger shop is saved when the “adventurous eaters’ club turns up wanting to try human flesh burgers, willing to pay $50 each. The health inspectors return to announce that their test showed “100% Grade A beef” but Bob shouts them down.

The restaurant is saved. But we never get the answer to Bob’s question.  Why is it OK to mistreat each other (and the unfortunate animals who are made into his beef) but not eat the human dead, the only beings in this equation who cannot suffer?

The show’s creator, Loren Bouchard, told The Hollywood Reporter that the original concept of the show was a family of cannibals running a restaurant, but Fox talked him out of it.

Seems like a missed opportunity to me.

Here is the original concept cartoon, with Linda assuming that a ring on a corpse’s hand (from a pile about to go in the meat grinder) is her anniversary present from Bob.

“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/