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

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

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

vlcsnap-00003.jpg

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

vlcsnap-00004.jpg

vlcsnap-00005.jpg

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

vlcsnap-00022.jpg

vlcsnap-00023.jpg

vlcsnap-00024.jpg

Until Frank takes to him with a pickaxe.

vlcsnap-00008.jpg

vlcsnap-00009.jpg

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

vlcsnap-00010.jpg

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

vlcsnap-00018.jpg

vlcsnap-00019.jpg

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

vlcsnap-00027.jpg

The narrator sums up

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

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

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

vlcsnap-00046.jpg

That’s what makes cannibal studies so fascinating.

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

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

vlcsnap-00002.jpg

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

 

So many snacks; so little time: “VENOM” (Fleischer, 2018)

vlcsnap-00040.jpg

Venom is a character from the Marvel Universe, originally seen in Spider-man #252 (May 1984) as a living costume (honest!) then becoming a symbiote which took over Spidey (remember the black spider-man outfit?). So, if you’ll pardon the arachnid pun, this movie is a spin-off.

vlcsnap-00090.jpg
The genius behind Marvel – Stan Lee – in the last cameo released before his death

Amazing-Spiderman-252-Venom-Brooklyn-Comic-Shop-1.jpg

OK, so I’ll try to keep this short, because you’re reading this on the web (sorry, I just can’t help myself).

ASM-252-04.jpg

There’s a billionaire (Riz Ahmed from Nightcrawler) who wants to send us into space (not naming names, but there are about three such billionaires in the news at the moment). He sees the future of the species as more important than the lives of the marginalised people on whom he tests his drugs, and whom he “merges” with his aliens.

vlcsnap-00014.jpg

vlcsnap-00016.jpg

He has (had) a spaceship, which picked up some symbiotic forms from a meteor; one of those aliens caused the ship to crash on re-entry to earth.

We get the definite impression these things are not too human-friendly, as one of them kills the crew of an ambulance, in a scene that is highly reminiscent of Hannibal’s escape in Silence of the Lambs.

vlcsnap-00001.jpg

vlcsnap-00002.jpg
That’s Hannibal Lecter of course, wearing an Officer Pembry mask

The main character is Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy, an extremely versatile English actor who was playing a Russian in a recent movie review, and is here playing an American). Eddie is an investigative journalist, which apparently requires a lot of chutzpah and some very fast motorcycle stunts. His fiancée is a lawyer named Anne Weying (Michelle Williams from lots of great movies, including Brokeback Mountain). Anne is working for a law firm that is defending the billionaire, but Eddy knows the password on her computer and finds out stuff he isn’t supposed to know about wrongful deaths caused by the company (didn’t we see that plot point on Billions?)

Anyway, he asks the billionaire difficult questions and he and Anne both get fired, because he clearly got the scoop from her. She breaks off the engagement, Eddie ends up down and out, and helpless – he can’t even defend his local convenience store manager from a dude with a gun who comes in for “protection” money on a regular basis.

vlcsnap-00010.jpg

But hey, there are symbiotes out there, looking for some human interaction, and they have teeth that would make the dental association wet themselves. The one that winds up inside Eddie is named Venom, one of the ones from the billionaire’s lab, and he has been through several hosts, most of which have died because they are not compatible. Then there’s the other one that killed the ambulance crew, and has since killed a lot more people, and he is mad, bad and dangerous to host.vlcsnap-00038.jpg

Eddie being a nice guy leads to Venom becoming nice (ish) too and agreeing to oppose the plot to bring the other symbiotes to earth, where they intend to feast on humans – they’ve figured out there are plenty of us to go around.

Venom takes over a cute doggie and then moves into Anne, who comes to save Eddie from the bad guys, leading to an awkward kiss between him and the symbiotic version of Anne, now in slinky black alien shape.

vlcsnap-00085.jpg

Of course, to save Eddie, Anne has to take some fairly drastic action, in her Venom persona.

vlcsnap-00086.jpg

There are some great action sequences involving bikes and drones and cars (leaping off the ground in standard San Fran car chase mode) and a pretty awesome battle between Venom and the nasty alien.

vlcsnap-00037.jpg

Everyone thinks  the aliens have gone, but in fact Venom is still inside Eddie and they are now true sybiotes: two beings in one body. He can turn back into Venom when required, and Venom is almost always hungry, and he doesn’t like dead meat.

vlcsnap-00025.jpg

So we come to the point of having this movie in a cannibalism blog. They come to an understanding: they won’t eat any nice humans, but very, very bad ones – that’s fine.

A succinct statement of the ethics of cannibalism. Hannibal would have amended it to “rude people”, but philosophers get to make their own ethical maxims. And so it is that he, or they, eat the rude, violent dude in the convenience store.

vlcsnap-00111vlcsnap-00108

Look, it’s not a great movie, and the critics were quite rude, with a pretty ordinary score of 28% on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie-going public felt differently, and the box office so far is over $850 million, which is an almost mind-boggling figure, even for a movie in which the hero bites off people’s heads. I guess people love to see (other) humans being eaten. Is this a cannibal movie? Well, half the main character is human, so I guess it’s half a cannibal film.

So what’s next for a nice guy who occasionally becomes an alien cannibal and eats rude people? Hannibal would approve of Venom’s answer:

“The way I see it, we can do whatever we want”.

vlcsnap-00039.jpg

vlcsnap-00107.jpg

IF YOU LIKE MY BLOG, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO RECOMMEND IT (WITH DISCRETION) TO FRIENDS ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS, YOU CAN USE THE TAG, OR EMAIL ME  ON CANNIBALSTUDIES@GMAIL.COM.

Dust to dessert – “To Serve Man” (Bare, Twilight Zone, 1962)

to-serve-man-the-twilight-zone

“To Serve Man” was episode 89 of the hugely popular television series Twilight Zone, which ran from 1959-64. This episode is written by Rod Serling who introduced each episode, and is based on a 1950 short story by a science-fiction master, Damon Knight. The television episode moves the action to its own time, where it introduces 1960s politics: the Berlin blockade and the wars in Algeria and Indo-China.

In contrast to all this conflict and confrontation comes a stunning discovery: alien spaceships are landing near cities all over the world. The Secretary-General of the UN, (played by Hardie Albright – fun fact: one of the voices of Bambi), announces that one of the spacecraft has landed near the UN building, and one of the aliens is on his way to the UN to address the people of Earth. The aliens are called Kanamits, and Serling tells us about them:

“Respectfully submitted for your perusal – a Kanamit. Height: a little over nine feet. Weight: in the neighbourhood of three hundred and fifty pounds. Origin: unknown. Motives? Therein hangs the tale, for in just a moment, we’re going to ask you to shake hands, figuratively, with a Christopher Columbus from another galaxy and another time. This is the Twilight Zone.”

rodserling_arangel_P

Now, Columbus created much havoc in South America, where he coined the term “cannibal”, a mis-hearing of the name of the Carib tribe, and a misunderstanding of their eating habits. But this lot, the Kanamits, seem like good guys. The 3m dude says (without moving his lips – it’s all done by telepathy):

“Our intentions are honourable. We desire above all things to help the people of Earth.”

peace

The narration points out how unlikely this seemed: “as a race, we’re unaccustomed to charity. Brutality is a far more universal language to us.”

They offer things normally only seen in science fiction or election manifestos – a power source which can supply a whole country for the cost of a few dollars. A cheap nitrate, which can be added to the soil to end famine for good. An impenetrable force field, which nations can use as a defensive shield. “It was the age of Santa Claus”.

to serve man

Michael Chambers (Lloyd Bochner), a cryptography expert, is asked by the military to translate the book the Kanamits have left on the table of the UN (why would they do that?) Anyway, it’s a very different language from a different galaxy, so he and his team have no idea where to start. Also, he thinks that maybe the military are “looking a gift horse in the mouth”, worried that with the alien imposed peace and prosperity, the armed forces will be out of a job. Then his assistant, Patty (Susan Cummings), bursts in with the news that they have deciphered the title of the book. It is: “TO SERVE MAN”. Chambers calls this “a reasonably altruistic phrase”, although the others are more cautious. But the deserts bloom, armies are mothballed, and thousands of earthlings are invited to board the spaceships and visit the Kanamit home planet. As the guests embark, a smiling Kanamit weighs each person.

Patty is still working on the book, but explains that the capital letters on the title she translated are different to the lower case letters in the book. THIS is what’s holding them up? Anyway, as Chambers starts to board, Patty arrives, having broken the code. She shouts the famous line to him:

Its a cookbook
 

“To serve man: it’s a cookbook!”

 

She has proved that paraprosdokians somehow work fine in any language, even transgalactically.

Confined on board, Chambers turns to the camera, breaking the fourth wall, which was pretty revolutionary in those days. He asks us:

“How about you? You still on earth, or on the ship with me? It doesn’t make very much difference, because sooner or later we’ll all of us be on the menu. All of us.”

Rod Serling sums up in a more profound explication:

“Simply stated, the evolution of man. The cycle of going from dust to dessert. The metamorphosis from being the ruler of a planet, to the ingredient in someone’s soup.”

There’s the rub. We love to think of ourselves as the “alpha predator” (except when we are surrounded by sharks or crocodiles). But what if we weren’t? What if someone else saw us the way we see animals like cows, pigs, sheep and chickens? Is the fear of cannibalism just the fear of being eaten by humans, or also the fear that civilised people (regardless of galaxy) can be just as fierce and brutal as nature, red in tooth and claw? Aliens eating us can be just as disturbing as cannibals, particularly when they look like us, such as in Under The Skin (Glazer, 2013).

When Hannibal Lecter decides some of us are rude and can only be improved by cooking, are his feelings of superiority different to the Kanamit? To eat a human or any other animal requires objectification: turning an individual into a commodity. We do it to our prey. The Kanamits do it to theirs. Are they wrong? Are we?

The full episode is on Youtube:

If you like my blog, please feel free to recommend it (with discretion) to friends on social media.
If you have any questions or comments, you can use the tag, or email me  on cannibalstudies@gmail.com.