“I did it… Meiwes!” CANNIBAL (Marian Dora, 2006)

Cannibal was the directorial debut of the German director Marian Dora in 2006, and is basically a re-enactment of the famous case of Armin Meiwes (pronounced like the Sinatra song “I did it my way”), the so-called ‘Rotenburg Cannibal’. Meiwes was a German computer technician who was into “vorarephilia” (sexual attraction to eating, or being eaten by, another). He advertised on the Internet for a man who was willing to be killed and eaten, and ended up doing both of those things to an engineer named Bernd Jürgen Brandes whose greatest desire was to be eaten. Unlike most crime re-enactments, this one was easy to research, because Meiwes videotaped most of the killing, butchering and eating of Brandes. We’ve met Meiwes in a couple of earlier blogs: in Grimm Love an American researcher (Keri Russell) searches for the videotape and then freaks out when she gets hold of it. The documentary Copycat Killer covered the famous case with lots of dramatic music and comparisons to Hannibal Lecter, which was absurd. The Australian comedy Rake also did a great simplified version of it with the wonderful Hugo Weaving as both an economics professor and a cannibal (which is more terrifying?).

Marian Dora is a pseudonym used by a film-maker whose real name is shrouded in mystery. Probably for good reason – his first two releases were included in anthologies of short films named Blue Snuff 1 and Blue Snuff 2, the latter of which was withdrawn due to its extremely graphic content. He then went on to work with Ulli Lommel on a number of crime/slasher films.

This film was assigned to Dora by Lommel, but proved too rich for Lommel’s taste, and Dora ended up releasing it himself, direct to video. Really? Too rich for Ulli Lommel, whose grisly bio of Fritz Haarmann we reviewed earlier this year? Well, that’s promising. Lommel went on to make his own version of the Meiwes story, with the protagonist changed to female for some reason. This was also called Cannibal at first, then changed to Diary of a Cannibal, and has graced the “Bottom 100” lists of Yahoo and IMDB ever since. We… might get to it one day. Maybe.

Meiwes and Brandes are not named in this film – the eater is just called “The Man” and the eaten “The Flesh”. There is very little dialogue, except for the Man’s mother reading him Hansel and Gretel at the beginning (when he was presumably called the Boy), presumably turning him into a cannibal (didn’t that happen to everyone who read the Brothers Grimm?)

We then Get To See A Selection Of The Man’s preferred reading matter: cannibal art by Hieronymus Bosch and Hans Staden, books on Jeffrey Dahmer, and some interesting texts on anatomy and butchering, which he will find handy later.

We see the Man having a series of meetings with a bunch of guys (and one woman) he has contacted on internet chats, all of whom turn out to be not that serious about going through with the whole, you know, kill me and eat me thing. The woman might have been ready, but he writes, “Women are too important for the survival of mankind.” Pretty much how the dairy and egg industries operate, when they sex the calves and chicks and immediately kill the males.

He even meets up with a couple of kids, not presumably through the web, but seems to prefer his meat aged and consensual.

The Man finally meets the Flesh, who introduces himself,

“I’m your flesh”

But then adds:

“I don’t want to suffer”

Yeah, no probs, mate; the Man stops on the way home from picking up the Flesh at the railway station to buy some schnapps and some cough medicine.

Then after a game of petanque and some sweaty sex, the Flesh won’t feel a thing. Hmmm.

“You’ll become a part of me”

Seems to me to be a bit of a misunderstanding of how the alimentary system works. However.

Once they enter the house, the movie becomes very dark. Literally – one of those movies where it’s hard to see what the hell is going on. They’re going to have sex, one of them is going to eat the other, but first, a nice cuppa tea.

There’s a lot of plinky-plonky music and sex scenes which drag on interminably, and end with the Flesh anally penetrating the Man. No one was expecting that. Isn’t cannibalism supposed to be about dominance? It’s an interesting conflict. They curl up on the floor together and, when they awake, the Flesh demands the Man bite off his penis. My thoughts immediately went to Monty Python (“ergh! With a gammy leg?”) at the thought of biting his penis after anal sex; but hey, call me old fashioned. Anyway, the Flesh is not called the Teeth or even Jaws, and can’t do more than draw blood, a kind of ineffective circumcision, and the Flesh growls:

“You are too weak!”

Freud would have had an orgasm of his own at this point – we have power, guilt and of course male fears which, he said, were based around the act of castration, usually due to the fear of the father’s anger at the boy’s Oedipal desires. But this man is too weak to eat him! Perhaps because he needs to eat. They need to merge before they can merge. It’s another challenge. But as Freud said, the cannibal “only devours people of whom he is fond”, which is why, according to Brigid Brophy, Christians eat God to affirm the love of the Father. The Man is seeking the transubstantiation of the Flesh.

So anyway, the Man does what any man does when his lover is disappointed – runs for the cough medicine; let’s knock him out! But then they both fall asleep, seeming to decide that this wasn’t such a hot idea. When they wake, it seems like it’s all over, but they are a stubborn pair – a splash of water on his face and the Flesh is ready and raring to get ate. This time they pick up prescription sleeping tablets at the pharmacy – Stilnox, very popular among Australian athletes apparently, and the Flesh washes it down with a bottle of brandy.

“Castrate me, then kill me. Do it now.”

The Man sets up the video (and this is all pretty much as it happened – Meiwes did videotape the whole procedure, which helped the police considerably during the court case). He puts on a record of church music, and fetches a knife. We get to see a lengthy scene of Bobbitting (hint – don’t try amateur anaesthesia at home: the cough medicine and booze don’t work very well).

He fries the severed cock up with some garlic (yep, all true to the actual case) but they find it tough and inedible. They spit it out (in the real case they fed it to Meiwes’ dog, but the sensible dogs of Germany refused to sign up for this movie).

Then the rest of the film is the killing of the Flesh and the preparation of his flesh. The Man puts the Flesh in the bathtub to bleed out, and reads a Jerry Cotton book while he waits. This is an outrageous fictionalisation – Meiwes in fact read a Star Trek novel. Ah well, poetic licence.

When the Flesh refuses to die by the time the Man finishes his book, the Man drags him out of the bath, vomiting, urinating and defecating, and lays him out in the Schlachthof he has set up, arms outstretched like the Broken Christ, then cuts his throat.

The final twenty minutes or so of this film (if anyone is still watching) is clinical – a masterclass in butchery. The Flesh is strung up by his feet and the Man disembowels him in great detail, vomiting as he does so. The Flesh, already dehumanised, is now deanimalised too; he is simply a carcass being prepared for the meat chiller.

I loved this review from Letterboxd which complains that the movie describes:

“how a cannibal prepares his food, everything is in detail and the scene came exactly when I was going to have my breakfast fuck me it’s like the movie knew when I’m going to eat my food, this has happened quite a few times with me now and its getting creepy 😂”

Scott Weinberg of DVD Talk wrote,

“One of the sickest and freakiest movies ever to come from a nation well-known for its freaky and sick movies (Germany)”

To me, the butchery was not the most abject part of the film; it was the sort of thing you might see in an instructional video for abattoir workers, except not with the usual species of victim. The defecation and vomiting were harder to take, but I guess that is subjective. All in all, most people will find something to disgust them in this film, and perhaps that was the point. It’s disgusting, but it’s not that different to what we get minimum-pay workers in slaughterhouses to do eight hours a day to some seventy billion animals every year. Unless the special effects budget was huge (not obvious from the rest of the film), a real animal was gutted and chopped up to make this film, which is actually the sickest part of it.

The butchery is shown in loving detail and for extended time. It lets us experience what it would be like to do that (I’m guessing most of us have not butchered an animal, human or otherwise). Being his first time, the Man keeps stopping to either snack on some flesh or to remorsefully throw up; pretty sure neither would be encouraged in the industrial meat corporation.

For a real slaughterhouse worker, wielding the cleaver would be sickening the first time, then boring for the hours thereafter. We see the Flesh reduced to just meat cuts. As King Lear said, when stripped of civilisation:

“unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, fork’d animal”

If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, there is an excellent and hilarious summary by Mike Bracken “The Horror Geek” which had me laughing out loud several times, despite the content.

At the end of the film, the Man has a nice Flesh dinner (the Flesh is present at the table, short of one body), then jerks off to his home movie, and next morning is all scrubbed up, in a nice suit, and trotting off to meet his potential next sacrifice. In fact, Meiwes was eventually caught because he advertised for another victim a few months later, when he started running out of Brandes. Meiwes is still in jail in Germany, and is now apparently a vegetarian.

As I said, we know very little about the director, except that Dora is not his real name, and that he is vegetarian and works as a physician. After watching this movie, you’ll understand why he wants to remain anonymous. Perhaps also why he’s a vegetarian.

The Beautiful Child: GRETEL AND HANSEL (Osgood Perkins, 2020)

Here’s Horror royalty: the classic “fairy tale” from the Brothers Grimm, directed by Oz Perkins, son of the one and only Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho). Oz is also an actor – he appeared as the young Norman Bates in Psycho II.

The witch, bloodthirsty and cannibalistic, is in many ways the exemplar of what Barbara Creed calls the monstrous feminine – and her victims are most often children, which is perhaps why children love stories about witches. Some adults dismiss children’s stories as light-weight and simplistic. But kids interpret the world through what they see, and the stories they hear. What kids understand is their own powerlessness – parents and teachers have control, and their youthful grasp of justice can make that seem uncomfortable or even intolerable. The bildungsroman, the coming of age story, is all about finding their power, in the face of seemingly inexorable oppression.

The usual title of this story is Hansel and Gretel, the 1812 Grimm story of the children who are abandoned in the forest and find an enchanted gingerbread house in which lives a cannibalistic witch, who fattens up Hansel for her dinner. The story is an important one in cannibal studies – even Hannibal quotes it from time to time.

Perkins has reversed the title deliberately to make Gretel (Sophia Lillis from It) the older child, a girl on the verge of womanhood, who must unwillingly take responsibility for her little brother Hansel (Sam Leakey in his debut role), see through the deceptions and dangers of adults, and make decisions that can be literally life and death, eater or eaten.

There is a fairy story within the story:

“The beautiful child in her little pink cap”

It tells of a little girl who was saved from a fatal illness by an enchantress, but,

The child was granted second sight. People came to hear what she saw, but did not like what she said.

She had other powers, and could deliver death to anyone, even her own father.

Fairy stories have morals, and the moral of the beautiful child, and Hansel and Gretel, is

Their mother sends them out to offer her services to a local lecher, who takes advantage of a “terrible pestilence” (sounds familiar) and asks the young girl

Furious at Gretel’s refusal to sell her body to help with the finances, the mother chases them out with an axe. Their world, once they are alone, is one of mystery, magic and terror. “The big, bad world opened up in front of us…”

There is plenty of intertextual humour to keep us guessing: Gretel is a sassy American, with strong views on the feudal class system.

Hansel is a cheeky English boy. They are rescued from an ogre by a huntsman, who tells them if they stray from their path, they can expect to meet wolves (a reference to a different cannibal story called “Little Red Riding Hood”.)

They find the gingerbread house, well, at least it smells of cake (and bacon, says Hansel). Inside is a table groaning with an abundance of food. Gifts!

There’s a witch of course, named Holda (Alice Krige, the Borg Queen from Star Trek: First Contact) who is charming and courteous. She plucks a strand of Hansel’s hair as he hoes into dinner, and sniffs it, like Hannibal sniffing Will Graham.

What can I say – she loves children!

But there is much more to this story (both stories). Is she “the beautiful child” of the internal fairy story? She senses that Gretel has second sight and magical powers. In the house, in dreams or in second sight, Gretel sees several children who appear out of mirrors.

Gretel is vegetarian, while Hansel likes his meat; at eight he is already imbued with carnivorous virility.

The witch, Holda, is not impressed, pointing out that “the ox, with his vegetable-made bones pulls the cart and the fat man who sits atop it!” She is dismissive of his carnivorous virility. Of course, we have to wonder, as Gretel does, where all the meat and milk come from, considering there are no animals on the property. Except for human ones. Are our cities any different?

Gretel starts to appreciate her powers, and the abundance they will offer her.

“This is your power. To see what is hidden and to take it. A small mind believes only what it can see. But we know that we are our fate’s own masters, don’t we?”

Hansel remembers Gretel’s lessons:

“You always say there aren’t any gifts in this world. That nothing is given without something taken away.”

To take on her full powers, Gretel realises that she’ll need to lose Hansel, who is a burden. The witch warns that

“he’ll soon come to fear you, as all men should if they’re smart.”

We only see Holda eat once, and when she finishes, she pulls out of her mouth a long lock of blonde hair with a little bow on the end. Well, we guessed what she ate, especially if we ever quaked through a Brothers Grimm story or two.

The witch in psychoanalytic terms is the oral-sadistic mother, and Creed calls her an “implacable enemy of the symbolic order”, because she demonstrates its frailty. Holda at first seems maternal – she offers the lost children food and shelter, but the fact that they can so quickly end up in that food warns us of that frailty – she reminds us that we, too, are edible animals.

Gretel soon finds out where all the food is coming from.

The witch tells her the real story of the beautiful child and of her power. Gretel has achoice – will she take the gift and pay the price? But hey, no spoilers. See the movie to find out what Gretel decides. It’s worth it.

The reviewer on RogerEbert.com called it:

“the kind of low-key gem that horror fans are always looking for but so rarely find—one that is smartly conceived, visually stylish and genuinely creepy at times.”

The story is even more relevant than it was when the movie was made (or the Grimms wrote it down) because of the weird conspiracy theories circulating in the USA about politicians torturing and killing children in the basements of pizza restaurants in order to harness their youthful energies. But leaving aside the magic and the second sight, isn’t the cynical utilisation of the young the basis of advertising, wars and agriculture? Society is built on the exploitation and sometimes the slaughter and consumption of the innocent.

The cinematography of this film is splendid, and the actors are sensational, particularly G&H despite, or perhaps because of, their youth. Overall, a very satisfying reboot of a classic cannibalism story.