Immigrants and cannibals: TWO HEADS CREEK (Jesse O’Brien, 2019)

The thread that runs through cannibalism texts, from Homer’s Cyclops to Harris’ Hannibal Lecter, is the social outsider. It is a theme that never seems to age, since humans love to form cliques, united by an irrational hatred of those who don’t belong, even if it’s just because they dress differently or support a different sporting team. The most obvious example at the moment, and for most of modern history, is the immigrant.

Norman is played by Jordan Waller who also wrote the script – you may have seen him appear in the TV series Victoria. He runs his mother’s Polish butcher shop in Slough (it’s a real place, although there is definitely a pun in there). It’s post-Brexit Britain, and the locals scream abuse and paint his windows with dog-shit.

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He’s English, but his shop sells Polish meats, so he is the hated outsider. His twin sister Anna (Kathryn Wilder) is the assertive one, and is totally uninterested in his butcher shop.

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When they discover at their mother’s funeral (held in the butcher shop) that they were adopted, they find a postcard from their mother, postmarked from a small Australian town: Two Heads Creek. Not sure if this is international invective, but in Australia, “two-heads” is pretty much a synonym for “inbred”, and is used to denigrate rural people. The outsider does not need to come from outside – just a different region will do.

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Norman is named after his mothers’ favourite singer, the Australian pop star Normie Rowe, who was enormously popular in the sixties, until the government decided to conscript him to the war in Vietnam as a publicity stunt. Normie’s oeuvre is featured heavily in the soundtrack. Nevertheless, the twins know nothing of Australia as they sell the butcher shop and head “Down Under” to seek their birth mother, except for clichéd English convict stereotypes, so when the customs agent asks if he has a criminal record, Norman answers “is that a prerequisite?” They travel ten hours to the outback town with a group of Asian immigrants, on a bus driven by an Indigenous man, Apari (Gregory J. Fryer) who is treated like dirt by their guide.

This is a blog about movies involving cannibalism, so it’s probably not a big spoiler to mention why the immigrants are being sent to Two Heads Creek.

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Australian governments of both parties have a long-standing practice of locking up refugees in offshore detention and leaving them there to rot or go mad. So far, they have not considered cannibalism as a solution, so we have to hope they don’t see this movie.

There are lots of explicit cannibalism scenes, as well as some cute intertextual references, e.g.

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The movie is far from subtle in its treatment of jingoism, racism, sexism and various other discriminatory practices popular in Australia and elsewhere.

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But an important thing to realise about cannibalism is that it is an ultimate equaliser – although only certain groups may be chosen as victims, once skinned and cooked, we are all the same. Our differences are, literally, skin deep.

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The scenes of cannibalism are accompanied by another soundtrack, this one the Aussie group Skyhooks, with their big hit “Horror Movie” which, in the song, turned out to be about watching the evening news, and so is just as relevant now as ever. Perhaps more so.

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They do get to meet (and almost eat) their mother, yes, she is named Mary (the wonderful Kerry Armstrong from Lantana, Seachange and so much more), who perplexes them by describing their father as “a good man”.

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The final act is a climax of gore, wildly over the top and full of people being stabbed in the crotch, presumably for the 14-year-old-boy market. The main antagonist, Apple (Helen Dallimore) gets shot with an arrow and goes into the giant meat-mincer with her middle finger the final part to be ground up, while screaming the theme of the movie:

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The best line of the film is from their mother, who is hit in the neck by a lethal boomerang studded with nails, but dismisses it as “only a flesh wound”

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Apari, a descendant of the original inhabitants of the land, is left to clean up the blood and corpses that litter the town. With some justification, as he watches the Australians and the English hobble off, he says:

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This well-crafted film is only the second feature from Australian director Jesse O’Brien. He said of the setting, the mining town of Cracow in the Banana Shire, 500km northwest of Brisbane, that

“I think that myth of the outback being ‘a scary place’, which isn’t always true, does fit rural Queensland really well.”

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The cast is great and the film is fresh, funny and still manages to ask some interesting questions about differences and about appetites. It has a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Film Threat described it as:

“A deliciously deranged horror-comedy, overflowing with blood and wit.”

The movie is available on Amazon Prime.

 

Cannibalism with Danish: “The Green Butchers” (Jensen, 2003)

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Anders Thomas Jensen directed this Danish black comedy, which is only really listed early in this blog because it stars – yep, that really is him – Mads Mikkelsen, better known to readers of this blog, I daresay, as Hannibal Lecter in the television series Hannibal (2013-15).

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Svend (Mads Mikkelsen) and Bjarne (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) work in a butcher shop, but are browbeaten by their mean boss, “Sausage” Holger (Ole Thestrup), who says Bjarne’s pate tastes like jockstrap, and even disparages Svend’s marinade (believe it or not, this becomes an important plot point). Holger opens the film with a great summary of animal agriculture:

“I’ve always been fascinated by sausages. It’s almost mythological to kill an animal and then mock it by sticking it in its own intestine. Can you imagine anything worse than being stuck up your own ass?”

They can’t stand this rude dude, so they start their own butcher shop (slagtermester). Bjarne has problems: he smokes twenty joints a day and kills animals so he can collect their skeletons. But it turns out he is the saner of the two partners.

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Their grand opening attracts a total of zero customers. Next morning, Svend does not have a good day: he breaks up with his fiancé and then discovers that he has inadvertently locked the electrician in the meat freezer all night. What to do with a frozen electrician? Holger appears, demanding fillets for the Rotary dinner, and Svend panics.

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Next day, the guests from the Rotary dinner are queueing up outside the shop – they all loved the fillets. Business is booming and, as Svend says, we had to get rid of him, one way or another. The electrician becomes “Svend’s chicky-wickies”. Then the real estate agent turns up, wanting a tour of the premises. So it goes.

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It’s an accidental Sweeney Todd. They meant no harm, and are just being rewarded for bumbling incompetence. And isn’t that the way the world really operates? The Peter Principle!

Then the local pastor reveals that he didn’t like the Rotary dinner. It reminded him of his wife. The wife he had to eat after a plane crash on their honeymoon. Yes, it’s not just Danish Hannibal, it’s also Alive!

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Mads Mikkelsen is very good in the role of the nervous, sweating, irritable Svend, although it’s hard to reconcile this farcical character, and his extraordinary haircut, with the cool, sophisticated and brilliant Dr Hannibal Lecter, let alone Le Chifre in Casino Royale or even Kaecilius in Dr Strange.

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By the end of the film, we are asked questions of perception: what is appetite? What is “meat”? Is the secret in the sauce? Is that a wig?

The promoters had no idea what to do with this film. Check out some of the posters – hard to tell that they are for the same thing!

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It’s a quirky comedy, pleasant enough and inoffensive, unless you are offended by either butchers or cannibalism. If you are equally offended by both, then perhaps it has done its job well.

 

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