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.
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll let you know the results.
I expected this to be either graphically violent or else painfully dull, but it was neither. It is quite different from any cannibal movie I have reviewed on this blog.
Deathmaker (German: Der Totmacher) is a re-enactment of the transcripts of the interrogation of the serial killer and cannibal Fritz Haarmann who killed and ate parts of at least 24 homeless boys between the end of the Great War in 1918 and his eventual capture and execution in 1924-5.
Haarmann became known as the “Vampire of Hanover” for killing his victims with a “love bite” that went right through their windpipes. He made a living selling the victims’ clothes and flesh (marketed as “pork”) on the black market to grateful customers who were barely surviving the collapse of the German economy after the war.
There are no flashbacks or re-enactments of violent incidents, just three men sitting in a room, and only two of them speak. Imagine it as a play that has been recorded to film. Or think Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre mixed with In Treatment. The great German film maker Ulli Lommel had made a re-enactment of Haarmann’s killing spree some twenty years earlier called The Tenderness of Wolves (Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe). The two films are a wonderful glimpse into the mind of a cannibal, although the characterisation is so different as to be almost unrecognisable
Almost the whole film is set in one room in an asylum, with psychology professor Ernst Schultze (Jurgen Hentsch) interviewing mass-murderer and cannibal Fritz Haarmann (Götz George, who won best actor at Venice Film Festival for this role) to determine if he is sane, or at least lucid enough to be tried and executed. Except for entrances and exits and the occasional visiting doctor, no other people are present, and the only other member of the cast is the stenographer (Pierre Franckh) – whose notes of the meetings this film used as its script – he is variously terrified, fascinated and sympathetic to Haarmann, all depicted entirely in his face, as he never says a word.
The Director, Romuald Karmakar, is known for producing thoughtful films that often follow perpetrators who are responsible for their own downfall. The professor asks unexpected questions about maths or geology, while Fritz plays the clown, but as the questions close in on his life and sexuality, he becomes more lucid, trying to justify his actions, and trying to win the sympathy of his interrogator. The professor has full control over the hulking Fritz, who is soon describing exactly how he killed the boys and young men during sex, with graphic details of how he dismembered them and disposed of the body parts.
“Took out the bowels. And threw them in a bucket. Dumped them in the toilet. It’s all rumpled up. I cut them up and threw them away.”
Haarmann’s boyfriend, Hans, would acquire the boys, sometimes just because he wanted their clothing, and knew he would get it after Fritz finished with them.
The professor, unlike modern psychs, pours scorn on Fritz, contemptuously condemning his homosexuality and violence and dismissing his claim that he will be allowed into Heaven to meet his mother. Would Haarmann have acted as he did if his homosexuality had been accepted? We can’t know that, but we do know that German laws against homosexuality were made more draconian after Haarmann’s case in 1924.
The boys won’t be able to testify against him to the heavenly judge, Haarmann says, because he caved their heads in, and he demonstrates how he did it, smashing his fist into his hand repeatedly.
He laughs, he boasts, he complains, and eventually he cries as he realises that his rampages, which he at first maintained were not his fault, will surely have him condemned to the guillotine.
The subject of cannibalism is barely mentioned, even though that is about all that Haarmann is remembered for now.
The professor tells him there is plenty of evidence that Fritz fried shrimps in human fat, made bouillon, sausages and brawn
We are told that he stripped the flesh from his victims and sold their clothes, and finally we get a quick reference to “Haarmann’s sausages”, almost as a double entendre joke. The ethical debate between the professor and Fritz is not about cannibalism but about the families who lost their sons, and his response each time is that they were just “joy-boys”.
The basis of exploitation, killing and eating others is objectification. A cow or pig can be “just an animal” and a homeless boy can be “just a joy-boy”. Just words, but powerful enough to allow the most despicable acts, as they strip all moral value from the intended victim. Haarmann claimed he did not remember killing them, they would just be lying next to him, dead, next morning. And of course, once they were dead, they were no longer “just joy-boys” and were instead now just meat. Our ability to objectify does not necessarily stop at the species line.
The film received several awards and nominations from the Deutscher Filmpreis in 1996 including Best Feature Film, Best Direction and Best Actor. Götz George is simply superb in the role, for which he also won the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival. Deathmaker was chosen as Germany’s official submission to the 69th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, but did not manage to receive a nomination.
It is not a film for everyone, both because of the descriptions of the dismemberment of human bodies, as well as the fact that, if you don’t speak German, following the dialog in subtitles can be wearing for some people. But it is quite brilliant, and if you can’t find it on a streaming service, it is available on DVD at Amazon. Well worth the effort.
Jindu told the court, in gruesome detail, how he had eaten the men’s livers raw, and cooked and eaten their brains.
The court had heard that Jindu was mentally incapacitated, but a medical examination presented in court declared him fit to stand trial. During the trial, Jindu stated that he was sent by the devil to kill the two men, and threatened to unleash Lucifer onto prosecutors.
Jindu requested assisted suicide after the decision was handed down, but has now changed his mind, and is seeking acquittal on the grounds of mental incapacity. His appeal states in part:
“There was cogent evidence that appellant was mentally incapacitated to appreciate the implications of his actions at the material time of committing the offence. Wherefore, appellants prays that the appeal be and is hereby allowed”
There’s a thorough analysis of the cases on the Amanda and Banele vodcast, at the top of this blog.
No longer a monster or ‘savage’, the contemporary cannibal is hard to tell from anyone else in a suit and tie.
So the news media is sure that Armie Hammer either is, or is not, a cannibal. Let us (briefly I hope) review.
Hammer is a young American actor (not yet 35) who found fame with his 2008 portrayal of the evangelist Billy Graham in Billy, the Early Years for which he won a “Faith and Values Award” from Mediaguide, a Christian review organisation. Will the ironies never cease!
Hammer went on to star in several movies (including some bombs like The Lone Ranger alongside Johnny Depp) but he is best known for playing Oliver in Call Me by Your Name in 2017. He was supposed to star in a sequel, based on the novel Find Me, when his world turned to shit. Or didn’t. Because he was a cannibal. Or wasn’t.
While most of us were locked down in our humble homes for much of 2020, Hammer and his family locked down in a luxury villa in the Cayman Islands, where, he told GQ Mag,
“It was a very complicated, intense situation, with big personalities all locked in a little tiny place. I don’t think I handled it very well. I think, to be quite frank, I came very close to completely losing my mind.”
Hammer’s family was, shall we say, a colourful one. His aunt Casey declared “I started watching Succession and I had to turn it off, because it was like, ‘Oh, my God. That’s my family.’”
Close families! Hammer said he felt like a trapped wolf who wanted to “chew his own foot off.” Despite the raging pandemic, he flew back to the US, where he got over his imminent divorce with wild parties and a series of girlfriends.
Unfortunately for him, several of those girlfriends in early 2021 took to social media to describe Hammer as abusive, manipulative and violent. Screenshots of his text messages appeared to show him describing fantasies (or real events) of rape and cannibalism.
“I am 100% a cannibal…. Fuck. That’s scary to admit. I’ve never admitted that before. I’ve cut the heart out of a living animal before and eaten it while still warm.”
“I want to see your brain, your blood, your organs, every part of you. I would definitely bite it. 100%. Or try to fuck it. Not sure which. Probably both.”
“If I fucked you into a vegetative state id keep you, feed you, watch you, and keep fucking you…Till you are so sore and broken…. I can’t stop thinking of [fucking] your actual brain.”
“Brand you, tattoo you, mark you, shave your head and keep your hair with me, cut a piece of your skin off and make you cook it for me…. “Who’s slave/master relationship is the strongest?” We’d win. When I tell you to slit your wrists and use the blood for anal.”
In early March, Armie’s ex-girlfriend Paige Lorenze, 24, said in an explosive interview with Vanity Fair that during their time together she felt “really unsafe and sick to her stomach.” The interview claimed that the celebrity’s ex-partners have “compared him to Ted Bundy” and said he was obsessed with Shibari – a Japanese bondage art form where people are tied up in intricate patterns. Lorenze was horrified to see the accusations of cannibalism,
“Because he would say things to me…weird stuff…like, ‘I want to eat your ribs’.”
She also claimed that Hammer had carved his initial into her pubic area and licked the wound, later bragging about it to friends, and that Hammer was fixated on biting her body, saying,
”If you did not tell me to stop I would eat a piece out of you.” And he was serious too. It was like he actually wanted to eat my flesh away.
On their first night together, Lorenze said Hammer insisted: ‘You can either call me daddy or sir.’
Another woman named Effie whom he dated for about five months in 2020 said that he had told her he wanted to eat her flesh, and would suck or lick her wounds if she had “a little cut on my hand.”
But let’s remember that no one has actually accused Hammer of acting on his alleged cannibalistic fantasies — and in fact he has never confirmed that he sent those texts. In any case, texting and sex play, even bondage and sado-masochism (if consensual), are not illegal, and Hammer clearly enjoyed both.
But if he sent these texts, and if they were just fantasies, as they appear to be, he picked the very worst time, the apex of the #MeToo movement, to send them. Hammer subsequently lost leading roles for which he had been preparing, including in the Jennifer Lopez film Shotgun Wedding, and his agency dropped him. In March 2021, Effie, the woman who initially came forward with abuse allegations on Instagram, identified herself and accused Hammer of violently raping her in April 2017. The Los Angeles Police Department subsequently confirmed that he was the subject of a sexual assault investigation, which had been set in motion a month prior. Hammer has vehemently denied any wrongdoing via his lawyer, who stated that “all of his interactions with [Effie] – and every other sexual partner of his for that matter – have been completely consensual, discussed and agreed upon in advance, and mutually participatory.”
Hammer was unable to see his family during the pandemic lockdown, and his marriage fell apart.
In June 2021, Hammer checked into a Florida treatment centre for drug, alcohol and sex issues.
Katharine Gates, the author ofDeviant Desires, describes a cannibalistic sex role play that tends to “involve more realistic scenarios…but still fantasy—they’re not actually eating pieces of people, but you will have one person be the meat and another is the preparer.”
One role play which seems popular on sites like Tumblr revolves around cannibal acts, a ‘paraphilia’ known as vorarephilia (it’s not in the DSM) – sexual arousal at eating, or being eaten by, another person (enthusiasts call themselves “vores”). A few, such as Armin Meiwes, eventually find a willing partner and make the fantasy a reality, but such cases are incredibly rare – Meiwes himself found that almost all the men who responded to his requests for someone who wanted to be eaten were not finally ready to take it to the next level – actually becoming his meal.
But why this fascination? Cannibalism is an act of domination – there can be no greater conquest of another than converting them into a meal and eventually into excrement. Hammer revealed this need to dominate in wanting to be called ‘daddy or sir’. But this hunger for incorporative power goes back to our earliest experiences.
Freud wrote of an infantile impulse toward “oral incorporation” – a desire not just to feed at the mother’s breast but to consume, possess that source of nourishment, comfort, security and love. He called one of the earliest psychological phases the “cannibalistic pregenital sexual organisation”. This drive is both loving – wanting to unite with the object of desire, and destructive – prepared to destroy the object to satisfy those desires. Infants may generate such hostility when their needs and desires are not satisfied promptly, and may also learn fear from the suspicion that the source will never be enough, or that their feeble attempts to dominate the adult may be met with far more powerful reprisals.
Maggie Kilgour, the doyen of Cannibal Studies, summed up:
“…far from being sublimated into symbolic forms or even sexual desire, our original appetites still move us, so that we remain trapped in a new oral phase of consumption. The work implies that man-eating is a reality – it is civilisation that is the myth.”
So there is a deep vein of cannibalism in our unconscious minds, and it may resurface at times of stress (e.g. being locked down in the Cayman Islands) or as an expression of affection, which in Hammer’s case did not go over well.
Is Armie Hammer a cannibal? He is a rich and handsome movie star from a rich and famous family, who built his career on playing men who can get away with anything. He is certainly a privileged and persuasive abuser of (often much) younger women, a form of exploitative consumption that is uncomfortably close to cannibalistic ingestion.
But is he a cannibal? Almost certainly not in reality. But in his mind, in the deep, dark fissures of his unconscious, he certainly is. We all are.
This is a ripsnorter of a thriller, and full of surprises. Defiantly internationalist, the film is an Australian-British action/horror film directed by Alister Grierson (Kokoda,Sanctum, Tiger) and written by Robert Benjamin. It is set in a basement in Helsinki Finland with scenes in Boise, Idaho, and features mostly Australian and New Zealand actors, with American or Finnish accents and dialogue as necessary. It was made on the Gold Coast in Queensland (as many blockbusters have been recently).
The main characters are both personas of Rex (Ben O’Toole – Hacksaw Ridge, Detroit, The Water Diviner). O’Toole is superb (imagine a combination of Bruce Willis and Robert Downey Jr) in two roles: both the physical Rex and his inner voice, the part of him (and all of us) which commentates his life and ordeals, screams abuse, even when pretending to be calm and collected or even unconscious, and debates the best responses, rational or emotional, to every aspect of what is going on around him. O’Toole called this Rex his character’s “conscience”, but it’s not a Freudian split between an ego and a superego (or id) – it is more nuanced, and the invisible Rex (invisible to other characters – the audience and physical Rex can see and hear him) argues about practical and ethical issues all the time, sometimes compassionate, sometimes sneering and violent. That inner voice, as we all know, is exhausting.
Rex and his inner voice are off to Finland. Why? Well, Rex was in a bank, chatting to a teller he fancied, when a gang of heavily armed men came storming in and violently robbed both the bank and the customers. Rex, ex-military, was able to take on the gang and kill them all, but the last one was ready to surrender when invisible Rex screamed:
As the last robber collapsed, dickless, his gun went off, killing an innocent teller who had been hiding in a cupboard. Rex became a media sensation, with half the population calling him a hero, and the rest a “psycho twat”, and a plea bargain saw him in jail for eight years for causing the teller’s death, leading to his decision to emigrate, on his release. In a flashback to his court case, Rex is asked why he shot the bank robber in that particular spot.
“I wanted him down… and I didn’t want him to reproduce… win – win!”
Why Finland? Well, he shot spitballs at a world map in his jail cell, and fate led him to that country. Where, unfortunately, a family of cannibals awaited him, and he wakes up, barely twenty minutes into the film, hanging by his wrists from a water pipe in a dark basement.
He is missing a leg, blood dripping from the stump, but his inner Rex is still fine and walking around, and furious at their precarious situation. Our imaginary self, after all, is as threatened by our mortality as we are.
It is clear to us, the audience, that Rex’s body parts are a living larder, although it takes the Rexs a bit longer to figure out why his leg is missing.
“Black market limb trade… is that a thing? I’m pretty sure there’s a niche there.”
It’s actually a very funny film – the dialogue between the two Rexs and even some of the murderous Finns is often hilarious. Rex pulls himself up to the huge knot to try to free himself with his teeth, observing that, short of one leg,
Rex’s love interest is Alia (Meg Fraser – Leech) the daughter, who has spent her life trying to escape her family.
Rex offers to “rescue” her (which considering his position is ambitious), and tells her,
“If we get out of here, I’ll tell you the whole story over dinner. I’ll even pay, huh?”
Now Rex has to dump on vegans to the girl whose family is upstairs eating the meat of his right leg; the family are definitely not vegans, nor can they see anything much wrong in giving their oldest son his preferred meat species. Alia explains that her older brother Pati is “the oldest and the hungriest”. Like Rex, he certainly does like a bit of meat, but, like the Wendigo, there is only one source that will satisfy him. Many omnivores will eat any meat except human. Pati will eat any meat as long as it’s human. As omnis like to say “it’s a personal choice.”
“He’s the reason you’re here. And very soon, there will be nothing left of you.”
Cannibal Studies is usually concerned with the anthropological or metaphorical aspects of the act – exposing the outsider as uncivilised, or else dripping irony about our own rapacious appetites. This film manages to do both, as Rex rants about the Finnish family, and how he wants to be back in the good ol’ USA,
Which is ironic, because if you check the “Cannibal News” category on this blog, you will see that a goodly proportion of modern cases of cannibalism occur in the good ol’ USA (and none in Finland*). The USA is the apotheosis of consumer societies where, just like Alia’s brother,
The rest of the film concerns Rex’s attempts to escape – not easy when one leg is gone and one of the family members has just tried to saw off the second one. You’ll have to see it to find out how that goes. It’s well worth it. Film critic Rob Hunter sums it up nicely:
“It’s a serious tale of survival encased in blackly comic humor, maliciously creepy twins, and the most sweetly sensual stump-washing scene you’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing.”
The movie premiered in Australia on October 8, 2020, and in the United States a day later at the Nightstream Film Festival. It has a 91% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, with comments like “blissfully, absurdly over-the-top, but in a twistedly charming way”.
This is a blackly humorous horror-thriller, and is quite brilliantly executed by Alister Grierson, particularly as the hero, normally the action figure of such stories, is tied to the ceiling and missing a leg for most of the film. You might think that would slow down the pace, but director Grierson keeps it tearing along. I usually stop and start when reviewing a movie, but this one I gulped down in one sitting, then came back for details.
As for the lead actor, Ben O’Toole, he seems to have got a taste for the cannibal stories. He said in an interview that he’d like to play Titus Andronicus, who was William Shakespeare’s favourite cannibal.
Let’s not forget, too, how much cannibalistic symbolism is involved in sex, such as “I could eat you up” as well as various foodie words for cunnilingus and felatio. And of course the French (or Finnish) kiss, when Rex and Alia finally escape.
And just to prove other people like puns too, here is the last frame of the film.
* Actually, there is a case of Finnish cannibalism – Jarno Elg, a supposed Satanist, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1998 for murdering a 23-year-old man, eating some of the body parts and inciting some friends to participate in a ritual that included torturing the victim while listening to songs from The Cainian Chronicle album by the Norwegian black metal band Ancient. Elg was granted parole in 2014.
The Russian Supreme Court has just confirmed the sentence of life imprisonment on Eduard Seleznev, known as the “Arkhangelsk Cannibal”, who killed and ate the flesh of three men.
Seleznev killed three of his friends aged 59, 43 and 34 between March 2016 and March 2017, getting them drunk and then stabbing them to death. He admitted the murders, and added that he had then sliced their bodies up, kept the meat in plastic bags, and disposed of the bodies in the Volokhnitsa river. He subsequently boiled and ate the flesh.
Psychiatrists advised the court that they had found him to be sane and responsible for his actions, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment, but appealed to the Supreme Court, which has just this week confirmed the earlier sentence and advised that he should never be paroled. He was ordered to pay over one million roubles (roughly $14,000 USD) in compensation to the victims’ families.
The parents of one of the victims had gone looking for their son but found Seleznev living in the man’s flat. After murdering and eating the man’s flesh, Seleznev had decided to stay in the flat and started working at a local meat processing plant. Seleznev told the parents that the man had moved to St. Petersburg, but the family members found odd-looking unpackaged meat lying on the floor. Understandably suspicious, they went to the police.
Seleznev apparently had been convicted for a double murder previously but been released after thirteen years in jail in 2000, and had lived in basements, where he caught and cooked local cats, dogs, birds and other small animals found on the streets. Murder of humans is very often preceded by slaughter of other animals. It is not surprising that Seleznev killed dogs, cats and birds or chose to work in a slaughterhouse.
The sociopathic personality usually develops in early childhood or adolescence and is classified under the diagnosis of “conduct disorder,” which then develops into “anti-social personality disorder” (both of these are listed in the DSM). One of the early signs of a conduct disorder is often cruelty to animals.
Like most jurisdictions, cannibalism is not listed in the Russian criminal code, so Seleznev was charged with murder and misusing the victims’ body parts. To the cannibal, of course, burying good meat is misuse, while eating could be considered – sustainable harvesting?
Last year (it seems so long ago), I reviewed the excellent Jason Krawczyk movie HE NEVER DIED with Henry Rollins playing Jack, an immortal cannibal. There were high hopes for a sequel, but they kept getting cancelled. In the meantime, a “retelling” was made by Canadian director Audrey Cummings (Darken), and this has come to be called a “sister sequel”, which is a novel term meaning a sequel, or a reboot, but with a female lead and feminist themes. Sounds contrived, but with Krawczyk writing the screenplay, Cummings in command and an outstanding performance by Olunike Adeliyi (Saw 3D, Chaos Walking) as the immortal cannibal, well, it’s a corker!
Lacey (Adeliyi) is an immortal cannibal like Jack. But Jack identifies as a human, Cain (from the Book of Genesis), cursed to walk the earth for killing his brother (a plot line used in the TV show Lucifer as well) and having a messy divorce and, to his surprise, a daughter. But Lacey’s provenance is not so clear, even at the end, when she tells us – no, actually, no spoilers. Watch it – it’s worth it.
Lacey kills people and eats them, particularly their fingers (which are very portable) and their long bones. She needs the bone marrow, she tells the cop, Godfrey (Peter MacNeill, whom you might have seen as Barry Goldwater in Mrs America). He replies that he eats marrow on toast,
She cannot tell a lie; she tells Godfrey that she killed one of the bad guys, because he was throwing a plastic bag over a woman’s head, and
But when the waiter comes, she says she doesn’t eat meat. Non-human meat, that is.
So she’s a vegetarian who eats bad humans, not an ovo-lacto vegetarian, but an anthropo-vegetarian?
The first person she kills is that guy who sends a chill down all our spines – the stalker who follows women down deserted streets and into dark alleys. He jumps on a young woman and Lacey, we are glad to see, jumps on him. And tears him to pieces.
The next victim is being streamed, playing Russian Roulette with a dog – if the bullet isn’t in the chamber when he aims at his own head, then he gets another shot at the dog, who has a roll of cash around his neck.
Being mean to dogs is not going to win friends in any movie I that I can recall. You may remember Mason Verger cutting lumps off his own face and feeding them to Will’s dogs in Hannibal 02:12, as Hannibal’s revenge for making a dog into a cannibal?
There’s a lot of cannibal studies issues to chew on (sorry) in this film. There’s the question of whether Lacey is human; of course it’s not a cannibalism movie if she is some alien entity, because the definition of cannibalism (usually) is eating someone of the same species. But this movie gives us the chance to interrogate that definition, particularly in that Lacey is open about her cannibalism from the start, but the bad guys are not. They are not interested in eating the flesh of their victims, but they are consumers.
A lot of the movie takes place in a giant, labyrinthine building with corridors and stairways leading to doors behind which screams are heard – this stuff is straight out of nightmares. The chief villains are Terrance (Noah Danby) and Meredith (Michelle Nolden). Terrence sells torture and snuff movies on the dark web, while Meredith runs a kidnapping and sex trafficking operation. They are also brother and sister, and seemingly more than that.
Foucault has a lot to say about the difference between monstrosity based on incest and that based on cannibalism. He believes that the aristocracy or ruling class are mostly incestuous monsters, while the people, the cannibals who rise up to eat the rich, are the popular monsters. This movie tends to support that paradigm; the very personable, incestuous siblings consume women (and a few men) as commodities for their businesses, while the angry superhero, Lacey, eats their henchmen. Who, we ask, are really the cannibals? Immortal cannibals do not exist (probably), but stalkers, rapists and traffickers do. Women, our mothers, sisters and daughters, do not feel safe walking the streets of the city. Who are the monsters?
Lacey’s third (and fourth) victims have a woman chained to a bed, ready to be shipped off into sexual slavery. The woman, Suzzie (Kiana Madeira), is freed and starts following Lacie around, crashes on her couch, and very nearly gets eaten – it’s a problematic friendship.
Suzzie is a victim, a self-harmer, but also a survivor. She is impressed by Lacey:
“I get taken advantage of most days. So to see a person, a woman, a woman like you twist those guys in half, is, uh…”
Lacey walks the earth hearing the screams and groans of the abused and tortured. She gets to tear a few of the abusers apart and eat them. They are always men, coke addicted men.
“Without a question, I can taste the difference. I’m also foggy in the morning.”
Suzzie wants to know what Lacie is
“Robot? Zombie? Vampire? You drink blood right?“
Lacey says no to each option, and asks, the question we should all ask, “why do I have to be a thing?”
We get a hint of Lacey’s background when we glimpse the scars that don’t heal. Were those once wings?
When Lacey is captured by Terrance, Suzzie heads into the labyrinth, witnessing the horrors of live-streamed torture, sex trafficking, and a very fancy cocktail party.
Lacey is a pessimist, she sees no way out of humanity’s endless cycle of torture and killing and eating.
Suzzie tries to console her – the world is coming to an end after all, look at global warming etc, but Lacie won’t have it.
But, without giving away the ending, we see the arrival of the Four Bikies of the Apocalypse, and what looks to me very much like a sequel coming. Perhaps Lacey will meet Jack? Let us hope.
I’m publishing this blog on Sunday 6 September, which is fathers’ day in Australia and New Zealand, but hardly anywhere else (e.g. it’s June in the US, UK, Canada, China, etc). Well, turns out there are several fathers’ days, which is fair, because there are several different kinds of father.
The father in this movie is a keen family man, and also a cannibal. The patriarchal symbolic order of this family is: the father catches them, the mother (or daughter) slaughters and cooks them.
If the prey weren’t human, some might consider that “normal”.
This time last year (on father’s day down under) I blogged about a Mexican film translated to the same as this one: We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay). Now, we all know that American remakes of “foreign” (i.e. non-American) films can be disastrous (remember Godzilla?) and, to be fair, Jim Mickle, the director, did not like the idea of remaking the excellent Mexican version just so American audiences did not have to read subtitles. But he and co-screenwriter Nick Damici came up with a new angle. In the Mexican film, the father dies, causing family conflict over the role of cannibal patriarch; in this one, it’s the mother that dies, and the children must decide whether to follow the tradition and authority of their father, or follow their own paths.
Frank Parker (Bill Sage) is left widowed when his wife starts shaking and bleeding from the mouth, then collapses, falls into a ditch and drowns. She has just finished shopping at the general store where, through the pouring rain, a butcher carries a dead pig from a truck marked “Fleischman’s” (German for meat man) – the pig’s corpse is cut up and the flesh is minced.
What they’re doing to the pig would usually be considered unremarkable, except that, knowing this is a cannibal movie, we expect the same thing will happen to humans somewhere around the end of Act I.
This is an ultra-religious, white family in the rainy Catskills, and everything they do is avowed to be God’s idea. The daughters, Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner from Ozark) explain to their little brother that he can’t have his cereal, because the family is fasting.
Fasting is usually followed by a ceremonial feast, which this family calls “Lamb Day”.
It is a family tradition passed down from 1781 – we get a flashback via a family journal which is handed to Iris – it was started by their ancestor Alyce Parker (Odeya Rush from Goosebumps) when her father fed them their uncle in one of those pioneering cannibalism events with which American history is so replete (think the Jamestown “starving time” several decades earlier, or the Donner Party several decades later). The Parker descendants have been cannibals ever since.
Their religious tradition requires eating human flesh on special occasions; while the wider community’s ritual anthropocentric carnivorous sacrifice requires the (far more regular) consumption of other mammals, such as the pig being carried through the store.
Eating meat requires the “deanimalisation” of the chosen victim, often by dividing the carcass up into named components like “spare ribs” or “rump”. The Parkers work the same way. Like a cooking show, we witness them “process” the carcass, then cook and consume the flesh; only worth filming because we know (or willingly suspend our disbelief) that this is human meat.
Rene Girard says we maintain social amity by the sacrifice of a surrogate victim, a symbolic consumption of our violent impulses – we eat an outsider instead of warring with each other. For most people, it’s a non-human animal; for the Parkers, it’s whoever is unlucky enough to get a flat tyre near their property. In stark contrast, the Parker’s neighbour Marge (Kelly McGillis from Witness) is vegetarian, and her offers of help to the family are variously accepted or brutally rebuffed, depending on whether it’s Lamb Day. Marge gets a hint that cannibalism, extreme carnivorism, runs in the family when she steps in to nurse the sick little brother. Has he inherited the family hunger?
Cannibalism movies often cling to the Wendigo hypothesis – that there is a metaphysical force that drives the eaters, once having tried human flesh, to crave ever increasing amounts of it – to need it for their very survival. A classic of this genre is Antonia Bird’s film Ravenous. In the original Mexican version of this film, the family believe they need their cannibal ceremony to survive. It’s the same in this version, with the father convinced that when he gets shaky and his mouth bleeds, this means God is telling him it’s time for Lamb Day.
But there’s a modern twist. The town’s (apparently only) doctor (Michael Parks) performs an autopsy on the mother, which reveals that her ailments were more closely related to the disease kuru, which killed hundreds of Fore people in Papua New Guinea and was believed to have been caused by eating the brains and spinal columns of dead relatives in funerary rites.
Then the doc’s dog finds a human bone washed downstream by the floods, and he begins to suspect what happened to his own missing daughter.
Kuru is a prion disease, similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or “mad cow disease”), and is often quoted as a reason why we shouldn’t eat people, in case they have abnormal prion proteins, although that argument is no more convincing than the one against eating cows in case they have BSE (safest option for avoiding spongiform encephalopathy is: go vegan). At any rate, this family have been engaging in cannibalism for some 240 years, believing they are doing God’s will, and hey, who invented kuru anyway?
The father’s day feast at the end of the movie is spectacular, and the girls drive off with the diary from 1781, unaware of the kuru diagnosis, and presumably still believing in the necessity to obey God’s will and eat people occasionally. Honestly, it wouldn’t be the stupidest thing that’s ever been blamed on the deity.
You know you’re on a good film when the trailer promises “ultimate terror so fearful that no additional scenes can be shown in this preview”. I mean, you have to watch it after hearing that, right?
Actually, DEATH LINE is a really great picture, with the fabulous Donald Pleasance as the London police inspector making a complete hash of his investigation. Terence Pettigrew in his book British Film Character Actors says Pleasence has “the kind of piercing stare which lifts enamel off saucepans.”
The polite British title Death Line was a little too tame for American grindhouse cinema, and it was retitled Raw Meat and disguised as a zombie movie in the USA. The plot involves the last descendants of a dozen railway construction workers who were trapped in a cave-in in 1892 between Russell Square and Museum stations, and have survived in the abandoned tunnels, cut off from civilisation – the last survivors now live by catching and eating commuters on the Underground platforms.
Fortunately, the British are famously reticent on public transport and, once seated, would not even look up from their papers if someone was being eaten next to them. However, a couple of students find a man collapsed on the station steps and report him to the police, but he’s gone when they investigate. Of course, horror movies are morality tales, and the man is a VIP, an important civil servant, who has just come from a strip club and then propositioned a woman on the Russell Street tube station platform. Cannibals, in movies, tend to eat rude people.
Demented cannibals, cut off from civilisation and preying on unsuspecting travellers, hark back to the story of Sawney Bean and his incestuous family, who allegedly murdered and cannibalised more than a thousand men, women and children in 16th century Scotland. Of course, the idea goes back much further than that into antiquity, when anyone outside the centres of civilisation was assumed to be a monster, and probably a cannibal. Maps in the age of exploration would simply have the word “cannibals” written on any parts not yet charted. It’s an evergreen trope, seen over and over in films like Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes and the interminable number of Wrong Turn movies (we’ll get to those one day).
Being a British movie, it’s replete with class struggle. Donald Pleasance (no stranger to horror, having been in five Halloween movies and Prince of Darkness) is Inspector Calhoun, who feels he is lord of the manor in his neighbourhood, bullies his Detective Sergeant (Norman Rossington, the Beatles’ manager ‘Norm’ in Hard Day’s Night), drinks interminable cups of tea, and hates the students on sight.
Calhoun is told to stick to his greengrocers and dentists and leave the investigation of the rich and powerful to MI5, by the elegant figure of Christopher Lee (Dracula and, yes, Saruman from Lord of the Rings!) who reportedly took the part because he admired Pleasance and wanted to be in a film with him, but then they never appeared together, due to their height difference. The scene in which they clash, though, is a highlight of the film.
The cannibal/monster, credited as “The Man”, (a masterful performance by Hugh Armstrong) is dirty, diseased and aphasic (unable to speak – his only vocabulary is “Mind the door” which is what you hear interminably on the London Underground trains), but he is able to express a world of different emotions with these three words, including anger, enquiry, soothing and sorrow. He also has septicaemic plague, which for some reason does not feature much in the plot. Marlon Brando was going to take the role originally, but pulled out for family reasons.
The Man’s first appearance is when he has freshly killed the important guy and is trying unsuccessfully to revive the second-last cannibal – the last female of his clan. He finds a fob watch on his victim and places it tenderly on her chest, as he has done for all the other dead cannibals who are strewn around the abandoned station. His weeping and moaning, his gentle stroking and rough shaking, the blanket he wraps her in as he weeps, his despair and sudden, futile hope that she is still alive – well, it reminded me of King Lear, and also Boris Karloff in Frankenstein.
Foucault in Abnormal : Lectures at the Collège de France 1974-1975 spoke of the “popular monster” – the cannibal who eats the rich, as happened quite a lot during the French Revolution. Foucault specifies two kinds of monster: “the cannibal (the popular monster) and the incestuous (the princely monster)“. The princely monster, the sexually deviant civil servant, is eaten by the popular monster, “The Man”. Yet this film challenges the paradigm, because The Man, the popular monster, is also the prince of his domain (the abandoned tunnels) and presumably the product of the incestuous unions of his predecessors among the descendants of the construction workers. He is both kinds of monster, and still totally relatable and sympathetic – perhaps the most human of all the characters.
Of course, it is the rich who eat the poor most of the time, and so this story fits into the reality of class warfare. The film critic Robin Wood divided horror films into progressive or reactionary, depending on whether the monster is a sympathetic character or not – on that basis, this film about downtrodden and abandoned workers taking revenge on the hierarchies of snobbery above them is, well, revolutionary. The Man may eat the rich guy in the bowler hat (and a few maintenance workers), but he cannot win that war, mainly because the rich don’t take trains.
Indeed, the real monster in this film is the Underground train system with its interminable corridors and flights of steps, its dark, satanic tunnels and its squalid carriages, imbued with despair. Train stations, the dark tunnels and the impersonal screeching of the train itself are all terrifying.
The cinematography by Alex Thompson, who later shot Alien 3, is outstanding, and the film scored a very creditable 91% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with one reviewer stating:
“Yes, it’s a cannibal film, but it’s also a startlingly tender film about a literal underclass abandoned by the world above, a story that roils in class division.”
This blog is primarily about cannibalism in films and TV shows, but we take an occasional deviation (love that word) to discuss real-live cases, or other manifestations of the cannibals’ art. So today – cannibal music.
“Jónsi” Birgisson is an Icelandic musician, the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist for the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós. His new album “Shiver” is due in October, and he has just released the song CANNIBAL – the Youtube link is above.
For this one, he collaborates with Liz Fraser. Fraser is a Scottish singer, songwriter and musician, known as the vocalist for the band Cocteau Twins and on several tracks on Massive Attack’s album “Mezzanine”. She was sometimes called “the Voice of God” in Cocteau Twins.
One review says “If anyone could turn a song about being a cannibal for love into a glorious and gorgeous song, it’s the Icelandic singer [Jónsi]”.
You’ve got perfect skin Soft enough porcelain White teeth, but you’re sinking in I’m chewing cartilage Chewing your carpet Muscles, veins, and shoulder blades
You know I’m a cannibal, cannibal I remove your breathing heart
If you want to enjoy a song about cannibals, Jónsi is a nice peaceful place to start.
If peaceful is not your thang, Cannibal Corpse has been putting the death into Death Metal for over thirty years (spooky huh?) I should issue a warning – this is not the album to play if you have a hangover migraine. Oh, also that it has songs with names like
Meat hook sodomy
Under the rotted flesh
Vomit the soul
I cum blood
Cannibal’s Hymn is by the brilliant Australian musician, Nick Cave. I have used a line from this amazing song for the title of my thesis: “If you’re gonna dine with the cannibals“.
If you’re gonna dine with the cannibals Sooner or later, darling, you’re gonna get eaten But I’m glad you’ve come around here with your animals And your heart that is bruised but bleating And bleeding like a lamb.
While we are talking cannibal music, let us recall Katy Perry’s clip where she wanted to be “spread like a buffet”. If you were lucky enough to miss it or forget it, you can refresh the horror here.
Back in 2010, KE$HA released her cannibal song, with lyrics like “carnivore animal, I am a cannibal!” It became a hit all over again in 2020 when people realised it was a nice tune for exhibiting their talents on TikTok.
And let’s not forget (well, we can try) Robbie Williams’ Rock DJ clip from July 2000 where he is stripping for a group of women. When he is completely naked (with the naughty bits blurred out) and they remain unimpressed, he pulls off his skin and starts throwing pieces of his flesh out to the crowd, who eat it.
The video’s director said that the clip had been banned in the Dominican Republic for ‘Satanism’ and that they were ‘wanted in Papua New Guinea for cannibalism’. Now he wants to reshoot it.
It’s interesting from a cannibal studies point of view in that his penis cannot be shown, while his flesh, and the eating thereof, is perfectly acceptable, apparently. Also that cannibalism is depicted as of more interest than sex to his audience. Of course. Cannibalism is about the voracious and insatiable appetite of humans, of which sex is just one aspect.
Interesting, perhaps, but for what it’s worth, my recommendation, both visually and musically, is to stick to Nick and Jónsi.