Hell is in Hello: “MOTEL HELL” (Connor, 1980)

Lee Marvin “sang” these words in the musical Paint Your Wagon:

Do I know where Hell is? Hell is in hello…

Don’t know whether Director Kevin Connor got the idea from Lee Marvin, but he certainly borrowed from Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with an actual chainsaw duel between two brothers featuring at the climax of the film. Texas, in its own low budget way, revolutionised the horror genre, introduced slashers, and let us in on the world of the neglected, socially isolated “flyover zone” cannibal.

It’s also a spoof on Psycho – the killer in the motel, the unsuspecting travellers. You might also call it a precursor of the film Delicatessen that was considered on this blog last week: once again there are rooms for rent, human meat for sale.

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The motel is actually called MOTEL HELLO but the “O” keeps flickering off, thus giving the sinister name, and the title of the film.

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Vincent (Rory Calhoun) is a neo-lib dream: an entrepreneur who relishes his freedom to do whatever he likes in the name of business. The hidden hand of the market is his, and that hand carries a shotgun, or sometimes a chainsaw. Vincent runs the motel, but in his spare time (of which he has plenty) he ambushes motorists and stores them until he slaughters them and sells their flesh in his butcher shop as FARMER VINCENT’S SMOKED MEATS.

Simpsons fans will know Rory Calhoun of course!

Farmer Vincent’s is a family business, and Vincent’s sister Ida (Nancy Parsons) is involved in the process, which involves burying the victims up to their necks in the garden and cutting their vocal chords so they can’t make a fuss, then feeding them up like hogs until they are fat and edible. But Vincent fancies one of the victims, Terry (Nina Axelrod) and asks Ida to help her heal from the accident he caused. His kid brother Bruce (Paul Linke) is the local sheriff, and is as clueless as we expect local sheriffs to be, but he soon develops a crush on Terry. But she develops a crush on Vincent, so we know that (murder and cannibalism aside) there’s going to be trouble.

In a scene that perfectly parodies slasher movies, two little girls sneak into the smoking room, and with the requisite spooky backing track, are terrified by the scenes of carnage they see there – a lot of dead pigs. Only pigs, we might chuckle but, for Vincent, pigs and people are just the same: dumb animals good for nothing except slaughter and smoking for profit.

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Terry is pretty upset about losing her boyfriend (to whom she was not married, the religious Vincent notes), but he convinces her that being with them is “preordained”

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“Ah, the ways of the Lord are mysterious!”

Vincent’s methods of harvesting meat animals are not too particular: the local meat inspector who gets too nosy, a bus full of hippie musicians, even a pair of swingers whom he has lured with an ad – all get buried up their necks in the garden, unable to make any intelligible sound.

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He explains to Ida how important his various traps are, because “they give me a chance to be a free agent” and his work will remain special and important. Yep, Vincent is a classic neo-lib. As Ida pulls the latest victims out of the truck toward the holes he has dug, he tells her “plant ‘em!”. As they reflect on the strangeness of the hippies, they chant their motto:

It takes all kinds of critters
To make Farmer Vincent’s fritters!

As Vincent and Ida settle down to “plant” their critters and pull out the scalpels to cut their vocal chords, are they really behaving differently to the farmer who ties down a bull or hog to castrate him or to burn off his horns, or a sheep farmer who cuts hunks of skin off the backside of a lamb because it’s an easy way to avoid fly-strike (and saves money on insecticides)? They cleverly portray the hard work and care of farmers who really can see nothing wrong in the suffering they inflict for the sake of profit. He checks out one victim, smiling “not quite – tomorrow he’ll be ready to become famous.”

Terry asks how Vincent got started in the meat business and he tells her of the days when they couldn’t afford an icebox, and Granny would smoke anything she could catch – chickens, rabbits, frogs. One day, she asked Vincent to do something about an annoying dog who was barking, and that dog ended up smoked too. Did Granny know she was eating a dog, asks Terry, now repulsed, although she has just been enjoying Vincent’s smoked “ham”. Vincent replies:

Why Granny never put any distinctions on any of God’s creatures. She always used to say [Ida and Bruce join in the chant] MEAT’S MEAT, AND A MAN’S GOTTA EAT!

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Ida doesn’t like the wheezing and hissing noises the captives make as they try to talk without vocal chords. Vincent replies “They’re good animals! Not like taking care of chickens, or hogs.” Ida asks: “Vincent, do you think in the years to come people will appreciate us for what we’re doing here?” She goes on “Somebody’s gotta take a little responsibility for the planet!” Vincent and Ida are also ecologists, performing a valuable service by combating the scourge of human overpopulation.

The action is interspersed with the seemingly continuous telecast of a televangelist on the TV. Also with cannibal puns: as the swingers get ready for what they expect will be a wild evening (it will, but not quite as they hoped), Ida tells them “you look good enough to eat”. And the final credits roll to the Kregg Nance song “You’re eating out my heart and soul”.

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People certainly don’t like the idea of cannibalism, but they usually find it hard to articulate what is wrong with it, compared to eating other “critters”. For most, it is enough to say it is taboo, but that really begs the question. The genius of this film is that Vincent is not the usual psychotic serial killer type of cannibal. He is good humoured, kind, and has a strong sense of morality, seen in his choice of religious programs, as well as his shock when Terry comes on to him – he recoils, saying “we should be married first”.

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Well, they are going to get married, by none other than the local pastor, played by the legendary Wolfman Jack, a gravelly voiced DJ of the golden age of Rock.

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Ida drugs Terry, so that she and Vincent can go prepare the meat for the wedding feast. Vincent insists on offering his victims a humane death – he believes that “no animal should ever suffer any unnecessary pain”. Well, we nearly all believe that! Just a question of semantics – define ‘animal’. Define ‘pain’. And define ‘unnecessary’.

Anyway, Bruce is royally pissed off and starts looking for evidence against Vincent, and the “animals” start digging themselves out and staggering about in a scene reminiscent of just about every zombie movie.

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Terry finds out the truth, but it’s her version (what else could it be?) As far as Vincent is concerned, he is just preparing the wedding feast. He says:

Haven’t you ever cleaned a fish? There’s nothing cruel in what I’m doing here. I treat most of my stock better than farmers treat their animals. I don’t feed them chemicals or hormones. When you consider the way the world is today, there’s no question I’m doing a lot of them a big favour.

Terry ask him what right he has to play God. Vincent denies that is what he is doing.

I’m just helping out. There’s too many people in the world and not enough food. This takes care of both problems at the same time.

And that’s Vincent’s truth. And there is some truth in it.

The climax is the two brothers battling it out with chainsaws (a Texas Chain Saw reference) while Vincent wears a pig’s head on his head, which would not help his visual acuity much, but takes us to all sorts of interesting tropes, such as Animal Farm. The shock ending: as Vincent dies, he admits to his whole life being a lie, to being the biggest hypocrite of them all. Why?

My meat. I used – preservatives!

The film received a respectable 70% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The reviews range from “a rather well-executed dark comedy” to “tasteless, gruesomely awkward and moronic.” I liked it because it ticked all the boxes in my quest to understand cannibalism’s undermining of anthropocentrism. And Rory Calhoun is terrific – or as Montgomery Burns would say:

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Meating the future: “DELICATESSEN” (Caro & Jeunet, 1991)

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Delicatessen is a classic French black comedy set in a post-apocalyptic village where seeds and grains are the exchange currency. The butcher advertises for handy-men in a journal called Hard Times and then slaughters the applicants and sells their meat to his weird tenants, who have surrealistic activities: a man who lives in a flooded room full of frogs and snails, a woman who constantly fails at suicide attempts so involved they would be worthy of Wile E Coyote, and two brothers who manufacture mooing machines for no apparent reason.

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The trailer for Delicatessen is a scene from the early part of the film, where the butcher, Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) is having sex with a woman (Karin Viard) who seems to be as much captive as partner.

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As his lustful tempo, played out on the squeaky bedsprings, increases in speed, so do the activities of all the tenants: the butcher sets the pace in this world (and by implication in our world too).

Into this house of horrors comes a gentle (vegetarian) clown, Louison (Dominique Pinon), who has left the circus after his partner, Doctor Livingstone, was eaten.

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Livingstone, it turns out, was a chimp, but his sorrow is no less real for that.

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The butcher’s daughter, Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac) falls in love with him and tries to warn him of his likely fate.

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Julie dreams about the upcoming butchery of Louison, and decides to save him. To do this, she has to seek the help of the Troglodistes, an underground group who are vegetarian and hate the “surfacers”, who hunt them. Their motivation is the 30 bags of corn in her father’s house. Her motivation: love. Her father’s: meat. Can there be a more French theme? She returns to find:

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But he’s a clown – this is a new act he is rehearsing.

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Since Louison did not appear on the steps last night, where the killings are done, the butcher is instead selling bits of the mother of one of the tenants. As the tenant leaves the butcher, a neat packet of her mother’s flesh under her arm, she says:

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“We’ll do that now” her husband assures her.

Look, none of it makes any sense, but that’s to be expected. All we can conclude is that voracious appetite (of which cannibalism is the highest form) doesn’t pay.

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And love always triumphs…

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… even if it’s underwater.

The director Marc Caro’s cameo (in goggles).

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Rotten Tomatoes currently gives Delicatessen an impressive 89% “fresh”. The Washington Post called Delicatessen “a tasteless variation on Sweeney Todd set geographically near the border of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil” while Unsung Films said it was “reminiscent of Amélie – and …much braver”. Amélie was the director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 masterpiece.

Empire summed up Delicatessen as “simply essential viewing for vegetarians”.

Cannibalism films often have that effect.

 

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Innocent cannibalism: “SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET” (King, 1936)

One of the earliest films in the range of cannibal stories I have chosen to cover is George King’s 1936 version of Sweeney Todd. Sweeney is a modern myth, but is a descendant of the shadow archetype, those who destroy themselves in trying to destroy others, including Homer’s Cyclops, whose behaviour, Lacan would say, is governed by “unregulated libidinism”. This Todd is certainly so governed.

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The poster on the wall of the barber shop, where the story is told

The title role is played by the wonderfully named Tod Slaughter, who presents Todd as pure evil: socially respectable, yet greedy for money and lusting after the young heroine, Johanna. This is a far more straight forward explanation of cannibalism than the 21st century version where Depp is motivated by revenge at injustice (and insists on singing as well).

The plot is straightforward: Todd has a barber shop near the docks where he lures passers-by in for a shave, kills them and steals their valuables, the kind of simple but effective business plan that any bank would find beguiling.

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Todd’s partner in crime, Mrs Lovett, has a pie shop and profitably disposes of the bodies. Johanna is the daughter of a local merchant and Todd offers to go into partnership with him, planning to ruin him and blackmail him into approving marriage with his daughter. When the girl’s true love, Mark, returns with riches from the African colonies, (he also bravely fights off a tribe of savages, who are probably cannibals in terms of the colonial trope) he is robbed by Todd but saved from death by Mrs Lovett, who is jealous of Todd’s attention to Johanna. In an interesting instance of early (pre-‘slasher’) gender displacement, Johanna decides to save Mark by dressing as a boy, but is captured by Todd and, setting the gender roles back to basics, has to be rescued from the resulting fire (which consumes Todd) by Mark.

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Neither Todd nor Lovett are ever seen eating human flesh – all cannibalism is performed by the unwitting customers, alluded to when Mark’s comic relief friend and shipmate, Pearley, munches through a pie while speculating on what Todd does with the bodies. The word ‘cannibal’ is never uttered, and the only whiff of abjection is when the narrator, a modern day barber in Todd’s old shop recounting the story to a customer, reveals there is a pie shop next door, and watches in amazement as the man flees. This is textbook abjection: the smell of meat from some non-human mammal cooking next door has made the customer in contemporary London realise his own mortality.

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The class nature of nineteenth century England is illustrated by young Tobias, who is brought to Todd as an apprentice: Todd gets one guinea for each boy he takes from the parish. The Beadle warns Todd that this is the last boy he is getting: presumably he has killed, and Mrs Lovett has cooked, the previous seven.

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“You’ve brought me another apprentice. And a nice little boy, too!”

The boy prepares the victims by applying shaving cream, and is then sent off for a walk with a penny pie from next door, making the innocent lad the chief innocent cannibal. In fact, all the cannibalism is innocent and is carried out by the lower classes, represented by Pearley and Tobias, an apparent metaphor for the exploitation with which the working class was struggling in the 1930s when the film was made. Todd’s unconscionable slaughter of men (never women, except, almost, the disguised Johanna) for profit is pure objectification: he treats his fellow humans as commodities. No explanation is given, nor needed: Todd’s maniacal laughter is necessary and sufficient to make clear that he is a psychopath; in this, he is a mythic figure: the stuff of nightmares.

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Full movie (with some audio issues) is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6W0YoxQkTjs

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Cannibal Cheesecake: “Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals”, (D’Amato, 1977)

Joe D’Amato (real name Aristide Massaccesi) was nothing if not prolific, directing some 200 films from 1972-99. These covered a multitude of genres from westerns to war, comedy to fantasy, but he is best known for his horror, erotic and adult films. His first softcore movie was Emanuelle’s Revenge in 1975, followed by his work on five of the six “Black Emanuelle” movies starring Laura Gemser as a globe-trotting journalist who gets into all sorts of merry scrapes, usually involving violence, horror and rape. They were based around the French Emmanuelle movies, with one “m” removed from the title to avoid copyright problems.

D’Amato’s first Emanuelle movie, Emanuelle’s Revenge (1975), was with German actress Rosemarie Lindt as Emanuelle and George Eastman as Carlo, whose role as a murderous monster with a machete prefigured his later role in D’Amato’s Antropophagus (1980). Both these movies deserve a mention in this blog, since the first has Carlo fantasising about cannibalism while under the influence of LSD, while the second has a demented cannibal who actually eats his own intestines (all right, don’t believe me). We’ll get to them – maybe.

Emanuelle and the Cannibals was the fifth of the Black Emanuelle films; the fourth that D’Amato directed. The porn level is a great deal lower than the others in the series (Emanuelle in America for example had a naked woman masturbating a horse), but this had something better: cannibalism! Who needs horses?

The film starts with a claim to be a true story, which was the thing in those days.

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Emanuelle is in an asylum in New York, in which women do crazy things (just like they do in Suddenly Last Summer, so it must be true). Mostly they just talk to themselves and carry dolls, and Emanuelle is “embedded” as they say – an investigative journalist from the Evening Post, cleverly disguised as a doll-carrying crazy. The boss doctor (a cameo by the Director) tells her she will cause a scandal if discovered, and his price if she wants to come back and do it all again will be double.

Meanwhile, one particular crazy is busy biting off and eating a nurse’s breast, which Emanuelle finds fascinating. The staff say she is a “complete savage” and she snarls and snaps at them, but is quickly tamed by Emanuelle, who introduces herself with some hand gestures (between the girl’s legs).

Emanuelle’s editor is fascinated by the story of the cannibal and even asks how the nurse is. Emanuelle answers “she asked for it. She’s well known for her homosexual inclinations.” Well, that’s OK then. Emanuelle has taken photos of the girl with her gown hoisted up, and after studying them extensively, they raise their eyes high enough to notice a huge tattoo “above her pubic region” (I’m not sure if the dialogue really is this bad or if it is the poor translation used for the dubbing). It’s an Aztec symbol – from the Tupinambas according to the newspaper’s resident nerd (do you remember when newspapers could afford to employ nerds?). The Tupinamba were everyone’s favourite Brazilian cannibals since Hans Staden was captured by them and claimed to have witnessed their cannibalistic rituals in the sixteenth century. Fortunately, the Portuguese came to save them from their sins, and through enslavement, assimilation, extermination and the introduction of Smallpox, managed to wipe them out completely.

But not in this movie. Emanuelle goes to the Natural History Museum to meet up with the “famous anthropologist” Mark Lester (Gabriele Tinti, who was Gemser’s real-life husband). He takes her to lunch, to his house to look at films of Tanzanian ritual cannibals cutting off heads, penises and what have you from a pair of adulterers, and then to bed. She takes him to the Amazon. Fair exchange.

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now you know how to say “it’s about cannibalism” and “you’re crazy” in Swedish

Before leaving, the movie treats us to scenes of New York traffic and several gratuitous sex scenes including one with Emanuelle’s steady boyfriend, who seems to be able to make sweet sweet love while still wearing skin-tight jeans. And lots of close-ups of Gemser.

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On the plane, they smoke (!) and discuss anthropology and history, appropriate since it’s a Pan Am flight.

Why are there still cannibals? asks Emanuelle. He tells her about political cannibalism like Idi Amin, or “tolerated” cannibalism like the Andes plane crash survivors. But in the Amazon, they live by their own rules, and may eat human flesh for ritual purposes, or because they are peckish. Lucky she brought along an anthropologist.

They interview the dude who found the cannibal girl, and he says he has lived among the Amazonian tribes for 25 years and only come across two cases of cannibalism, which were quickly hushed up by the government. He has a daughter, Isabelle (Mónica Zanchi) who has grown up since she last saw Lester and lusts after him, and she spies on Lester and Emanuelle as they go through the same motions, and the same soundtrack, as the New York sex scenes, while Isabelle masturbates outside. Now that’s the sort of thing that you’d expect to cause a lot more problems than extinct cannibals.

Isabelle is taking supplies to a Missionary down the river who knows all there is to know about the “savages” as they call them, and a Nun and two Indians are going with them (definitely redshirts). The Nun tells them that superstition is still strong in the jungle, and there are still witch-doctors curing people with herbs! Oh, the horror. She does admit that the herbs work, so much so that the mission has appropriated (sorry, adopted) many of the concoctions.

There is a totally superfluous scene where Emanuelle and Isabelle are in the river washing each other (mostly concentrating on each other’s breasts, which I guess must get grimy on the river) and being watched by a chimp, who smokes their cigarettes and tries on their sunglasses. Of the three actors in the scene, the chimp seems to be portrayed as the most intelligent. They meet up with some adventurers, Donald and Maggie, who tell them that the Mission was attacked by savages and everyone massacred. Donald saves Emanuelle from a snake, and she asks him what he is doing in the jungle.

“Hunting. Hunting is my life. I’ve sacrificed a lot to satisfy my craving for – hunting…. The satisfaction of catching it. And to kill! … you have to share risks with the animals. Man too can be hunted.”

And what’s Maggie doing there? Well, she’s doing the African cook, Salvador. And no one seems to wonder what the hell he’s doing there in the middle of the Amazon basin. Donald catches them hard at it in the jungle, but it doesn’t become much of a thing, because they have their own agenda – searching for a crashed plane full of diamonds. When the others decide to go back, they find one of the redshirts cut up, cannibal style, and their boats missing.

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They try to head back down the river on foot, but on the way find a Bible, and Father Morales from the Mission to which they had been heading.

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So, we all know what happens next. This is a cannibal film after all. The Nun disappears and – well, we know from the very start of the movie which part of the body is the favourite of these particular cannibals. They also like intestines. And we get to see it all happen.

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The expeditionaries find the Nun (or some of her), and it just gets worse from there. Donald and Maggie find the plane and the diamonds, pause for a celebratory quickie, and are attacked by the cannibals. Donald forgets to duck and the savages take Maggie, and the diamonds. Our few remaining heroes find the village and the villagers, who are about to sacrifice Maggie to the Goddess of Fertility. We know this because we have an anthropologist along. After that, they put a wire around Donald’s midriff, and have a tug of war.

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Donald’s quick weight-loss diet

Isabelle is drugged and naked, but they want to sacrifice a pregnant girl to the river gods, and she’s not pregnant – yet. Cue a rather morose gang rape, led by the Shaman, where the rapists all seem bashful – doing it in front of a crowd I guess?

When everybody has had a turn at poor Isabelle, Emanuelle comes up with an idea – she paints the tattoo found on the crazy girl onto her stomach and appears to the superstitious locals as their Goddess of the river. They hand over Isabelle and the two women dive into the river hand in hand, much to the rage of the hoodwinked cannibals, who pursue them in canoes. Luckily, Emanuelle is willing to do anything for a story, even shoot people, but she’s a bit sorry about the white people (and servants) they lost on the way, even remembering the names of the redshirts. But Mark sums it up, with typical anthropological moral relativity:

“Don’t take it badly, Emanuelle. It’s nobody’s fault.”

And nor, apparently, is cannibalism. Or colonialism. Or killing natives for following their rituals. Or making really bad movies.

Rottentomatoes.com has not bothered to gather the reviews of critics, but the viewers’ score is a miserable 26%, with a “Super Reviewer” pointing out that “The acting may be appalling, but it’s difficult to tell for sure because this is dubbed — badly.”

The Allmovie site summed it up:

“excruciating tedium punctuated by occasional kinky sex in the first half of the film and cheap, gag-inducing special effects in the second…
Too gory for softcore fans and too dull for gorehounds, this is basically a film with no target audience whatsoever.”

Perhaps the Director was making a subtle point with this scene where they are planning to eat some innocent creature from the jungle:

The full movie is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oPfifnhGNo (dubbed into English, with Spanish subtitles!).

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

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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.

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The genius behind Marvel – Stan Lee – in the last cameo released before his death

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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The unkindest cut: “Teeth” (Lichtenstein, 2007)

Six months into this blog, I ask you: have we actually defined cannibalism? I answer you (because it’s a rhetorical question): no, we have not.

The Oxford Dictionary says that a cannibal is “a person who eats the flesh of other human beings”. But what does “eat” mean, then? “Put (food) into the mouth and chew and swallow it.”  So then we have problems with zombies, who eat the flesh of other humans, but may or may not be “persons” (since they are dead, or undead). And with bulemics, who chew and swallow, but then bring it up again?

Why am I being such a pain about this? Because I like this film, and would love to fit it into my cannibal blog. But she, to put it politely, does not swallow

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Teeth is directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein, the son of far more famous pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. It is awkwardly defined as “comedy horror” which can be a problematic mix, and often ends up with silly movies like Eat the Rich. But this one works, although I didn’t find it terribly funny. I guess if you were sitting in a cinema watching a bunch of teenage boys squirm, that might have been good for a laugh.

Dawn

Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler) is a teenage spokesperson for a Christian abstinence group called the “Promise”. This is a terrifying crowd – young teens can be pretty off-putting anyway, but this lot want to chant stuff about Eve and the Devil and Sin, and do so with a flint-eyed seriousness that is disturbing (or funny if you see it from a certain angle).

Dawn has a talent which is not known to anyone, including her, or the various males who try to assault and penetrate her: she has a vagina dentata: a toothed vagina. As a tiny girl, she almost bites off the finger tip of her step-brother who is doing naughty things under her swim suit in the wading pool, but the talent comes into its own when a boy from the abstinence group decides that God will forgive and understand if he takes advantage of their solitary swim, knocks her almost unconscious and then starts to rape her. Well, God might forgive, but Dawn’s lower teeth don’t, and he discovers a new and very agonising weight loss method.

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The vagina dentata is an ancient myth that is found in many folk legends from a wide range of peoples. Freud and the classical theorists liked to say that it is a representation of the fear that little boys have of their penis-less mothers, which leads them to assume that they are next for castration, either by her or by their fathers who are angry at their budding Oedipal desires. Joseph Campbell in The Masks of God talks about a New Mexico myth in which “vagina girls” ate men who came to their house for sex. We’re getting close to cannibalism now, I think.

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It’s a huge subject, covering quite a lot of what goes in the festering sewers of our unconscious minds. If you wish to research it more (and it is fascinating stuff), Barbara Creed has covered the subject comprehensively in The Monstrous Feminine.

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So: young Dawn, played brilliantly by Jess Weixler, whom you may recognise as the investigator Robyn in the TV series The Good Wife, believes in saving herself for marriage, a view that is considered somewhat old fashioned now, but still resonates in many parts of the world, particularly the Bible belts. Those around her, including her step-brother with the disfigured finger, feel that she should “put out” as they say, but when she does, boy are they sorry. Creed looks closely at the “taboo of virginity” and Freud’s view that this arises from penis envy and frigidity. Men fear that women will castrate them, particularly when the loss of virginity is painful, as it clearly is to Dawn. Freud ignores the possibility that it is men’s irrational fear of the deadly power of the vagina that leads to fear of sexual intercourse. Brought up in this oppressive environment, Dawn is unaware of her power. The film unravels this power.

Weixler won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival “For a juicy and jaw-dropping performance”, and it was well deserved.

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You have to watch closely to catch the “banana split” gag

The horror of cannibalism is at least as much to do with their power to snap, bite and destroy as it is with their tendency to swallow (any old Jaws can do that). The vampire, without whom the Horror industry would be toothless (sorry), swallows, but only blood, not flesh. Yet it is the sharp teeth and the swallowing that gives vampires their welcome into at least the outer limits of cannibal fiction. Dawn is an unwilling but not totally innocent cannibal, because she soon figures out (through google) what it means to be the bearer of the vagina dentata.

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A film like this could easily degenerate into farce, and the celibate teens could end up laughable stereotypes of conservative bigots. Yet, Dawn takes us with her on her quest to understand what she is, what she wants, and what she can do to those who wish to force themselves on her. The logline states “every rose has its thorns”, and the trailer says “Something is wrong with Dawn O’Keefe”. But surely that’s not true – there is something very wrong with the rapists, and it gets a lot wronger as they get closer to the climax of their plans. One review said:

“What’s most important for Dawn is she discovers her vagina is not a curse but a source of power.”

Dawn at first thinks that her vagina dentata might be the “Adam within”, a forbidden male side of her character that causes gratuitous havoc. But in fact, the teeth are her defence and her weapon against injustice. With her extra teeth, and the ‘dawning’ of the realisation of her own power, Dawn is a superhero of the #MeToo age.

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The film has a respectable 80% on Rotten Tomatoes website, with the concensus being:

“Smart, original, and horrifically funny, Teeth puts a fresh feminist spin on horror movie tropes.”

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This poster was apparently banned

The final credits state:

No man was harmed

 

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If you have any questions or comments, you can use the tag, or email me  on cannibalstudies@gmail.com.

Dead people’s fingers? Really? No.

The film blogs arrive on Sunday morning (eastern Australian time) but occasionally another possible cannibal connection arrives which is too good to miss. Take a look:

Dead peoples fingers

Yep, not dead fingers at all. It’s a fungus, that happens to look like grey fingers with nails. It’s Xylaria polymorpha, commonly known as dead man’s fingers, a saprobic fungus.

So what’s it doing on a cannibal blog? Only this: it reminded me of the scene from the TV series Hannibal called “Amuse-Bouche“. People are being buried, alive, to feed fungi.

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I guess you’d call that: life imitates art?

One of the best shows on television, and I will get to it soon on this blog.

 

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.