Man-eating Mermaids: THE LURE (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Look, if you somehow managed to miss the Disney version of The Little Mermaid (1989) or the live action version in 2018, you were probably, as a defenceless child, read the 1837 Hans Christian Andersen story. A mermaid is an outsider – neither fish nor human. A sea creature, yet capable of living on the land as a two-legged person, and falling in love, and all those complications. She is often also mad, bad and dangerous to know.

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The Lure is a Polish version of this mermaid myth, in which the mermaids, Golden and Silver, get a job in an adult entertainment nightclub (mermaids have beautiful voices – remember the “sirens” in Homer’s Odyssey?) and for part of the time, when not performing, they lure men to their deaths, and eat them. Love is tricky, since they are, in human form, devoid of genitals, but hey, pour a glass of water on them, or throw them into the swimming pool, and problem solved.

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Is a mermaid eating a human really cannibalism? Well, they are half human, so I guess we could conclude that it’s half-cannibalism. As Hannibal Lecter said, “It’s only cannibalism if we’re equals”. They do seem to be mammals though.

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Maybe they are whalemaids? Anyhoo, there’s that very long fish tail, that was a bit of a problem, even in 1837, but can be overcome – they can change. Silver loves the hot bass player and has her tail cut off, and legs grafted on. The Polish doctors seem to be pretty damn good at what would have to be considered very serious surgery.

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What happens when you lose your tail – will you be accepted as “normal”? Well, ask any immigrant to anywhere – it’s not that easy. Silver loses not just her scales but her singing voice. The bassist digs her dedication to his love, but is disgusted when he tries to have sex with her and ends up covered in blood (definitely a risk if you have just had a WHOLE NEW LOWER BODY grafted onto your tummy).

The AV reviewer said the film “celebrates the animalistic, the feminine, and the intimate intersections between the two”. It does not resile from the blood or, indeed, their fishy smell, a popular misogynistic trope.

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The changing body is not restricted to young mermaids, but is common to those suffering puberty. As the director Agnieszka Smoczynska said of becoming young women, “they menstruate, they ovulate, their bodies start smelling and feeling different”. And another problem, in terms of social acceptance, is their teeth, with which they tear people to pieces. Teenager girls can be so mean.

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In the Disney version, Ariel becomes human and lives happily ever after (sorry, but not much of a spoiler – what do you expect from Disney?) This one is closer to the Andersen fairy tale, which means: much darker.

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The prince marries someone else, and the mermaid can only recover her fishiness by eating him; if she doesn’t, she’ll become sea-foam. In this dissonant, modern version, the kingdom is the Warsaw nightclub, the prince is a bass player, and people get eaten – why waste a good corpse? The sea-foam – that, of course, is the constant of every good (and not so good) movie.

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Anyway, this film is a hoot, and well worth seeking out (not so easy, but persevere). The Roger Ebert reviewer called it “sadly not as joyfully deranged as it could be”, but it has 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty good!

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The Lure is a movie that (hopefully) will leave you thinking about its themes long afterwards. Why can Silver not exist if her prince/guitarist marries someone else? Why does he only want her when her natural pudenda (in her tail) are removed and replaced with someone else’s, between human legs? Eating flesh makes the girls strong, but love can turn them into sea-foam? Like all cannibal movies (maybe all movies?) it’s all about fear and appetite. The club staff and patrons go wild with desire when the mermaid sisters sing, but they also fear and hate them for being different, for being monsters, and they are shamelessly exploited and underpaid. Go read Barbara Creed on female monsters – men don’t fear them because they appear to have been castrated as Freud thought, rather they dread them as castrators, the bearer of the toothed vagina, and of the womb from which we all come, and into which we subconsciously fear being reabsorbed, eaten and digested, until we, not Silver, are just sea-foam once again.

At the end of every good cannibal movie, we should leave the cinema (or nowadays the couch) asking, “who, exactly, was the monster?”

“…crazy sons of bitches” – HANNIBAL 3.11 “…And the Beast from the Sea”

Here’s a trivia question for the serious Hannibal aficionados: what is the name of
Will Graham’s son /step-son?
*Answer at the bottom of the blog.

Hannibal has been in a cell in the Asylum for the whole season, so not many people are getting eaten. Will is back in the game, desperately trying to catch the “Great Red Dragon”, who is certainly a biter, and a necrophile, but not so much a swallower of human flesh. But to understand why the GRD (Francis Dolarhyde) does what he does, and why Hannibal did what he used to do, we need to understand a bit about Hannibal’s Nietzschean understanding of the Übermensch (superman) and how, Will finally realises, he encourages his patients and acquaintances to “change” people as part of the development of the “higher self”.

The asylum security is surprisingly lax, considering Alana Bloom is in charge, and she is deeply motivated by the fact that Hannibal has promised to kill her as soon as he can. Nonetheless, calls come in from what appears to be Hannibal’s lawyer’s office and are patched through to his cell, and so he can happily chat to the GRD and give him advice on life, love, and killing, or what you might call “eat, prey, love”.

Dolarhyde is worried about his new girlfriend, and what the Dragon (his higher self) will do to her.

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Like, frinstance, Will. Hannibal tells him: “He has a family. Save yourself.”

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There’s always a problem bringing a classic story into the present day. Imagine Henry V with machine guns. Clarice Starling with a cell phone (“just on my way down the basement stairs now. Send a coupla dozen agents over stat”). Dolarhyde, in the book and films, was choosing his victims on the super-8 family movies he developed at work. Probably read telegrams too. But this is a new century – how does he choose them in 2015?

Indeed. Dolarhyde is watching videos of Will’s wife and step-son, Molly and Walter – Reba, who is blind, asks if these are his nocturnal animals? Yes. Do you think they know they’re being filmed? No.

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Will has a vague idea he’s being played, but is clueless to what is really happening. He says he is not fortune’s fool, he is Hannibal’s fool, and that is certainly true. “Fortune’s fool” is a phrase Shakespeare liked a lot. It’s used in Romeo and Juliet, King Lear and Timon of Athens. Will hasn’t got his head around Hannibal’s coaching system yet, despite some very broad hints. He has worked out that he ran into Dolarhyde last episode at the museum because Hannibal planned it that way. Now he wants Hannibal’s help to identify the next family that Dolarhyde will kill, but he’s still not getting those broad hints from Hannibal about who that family might be.

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Still clueless, Will asks, “you’re willing to let them die?”

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Now Molly (Nina Arianda), Will’s wife (sorry Hannigrammers, he got married when we weren’t looking) is not fortune’s fool, and she’s not Hannibal’s either. It’s almost like she was expecting the GRD to come looking. She bundles her son out of the window, distracts Dolarhyde with the car alarm, flags down a passing car (in the middle of nowhere, mind you) and drives off as the Dragon shoots the driver. When Will visits her in hospital, she jokes about getting angry. She may be the best adjusted person in the whole series.

Anyway, Jack and Alana are woke to Hannibal’s little game now.

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Mads Mikkelsen plays Hannibal as Satan, and Jack wants him to be the Devil’s advocate. They want Hannibal to talk to the GRD, keep him on the phone while they run a trace. What he says to Dolarhyde, though, is a direct line into Lecter/Nietzschean philosophy.

“You are the Dragon, you don’t have to be afraid. You know who speaks. From the beginning, you and the Dragon had been one. You are Becoming. And the Dragon is your higher self. Don’t let fear leach your strength. You are almost blind to your own true feelings. No more able to express them than a scar can blush.”

Dolarhyde is still worrying about Reba and his unlikely ability to be loved. “She called me a man! A sweet man!”

Hannibal talks just long enough for them to get a trace, but not to catch him, as he then warns Dolarhyde, just as he warned Garrett Jacob Hobbs in the very first episode of season one.

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Will was already a bit upset at Hannibal…

Wonderful cartoon by “Nat Draws Stuff

But now, he’s back, and mad as a murder hornet!

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This just gives Hannibal an opening for more philosophy.

“The essence of the worst in the human spirit is not found in the crazy sons of bitches. Ugliness is found in the faces of the crowd.”

The Dragon, Hannibal muses, “likely thinks you are as much a monster as you think he is.” Hannibal of course realises the “nice” Dolarhyde is trying to overcome the Red Dragon side of his personality, and Hannibal of course knows Goethe’s Faust off by heart:

“Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast, and one is striving to forsake its brother.”

The episode finishes with Hannibal offering Will friendship, absolution, the chance to start again.

“The Great Red Dragon is freedom to him. Shedding his skin. The sound of his voice. His own reflection. The building of a new body and the othering of himself, the splitting of his personality, all seem active and deliberate. He craves change.”

Will finally gets it: “He didn’t murder those families.”

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* Will’s son/stepson? It’s a trick question – the little boy’s name keeps changing.

  • In the book Red Dragon, he’s Willy.
  • In the movie Manhunter, he’s Kevin.
  • In the film Red Dragon, he’s Josh.
  • In the TV series, he’s now Wally (Walter).

WTF? Almost a full circle.

Even the hockey mask has made a comeback.

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Only two more episodes to go before the finale. Where, oh where, is Season 4?

#savehannibal

“FLESH EATING MOTHERS” (James Aviles Martin, 1989)

OK, I’m posting this on Mother’s Day, and a very happy occasion may it be for those who have a mother, particularly one who doesn’t routinely eat her children. But the film is also about a deadly virus, one which has been covered up by the authorities, so it’s not just schlock horror, but also somewhat prophetic.

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This has it all: cannibalism, domestic violence, murder, lots of blood, adultery and filicide – yes, the mothers eat everything in the fridge and then start on their kids. Early in the piece, one mother stuffs a whole sandwich in her mouth (possibly the most abject scene) then starts on her son, who is still, absurdly, wearing his baseball mitt.

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Her husband is a cop and manages to shoot her as she nominates him as main course, then he’s arrested, has to prove his innocence with the help of a scientist who is being stymied by official obstruction, and at this point there is a tendency to turn off and watch something else, particularly as the acting is so bad that one suspects it has to be deliberate.

This one literally is the best actor in the film:

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You get the idea. One mother makes her son special creamy mashed potatoes, which he eats as she describes the process of producing milk-fed veal. Is there a message here – a cream-fed kid who is about to be her dinner?

“Milk-fed baby cows…. The calf is taken from the mother and put in a small room, so small that he can’t move around, see, so that his muscles are real tender. And they don’t feed him anything but milk, so that he’s really soft by the time they kill him. And so he’s really delicate to eat.”

She pours him another glass of milk.

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“Mom’s on the rag again” he complains to his friend after he escapes, adding that he doesn’t blame her: “it’s all society’s fault”.

The kids work out what’s going on and unite in opposition, but not until plenty of makeup and fake blood has been added to this powerful stew of nonsense.

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“My mother ate my brother.”
“My mother too!”
“My mother ate my father.”
“She’s never done anything like this before!”

Look, it’s all very light-hearted, despite the R rating, and it’s a bit unfortunate that I decided to review it the week after one of the greatest cannibalism movies, Fritz Lang’s M. But there’s an important point here, for us keen Cannibal Studies scholars. So many cannibal films feature male cannibals, from Hans Beckert to Sweeney Todd to Hannibal Lecter. Yet as Barbara Creed told us in The Monstrous Feminine, published not long after this movie hit the big screen, mythical tales and modern horror films teem with female monsters. But the stereotype for cannibal films is the male cannibal and, often, the female victim. Where monsters are female, they often follow Freud’s odd designation of women as terrifying and abject because little boys are supposed to see their lack of a penis as proof their mothers were castrated. Thus, we get the dumb teenager saying “Mom’s on the rag again”. She is, even after trying to eat him, a victim in his eyes.

But Creed, and this film, argue that the female monster relates not to her lack but her centrality to reproduction and nurturing. Woman is the all-consuming womb, the witch, the vampire, the castrator rather than the castrated. We know we came out of her, and fear we may be reabsorbed. But hey, the scene of the battered wife eating the fist of her abusive husband fills us with a certain satisfaction.

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Of the more than 300 films involving cannibalism that I will be discussing in this blog (eventually), only a handful involve female protagonists or even female directors. When they do, they are often presented as comedy as (I presume) this film is; films such as Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death or Santa Clarita Diet. Even in those, though, as in the more serious offerings such as Raw or Jennifer’s Body, cannibalism is presented as a form of empowerment, never as a lack.

Here’s the virus under a microscope.

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The authorities knew about it, but kept it hidden, apparently because they thought it was a punishment for adultery. Plenty of Trump supporters who doubtlessly believe the same about COVID-19. Luckily, there’s a smart scientist with an instant vaccine.

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This is a very silly movie, but it’s refreshing to see some women do the flesh-eating for a change.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

Fritz Lang’s Cannibalism Masterpiece – “M – EINE STADT SUCHT EINEN MÖRDER”, (1931)

Fritz Lang considered this film to be his magnum opus. It regularly appears on lists of the best movies ever made, it was voted the best German film of all time by the Association of German Cinémathèques, and it is one of the few movies with 100% on the website Rotten Tomatoes. It set the standard by which police procedurals and serial killer stories would be judged for the next century. But is it a cannibal movie?

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The story starts with a group of small children standing in a circle, and a little girl, Elsie, is choosing who is eliminated from the game, using a song:

“Soon will come the man in black for you…”

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Ja, it’s a cannibal film. We don’t see anyone get eaten, but that is not unusual, particularly in the older films from the cannibal genre.

Elsie is heading home after school, bouncing her ball, past a poster seeking information about the murderer of eight children.

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A nice man, Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre in his first major film role), compliments her colourful ball and offers to buy her a balloon. He is whistling Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. The music is best known for its use in Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, which is not actually a cannibal story, but does involve a lot of stuff about trolls eating people.

Soon we see the ball rolling away, the balloon floating off, briefly caught on telegraph wires.

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Like most modern cannibals since Jack The Ripper, the killer is indistinguishable from the rest of the public – just a normal guy (well, as normal as Peter Lorre could ever be).

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The panic over the ninth murder makes everyone a suspect, particularly after Beckert writes to the papers, boasting that he’ll keep on killing.

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The police raid the criminal underground every night, which is terrible for business.

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The bar owner complains to the police that even the hardest working prostitute…

“hides a mother inside… I know many hard crooks whose eyes mist up looking at the little children playing.”

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And so it goes. The coppers can’t catch him, so the underworld decides they will catch him, just so they can get back to business as usual.

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The police have their own theories of why they cannot catch him:

“He’s not a real crook! Maybe he’s somebody who shows the harmless look of a good citizen who wouldn’t kill a fly.”

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“If it wasn’t for this… apparent innocence of murderers, it would be unthinkable that a man like Grossmann* or Haarmann* could live for years next door to their neighbours, without raising any kind of suspicion”.

The police follow leads from the asylums; the crooks have other methods. Of course, everyone is a suspect, except – the beggars. The heads of the underworld offer them a reward to watch all the children of the city. Meanwhile, Beckert is watching little girls in shop window reflections.

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The “M” of the title is chalked onto his coat by one of the beggars, as he is taking away his next child.

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No more spoilers. Let us just say that the climax is a trial, in which Lang asks some hard questions about whether we are responsible for our actions, even when we cannot control our own minds.

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The moral of the story is presented by Elsie’s mother, sitting outside the court, who says:

“This will not bring our children back to life. People should take better care of their children!”

Indeed.

No mention is made of the precise fate of the victims in the movie – Lang leaves that up to our imagination, and some knowledge of German serial killers of that time. They disappeared without trace for some days and…

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*   Some critics and reviewers claim that M was based on serial killer Peter Kürten—the Vampire of Düsseldorf—whose murdered at least ten people including several children in the 1920s and achieving sexual climaxes from the killings, and from drinking the blood of some of the victims. He was also keen on writing to newspapers, as is depicted in the film. Kürten was beheaded in 1931 for his crimes, so would have been very much in the news at the time of the film’s creation.

Fritz Lang, however, in an interview in 1963 with film historian Gero Gandert, denied that M was based solely on Kürten

“At the time I decided to use the subject matter of M, there were many serial killers terrorizing Germany—Haarmann, Grossmann, Kürten, Denke”

The first two are actually mentioned in the film. Fritz Haarmann, known as the “Butcher of Hanover”, killed at least 24 boys and young men between 1918 and 1924, often by biting their throats, and then allegedly eating or selling the meat from their corpses as pork or horse-meat. Carl Großmann was arrested in 1921, a suspect in up to 100 murders of women and girls, whose flesh he was suspected of selling on the black market and from a hot-dog stand in Berlin during the Great War. Karl Denke killed and sold the flesh of dozens of homeless vagrants and travellers from 1903-1924.

The fact that Lang quoted those four serial killers as his models indicate that he certainly had cannibalism in mind when creating the role presented by Peter Lorre – the serial killer who cannot control his urges.

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M is highly recommended as a classic, not just of the cannibal genre, but of cinematic art.

The full movie is currently available (and with excellent quality) on Youtube:

Essential worker cannibals: THE TIME MACHINE (Wells, 2002)

Those of us who can get away with it are locked up at home, some of us writing blogs. Meanwhile, outside in the world, the ‘essential workers’ – doctors, nurses, check-out operators, delivery drivers, teachers and, of course, hairdressers – have never been busier. We are splitting into two groups – the enforced idle, and those with hazardous, possibly lethal jobs, upon whom we rely. That will last, we are told, until a COVID-19 vaccine arrives, but those identities are already forged and will leave their cultural fossils behind. The idle, basking in their gardens (if they have them) and the toilers, looking after them. Both, of course, share the need to eat.

In 2011, Guy Standing released a book called The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class.  It was about how a new class was being produced by neo-liberal capitalism – people whose jobs, lifestyles and sense of stability had been devastated by the imposition of the free market and globalisation. The divergence between rich and poor has never been greater, and not just in the “developed” nations. Workers everywhere are being cast down into poverty and despair, not just by their bosses, but by workers in other countries who are willing to work for a pittance. The precariat, said Standing, “are prone to listen to ugly voices, and to use their votes and money to give those voices a political platform of increasing influence”.

Neo-libs found a voice in Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and later the Tea Party in the USA. Trump, Putin and Brexit and fascist leaders in Hungary and Brazil rode to power as those ugly voices grew, looking for a scapegoat, an “other”, to blame. The splits in our societies continue to widen, so the ugly voices, and the hunger, increase. Fritz Lang in the film Metropolis (1927) told of workers being condemned to work in the dark caverns underground while the rich enjoyed life in skyscrapers.

What do these two trends have in common? Enforced idleness, medical or economic, and frantic toil, often with disproportionately meagre rewards, often in appalling conditions. The calls to strike out against real or imagined elites. It’s taken to its logical conclusion in THE TIME MACHINE, the original 1895 book by H.G. Wells, George Pal’s 1960 film, and this 2002 DreamWorks remake, directed by Simon Wells (the great-grandson of H.G.), which takes a new look at this story of human evolution. Where exactly are we heading?

In this version, unlike the original, “the Time Traveller” has a name: Dr. Alexander Hartdegen, associate professor of applied mechanics and engineering at Columbia University. He is played by Guy Pearce, an Aussie actor whom we know from Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Memento, Jack Irish and of course Neighbours. Pearce has also appeared in a couple of cannibal films, including the lead role in Ravenous and “the Veteran” in The Road.

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Modern movies insist on specific and personal motivations – think of Sweeney Todd, who in Tim Burton’s 2007 version was motivated by revenge for his wrongful transportation to Australia while his wife and child were abducted by the judge. In the 1936 version, however, he was just a greedy bastard who liked killing people and stealing their goods (and selling their flesh). Just so, in this 2002 Time Machine, professor Hartdegen’s fiancé is murdered in a mugging gone wrong, and he is driven to invent a time machine to see if he can go back and save her.

In the book and the 1960 movie, the humans of the future had regressed, defying the then (and still) popular concept of a “great chain of being” in which evolution inexorably means progress to ever higher forms. This ideology had become known as “social Darwinism” although the assumption of progress would have baffled Charles Darwin, who saw evolution as natural selection of those species who best fitted an environment. Darwin did not, therefore, involve subjective terms like “progress” in his theories (much). In H.G.Wells’ vision, the effete ruling classes had become the beautiful but useless Eloi, who sat in a bucolic paradise picking flowers. They were, in turn, picked off at night for dinner by the cannibalistic Morlocks, descended from the workers, who had gone underground and were now subterranean predators, spooky, but easily defeated by shining lights in their eyes (or by the ham-like fists of Rod Taylor – another Aussie who played the Time Traveller in the 1960 movie).

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But the Eloi of the year 802,701 in this 2002 version are a somewhat sterner lot, building sanctuaries high in the mountains to avoid the nocturnal depredations of the Morlocks, but fatalistically accepting what would probably happen to them one dark night.

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Hilariously, they have set up a shrine to the America of our time, and learn from childhood a perfect 21st century American English, taught by the film’s love interest (and damsel in distress) Mara (played by the Irish singer Samantha Mumba).

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The Morlocks are a far more formidable foe too, appearing from the ground, in daylight, and capturing their prey with poisoned darts; they are immensely strong, not too smart, and hideously ugly. They are also, like the humans of the present and most other periods, voraciously hungry, and capable of eating all their supplies (roasted Eloi) at once if not controlled.

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And here is the main interest in this story – the Morlocks are controlled, psychically, by an “Übermorlock” (Jeremy Irons, looking a lot like the late, great Tom Petty).

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Civilisations, as this story illustrates, do not trend toward constant progress, but rise and fall in cycles, as John Gray has been trying to tell us,

“To believe in progress is to believe that, by using the new powers given to us by growing scientific knowledge, humans can free themselves from the limits that frame the lives of other animals. This is the hope of nearly everybody today, but it is groundless.”

As if to prove this point, a quick trip to the year 635,427,810 shows a burning wasteland with armies of soldiers or slaves wandering in the desolation.

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At their most perilous, civilisations turn to power-hungry dictators – think Caligula, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or the Übermorlock. They offer simplistic solutions to increasingly complex problems. Those solutions find a scapegoat, an alien group, an easy sacrifice, and death for those target populations is common, as is their consumption, if not as food, then as slaves.

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The Übermorlock explains that the underground workers and the above ground hedonists evolved into two separate species, and that within his own type, castes developed – the brutish predators and the intelligentsia, who use mind control. The Eloi are simply “livestock” and the Übermorlock is unimpressed by our hero’s attempts to impose the anti-cannibal ethics of 800,000 years ago.

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And is he wrong? Think of the COVID dialogues about letting the vulnerable old people die to allow the economy to grow.

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Yes, the Morlocks, like humanoid coronaviruses, find it much easier to catch old people. The rest of the Eloi are allowed to get fat and sassy until time for slaughter – just like some seventy billion other animals we inculpably slaughter and eat every year. Hartdegen does not realise this until he falls into the Morlock waste processing system.

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Are the Morlock’s evil? Perhaps by the standard of 20th century liberal humanism. In 800,000 years, or now if we choose, we may have other ideas.

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Rotten Tomatoes gave it a paltry 29%, saying

“This Machine has all the razzle-dazzles of modern special effects, but the movie takes a turn for the worst when it switches from a story about lost love to a confusing action-thriller.”

Bit harsh, IMHO. The cast is good, the special effects great fun, and the reimagining of the story shows some interesting thoughts about evolution and human ethics. Entertaining and worth a look, I’d say.

“Got me spread like a buffet” – KATY PERRY “Bon Appétit”

Katy Perry goes full cannibal? Her 2017 online clip Bon Appétit was a huge hit, with 14 million hits in the first 24 hours. But is it liberation or just lunch? Well, she claims it is about liberation, posting that  she is “hot and ready to serve but make no mistake I’m not your piece of meat”.

Katy Perry about to be prepared by an array of chefs in the Bon Appetit video.

The clip shows her being covered in flour and kneaded by a bunch of chefs, her limbs stretched out, then dropped into a steaming cauldron to baste herself. At one point, her tongue is burned by the kind of torch you might see in a French or Japanese restaurant.

Katy Perry is stretched like dough by chefs in her video.

One tweet stated that Perry was “targeting the cannibal demographic”. Was she appealing to the voraphilia market, or criticising the objectification of the female body?

Baste it: Katy Perry is dropped into a large vat of water.

Appetite for seduction
Fresh out the oven
Melt in your mouth kind of lovin’
Bon a, bon appétit, baby

It looks a lot like exploitation pseudo-porn. But hey, maybe it’s a subtle and clever dig at the way artists, and particularly women, are ‘consumed’ by their fan-base. Yes, and maybe cannibal movies are a subtle and clever dig at the anthropocentric objectification of certain species to satisfy the voracious appetites of humans. Seems unlikely to be intentional but, perhaps at some level, that is what is happening here.

Katy Perry's new music video Bon Appetit had 14 million views on You Tube in 24 hours.

“The most violent film ever made” – CANNIBAL FEROX (Lenzi, 1981)

The US distributor of this film (where it was renamed Make Them Die Slowly) made the claim that it was the most violent film ever made, and had been banned in 31 countries.

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Both claims are highly dubious, but it is certainly one of the nastiest of the so-called “cannibal boom” movies that came out of Italy in the 1970s and 1980s. These films depicted a savage world in which the primitive natives were merciless cannibals, while the white victims were mostly corrupt and exploitative thugs, who invariably brought on the savagery by their own greed and violence (this one involves eye-gouging and penisectomies as well as brain and intestine munching). They deserved to be killed and eaten, especially since they were aware that all primitive people are cannibals. This from the civilisation that brought you Christopher Columbus, who coined the term “cannibal” and demonised the diverse nations of a whole continent.

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Lenzi’s film was made a year after the most famous of the Italian cannibal slashers, Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust. Although Cannibal Ferox seemed to be a rip-off of Deodato’s magnum opus, let us not forget that Lenzi started the boom back in 1971 with Man From Deep River. That in turn was lifted from the Mondo films like Mondo Cane, films which showed the disturbing violence within nature and primitive societies, and pointed out that such dark forces still swirled within the well-dressed breasts of modern, cosmopolitan Europeans.

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Look, I’ve been kinda avoiding reviewing this one, not because I  thought you couldn’t handle it (you are reading a cannibal blog fergoodnessake!) but more because I was wondering if I could. More gratuitously violent than Cannibal Holocaust, the scenes of torture are really all that this one is remembered for (certainly not for the plot or acting). Make up artist Gianetto de Rossi created the realistic special-effects, most infamously remembered for the scene where a woman is hoisted in the air by hooks through her breasts. De Rossi had previously worked on Emanuelle in America and Zombie II, the latter becoming famous as the goriest movie ever made.

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There’s a convoluted plot that you can follow on Wikipedia if you want, or even watch the movie if you must. It involves drugs, the Mafia, cannibals growing drugs for the Mafia, and cannibals eating greedy and vicious, or stupid and naïve, white people. The interesting part of the plot, from a Cannibal Studies point of view, is that the stupid, innocent Westerners who find themselves being caught up in all this (and tortured and eaten) are there on a fool’s errand – one of them, Gloria, is writing a thesis that is going to prove that cannibalism doesn’t exist and never existed. Her thesis is entitled “Cannibalism: End of the Myth”. [Holy excreted humanflesh; that’s kinda what I’m doing!] Radical as this thought is, it had actually been presented in an academic form by William Arens two years before this movie, in his book The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy. Don’t you love coincidences like that? Wanton violence, abusive sex, torture, cannibalism and academic dishonesty – an honest portrait of the PhD process. Then there’s the invariable PhD curse – half way through your research, someone sits down with a bowl of intestines and screws up everything you’ve written.

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Cannibal Boom movies cannot be accused of involving any sort of academic rigour, concentrating instead on slaughter, torture, exploitative female nudity (and more torture) and cannibalism, as well as the totally gratuitous filming of real animal abuse. Italian cannibal directors love to put real footage into their stories of fake violence. Look, they say, a real animal suffered and died, so now you’ll accept that the actors were also killed. Actually, that sort of worked for Deodato, who was almost tried for murder,until he was able to get his Cannibal Holocaust actors to appear in court, to prove they were still alive.

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The German version was called “Revenge of the Cannibals”

Cannibal Ferox is torture-porn – it didn’t invent the genre, but it took it to new levels and laid the foundations for some of the grindhouse horror that was to follow. For example, the scene of a skull being opened and the brains eaten from it had already appeared in Deranged (Gillen & Ormsby) in 1974, and was perfected in Hannibal (Ridley Scott, 2001).

Cannibal Ferox managed to scrape together a 40% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, from only five critics, one of whom summed up that “it both feeds and condemns our desire for the taboo sensations promised by its title”.

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

If you can’t be bothered watching the whole thing but would enjoy some highlights, this video review by “The Horror Geek” is hilarious!

“Cannibal Ferox” means fierce cannibals. In the US, it was renamed “Make Them Die Slowly”, and in Australia “Woman from Deep River”. Not sure if that reveals some sort of cultural distinction right there.

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