“You are what you eat” – EAT A SWEDE, 2021

The world’s most popular pastime is eating. Plants “eat” carbon dioxide and water and turn it into carbohydrates, which animals then eat. Some animals then eat those animals. The theologian William Ralph Inge described nature as “a conjugation of the verb to eat, in the active and the passive”. Everyone is eating most of the time. When appetite becomes too voracious, we end up eating each other, or being eaten.

The video starts with members of a focus group being told they were trying human flesh.

The video shows Erik Karlsson as an entrepreneur who is trying to persuade investors to back his project to grow human meat for sale in supermarkets, and especially meat that is grown from the cells of Sweden’s national treasure, the actor Alexander Skarsgård. He then tries to persuade Skarsgård to donate some cells, for which he offers a partnership in the company. No dice.

The trailer at the top of this blog links to a website which explains the theory behind the longer clip, which is also available on YouTube: Eat a Swede (which has subtitles) or at the Eat a Swede website. Karlsson tells us that

“In 2050, the global population will reach 10 BILLION. The demand for food is expected to increase by 98%.”

There is no doubt that current meat industries are environmentally unsustainable. Humans slaughter some seventy billion (70,000,000,000) land animals every year for food, and trillions of sea animals. Yet most of the world’s people eat far less meat than Americans or Australians, and biologist E.O. Wilson estimated that for the rest of the world to reach those levels of consumption would require four more planet Earths. Other options for replacing meat include fungus, insects, larvae, etc. But why would we eat maggots (or pigs) when we have flesh from clean-living, environmentally conscious Swedes?

So anyway, meticulous detective work (AKA a quick glance at the website) revealed that this is not in fact a real company, nor are they growing real human flesh in the lab. It’s what they describe as “edutainment” or “mockumentary”. The Swedish Food Federation – an industry organization with about 800 member companies from Arla and Absolut to Oatly and Orkla – wanted to share their knowledge about sustainable food production, and in the process increase the competitive edge for Swedish food. Release a website on sustainable agriculture and you may get a few dozen likes. Make a “mockumentary” on growing human meat and

The people in the focus were actually eating “Swedish tenderloin” cut from the loin of an animal who had no doubt suffered and died at a tender age (as the name seems to imply). Probably a cow, although there is also a cut known as tenderloin from chickens, but for this process, I would think they would choose a cow because, apparently, our flesh tastes like beef, according to some people who have tried it (others say pork from wild pigs).

But the technology is already here. It is possible to grow cells in the laboratory, taking cells from an animal (and let us not forget that we ARE animals) and culture them into, well, meat. Clean meat, often called in vitro or lab meat, is meat grown in sterile laboratory conditions from animal cells. It is not plant-based meat, as so many supermarkets now offer, but actual flesh, grown in a nutritional medium, instead of cut from the carcass of a slaughtered animal. The idea is the basis of Brandon Cronenberg’s film Antiviral. While this may be a potential threat to the meat industries if /when it becomes commercially viable, it presents an immediate challenge to our culture of carnivorous virility, the ideology that makes us feel superior to other animals, demi-gods, the sacrificial violence that maintains the abyss between humans and other animals while bolstering the image of masculinity in most cultures.

More relevant to this thesis is the fact that clean meat could be grown from any animal cell. Want to try whale meat? Like to see what dodos or dinosaurs tasted like? Find a readable chain of DNA and contract the lab. And of course, the easiest cells to source are human ones – we hand them over to pathologists and crime scene investigators all the time. If clean meat becomes a reality, there is no reason (other than administrative) to assume we could not grow human steaks, livers or sweetbreads.  And as Erik says:

“It’s the only product where we have consent that it’s fine to eat it. We have a donor – that person has said ‘you can take my cells, you can grow them, and it’s fine with me that you eat them.’”

The artist Diego Rivera claimed in his memoir that human flesh is the most “assimilable” of foods for humans. Most testimonies by actual cannibals attest that human meat is not unique, and tastes similar to veal or pork. Erik says, tongue presumably in cheek, that human meat tastes like crocodile. Which, he says, tastes like – chicken.

“Since they say you are what you eat, why not eat a Swede?”

It is fascinating that polite society finds perfectly acceptable the confinement and torment of billions of animals in wretched conditions until they are slaughtered, yet so many people are shocked and repulsed by the idea of meat from a different animal, Homo sapiens, grown in sterile conditions with no need for branding, castration, confinement, slaughter and disembowelment.

“Embracing cannibalism”? THE NEW YORK TIMES July 2022 (and the backlash)

I guess it was only a matter of time before cannibalism became part of the culture wars. A light-hearted article in the New York Times July 23 by freelance writer Alex Beggs looked at the undeniable plethora of cannibalism narratives in contemporary movies, TV series, books and news reports, including the TV series Yellowjackets and the recent novel A Certain Hunger by Chelsea Summers, in which a (female) restaurant critic develops a taste for (male) human flesh. The article asserted:

“Turns out, cannibalism has a time and a place. In the pages of some recent stomach-churning books, and on television and film screens, Ms. Summers and others suggest that that time is now.”

Alex Begg has also written for Bon Appétit magazine, making her well qualified to write about food, of whatever provenance. Cooking shows are full of lumps of meat being baked and braised and broiled and smothered in sauces; why not add humans to the livestock list? There certainly are billions of us.

The appearance of cannibalism in secular culture reflects the fading of traditional morality. As Dostoevsky warned in The Brothers Karamazov, without a belief in “immortality” (implying divine judgement), “everything would be lawful, even cannibalism”. Our reflexive distaste for cannibalism (and our fascination with it) comes from the belief that humans are somehow not animals, or animals that have transcended animality – it all comes back to the Biblical statement that we are made in “the image of God”, whatever that means.

Such a belief, with or without support from on high, is called anthropocentrism, or sometimes speciesism, and is maintained by the practice of killing other animals in ever increasing numbers, to prove our superiority. Jacques Derrida called that “carnivorous virility”, but what happens when the lust to kill outruns the limits of anthropocentrism and is instead turned back on fellow humans? We have people who see humans as just another edible species, like Sawney Bean, Sweeney Todd, Albert Fish, Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer and of course Hannibal Lecter. Not all of those were real people, and not all the facts about the real ones are real facts, but one fact remains: humans are animals, and animals are made of meat. When a society reaches a point where the old ethical agreements are disintegrating, it can either forge new ones or dissolve into chaos, war and, yes, cannibalism. At a time when the news is full of pandemics, climate change, famine, school shootings and political turmoil, is it so surprising that cultural representations show us eating each other?

Did I mention culture wars? Those who despise the New York Times (a certain and fairly large section of America apparently) came out with their anti-cannibalism guns blazing (they like guns, love meat, don’t like cannibals – it does seem a little inconsistent.)

Rod Dreher, a senior editor of The American Conservative opined:

“It’s a sign that our culture and civilization has become so decadent, so enamored by sensation, that we actually fetishize eating death…. We now live in a Culture of Death, in which we regard books, television, and film drama about the eating of human beings as pleasurable, as exciting.”

On Twitter, reactions poured in such as that of writer Emmanuel Rincón:

Zack Kanter tweeted 

“A zero sum worldview, irrational fear of overpopulation, and hatred of success will inevitably lead NYT journos to the literal conclusion of ‘eat the rich.’”

Journalist Tom Fitton tweeted

“NY Times, taking a break from promoting the mass killing of the unborn through abortion, promotes cannibalism.”

Others linked the article back to the QAnon mythology of Democrats torturing and eating children (particularly Hillary).

American Thinker said (under the headline “Cannibal Communists Crave Kids”):

“maybe there was more to that Pizzagate conspiracy than I realized!”

Many had clearly not even bothered to read the article:

And a blessedly brief journalist, Sameera Khan, tweeted

“THIS IS SATANISM”

Greg Gutfeld on his high rating Fox talk show (if you haven’t seen him, imagine a fairy waved a wand and turned The Colbert Report into a real boy) took the opportunity to pack every cannibal pun imaginable (“it’s an ATE part series”) into a short segment, as well as several digs at other shows run by Liberals such as Samantha Bee, and their regular target, CNN. Gutfeld accuses comedian Tom Shillue (formerly of The Daily Show!) of thinking he would be delicious, because he is all white meat.

The gist of much of the criticism was that the Liberal elite are trying to normalise cannibalism, as a way to – what? Reduce overpopulation? Feed the hungry? The website Editorials 360 accuses a “globalist cabal” of planning to make us all eat insects and humans, and drink recycled sewage, a fiendish plot “to enslave, denigrate and dehumanize humanity.”

The website TMZ recalled that the movie Soylent Green was set in 2022, which was then fifty years in the future, but is now, well, now. Are we in fact normalising cannibalism, because it is the logical end-point of voracious consumerism?

Soylent Green is a good place to start the analysis of this “normalizing” phenomenon. Even after fifty years, it is still the movie many people name when cannibalism comes up in discussion (as it seems to do quite a lot whenever thecannibalguy is around). The movie [spoiler alert] was set in 2022 New York, which is portrayed as part of a failed state, in which overpopulation and global warming has led to a chronic shortage of food, leading the authorities (secretly) to grind up humans who have died (or agreed to be euthanised) and convert them into nutritious protein crackers called Soylent Green. Setting it in 2022 was a bit pessimistic, but let us remember that the world’s human population has almost doubled since the movie was made fifty years ago, and that CO2 concentration was 330 parts per million in 1973, compared to around 420 now. Are we entering a time when our voracious consumerism will so deplete the planet that, as Cormac McCarthy suggested, the only thing left to eat will be each other?

Chelsea Summers put it in a political context, relating cannibalism to capitalism:

“Cannibalism is about consumption and it’s about burning up from the inside in order to exist.”

The magazine Evie, which describes itself as “the sister you never had” explains the extraordinary growth of interest in cannibalism stories by referring to the quasi-religious conceits of anthropocentrism:

“Cannibalism is the extreme conclusion of the idea that humans – and their bodies – do not have inherent value that demands respect. American society has been traveling down this philosophical road for a while. It started with legalizing abortion: After Roe v. Wade in 1973, any baby born or killed was just a “choice” at the mercy of their parents. They were not recognized as having inherent value with rights to their body or their life. More recently were the mandatory lockdowns, mask wearing, and vaccinations for Covid-19. Again, a lack of respect for human bodies and for our ability to make decisions for ourselves occurred. The encroachment on human dignity could potentially continue to progress into cannibalism – where the bodies of others have no inherent meaning, value, or sacredness that separates them from the animals we do rightfully and naturally eat.”

Lots of problems with that explanation, not least no attempt to explain the “inherent value” of humans or the assumption that we can eat other animals “rightfully and naturally.” But it is a pretty good summation of the unexamined assumptions at the heart of most writings on cannibalism, or carnivorism, or vivisection, or hunting – the idea that humans are somehow more than animals, and less than edible, while every other species on the planet is stripped of all moral value.

However, talking about cannibalism can put people off the slaughter treadmill altogether. When fact checkers came to ask Chelsea Summers about the way the book’s anti-heroine gastronomically prepares her murdered lovers, their questions about the intricacies of human butchery so disturbed her that she went “full raw vegan for two weeks.” Tobe Hooper gave up meat while making The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, saying “the heart of the film was about meat; it’s about the chain of life and killing sentient beings”. He also claimed that Guillermo Del Toro, no shrinking violet himself in abject filmmaking, gave up meat after seeing it. Bryan Fuller, creator of Hannibal, gave up eating meat during filming of the first season, telling Entertainment Weekly he had been:

“writing about cannibalism for the last three years but also doing considerable research on the psychology of animals, and how sophisticated cows and pigs and the animals that we eat actually are.”

Shows like Hannibal and The Santa Clarita Diet show human flesh as “just meat.” But to do that, they have to (their legal departments insist) come up with ways of simulating the human flesh without actually killing people (or digging them up like Ed Gein). The Yellowjackets prop team chose to use venison (think Bambi). But, the showrunners warned,

“they’ll have to find an alternative for future episodes, because many in its cast are vegan.”

Portrayals of cannibalism, whether actual or fictional, can make some people hungry, and turn others against eating flesh.

Gutfeld points out that:

“In the mind of the NY Times, it’s probably more humane to eat a human being than an animal.”

By “animal”, Gutfeld presumably means every multicellular, eukaryotic organisms in the biological kingdom Animalia except one – Homo sapiens. We know we are a species of great ape, but spend much of our time pretending we don’t know that.

Being humane, being ethical, is largely about respect and consent. Which was precisely the defence offered by Armin Meiwes when arrested for eating a man who had made it very clear he wanted to be eaten. Cannibalism texts, in ever-increasing numbers, joyfully confound the human/animal divide, and show the human body as edible flesh. So it is not surprising that such questions will be raised, and that, as the NYT said, “that time is now.”

However, Ted Cruz, who likes cannibalism jokes as much as the next meal, came up with a brilliant two-word solution that will put people off human flesh for a considerable time:

Issei Sagawa, in your face: CANIBA (2017)

In 1987, Japanese student Issei Sagawa murdered a young Dutch woman, Renée Hartevelt, a fellow student at the Paris Sorbonne, then mutilated, cannibalised, and performed necrophilia on her corpse over a period of two days.

Sagawa was declared insane in France and returned to Japan, where he could not be tried for murder as no evidence had been sent by the French. A free man, he became something of a celebrity, making torture porn movies, selling paintings (many of them nudes), writing books and manga showing his crime, and even becoming a food critic. The fascination so many people feel with the life and crimes of Issei Sagawa is shown by the number of documentaries made about him:

  • Cannibal Superstar (Viasat Explore, Sweden, 1986, 47 minutes)
  • Excuse Me for Living (Channel 4, UK, 1993, 60 minutes)
  • The Cannibal That Walked Free (Channel 5, UK, 2007, 46 minutes)
  • Interview with a Cannibal (Vice, US, 2011, 34 minutes)

And, most recently, this one: Canniba, made by two artists/anthropologists, Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor from Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab. Unlike the more standard documentaries which deal in psychoanalytic speculations and dramatic narration, this one is an extreme close-up of the cannibal himself, in his declining years. The only characters shown are Sagawa himself, his brother Jun and a young woman carer, who is inappropriately dressed in a maid’s uniform and happily tells him zombie stories as she prepares him for bed. Sagawa was hospitalized in 2013 from a cerebral infarction, which permanently damaged his nervous system, and due to this and severe diabetes is largely unresponsive through most of the filming, becoming animated only when discussing his murder of Renée. Jun sums his brother up:

“Cannibalism is really very much nourished by fetishistic desire. The desire to lick the lips of your lover, and things like that, are based on primal urges. Cannibalism is just an extension of that. Both extremes exist within him. Cannibalism is a totally different world for him.”

The film seems to ask us to consider our own fetishes (you don’t have any? That would make you unique) and asks whether we are repulsed by Sagawa’s acts, or by the abjection in ourselves which he forces us to confront.

The first thirty minutes are a gruelling close-up of the two men – Issei and Jun and their desultory interactions, with the camera so close you can see every pore, except when it (blessedly) goes out of focus. Issei is largely catatonic, staring sightlessly as we, in turn, stare in extreme close-up at his face, which looks almost like a death mask. The only signs of animation are when he is offered chocolate, of which he seems inordinately fond, perhaps as a substitute for the human flesh he so craved. Probably not great for his diabetes, but we’re not really hoping for a happy ending to this story.

Unable to see a future, Issei dwells on the past. He remembers his mother telling him in graphic detail about falling down some stairs in a department store and miscarrying.

From this glimpse of the behavioural background to his subsequent actions, we are suddenly catapulted to a clip of a much younger Issei in a porn film, biting a woman’s buttocks, as he did to the dead victim, then being urinated on and finally masturbated by her.

The horror of his ruined visage is contrasted to the prudish pixilation of the debauchery.

If we haven’t walked out by now, as many of the audience did at the early screenings in the Toronto and Venice film festivals, we are then treated to his commentary, now quite animated, on his manga – a comic-book format showing his murder, rape and cannibalisation of the young woman. His brother tut-tuts throughout, saying he doesn’t want to see such things, while Issei explains what he did, and what it meant to him.

“For a hideous person like me, she was out of reach.”

A bullet in the back of her neck was the only way he could think of to bring her into his reach.

“Finally the thing I was craving to eat was right in front of me! The stench doesn’t matter. I started with the richest part of her right buttock.”

The murder and cannibalism turned a shy, diminutive man-child into a fierce Samurai, in his own mind.

He describes the eating the flesh (the harvesting of which is shown in detail in the manga) as “an historical moment!” For that brief time, the woman was entirely his, and what Derrida called carnivorous virility gave him an absurd sense of masculine power as he “dominated” the woman’s corpse for his sexual and gastronomic pleasure.

There’s heaps more, but you’ll have to watch the film or get the manga – my blog has its limits.

The film then disconcertingly lurches into home movies of the two men when they were cute little boys.

We are not given a commentary, but we know from other accounts that their uncle would dress up as a cannibal and capture them for his cooking pot. The psychoanalysts would eat that up, but we should consider that many of us are chased by various demented relatives in our childhood games without going on to become monsters in their likeness.

Issei’s brother Jun, now his carer, appears as the sane one in the family, but we are quickly disabused of that as we see his own self-abuse – he likes to wrap his arms in barbed wire, and cut his arms with knives. Everyone needs a hobby I guess. Issei is not impressed – compared to shooting a woman from behind and then having sex with the body and eating parts of it, a bit of cutting would seem fairly tame to him.

Finally we meet the carer, a young, attractive women dressed as a maid. This is actually Satomi Yôko, an actress playing a maid playing a carer, a further jolt to our fragile sense of reality. She giggles over Issei, telling him, as he stares into her breasts (a particular fetish of his):

She asks him if he wants to cosplay a zombie, and tells him a convoluted story about a zombie woman who eats the old man who keeps her in chains, a reversal of his history, and another fetish of Issei’s, who early in the film says “I want to be eaten by Renée.” She tells him:

“For the zombie to survive, I have to keep eating live humans… I’m alive, but I can’t be with normal humans.”

It’s a perfect summation for the fate of Issei Sagawa.

The only soundtrack is at the very end, The Stranglers’ 1981 song “La Folie” (“madness”) which concerned Sagawa’s crime.

It’s in French, but the partial translation is:

He was once a student
Who strongly wanted, like in literature,
His girlfriend, she was so sweet
That he could almost eat her
Rejecting all vices
Warding off all evils
Destroying all beauty

The film managed 53% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, while the New York Times called the movie “an exercise in intellectualized scab-picking.” IndieWire summed up:

“Caniba” ranks among the most unpleasant movies ever made, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it.

There is another review of an earlier Sagawa documentary, The Cannibal That Walked Free on my blog. The film Caniba is available, if you are so inclined, from https://grasshopperfilm.com/film/caniba/

“Do you want to eat me?” TEAR ME APART (Alex Lightman, 2015)

This is an English film, unlike most of the reviews in this blog, which overwhelmingly come from the USA or, if we are thinking real video nasties, Italy. It falls into the delightful genre of dystopian cannibalism films, in which some disaster, often unnamed, has stripped the thin veneer of civilisation from the survivors and left them with one option to survive – human flesh. There are lots of films in the survivor genre – The Time Machine is a classic, set thousands of years in the future, but most are set in the very near future or even an alternative present – think Soylent Green (set in 2022), 28 Days Later or Delicatessen.

The closest to Tear Me Apart, though, is the chilling 2009 film version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, in which an unnamed man and boy travel through a world stripped of all animals and plants except for a few humans, most of whom have become cannibals to survive. Will they maintain their anthropocentric belief in the sacredness of human life and flesh?

In this film, it’s two brothers, also unnamed, the younger as naïve and clueless as the little boy in The Road. But it’s also a coming-of-age story, because one of the proposed victims who they intend to feast on is a young woman (like us, the older brother says, only different), perhaps the last surviving woman on earth, and do they really want to eat her?

Making the story line more intriguing is the constant presence of the ocean, the source of all life, the original mother, where the young men wait for a father who has long since vanished. The ocean supplies them limited amounts of fish to eat, but in the opening scene, the younger brother smothers a man, cuts and eats pieces of his flesh, only to be admonished by his brother –

“What would father say? I won’t warn you again – NEVER PEOPLE!”

Father may have left them on the beach to “wait it out” but now he is a mythical figure, whose rules override the primal instincts of the unschooled younger boy, who constantly gets in trouble for snacking on his victim. Because, you know, “he’s a man!” But his instinct is to fight, to kill, to eat. He is the carnivorous male, unpolished and uninhibited by social morality; as his brother says “he doesn’t know the difference between eating a fish and eating a human”. This is precisely the point – the young man has no social conditioning – he is not the vicious cannibal of so many horror films; he eats humans because he is hungry, just as a hungry dog or any other animal might.

He is a savage, simian Adam in Eden, following the rules without understanding them, rules passed down by a “father” he scarcely remembers, who may offer a second coming in some indefinable future, and who has bequeathed dietary restrictions that must be followed even though they make little sense.

But then he comes across the young woman, no physical threat but much smarter than both of the brothers. In a piece of blindingly obvious symbolism, she hands the young man an apple, with a smile. She’s also looking for her dad. Aren’t we all?

The boy goes back to his brother, who takes the apple and tells him “don’t eat this stuff, OK? It’ll make you ill”. We’re still referencing Genesis, a fierce version, in which they may eat of anything in the garden (even people) but not of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Her fruit actually does make him ill, because he hasn’t eaten fruit for many years. This is the carnivorous virility that Derrida said was the basis of subjectivity, but without community it turns back onto his own gut.

The brothers don’t have names because names don’t mean anything, at least until the “old world” comes back. But she has a name, Molly, and she declares the younger man will be called Joe. Like Adam, she gives names to all the animals. She makes them bury the stiff they have been eating, because, she says, the world can’t survive like this.

She even rigs up a cross for his grave, just as Joe chews the last of the dead man’s flesh.

But she has introduced them to temptation. Also to vegetarianism:

“You can’t eat meat forever. The people you eat – they have people who loved them.”

A beautifully simple argument against eating meat.

She takes his hand and puts it on her breast. Bright eyed and vulnerable, she asks “do you want to eat me?” The double entendre here is far from Biblical.

There may perhaps not be any other women left – Molly says that there was a collective in “the town” – the symbolic civilisation for which both fathers have disappeared while searching for it – but now that is just a myth as well. Well, there is one other woman but she has become “an animal” – growling and threatening. A Lilith reference perhaps? But there are certainly other men, not just the lone men who Joe ambushes and eats, but a more vicious group, with guns. Like The Road, but with a touch of On the Beach.

The trio learn fear, hunger, desire. Molly tells Joe “You don’t have to follow the rules any more.” There’s a menage-a-trois which of course leads to jealousy and we get a serve of Cain and Abel as the brothers brawl. Molly’s father makes a brief appearance, as (spoiler alert) a good meal for their return to the beach, their wild Eden. So now we’re dipping into the New Testament, eating the blood and body of their saviour. Yes, the last humans, like the first humans, have truly eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The film is only 82 minutes, but a lot of reviewers thought that it drags. I didn’t see it that way – the story is low key but the acting is great and the characterisation is quirky and interesting in its peeling back of the sociality we take for granted. I think a lot of critics watched the film expecting a cannibal gore-fest, and that it is not. It’s a low budget film, yet the cinematography is splendid with the scenery of the sea (it’s filmed in Cornwall) quite beautiful. It may be hard to find, but at the time of writing the full film is available on YouTube, with Arabic subtitles. Since the Scottish accents are often impenetrable, that will prove quite useful – if you speak Arabic.

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

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

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

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

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

There is a fairy story within the story:

“The beautiful child in her little pink cap”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can I say – she loves children!

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

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

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

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

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

Hansel remembers Gretel’s lessons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The reviewer on RogerEbert.com called it:

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

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

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

Beautiful inside: THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS (T.L.P. Swicegood, 1966)

We all are vaguely aware of our eventual deaths, and some people even take it seriously enough to arrange insurance of other funding for their funerals. But how many of us consider the environmental cost of burying or burning human bodies? Over one million people die every week – all those bodies going into landfill under granite slabs, or adding to the carbon emissions from the crematoria.

Why not eat them? Many of these corpses are still covered in healthy flesh. If human meat is comparable to that of the other animals we choose to eat (apparently somewhere between veal and pork), why not let those who are hungry eat some of the corpses, preferably the ones that are minimally diseased? Is death by starvation less abject than cannibalism?

Most readers will find this unthinkable and assert that they would die rather than eat human flesh, as many did after hearing about the Uruguayan rugby team survivors from Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 which crashed in the Andes, leaving nothing to eat but frozen passengers. But like most taboos, this one is based on cultural conditioning rather than any rational thought. After all, why is it fine to source meat from a pig who has lived a short and brutal life and suffered an agonising death, but repulsive to eat a person who no longer is capable of pleasure or pain?

That is the question this short film seems to ask.

An undertaker and his two friends, who are restaurant owners, go out on the town killing people; the restaurant owners cook parts of the bodies, and the undertaker earns his keep burying the left-overs. The rather thickly ladled humour involves the victims having the names given to the flesh of animals: their first victim is Sally Lamb, and the specialty at their restaurant that day is lamb leg.

Their racket goes awry when a detective, who has a secretary conveniently named Miss Poultry, suspect that something isn’t quite kosher.

Lévi-Strauss wrote in “A Lesson in Wisdom from Mad Cows”

“The link between a meat-based diet and cannibalism (a notion broadened to take on a certain universality) thus has very deep roots in thought…. Indeed, a day may come when the idea that human beings in the past raised and slaughtered living things for food and complacently displayed slabs of their flesh in shop windows will inspire the same revulsion as what travellers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries felt about the cannibal meals of American, Oceanian, or African indigenous peoples.”

Acceptance of violent slaughter, particularly the impersonal conveyer-belt killing of modern agriculture, legitimises cannibalism by removing all subjectivity from the victim. The voracious and ever growing desire for meat, together with the fading of the clarity of the naïve dualism of human and animal, leads inexorably to acceptance of the consumption of human meat; thus the boom in cannibal films and television shows. The harvesting methods in this film are repulsive because they are similar to what we pay slaughterhouse workers to do, hidden from our sight.

There’s even pre-slaughter stunning.

With its bad jokes, wooden acting and terrible script, this movie scored a paltry 43% on Rotten Tomatoes, with the only official critic writing “You’ve never heard of this movie. Keep it that way.”

But the full movie (all 63 minutes of it) is on Youtube should you wish to ignore that advice. With its mid-century kitsch and ironic soundtrack, it’s so bad it’s good, if you know what I mean.

Patriarchal civilisation, Derrida tells us, depends on what he calls “carnivorous virility”:

The subject does not want just to master and possess nature actively. In our cultures, he accepts sacrifice and eats flesh.

‘Eating Well’ or the Calculation of the Subject.

The movie makes this abundantly clear in the macho strutting of the killers and the detective on their trail, but also in its choice of female victims. Men are killed violently, but as a struggle for power. Women must be subjugated, terrorised then cut up and eaten. One of the killers uses a chain to destroy a statue of the goddess Aphrodite (the Venus de Milo) in a spa, then kills a woman with the same chain. Yes, it’s symbolism, double-strength. The women are nature, presented in this film as seductive and edible. The men are the symbolic order, at war with nature and controlling her through their carnivorous sacrifice.

As one of the killers asks, his hands full of intestines:

“Isn’t she beautiful inside?”