Commodity cannibalism: NEVER LET ME GO (Mark Romanek, 2010)

NEVER LET ME GO is based quite faithfully on the beautifully written and quite disturbing 2005 novel of the same name by British author Kazuo Ishiguro, which was shortlisted for the Booker prize (which he had previously won with Remains of the Day) and was named by Time Magazine as the best novel of 2005, as well as being listed as fourth on their list of the 100 Best English-language novels published since 1923 (when they started publishing).

This gave the film a high bar, but it does not disappoint, due to the superb cast, the direction of Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo), and the script by Alex Garland (28 Days Later), a friend of Ishiguro, who asked the author for film rights before he even finishing reading the manuscript. Yep, it’s that good.

OK. This is a spoiler alert, particularly if you are going to read the book, although any review will soon tell you what it’s about, and the “secret” is revealed quite early in the film. Here goes. The film is set in an alternative present, where incurable diseases have been conquered.

The protagonists are clones, bred to supply their organs to “real” humans, who can now live well into their hundreds, thanks in part to these donations, and the new medical technologies. The kids are brought up to live healthy lives. Smoking? Right out. A healthy replacement part in a healthy body. The stern principal, Miss Emily (the wonderful Charlotte Rampling) tells them not to spoil the merchandise:

“Students of Hailsham are special. Keeping yourselves well, keeping yourselves healthy inside, is of paramount importance.”

We see the childhood of the protagonists mainly through the eyes of 11-year-old Kathy (Isobel Meikle-Small) who has a preteen crush on Tommy (Charlie Rowe).

Her best friend is Ruth (Ella Purnell). Ruth’s confidence and precocity wins over the shy and vulnerable Tommy, who is barely able to cope with the inevitable challenges and failures of growing up. Tommy represents so many of us – filled with rage at the injustices and humiliations of the world, but unwilling to stand up and take what he wants. Kathy accepts the loss of her first love to her first friend.

The children are encouraged to create pictures, poetry and sculpture, which may be chosen for display in a mysterious place called “The Gallery”. They are told that Hailsham children are special. They are told of dangers that befall children who leave the school grounds – the boy who was found tied to a tree with his hands and feet cut off, the girl who starved outside the gates. They are not told the truth. One teacher, Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins from The Shape of Water) dares to tell them what will happen when they grow up, which gets her fired. She tells them,

“You will become adults, but only briefly. Before you are old, before you are even middle-aged, you will start to donate your vital organs. That’s what you’re created to do. And sometime around your third or fourth donation, your short life will be complete.

The film moves to their adulthood – at 18, they are moved out of Hailsham and sent to a collection of farm buildings called the cottages, to wait until they are old enough to move to “completion centres” where they will begin to donate their organs. Tommy (Andrew Garfield) is now in a sexual relationship with Ruth (Keira Knightley) which shatters the friendship of Ruth and Kathy (Carey Mulligan).

The people from the outside, the delivery men and others, are reticent, unable to make eye contact with the kids; they exhibit the kind of cognitive dissonance you might see from people on a petting farm, admiring a piglet that they know will soon be bacon.

These kids are not considered human, even though they are genetically identical to some “original” whom they desperately want to meet – the ‘real’ human from whom they were replicated. Ruth is convinced they must be less than fully human, that they are cloned only from

“trash – junkies, prostitutes, winos, tramps, convicts, as long as they aren’t psychos. If you want to look for originals… look in the gutter.”

Tommy finds Kathy looking through porn magazines, flipping through quickly, looking only at the faces. She is looking for the “trash”, the less-than-humans from whom they may have been cloned.

The other young people tell them of a rumour about the possibility of Hailsham students getting a “deferral”—a temporary reprieve from organ donation if they can prove they are in love. Tommy decides that The Gallery at Hailsham was part of a study to see if clones have souls, can fall in love, and are therefore worthy of deferral. He becomes obsessed with finding the Gallery, and seeing if love, verifiable love, makes them human.

They are also able to volunteer to become carers for the others, and Kathy decides to do this, delaying thereby her own donations. She finds Ruth at a completion centre – Ruth has endured two donations and is ready, willing to complete on the next.

They visit Tommy at another centre, who tells them that Hailsham has closed, and donors are now raised in schools that are like “battery farms”. The donation centre is full of “donors” with missing parts – and they often die (or complete) after two or more donations.

Ruth has heard that after the fourth donation, there are no more carers, no more recovery centres, just harvesting of parts until they switch you off. Kathy cares for Ruth, who dies (completes) after her third donation, and Kathy then takes Tommy, still reasonably well after two donations, to see the mysterious gallery owner.

They’re in love, they tell her. They want a deferral. But the gallery was just part of an ethical argument – Hailsham was the last place where the ethics of the donor system were questioned, and the art was supposed to show what they were capable of. But they were exploring an answer to a question no one was asking.

“Would you ask people to return to darkness – the days of lung cancer, breast cancer, motor-neurone disease? They’ll simply say no…. We didn’t have the gallery to look into your souls. We had the gallery to see if you had souls at all.”

Films on www.thecannibalguy.com tend to centre around violence and gore. That is what people expect from horror and from cannibal movies. But this is not a horror movie, or at least not a monster movie in the traditional sense of the grotesque, frightening and uncanny. But is it a cannibal movie?

I believe it is. Definitions of cannibalism vary according to who is accusing whom. At what point does exploitation of the human body or mind turn to abuse or consumption? Organ transplants, where a living organ is incorporated into the body of a recipient, is sometimes called cannibalism, particularly due to speculation that some part of the ‘donor’ remains imbued – consider James Whale’s classic 1931 film Frankenstein, where the monster is given a brain stolen from the cranium of a criminal, which makes him homicidal. In any case, if an organ is taken without the consent of the ‘donor’, such as the alleged cases of political prisoners being executed according to the demand for their tissue-type, how is this different to Hannibal’s feasts?

The horror in this film is in the human struggle with questions of mortality, what it even means to be human. These kids seem to be normal people – they laugh, they sing, they tease each other, they fall in love. But they are aware of their own deaths, something that most of us repress more or less successfully, assuming that we will always have another tomorrow. They know better; they are destined to be cut up and emptied of organs until their bodies give out. They are not fully human, despite looking just like any other bunch of kids, because they are cloned, and so are classified as beneath the human line in the anthropocentric scorecard. They are at best “all but human” through their art. But the ‘real’ humans don’t care. Redefine someone as less than human, objectify them, be they a different race, gender or species, and the range of abuses is unlimited. Nothing matters but our delusion that we will live forever, necessitating the sacrifice of the other.

The critic Roger Ebert wrote:

“Essentially it asks, how do you live with the knowledge that you are not considered a human being but simply a consumer resource? Many hourly workers at big box stores must sometimes ponder this question.”

There is no option for resistance. They have been brought up all their young lives to obey, to believe that it is necessary to be cut up, to complete, for the benefit of unknown others, because that’s what they were bred for, just as we justify cutting up cows and pigs and chickens and lambs because that’s we bred them for. Only Tommy rebels, but it’s an inchoate howl of rage, the same scream at the butchering world that he aimed at the kids who didn’t pick him for their game when he was 11. Powerless, all he can do is bellow like a steer in an abattoir. It may be that defiance of death that verifies his humanity, because, as Dylan Thomas said, we ought to “rage against the dying of the light”.

Or as another Dylan said (Bob), “He not busy being born is busy dying.”

Kathy sums this up at the end:

“What I’m not sure about is if our lives have been so different from the people we save. We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through. Or feel we’ve had enough time.”

Short cuts: WRONG TURN (Rob Schmidt, 2003)

How to make a slasher: take a group of young and pretty people, travelling and (gasp) sleeping together and therefore sinning against Gud and the Hays Code. There’s usually a gas station run by a creepy dude whose advice it might be wise to ignore (but they never do). Then there’s a freaky villain or group of villains: outsiders, possibly mutant, and always psychopathic killers. The killers slaughter all the pretty people, using sudden montage cuts and loud music, except (usually) one, known as a “last girl” who will scream a lot but ultimately survive, and probably wreak revenge.

In that sense, Wrong Turn is a fairly formulaic slasher movie and, like The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and many others, it went on to generate a slew of sequels and prequels, many of which were treated less than generously by the critics and fans. There are six so far, and 2021 promises a reboot which will no doubt be widely called number 7, so you’d have to say that this indicates a successful franchise, even if a reboot won’t add anything very new to the formula.

Slashers don’t always eat their victims, which is essential if their stories are to grace this blog, but Wrong Turn does not let us down in that area. These movies, what are sometimes called hillbilly horror, depict a clash of cultures, and attempt to show both sides through the eyes of the other. For the hillbillies, the effete city slickers are weak, spoiled and elitist, their wealth and privilege giving them an infuriating sense of entitlement. To the pretty city kids, lost in an alien land (in this case West Virginia), the locals in the flyover backwoods are inbred, amoral subhumans.

Three cannibalistic inbred mountain men are the antagonists, and their names are Three Finger, Saw Tooth and One Eye, names presumably earned by their current physical state rather than bestowed at birth. The film’s opening sequence shows examples of genetic mutants, with implications that this is due to inbreeding (although there are no females in the clan). This lot are so degenerate that they do not even speak, except for some Paleolithic grunting. And these guys definitely follow the paleo diet. Their enormous strength and ability to shrug off apparently mortal wounds may come from their diet of flesh, but seems more likely to be an unexpected benefit of their genetic reinforcement.

Not much information is given (until Wrong Turn 4, which I suppose we’ll get to sometime), as to how they got that way, or as Clarice said to Hannibal Lecter “what happened to you”. In this one, behaviourism really doesn’t matter – these are quintessential bad guys, monsters, inhumans, existing only to frighten, to kill (and eat) and then to get their comeuppance, with of course an unexpected survivor to point toward (yawn) the inevitable sequel.

There are six beautiful people, two couples, who quickly come to sticky ends, and their friend Jessie (Eliza Dushku) whom they had invited to a getaway after her messy relationship breakup. She is the only one not currently living in sin (although one of the other couples are planning their wedding as they are slaughtered) so she seems destined by the morality of slashers to be the “last girl”. They are lost on a dirt road with a flat tyre, caused by the mutants laying barbed wire across the road, when the square-jawed hero Chris (Desmond Harrington) crashes into their car, taking a wrong turn to get to a business appointment which we all know is going to seem pretty irrelevant. Four of them head off into the woods looking for a phone (they have mobile phones, but hey, it’s out in the middle of nowhere – no cell towers?) The couple who stay with the cars are slaughtered almost immediately. Now there’s a turnaround, Chris show himself to be a leader, he is going to be last boy! The intersection of the two groups, heroes and mutants, comes when the lost city folks find the house of the mutants, and have to hide under the furniture, where they have to watch the killers chop up their friends for dinner.

This is extreme slasher binary conflict: human vs inhuman, normal vs freak, civilised vs wild, prey vs predator. We follow Jessie and Chris as they watch their friends die and flee into the woods, and we barely see the ghastly faces of the antagonists, until toward the climax.

Most victims in slashers are despatched quickly, but the last girl is traditionally captured, tied up in what looks like a rape scene but usually isn’t, because the bad guys are interested in gustatory rather than sexual carnality.

Jessie is tied to a bed, about to be slaughtered – no particular reason why she has not been killed instantly like the others, but we need time for a rescue. The freaks are predators, but Chris and Jessie are warriors. Like The Hills Have Eyes, the victims have to adopt the savagery of the killers to survive, and there is plenty of gore and explosions if that’s your thang. Unlike THHE, where the victims arguably become the savages, Chris and Jessie look to have grown through their ordeal, so that’s a novel approach.

Wrong Turn earned a measly 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, with one critic writing,

“the gore is so ridiculously overdone and the script so lame, that it undermines all sense of suspense.”

But I didn’t think so. The cast is great, the plot is fast moving and certainly never dull, and the suspense is well done. There is no reason given for the murders, except that humans are their preferred quarry. But that is the question that cannibalism, as a concept, poses in every film – why eat humans? Because they’re made of meat?

“There’s something evil in those woods”: SUPERNATURAL Season 1, Episode 2 “Wendigo”

Supernatural is a TV series created by Eric Kripke, first broadcast in 2005. Fifteen seasons later, the final episode (there were 327 in total) aired on November 19, 2020. You could call that a successful series.

The plots follow two brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester, who hunt demons, ghosts, monsters, and other supernatural beings. The first two episodes were directed by David Nutter, who later won an Emmy for Game of Thrones.

Sam and Dean’s origin story in the pilot episode shows an idyllic home with a loving mother, doting father, and a demon who drips blood into baby Sam’s mouth, then ties their mom to the ceiling where she bursts into flames. Well, you can’t blame them for being a bit down on supernatural entities.

Dean’s metaphysical mission statement is:

“Killing as many evil sons of bitches as I possibly can.”

In episode 2, the boys come across a Wendigo, normally explained as a human transformed into a monster by the act of cannibalism. They find a love interest in a girl who is looking for her brother, one of a group of campers recently snatched by said Wendigo while playing computer games with friends in their tent in the deep woods (as you do) and reading Joseph Campbell’s book about the hero’s journey

Turns out the Wendigo eats a sounder of people every 23 years, and they find a man who, as a child, was attacked by the monster in 1959 but survived, with massive scars. He tells them:

Well, they finally get around to reading their Dad’s journal – he has a slim leather volume of handwritten notes on every evil thing you could need to know about. They explain the Wendigo to the other campers.

Cultures all over the world believe that eating human flesh gives a person certain abilities: speed, strength, immortality. You eat enough of it, over years you become this less-than-human thing. You’re always hungry.”

You can’t kill a Wendigo with bullets or knives.

Dean attempts to draw the Wendigo away from the others, with the hilarious taunt:

“You want some white meat, bitch?”

The Wendigo is a figure from Algonquin folklore, a spirit who possesses his human victim, giving him an insatiable hunger for human flesh, but the flesh makes him grow larger, and so his appetite can never be satisfied, thus the emaciated form.

The Wendigo is said to have a heart, or whole body, made of ice. The creation of the Wendigo, like Nietzsche’s Übermensch, is a “becoming” which requires the destruction or transformation of lesser beings, just as humans like to believe that the processing of “lower” animals into meat is required for their continued existence. In the television series Hannibal, Lecter is often shown as a dark figure with antlers, a Wendigo, who manifests and wreaks carnage (e.g. the episode “Hassun”).

Margaret Atwood in her lecture on the Wendigo pointed out that, unlike most monsters, the Wendigo offers two different terrors – being eaten by it, but also transforming into it. While all cannibals threaten us with physical dissolution through their digestive tracts, a simple bite from the Wendigo, or being possessed by its spirit during the act of eating human flesh (even if the act is necessary to survive) can destroy one’s will and endanger the whole tribe.

To the First Nations people, the Wendigo represented winter, hunger or selfishness and, particularly in subsistence communities, there is a direct causal link between those things – winter means shortages, which lead to hunger and struggles for resources, and sometimes cannibalism. In times of starvation, we are capable of anything. Cannibalism stories were not uncommon on the American Frontier, and popular culture has often told tales of white-man cannibalism using the Donner Party, Alferd Packer and the Wendigo, sometimes all mixed together, as in Antonia Bird’s Ravenous.

But when the Europeans came with their ships and guns and viruses, those they dispossessed, enslaved, raped, tortured and massacred came to the obvious conclusion that the white man must be possessed by a Wendigo spirit. This Wendigo spirit of ruthless and voracious consumption may be less blatant in the twenty-first century, but is still evident in the exploitation of sweat-shop workers, in human trafficking, and in the intensive factory farming that turns sentient animals into commodities by the billions. Also in the covert sexism and racism in shows like this, that depict “cis-het” white men taking on the world of evil and saving civilisation from the outsiders and aliens that haunt our dreams.

Feminism and cannibalism: SHE NEVER DIED (Audrey Cummings, 2019)

Last year (it seems so long ago), I reviewed the excellent Jason Krawczyk movie HE NEVER DIED with Henry Rollins playing Jack, an immortal cannibal. There were high hopes for a sequel, but they kept getting cancelled. In the meantime, a “retelling” was made by Canadian director Audrey Cummings (Darken), and this has come to be called a “sister sequel”, which is a novel term meaning a sequel, or a reboot, but with a female lead and feminist themes. Sounds contrived, but with Krawczyk writing the screenplay, Cummings in command and an outstanding performance by Olunike Adeliyi (Saw 3D, Chaos Walking) as the immortal cannibal, well, it’s a corker!

Lacey (Adeliyi) is an immortal cannibal like Jack. But Jack identifies as a human, Cain (from the Book of Genesis), cursed to walk the earth for killing his brother (a plot line used in the TV show Lucifer as well) and having a messy divorce and, to his surprise, a daughter. But Lacey’s provenance is not so clear, even at the end, when she tells us – no, actually, no spoilers. Watch it – it’s worth it.

Lacey kills people and eats them, particularly their fingers (which are very portable) and their long bones. She needs the bone marrow, she tells the cop, Godfrey (Peter MacNeill, whom you might have seen as Barry Goldwater in Mrs America). He replies that he eats marrow on toast,

She cannot tell a lie; she tells Godfrey that she killed one of the bad guys, because he was throwing a plastic bag over a woman’s head, and

But when the waiter comes, she says she doesn’t eat meat. Non-human meat, that is.

So she’s a vegetarian who eats bad humans, not an ovo-lacto vegetarian, but an anthropo-vegetarian?

The first person she kills is that guy who sends a chill down all our spines – the stalker who follows women down deserted streets and into dark alleys. He jumps on a young woman and Lacey, we are glad to see, jumps on him. And tears him to pieces.

The next victim is being streamed, playing Russian Roulette with a dog – if the bullet isn’t in the chamber when he aims at his own head, then he gets another shot at the dog, who has a roll of cash around his neck.

Being mean to dogs is not going to win friends in any movie I that I can recall. You may remember Mason Verger cutting lumps off his own face and feeding them to Will’s dogs in Hannibal 02:12, as Hannibal’s revenge for making a dog into a cannibal?

There’s a lot of cannibal studies issues to chew on (sorry) in this film. There’s the question of whether Lacey is human; of course it’s not a cannibalism movie if she is some alien entity, because the definition of cannibalism (usually) is eating someone of the same species. But this movie gives us the chance to interrogate that definition, particularly in that Lacey is open about her cannibalism from the start, but the bad guys are not. They are not interested in eating the flesh of their victims, but they are consumers.

A lot of the movie takes place in a giant, labyrinthine building with corridors and stairways leading to doors behind which screams are heard – this stuff is straight out of nightmares. The chief villains are Terrance (Noah Danby) and Meredith (Michelle Nolden). Terrence sells torture and snuff movies on the dark web, while Meredith runs a kidnapping and sex trafficking operation. They are also brother and sister, and seemingly more than that.

Foucault has a lot to say about the difference between monstrosity based on incest and that based on cannibalism. He believes that the aristocracy or ruling class are mostly incestuous monsters, while the people, the cannibals who rise up to eat the rich, are the popular monsters. This movie tends to support that paradigm; the very personable, incestuous siblings consume women (and a few men) as commodities for their businesses, while the angry superhero, Lacey, eats their henchmen. Who, we ask, are really the cannibals? Immortal cannibals do not exist (probably), but stalkers, rapists and traffickers do. Women, our mothers, sisters and daughters, do not feel safe walking the streets of the city. Who are the monsters?

Lacey’s third (and fourth) victims have a woman chained to a bed, ready to be shipped off into sexual slavery. The woman, Suzzie (Kiana Madeira), is freed and starts following Lacie around, crashes on her couch, and very nearly gets eaten – it’s a problematic friendship.

Suzzie is a victim, a self-harmer, but also a survivor. She is impressed by Lacey:

“I get taken advantage of most days. So to see a person, a woman, a woman like you twist those guys in half, is, uh…”

Lacey walks the earth hearing the screams and groans of the abused and tortured. She gets to tear a few of the abusers apart and eat them. They are always men, coke addicted men.

“Without a question, I can taste the difference. I’m also foggy in the morning.”

Suzzie wants to  know what Lacie is

Robot? Zombie? Vampire? You drink blood right?

Lacey says no to each option, and asks, the question we should all ask, “why do I have to be a thing?”

We get a hint of Lacey’s background when we glimpse the scars that don’t heal. Were those once wings?

When Lacey is captured by Terrance, Suzzie heads into the labyrinth, witnessing the horrors of live-streamed torture, sex trafficking, and a very fancy cocktail party.

Lacey is a pessimist, she sees no way out of humanity’s endless cycle of torture and killing and eating.

Suzzie tries to console her – the world is coming to an end after all, look at global warming etc, but Lacie won’t have it.

But, without giving away the ending, we see the arrival of the Four Bikies of the Apocalypse, and what looks to me very much like a sequel coming. Perhaps Lacey will meet Jack? Let us hope.

This movie has a coveted 100% FRESH on Rotten Tomatoes.

50 ways to eat your lover: GRIMM LOVE (Martin Weisz, 2006)

You may remember Armin Meiwes (pronounced like the Sinatra song “I did it Meiwes”). Meiwes was a German computer technician who was into “vorephilia” (sexual attraction to eating, or being eaten by, another human). He advertised in 2001 on a fetish website called The Cannibal Café for “a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed”. The only reply that seemed sincere was from a man named Jürgen Brandes, who was not really well-built or 18-30, but hey, eaters can’t be choosers.

The real Brandes and Meiwes

The Meiwes case was covered in somewhat sensational terms (they kept comparing him to Hannibal Lecter, which was patently absurd) in this copycat killers documentary. It was also retold in a more light-hearted way in the first episode of the Australian television show Rake.

This film is not a documentary but a fictional retelling of Meiwes’ story, with the names changed, to protect whom – the non-existent?  

The movie seems to need a narrator, so it makes up a fictional PhD student, Katie Armstrong (Keri Russell, who was also a student in Felicity, but a Russian spy in The Americans).

Katie is an American studying criminal psychology, who finds herself inexplicably drawn to an uncanny murder case for her thesis. Why would someone study cannibalism for a PhD thesis (I ask myself that every time I apply for an extension to my submission date). Well, Katie feels that she is “searching for something to fill that dark hole inside of her”. Same – but I use chips (“fries” for my American readers). She wants (and dreams of) “someone who can see inside of you”. Yes, cannibals can surely do that.

Anyway, Katie chooses to research the notorious German cannibal Oliver Hartwin (based on Meiwes) and his dead lover Simon Grombeck (based on Brandes), who had volunteered to let Oliver murder and eat him, an obsession that haunted him his whole life.

“Oliver Hartwin wanted to eat someone. Simon Grombeck wanted to be eaten. They were a perfect match.”

Katie becomes obsessed with the case. Sitting in the lecture theatre, the professor announces that “many cannibals have been diagnosed with schizophrenia” – but the sanity defence is too glib for her. “Why them and not us?” she wonders to her friends.

“It’s natural to wonder what separates us from them. What matters is what makes us the same.”

She studies the men’s childhoods: Simon was smitten by guilt about his mother’s suicide after she was told he was “playing doctor” with another boy. Oliver was left with an overbearing mother when the father moved out, then bullied at school and finding solace in an imaginary friend ‘Franky’. Katie goes to find Oliver’s house in Rotenburg, which is not far from where the Brothers Grimm wrote those tales that filled our childhood nightmares with monsters and cannibals. She finds and breaks in to Oliver’s house, taking endless photos, but each click is interspersed with flashbacks of Oliver with his mother and with Franky; Simon with his boyfriend and computer full of images of death, and requests to male prostitutes to “bite my thing! Bite it off!” (spoiler: it can’t be done). Are these actual flashbacks or Katie’s fantasies and rationalisations? It doesn’t really matter, because the sequence of email exchanges and the steps leading up to the slaughter are all well documented in the case of Meiwes and reproduced here.

Katie wants to understand Oliver.

“Was he so afraid to be alone? Was it his need to feel whole that drove him? Or was it just his desire for flesh, to devour something dear.”

Oliver makes a figure of a man out of something – maybe pork? He cuts off the penis and eats it voraciously, and feeds the rest to his work colleagues.

When one asks for the recipe, he smiles and says “It’s a family secret”. I was immediately reminded of Hannibal Lecter replying to the same request: “If I tell you, I’m afraid you won’t even try it”.

We see Oliver and Simon meet on the website “Cannibal Cantina”. Simon is searching for someone to butcher him.  Oliver is looking for instructions on how to butcher a human, such as:

“a cage to prevent the human animal from too much movement, which only serves to lessen the quality of the meat… For best results prior to slaughter, the animal should be stunned senseless.”

We see them at a table, Simon refusing food, but drinking water to flush his system, and swallowing pills to achieve the stun.

He drinks cough medicine (BREToN, which according to Google is Tulobuterol Hydrochloride and is for “asthma exacerbation”, although the website does rather hilariously say:

Breton Syrup may also be used for purposes not listed here”

Two bottles of that, a fistful of sleeping tablets washed down with a bottle of schnapps, and Simon is good to go. But can Oliver do it?

Well, of course he can, as Katie finds out when she contacts a cannibal website and requests a copy of Oliver’s video, which she thought was only in the hands of the police. We see the slaughter, we see Katie weeping and whimpering as she watches.

She’s been studying this case for her PhD, which takes three years (plus extensions). What did she expect?

The assumption behind movies like this is that cannibalism is disgusting, monstrous behaviour, and so we need to find explanations. But when Oliver as a child watches a woman slicing up a pig, do we ask about her pathologies?

No, we assume she is doing something normal, and Oliver has been warped into doing the same to a human. Look up slaughterhouses on Youtube and you’ll see the same thing happening, and it happens some 70 billion times a year. Just – to other animals.

But what is so sacred about humans that the deliberate killing of a pig, who wanted to live, is just ‘butchering’, while assisting Simon to fulfil his fondest wishes – to commit suicide and be eaten – is monstrous? Is it just a throwback to the old belief about being “made in the image of God”? Feel free to let me know.

When Meiwes (Oliver) started to run out of meat, he couldn’t bring himself to shop at the supermarket, so he advertised for another willing victim. But this one called the cops.

The film was supposed to be released in Germany under the name Rohtenburg, a pun on Rotenburg, where Meiwes lived, and roh, meaning “raw”. However, it was banned by a German court in March 2006 for infringing the personal rights of Armin Meiwes. It was released throughout the rest of the world, but not in Germany until three years later.

The film achieved only 37% on Rotten Tomatoes. It is very slow moving, the sombre music gets a bit annoying (the Craig Armstrong piece from Romeo and Juliet is beautiful, but Romeo and Juliet is not really a cannibal story – Titus Andronicus might have worked better), and the fact that everyone in Germany speaks to everyone else in perfect English but with German accents (including train announcements) gets irritating. Why can’t audiences read subtitles?

Trigger warning, the real Meiwes: This website claims it has actual leaked stills from Meiwes’ video. If you don’t like pictures of chopped up humans, maybe skip the link. They look fake to me, but this Reddit reader swears they are real.

Meiwes is still in jail in Germany, not for cannibalism, which is still not a crime, but for murder, which is pretty absurd since Brandes wanted to die, and was in fact obsessed with being slaughtered and eaten. If anything, Meiwes is guilty of assisting a suicide. We know so much about the case because Meiwes was very open in describing what happened. He believed, and still believes, that he did nothing wrong. It seems that the only thing Meiwes can see as a moral failing is not the fact that he ate human meat, but that he ate meat. He is now a Greenie and a vegetarian:

Bavaria Radio reported that another inmate said Meiwes has sworn off meat in his new role as an environmentalist. “He finds the idea of factory farming as distasteful as his crime was,” said the convict. “He now sticks to vegetarian dishes.”

You can watch the Director’s commentary here, and a documentary about the real case here.

Complete listing of my Hannibal blogs can be found at this link.

Cannibal Dad: WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (Mickle, 2013)

I’m publishing this blog on Sunday 6 September, which is fathers’ day in Australia and New Zealand, but hardly anywhere else (e.g. it’s June in the US, UK, Canada, China, etc). Well, turns out there are several fathers’ days, which is fair, because there are several different kinds of father.

The father in this movie is a keen family man, and also a cannibal. The patriarchal symbolic order of this family is: the father catches them, the mother (or daughter) slaughters and cooks them.

If the prey weren’t human, some might consider that “normal”.

This time last year (on father’s day down under) I blogged about a Mexican film translated to the same as this one: We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay). Now, we all know that American remakes of “foreign” (i.e. non-American) films can be disastrous (remember Godzilla?) and, to be fair, Jim Mickle, the director, did not like the idea of remaking the excellent Mexican version just so American audiences did not have to read subtitles. But he and co-screenwriter Nick Damici came up with a new angle. In the Mexican film, the father dies, causing family conflict over the role of cannibal patriarch; in this one, it’s the mother that dies, and the children must decide whether to follow the tradition and authority of their father, or follow their own paths.

Frank Parker (Bill Sage) is left widowed when his wife starts shaking and bleeding from the mouth, then collapses, falls into a ditch and drowns. She has just finished shopping at the general store where, through the pouring rain, a butcher carries a dead pig from a truck marked “Fleischman’s” (German for meat man) – the pig’s corpse is cut up and the flesh is minced.

What they’re doing to the pig would usually be considered unremarkable, except that, knowing this is a cannibal movie, we expect the same thing will happen to humans somewhere around the end of Act I.

This is an ultra-religious, white family in the rainy Catskills, and everything they do is avowed to be God’s idea. The daughters, Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner from Ozark) explain to their little brother that he can’t have his cereal, because the family is fasting.

Fasting is usually followed by a ceremonial feast, which this family calls “Lamb Day”.

It is a family tradition passed down from 1781 – we get a flashback via a family journal which is handed to Iris – it was started by their ancestor Alyce Parker (Odeya Rush from Goosebumps) when her father fed them their uncle in one of those pioneering cannibalism events with which American history is so replete (think the Jamestown “starving time” several decades earlier, or the Donner Party several decades later). The Parker descendants have been cannibals ever since.

Their religious tradition requires eating human flesh on special occasions; while the wider community’s ritual anthropocentric carnivorous sacrifice requires the (far more regular) consumption of other mammals, such as the pig being carried through the store.

Eating meat requires the “deanimalisation” of the chosen victim, often by dividing the carcass up into named components like “spare ribs” or “rump”. The Parkers work the same way. Like a cooking show, we witness them “process” the carcass, then cook and consume the flesh; only worth filming because we know (or willingly suspend our disbelief) that this is human meat.

Rene Girard says we maintain social amity by the sacrifice of a surrogate victim, a symbolic consumption of our violent impulses – we eat an outsider instead of warring with each other. For most people, it’s a non-human animal; for the Parkers, it’s whoever is unlucky enough to get a flat tyre near their property. In stark contrast, the Parker’s neighbour Marge (Kelly McGillis from Witness) is vegetarian, and her offers of help to the family are variously accepted or brutally rebuffed, depending on whether it’s Lamb Day. Marge gets a hint that cannibalism, extreme carnivorism, runs in the family when she steps in to nurse the sick little brother. Has he inherited the family hunger?

Cannibalism movies often cling to the Wendigo hypothesis – that there is a metaphysical force that drives the eaters, once having tried human flesh, to crave ever increasing amounts of it – to need it for their very survival. A classic of this genre is Antonia Bird’s film Ravenous. In the original Mexican version of this film, the family believe they need their cannibal ceremony to survive. It’s the same in this version, with the father convinced that when he gets shaky and his mouth bleeds, this means God is telling him it’s time for Lamb Day.

But there’s a modern twist. The town’s (apparently only) doctor (Michael Parks) performs an autopsy on the mother, which reveals that her ailments were more closely related to the disease kuru, which killed hundreds of Fore people in Papua New Guinea and was believed to have been caused by eating the brains and spinal columns of dead relatives in funerary rites.

Then the doc’s dog finds a human bone washed downstream by the floods, and he begins to suspect what happened to his own missing daughter.

Kuru is a prion disease, similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or “mad cow disease”), and is often quoted as a reason why we shouldn’t eat people, in case they have abnormal prion proteins, although that argument is no more convincing than the one against eating cows in case they have BSE (safest option for avoiding spongiform encephalopathy is: go vegan). At any rate, this family have been engaging in cannibalism for some 240 years, believing they are doing God’s will, and hey, who invented kuru anyway?

As Hannibal would say – “typhoid and swans – it all comes from the same place”.

The father’s day feast at the end of the movie is spectacular, and the girls drive off with the diary from 1781, unaware of the kuru diagnosis, and presumably still believing in the necessity to obey God’s will and eat people occasionally. Honestly, it wouldn’t be the stupidest thing that’s ever been blamed on the deity.

Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie 86% fresh, with most critics liking it, and a couple of them really detesting it. The London Evening Standard asked:

“Who can resist a good cannibal movie?”

Well, my gentle readers, clearly not us. And this is a good one.

A complete listing of Hannibal blogs can be viewed here:
https://thecannibalguy.com/2020/07/08/hannibal-film-and-tv-blogs/

Stephen King and the cannibal: THE OUTSIDER (2020) S01.E01 “Fish in a Barrel”

The Outsider is a mini-series (ten episodes in the Season) based on a STEPHEN KING novel – ‘nuff said? Well, actually there’s a lot more to be said. Richard Price is the Writer and Executive Producer; he adapted the novel for screen. Price is known for a lot of good stuff, including The Wire, The Deuce, The Night Of and Child 44, which had a similar theme – mutilated and chewed children. The stuff that nightmares are made of.

In Cherokee City, Georgia, detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn from Animal Kingdom and Bloodline) is called to a case which affects him greatly – a child has been murdered, a child about the same age as his kid, who died of cancer a while ago.

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A man walking his dog finds the mutilated corpse in a park. It is covered in saliva and human bite marks.

There’s teeth impressions around the edges.
Animal?
No.

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Ralph quickly finds heaps of evidence including security camera footage, as well as witnesses who identify teacher and Little League coach Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman from Arrested Development and Ozark, who also directed this episode).

Ralph, enraged, has Terry arrested very publicly at a Little League game.

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It seems like an open and shut case, until footage turns up from another town miles away of Terry asking questions at a conference, at the time of the murder. There is conclusive evidence of both his guilt and his innocence.

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Normally nope, but in a Stephen King story? A hooded figure is standing outside the little boy’s house, and Terry’s daughter is having wakeful nightmares, of a man in her room telling her “bad things”.

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The plot is taut and intriguing, and the cast is outrageously good: besides Bateman and Mendelsohn, fans of Hannibal will be delighted to see Hettienne Park, who played forensic investigator Beverly Katz in that show, until she went too far with Hannibal.

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The cannibalism is a bonus – I wanted to watch this show, and now I can blog it too!

It asks a key question of cannibal studies – who is the outsider? In classical literature, anyone outside the polis was an outsider, likely to eat you. In colonial times, the conquistadors were outsiders, enslaving or exterminating the indigenous populations of the lands they coveted, and in turn painting those tribes as outsiders, by accusing them of being, yes, cannibals. In recent times, the cannibal outsider has been hidden within our cities, chomping his or her way through fellow humans, but often, like Jeffrey Dahmer, considered by his neighbours, in shocked voices,  as a quiet loner and unremarkable. Like Terry Maitland. Who is the outsider in Cherokee City – the quiet teacher who is evidently both innocent and guilty, the mysterious hooded stranger who visits children in their waking dreams, or the traumatised cop who is trying to suppress his rage?

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The first episode is available for watching for free (if you’re in the US or have a VPN) at:

https://www.hbo.com/the-outsider

If not, there’s still a great interview there with Stephen King, Richard Price, Ben Mendelsohn and others.

You can also watch the opening scene, with the ravishing Mozart Piano Concerto 23 as the soundtrack, here.

 

Cannibals and Cops: “EATER” (Fear Itself S1E5, 2008)

“Eater” is the fifth episode of season one of the TV horror series Fear Itself, an American horror/suspense anthology television series shot in Canada. This episode, “Eater”, aired on NBC on Thursday, July 3rd, 2008. A later episode featured a Wendigo, and was reviewed last year.

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Officer Danny Bannerman (Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men, Handmaid’s Tale and Invisible Man) is a rookie cop assigned to watch a new prisoner in the Chesterton police holding cell.

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The prisoner, Duane Mellor (Stephen R. Hart), is an “eater” who has murdered 32 people in five different states, killing the men outright but torturing the women before finally killing and eating them, not necessarily in that order.

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In his wardrobe, they found garments made from the skins of his victims. “Just like Hannibal Lecter” says slob cop Marty (Stephen Lee), but Bannerman (her name is straight out of several Stephen King stories) puts them straight – it was Buffalo Bill of course. Hannibal just liked the flesh. As a keen fan of horror, she asks to see the arrest report.

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The Sergeant (Russell Hornsby) warns her: “Hannibal the Cannibal is make believe. This guy isn’t.” Except he is, and rather derivative too – he deconstructs the binary of gustatory (Hannibal) and sartorial (Bill) cannibalism. How postmodern can you get?

Mellor, it turns out, is Cajun, so of course there’s going to be voodoo. He starts chanting in his cell, the lights flicker, and Marty gives her a lecture on Cajun culture and cannibal theory:

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“Down on the Bayou, the Cajun, they use every part of their kill. They’ll take a big, ol’, fat ‘gator, they’ll eat all the flesh, they’ll take the hide, use it for shelter, for clothing, they’ll take the bones, use them for utensils, weapons. I think Mellor’s doing the exact same thing, just doing it with human beings, that’s all… Waste not, want not.”

They discuss the key questions of cannibal studies: why does he do it? “Sexual turn-on” suggests Bannerman, making Marty go all sweaty and silent. Until he sneaks up behind her as she tries to ask the killer about such things, and asks “have you ever wondered what it tastes like… human flesh?”

She replies “just like any other meat I guess”.

“No. I think it’s the power that gets them off… There’s an old voodoo saying that if you cut a man’s heart out and eat it before it stops beating, not only do you gain his strength, but you gain his spirit”.

Marty goes off to investigate a strange noise, Bannerman fetches the keys to the cell (which oddly I found the most disturbing part of the show) and goes to open the cell, and finds the cell unlocked, but the other cop, Mattingly (Pablo Schreiber from The Wire) tells the scared rookie “Stop being such a… woman”. Yes, fear is a female thing, apparently, or at least admitting to it. But shape-shifting – that’s a guy thing, in voodoo at least, and all the men are really Mellor. Maybe all men are eaters?

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The story is tight and taut, and the cast is superb. Elisabeth Moss, like Jodi Foster in Silence of the Lambs, is young and small enough for her vulnerability to engage our sympathy, but also smart, tough, resourceful and brave. Since being kidnapped in West Wing, Moss seems to have making a career in TV and movies where women take on vicious, violent men. This one is as vicious and violent as most of her Gilead mates. Scott Tobias of AV Club said: “If there’s ever been a gorier, nastier hour of network television, then I certainly can’t recall it”.

Now there’s a recommendation.

Director of this episode, Stuart Gordon, also did play about Armin Meiwes, the Rotenburg Cannibal, on the LA stage.

Eater is available (in four parts for some reason) on Youtube.

A complete listing of my Hannibal blogs can be accessed here.

“The fans never went away” – HANNIBAL: A DELICIOUS REUNION

Nerdist’s Rosie Knight hosted the much-awaited (ZOOM) reunion of the cast and crew of Hannibal (the link is above – starts at about 4½ minutes in), featuring series creator Bryan Fuller, Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal Lecter), Hugh Dancy (Will Graham), Gillian Anderson (Bedelia Du Maurier), Caroline Dhavernas (Alana Bloom), Katie Isabelle (Margot Verger), Raúl Esparza (Frederick Chilton), Hettiene Park (Beverly Katz), Kacey Rohl (Abigail Hobbs), Scott Thompson (Jimmy Price), Aaron Abrams (Brian Zeller), executive producer Martha De Laurentiis, co-producer Loretta Ramos, director/executive producer David Slade, and food consultant Janice Poon.

I intended to dip in and out looking for highlights, but of course ended up watching the whole fascinating one hour three minutes of it. Certainly, it is worth watching the whole thing, but (from a cannibal studies POV) don’t miss the Q&A  in the last 15 minutes, when Fannibal @hannigram_trash asks

“How do you think Hannigram / Hannibal and Will would have spent their quarantine time? And it must have been a very hard time for cannibals, because – no hunting?

Hugh Dancy (Will) replies:

“It’s easy, isn’t it? You know where everybody is – they’re at home. Baking! The oven is already on!”

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Then of course come the torrent of questions – will there be romance between Hannibal and Will in Season 4? @Bryanfuller says:

“From our very first meeting with Mads, he redefined the character immediately for me because he’s the devil. He is this thing both of the world and outside of the world. So for me, the devil is pansexual.”

So really, if/when Season 4 starts – anything could happen. And probably will. But give the devil his due. In Christian texts, Satan is usually a fallen angel, the enemy of heaven, intent on snaring humans into sin and taking their souls. By the time of Revelations, he is called The Great Red Dragon, the name used by the serial killer who dominates Season 3. As a New Testament Satan, the Great Red Dragon is obviously interested in absorbing the Old Testament Satan, represented by Hannibal.

The Old Testament Satan appears very sparsely, and is subservient to God. He is probably the serpent who tempts Eve (Alana? Will?), and he appears under the name Satan (הַשָּׂטָן – the accuser) in the Book of Job. What is an “accuser”? Basically, he is God’s district attorney, looking for evidence against humanity, and not usually having too much trouble finding it. Like Hannibal, and later Will, he sets up obstacles or temptations for everyone he meets, and is curious to see what will happen. In the apocryphal Book of Jubilees, God grants the satan (referred to as Mastema) authority over a group of fallen angels, or their offspring, to tempt humans to sin. Isn’t that the story of Hannibal and his patients, who he assiduously tries to convert to his ways? Consider his words in Ko No Mono:

“I have not been bothered by any considerations of deity, other than to recognise how my own modest actions pale beside those of god…. God is beyond measure in wanton malice. And matchless in his irony.”


The final question of the reunion, the one we are all waiting for, was: will we get a Season 4 of Hannibal? Bryan Fuller replied

I am very hopeful.

So are we, Bryan. So are we.

Hugh Dancy adds that, after five years on the lam,

It’ll be like “Grumpy Old Men”, with cannibalism.

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  • A complete listing of my Hannibal blogs can be accessed here.

HANNIBAL: a complete listing of my Hannibal film and TV blogs

Movies

“Manhunter” (Mann, 1986)

https://thecannibalguy.com/2018/07/29/hannibal-the-cannibal/

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“The silence of the lambs” (Demme, 1991)

https://thecannibalguy.com/2018/03/04/1991-the-silence-of-the-lambs/

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“Hannibal” (Scott, 2001)

https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/03/17/hannibal-scott-2001/

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“Red Dragon” (Ratner, 2002)

https://thecannibalguy.com/2018/09/09/what-a-dragon-it-is-getting-old-red-dragon-ratner-2002/

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“Hannibal Rising” (Webber, 2007)

https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/09/22/hannibal-rising-2007/

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And a spoof, just for fun:

“The Silence of the Trumps” (Colbert Late Show, 2017)

https://thecannibalguy.com/2018/05/10/the-silence-of-the-trump/

Television

Season 1

  1. https://thecannibalguy.com/2018/10/07/very-hard-to-catch-hannibal-episode-1-aperitif-fuller-2013/
  2. https://thecannibalguy.com/2018/10/21/amusing-the-mouth-hannibal-season-1-episode-2-fuller-2013/
  3. https://thecannibalguy.com/2018/11/04/hiding-the-bodies-hannibal-season-1-episode-3-potage-fuller-2013/
  4. https://thecannibalguy.com/2018/11/11/happy-families-hannibal-season-1-episode-4-oeuf-fuller-2013/
  5. https://thecannibalguy.com/2018/11/25/inside-the-shell-hannibal-season-1-episode-5-coquilles-fuller-2013/
  6. https://thecannibalguy.com/2018/12/09/who-is-the-ripper-hannibal-season-1-episode-6-fuller-2013/
  7. https://thecannibalguy.com/2018/12/16/nothing-here-is-vegetarian-hannibal-season-1-episode-7-fuller-2013/
  8. https://thecannibalguy.com/2018/12/30/i-see-a-possibility-of-friendship-hannibal-season-1-episode-8-fuller-2013/
  9. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/01/06/i-know-what-monsters-are-hannibal-season-1-episode-9-fuller-2013/
  10. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/01/20/the-very-air-has-screams-hannibal-season-1-episode-10-fuller-2013/
  11. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/01/27/madness-can-be-a-medicine-hannibal-season-1-episode-11-fuller-2013/
  12. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/02/10/im-so-sorry-jack-releves-hannibal-season-1-episode-12-fuller-2013/
  13. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/02/24/savoureux-hannibal-season-1-episode-13/

Season 2

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  1. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/03/31/i-never-feel-guilty-kaiseki-hannibal-season-2-episode-1-fuller-2014/
  2. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/04/07/you-are-dangerous-sakizuke-hannibal-season-2-episode-2-fuller-2014/
  3. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/04/21/merely-the-ink-from-which-flows-my-poem-hannibal-season-2-episode-3-hassun-fuller-2014/
  4. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/05/05/death-is-not-a-defeat-hannibal-season-2-episode-4-takiawase-fuller-2014/
  5. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/05/19/he-is-the-devil-he-is-smoke-hannibal-season-2-episode-05-mukozuke-fuller-2014/
  6. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/06/02/an-act-of-dominance-hannibal-season-2-episode-6-futamono-fuller-2014/
  7. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/06/16/hannibal-season-2-episode-7-fuller-2014/
  8. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/06/30/we-are-all-nietzschean-fish/
  9. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/07/14/typhoid-and-swans/
  10. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/07/28/hannibal-season-2-episode-10/
  11. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/08/11/hannibal-season-2-episode-11/
  12. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/08/25/hannibal-season-2-episode-12/
  13. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/09/08/hannibal-season-2-finale/

Season 3

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  1. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/10/13/the-eating-of-the-heart/
  2. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/11/03/hannibal-season-3-episode-2/
  3. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/11/24/how-did-your-sister-taste/
  4. https://thecannibalguy.com/2019/12/15/hannibal-season-3-episode-4/
  5. https://thecannibalguy.com/2020/01/05/in-the-belly-of-the-beast-hannibal-season-3-episode-5-contorno/
  6. https://thecannibalguy.com/2020/01/26/hannibal-season-3-episode-6/
  7. https://thecannibalguy.com/2020/02/16/hannibal-season-3-episode-7/
  8. https://thecannibalguy.com/2020/03/08/im-not-insane-hannibal-s03e08-the-great-red-dragon/
  9. https://thecannibalguy.com/2020/03/29/hannibal-309/
  10. https://thecannibalguy.com/2020/04/19/murder-and-cannibalism-are-morally-acceptable-hannibal-310/
  11. https://thecannibalguy.com/2020/05/17/hannibal-3-11/
  12. https://thecannibalguy.com/2020/06/07/hannibal-312/
  13. https://thecannibalguy.com/2020/07/05/hannibal-s3e13/

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