“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.

Serving your crew: DREAD HUNGER (eight-player cannibalism game)

Imagine you are trapped on a ship surrounded by ice in the Arctic, and some of your friends might actually not be whom they seem. Dread Hunger, a New Zealand computer game in which players can cannibalise their friends, has become a huge success, mainly in China.

I usually blog about cannibal movies here, or news stories about cannibalism when they break. This is the first game I have covered, although I am waiting to see the game “Borneo: A Jungle Nightmare” which is due for release this year – it is scripted and directed by Ruggero Deodato, who brought us one of the seminal cannibal movies in 1980: CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. This game was originally going to have the same title, but is not a remake (in game form) of the original, but more like fourth in Deodato’s cannibal saga. Due out sometime in 2022.

Anyway, back to DREAD HUNGER! When the Christchurch company, Digital Confectioners, released the game earlier this year, they were hoping they might reach 10,000 players in the US. To their surprise, they found that more than 260,000 people in China play the game every day. Due to time zones, says Director Sam Evans, the demand is mostly between the hours of 12.30am and 5am New Zealand time (which for computer nerds is a fairly normal operating time).

Dread Hunger is a survival game set during an Arctic exploration in 1847-48. Players can build fires, fight off wolves, and hunt for food, including, sometimes, human flesh from their shipmates.

There are various weapons, and the players can also “pick up severed heads and limbs and use them to kill.”

One of the strategies is:

Betray Your Friends
Feed them tainted food, lure animals to attack them, hex them with blood magic, or if all else fails… just shoot them in the back.”

The game has become a target of hackers, including DDOS attacks and “cheats” where hackers find a loophole in the game code they can exploit to give players an unfair advantage.

Dread Hunger has just passed 1 million copies sold, a figure Evans called “insane”. The graphics are splendid and, well, graphic.

This has led to some new, if profitable, challenges.

“The American market largely treats games like a product. They buy the game, they play the game on average 10-15 hours over a few weeks, then they move on. But in China when they find a game they like, they play it for hundreds of hours, for years and years. This forced us to treat the game like a service. We now have to focus on continual development and regularly updating the game to add more cool features over time.”

The game is mainly based on the 1845 expedition of 129 men led by explorer Sir John Franklin, which left Britain for the Canadian Arctic in search of the elusive Northwest Passage. Their ships, the H.M.S. Erebus and the H.M.S. Terror never returned.

Rumours that the crew resorted to cannibalism have swirled around the doomed expedition since the nineteenth century. Evidence suggests that Franklin’s crew may have not only consumed the flesh of deceased compatriots, but also cracked their bones, to eat the marrow inside. In 1854, interviews with local Inuits described piles of human bones, cracked in half.

In 1864, Sir Edwin Landseer‘s painting Man Proposes, God Disposes caused a stir at the Royal Academy exhibition for its depiction of two polar bears, one chewing on a tattered ship’s ensign, the other gnawing on a human ribcage. Cannibalism did not get a mention – yet. 

More recently, in the 1980s and 1990s, researchers recovered remains of the crew on King William Island. Knife marks on the bones backed up early accounts of human cannibalism. A newer analysis of 35 bones by anthropologists Simon Mays and Owen Beattie suggests that the men did indeed eat each other. The bones showed signs of breakage and heating—indicating that the crew members probably cooked them to extract the marrow. Mays and Beattie published their results in 2015 in the International Journal of Osteology.

Horror writer Dan Simmons‘s 2007 book The Terror was developed as a 2018 AMC television series also called The Terror. The expedition has, over the years, taken on the mythic value to the British that the Donner Party holds in the USA.

One of the lines from the launch trailer (above):

“I have heard it said that this land can change a man. Turn him into a beast. Well, to that I would say—men were always beasts. Some you see, well, they’re just better at hiding it than others.”

Dread Hunger is what is called in games parlance a “social deduction game”. This is a category of game in which players attempt to uncover each other’s hidden role or team allegiance. It’s an ideal formula for a population who never know quite who the agents of their government might be. And also an ideal cannibalism game for the recent history of man-eating, in which the cannibals like Albert Fish, Jeffrey Dahmer, Issei Sagawa and Armin Meiwes all appeared as very ordinary, normal neighbours.

We all need to do some social deductions, it seems.

Keep “me” out of meat – BOB’S BURGERS Episode 1, “Human Flesh”

Bob’s Burgers is a hugely popular animated sitcom that has been running since 2011. It has been renewed for a 12th and 13th season, and has spun off a comic book series, a soundtrack album and a movie which, although delayed by the pandemic, is due for release in 2022. TV Guide ranked it among the sixty greatest TV cartoons. Bob and his family have even appeared in a “couch gag” in an episode of The Simpsons, a show that has had its own cannibal stories. This first episode, Human Flesh, aired on Fox on January 9 2011 and was viewed in 9.41 million homes in the US.

Bob’s Burgers is due to reopen after a series of disasters, staffed by his family – his wife Linda (John Roberts) and three kids. The Health Inspector arrives to investigate reports that Bob’s burgers are made out of human meat from the crematorium next door, a rumour started by youngest daughter Louise (Kristen Schaal from Flight of the Conchords and Last Man on Earth) at her school ‘show and tell’.

The Health Inspector is a jilted lover of Linda and tells Bob (H. Jon Benjamin):

“We’ll test your meat. If it contains human flesh anything above the four percent allowable by the FDA, then your restaurant will be closed, and you, sir, will be going to jail!”

The public response is to run screaming from the door, although one old lady says she’d try it, and at least there’s no waiting line.

An angry mob gathers outside the shop.

Bob addresses them, appealing to them to consider the living, rather than the dead.

“we mistreat the living and no one seems to care, but once that body’s dead, it’s ‘don’t mistreat the dead body, hey, don’t eat the dead body, that’s the ultimate crime, right? Murder, no big deal; cannibal? Whoaaa!

The burger shop is saved when the “adventurous eaters’ club turns up wanting to try human flesh burgers, willing to pay $50 each. The health inspectors return to announce that their test showed “100% Grade A beef” but Bob shouts them down.

The restaurant is saved. But we never get the answer to Bob’s question.  Why is it OK to mistreat each other (and the unfortunate animals who are made into his beef) but not eat the human dead, the only beings in this equation who cannot suffer?

The show’s creator, Loren Bouchard, told The Hollywood Reporter that the original concept of the show was a family of cannibals running a restaurant, but Fox talked him out of it.

Seems like a missed opportunity to me.

Here is the original concept cartoon, with Linda assuming that a ring on a corpse’s hand (from a pile about to go in the meat grinder) is her anniversary present from Bob.

“…would break people’s souls”: AMERICAN HORROR STORIES Episode 3 “Drive In”

American Horror Stories is part of the American Story franchise. It is a 2021 spin-off of the hugely popular American Horror Story, an anthology series created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, who were responsible for other terrifying shows like Nip/Tuck and Glee. American Horror Story is currently in its tenth season, and has been renewed for seasons 11-13. Each season is a self-contained mini-series, whereas in this new series, American Horror Stories, each episode is a self-contained narrative.

While there were cannibals in American Horror Story, (the Raspers in season 2 and the Polk family in season 6), the new series seems to be a lot more into them – the first season has two cannibal stories out of the seven episodes, an impressive 28.6% (if anyone is counting).

Episode 3 is called “Drive In” because that’s where most of the gore happens. Kelley (Madison Bailey) and Chad (Rhenzy Feliz) have been arguing about her reluctance to have sex with him, even though he is playing Bob Ross The Joy of Painting on his laptop (he’s been told it’s a sure fire aphrodisiac due to its reputation for causing a relaxed, tingling sensation known as ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response). Anyway, that trick doesn’t work on Kelley.

Bob Ross is an interesting choice for a horror story opening, as he seems to live on through Twitch and the internet, despite having died in 1995. So much horror is about the undead stalking promiscuous teenagers!

Chad’s friends assure him that ASMR won’t work – what he needs is horror! That’s why horror films are so popular, they are aphrodisiacs, OK? The link between fear and sex – the subject of a whole new dissertation.

Chad’s friends have one ticket left for the drive-in screening of a film called Rabbit Rabbit. The film was banned by Tipper Gore (Amy Grabow) after the audience at the only showing in 1986 started to massacre each other, and she ordered all prints of the movie destroyed. Except they missed one: the director’s cut. Chad dismisses this whole massacre business as an urban legend, but takes the ticket.

As they drive in, a lone woman is protesting, demanding the screening be stopped. She tells Chad she was at the showing in 1986, where her boyfriend plucked out her eye and ate it before being killed himself. He listens politely, but then Kelley turns up with the biggest bucket of popcorn ever created, and he has to, you know, go. Presumably now full of popcorn, Kelley tells Chad that she is finally ready to have sex with him, and various cannibal metaphors fill the cars before the movie starts – Chad and Kelley pashing in his car, fellatio in his friend’s car next door.

Chad and Kelly’s steamy petting fogs up the car windows, so they cannot see the film, nor do they see the mayhem erupting outside, where people are attacking and devouring each another. They try to drive away when a cannibal smashes through their window but they crash, and have to retreat to the projection room, where we see Chad, who just yesterday was trying to seduce his girlfriend by playing The Joy of Painting, use the last copy of Rabbit Rabbit to cave in the skull of the projectionist, who has just eaten her assistant.

Of course, it’s not the last print. There is a rumour of another print being shown next night. Their mission, should they choose to accept, is to find the director and destroy the NEXT last copy.

So, we finally get to the cannibalism, and it’s plentiful and gory, as we would expect. Those affected by the film get bloodshot eyes, their veins swell, and they are only interested in one thing – human flesh. Chad’s best friend approaches as they leave, eyes bloodshot, veins swollen, and Chad appeals to him to THINK! Remember when we were two little boys, innocently watching porn in the afternoons? Now, according to Aristotle’s theory of the human being as the rational animal, Chad’s appeal to reason, love, friendship, shared porn, should have broken through the spell. Ha!

So what’s with this movie, with the most innocuous title imaginable: Rabbit Rabbit? The rabbit is a gentle, timid, vegan animal who is massacred pretty much everywhere he is found, due to his propensity to breed – a lot! Sounds kind of human?

Chad has done some research before going to the movie; he watched, on YouTube, Tipper Gore’s committee condemning the movie and having it banned after the audience massacre in 1986. Banning things is popular in America due to deep religious convictions, but also not popular due to, you know, the First Amendment. Tipper Gore, married to Vice President Al Gore, was responsible for making music companies add warning labels to songs with explicit content around that time, after finding her 11 year old daughter listening to Darling Nikki by Prince, so this is not just idle chatter – she was seriously into banning stuff.

But why is the government banning Rabbit Rabbit and destroying all copies (or so they imagine)? Well, the director, who glories in the name Larry Bitterman (John Carroll Lynch from Fargo and The Drew Carey Show) is asked by Tipper about his claim in Fangoria Magazine that his movie:

“…would break people’s souls, and anyone who saw it would be damaged forever.”

Publicity hype, laughs Bitterman, but Tipper is worried about the effects of violent content on society, which must be an in-joke for Murphy and Falchuk, after presenting us with ten seasons of violent content, and now this gorefest. Critics have been warning about that sort of thing forever. Civil society has been threatened by the Internet, porn mags, the horror genre, and before that television, movies, radio… hell, conservative Cro-Magnons were probably warning about the evils of cave paintings 40,000 years ago.

Is there any sense to it? Can porn turn us into sex offenders, horror stories into cannibals? The internet certainly turns some people into trolls. Bitterman wants to make cinematic history – he tells the teens that this “was his finest hour” – a cinematic happening, a horror movie where the horror isn’t on screen, it’s in the audience. He refers to Friedkin’s (actual) use of subliminals in The Exorcist – two frames of a demon’s face in reel six had people throwing up in the aisles and women going into labour. Rabbit Rabbit took this to the next level,

“The universal combination of image and sound that would trigger the fear centre of every human brain. I studied intrusive memory formation, the CIA hijinks with MK-Ultra…”

Bitterman had jumped the hearing bench and attacked Tipper Gore when she boasted about destroying the prints of his movie, which resulted in him being locked up for fifteen years for assault. His conclusion: “a society that locks up its artists doesn’t deserve to survive.”

There’s another in-joke – the series was made by FX for Hulu. What if a film like Rabbit Rabbit was to appear on, I dunno, a rival streaming platform – imagine the damage it could do!

But there’s another question for us among all the hacked flesh and explosions. Have you ever felt like you are in a horror movie? Maybe while in the throes of a personal tragedy, or watching a pandemic unfold, or contemplating changing climate. Perhaps you’ve wondered if “they” are playing with your brain. Or perhaps they really are breaking your soul. Or maybe eating you alive. Cannibalism is a brutal metaphor for pretty much every atrocity we visit on our fellow earthlings. A movie, a cataclysm, political upheaval – what would it take to start us eating each other?

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?”

Cannibalism news: the “GRANNY RIPPER” dies of COVID-19

Sofia Zhukova, 81, a retired pig slaughterer, was accused of butchering schoolgirl Anastasia Alexeenko, seven

Sofia Zhukova, known as the ‘Granny Ripper’, who supposedly gave children sweets made from the flesh of her victims, died in Russia of COVID-19 on December 29 2020, at the age of 81, before the conclusion of her murder trial.

Zhukova, a retired pig butcher, was charged with murdering three people, but police suspected she was involved in many other unsolved cases in Russia.

Neighbours claimed she made sweets from the flesh of her victims.

Zhukova, 81, a retired pig slaughterer, was accused of butchering schoolgirl Anastasia Alexeenko, seven, whose severed head was found in 2005 with her face severely battered. The child had reportedly annoyed Zhukova by being noisy while playing nearby, and had thrown ice-cream at Zhukova when told to be quiet.

The court was told that she kidnapped the schoolgirl and held her for three weeks. The child was allegedly murdered the day before her severed head was found near Zhukova’s flat. A phone call assuring Anastasia’s mother, Natalya, that the girl was still alive had been made from the sausage factory where the pensioner worked as a pig slaughterer, the court was told. Forensic experts found the girl’s DNA in Zhukova’s bathroom, some fourteen years after the alleged killing.

She was also charged with murdering and dismembering a 52-year-old janitor in Khabarovsk, and killing a female friend, who was aged 77. Police were investigating at least four more unsolved murders linked to her. Internal organs of the janitor, Vasily Shlyakhtich, a Ukrainian immigrant who was her tenant, were allegedly discovered in the granny’s fridge in 2019. She said in evidence: ‘I killed the janitor, but he raped me. What do you think I should have done? I chopped him up with an axe.’ She demonstrated her technique in court.

Zhukova became infected with Covid-19 in a detention jail, and died on December 29 after being moved to hospital

Local children found his severed arm in a rubbish skip, and other remains were found in plastic bags at a skip.

Local children found his severed arm in a rubbish skip while other remains were stashed in plastic bags at a skip (pictured)

A law enforcement source said:

‘The bowels and other inner organs of the man were found in her fridge – and she threw away the bones. But dogs smelled the blood and carried the body parts all around the area.’

Neighbours said she even turned her victims into food and sweets (candies, lollies), and offered them around to children. One stated:

‘We always found it strange that despite being surly and unfriendly, she would often find the time to cook things for the local children. ‘They were always meat dishes. Sometimes she gave them to the adults, she bought me and my husband plates with jellied meat.’

Zhukova’s crimes, murdering at least three people, are unfortunately not unusual. More than 400,000 people are murdered every year globally. What made this old lady newsworthy, and her death the subject of headlines (unlike most of the millions who have died of COVID) is the allegation of cannibalism – particularly the fact that she fed some of the human meat to neighbours and possibly made sweet treats for children out of the flesh.

But, you know, we do what we know. Like the Sawyer family in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, her life was centred around killing as a calling – so pigs, rapists and noisy children were all just items of work or problems to be solved. In retirement, she solved her problems the same way she had solved her employment tasks, as well as finding ways to ingratiate herself to her neighbours. As one of the Sawyer lads said:

“My family’s always been in meat!”

Or as Pythagoras said some 2,500 years ago:

“For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other.
Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”

Ladies that lunch: CANNIBAL GIRLS (Ivan Reitman, 1973)

Mention cannibalism in conversation (sorry, yes, I often do), and you will usually (in my experience) be met with either humour or revulsion and very often both at once. Ivan Reitman has wrestled with that paradox in this early movie – he went on to direct Meatballs, Stripes, Ghostbusters I and II, Twins, Kindergarten Cop, Dave and Junior. Great comedy classics, but none of them involved cannibalism, unfortunately.

This Canadian film employs the classic horror trope of the young couple lost or having car problems or, in this case, both at once. The couple are Clifford and Gloria, played with gusto by the very young and almost unrecognisable Eugene Levy (American Pie, Schitt’s Creek, most Christopher Guest movies) and Andrea Martin (My Big Fat Greek Wedding).

There’s the creepy gas station person, the corrupt cop, and a particularly unctuous reverend. When shown in the cinemas, there was apparently a bell that rang immediately preceding the gore to warn the squeamish to close their eyes. This was omitted in the version I watched, and with good reason – if you don’t know what to expect when a guy starts pulling on his clothes and a woman reaches for a sharp implement, then you are probably watching the wrong channel.

Then there’s the hotel of horrors, where the motel proprietor tells them the “legend of the three beautiful girls”, who lure men to their farmhouse, take them to bed, and then kill and eat them.

“Food can be a marvellous appetiser” one of them tells her chosen victim. The girls have a ritual – a dab of blood between the breasts and the incantation:

“Within me and without me, I honour this blood, which gives me life.”

There’s the wink to the audience as the butcher holds up a piece of meat and tells a customer: “Mrs Wilson, if it was any fresher, it would get up and tell you itself”.

And then, there are the cannibal girls of the title. Turns out they are, I dunno, maybe succubi? Anyway, they eat human flesh, drink blood, and live forever. And, we are told, they never get sick. They feed the reverend, who seems to be in charge of all this hocus pocus, on their blood, as they chant:

“We shall drink the blood of life, of life eternal, and we shall live forever.”

The problem here is that the film is trying to be a horror story and a comedy at the same time, and does OK at both, but brilliantly at neither. It was made on a low budget, not uncommon in cannibal movies, but, to make a long story short, the less the money, the greater the tendency to make a short story long. It drags a bit, and although there’s lots of blood and meat, there’s not much terror or humour.

But it does get to the point of cannibal stories – humans are edible, under the skin we are just another large mammal, and probably taste, as several cannibals report, somewhere between veal and pork. The movie reminds us of that sad truth with subtle hints like cows grazing beside the road, and a meat truck carrying some sort of mammal flesh to the local butcher.

Hard to build a whole horror show on that, so of course there has to be a supernatural element, based on traditional beliefs about capturing the strength, wisdom, skill or even soul of the one being eaten. You can trace this belief, or hope, in contested stories of cannibalism, such as the Fore tribe of PNG who ate their ancestors and acquired not strength or skill but a nasty shaking disease called Kuru. A popular version is the myth of the Wendigo, a spirit that inhabits humans and gives them an insatiable desire for human flesh, which makes them immortal and invulnerable – a topic covered rather nicely in the movie Ravenous.

These cannibal girls are not Wendigos – they are not particularly strong, just well armed, and are under the thrall of the reverend, who lives off their life forces and can hypnotise anyone with just a glance. Maybe he is some sort of evil spirit.

But real life cannibals do not gain strength from their meals, and they do not live forever. Jeffrey Dahmer hoped only to keep his boyfriends with him as zombie sex slaves, and eventually was beaten to death in prison. Ottis Toole died of cirrhosis of the liver, also in prison. In the final analysis, what cannibals eat is just meat, it has no magical powers, and usually results in legal trouble rather than invulnerability.

But it’s an entertaining enough movie, and after all the movies we have reviewed, it is a refreshing change to see some women tucking in to a bit of man-flesh.

That’s a carrot she’s peeling. Behave yourselves.

Cannibals in quarantine: THE PLATFORM (Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, 2019)

As we isolate ourselves in our homes (if we have homes) and wait for the storm of contagion to whistle past outside, we can imagine, rather more easily than was the case ‘way back’ in 2019 when this film was made, what it would be like to be locked in a room with an uncertain supply of food. Would we turn to cannibalism?

Netflix have released The Platform, a Spanish film that has been widely described as “stomach churning”. You’d think a churned stomach would be the bare minimum for cannibal movies! More temptingly, an Indian website called it “Just The Film To Stay Away From During Corona”:

“This Spanish film vomits its venomous bile on a depraved civilization with graphic description of cannibalism and excretion, not in any particular order. Human beings are shown as survivalist degenerates.”

The Platform offers a metaphorical analysis of neo-liberal capitalism (but also Stalinist communism), through the lens of a prison, in which there is plenty of food, if only everyone would share! With true, deadly, neo-lib efficiency, the prisoners are not fed by the labour intensive method of guards delivering food, but by a platform that descends from the top of the building, stopping briefly at each level. The inmates at the top have their choice of the gourmet food, and those further down on each level get the left-overs. “What are we going to eat?” Asks Goreng.

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Of course, the people at the top gorge, binge and horde, occasionally defecating and spitting on those below, and those at the bottom starve or turn to cannibalism. Así es la vida.

“There are three types of person: those at the top, those at the bottom, and those who fall.”

Goreng (it’s a pun – the Indonesian/Malay word for fried food) is played by Iván Massagué, who finds himself in a prison cell with Trimagasi (another Malay pun, meaning “thank you”), Zorion Eguileor. They become friends, for a while, motivated by their shared misfortunes, and then are driven apart by the same thing.

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The people at the top get first pick of the superb feasts prepared by a team of chefs, while at the bottom of the platform are the homeless, sleeping rough, hopefully 1.5 metres apart.

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By the time the platform gets to the bottom levels, there is not a scrap of food. Trimagasi has spent a month down there. He tells Goreng about it. “I didn’t say I didn’t eat anything…”

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Those on the middle levels hope to find some sustenance in the trickle-down from those above them, who in turn consider them barely human.

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Goreng is there for six months to earn a college degree, while Trimagasi is in for manslaughter. His crime was getting mad at the ads and throwing his TV out the window, where it killed an illegal immigrant who was passing by. “He shouldn’t have even been there!” Trimagasi cries. Both actors are best known for playing comedic roles, and there is a surprising amount of humour found in what is otherwise quite a bleak story.

The woman who processed Goreng turns up in his cell, and tells him the prison is a “vertical self-management centre”, an experiment in “spontaneous solidarity”. But it turns out to be closer to a social experiment about weakness, and irresistible hunger, reminiscent of Mason Verger putting two dogs who were friends in a cage with no food, to see who would eat whom.

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Interest is cannibalism grows apace. A recent article stated that cannibal stories typically emerge at times of social unrest and uncertainty. 2019 and the first quarter of 2020 presented us with plenty of evidence of that, with a plethora of cannibal movies released or in production, including:

She Never Died Audrey Cummings
Corporate Animals Patrick Brice
Pet Sematary Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Big Top Evil Sean Haitz, Chris Potter
The Young Cannibals Kris Carr, Sam Fowler
Aamis (Ravening) Bhaskar Hazarika
The Perfect Patient Mikael Håfström
The Platform Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Mr Jones Agnieszka Holland
Two Heads Creek (Aust) Jesse O’Brien
Wrong Turn 7: 2020 Mike P. Nelson
Cannibal Christmas Massacre Nick Heinrichs Jr
Gretel and Hansel Oz Perkins
Human Hibachi Mario Cerrito III
Evil for Dinner Travis Youngquist
Antlers Scott Cooper
Cannibal Comedian Sean Haitz
The Dinner Party Miles Doleac

Look, I’m not going to tell you what happens in The Platform or discuss the rather ambiguous ending (you can google all sorts of explanations, including one from the Director). It would be too easy to drop spoilers, and you really should see this one – it’s a corker, and it’s available on Netflix, so if you have that, watch it while we all stay home isolated or in quarantine. Then turn on the news and watch people fighting for toilet paper.

The battle cry of humans when they fear scarcity:

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This film is the perfect metaphor of the fear and greed displayed by those hoarding during the pandemic:

Goreng is haunted by the words of Jesus as he descends to the lowest level:

“If you drink not of the flesh of the Son of Man, nor drink of his blood, ye have no life…. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me, and I in him.”

This is our new reality – cannibalism. The coronavirus is showing us the limits to growth. Voracious appetite, incapable of sharing or even consideration of others, can only lead to one place. When the good times roll past, our flesh is meat indeed.

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The film premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Award for Midnight Madness. It was released on Netflix on March 20, 2020.

Dexter is delicious: “What’s Eating Dexter Morgan?” DEXTER Season 8 Episode 3

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Dexter is a television series that ran for 96 episodes from 2006-13. This episode is from the final season, and is the only one to feature a cannibal, which seems like a pretty shocking oversight really.

Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall, who played David Fisher in Six Feet Under) is a serial killer who also works as a blood spatter technician for the Miami metro police. There’s a lot of analysis of how he got that way (didn’t help that he saw his mother chopped up with a chainsaw when he was little) but, as he is not the cannibal in this tale, we don’t have to concern ourselves too much about that. Interesting to note, though, that although he is presented as a psychopath, he is often shown to have emotions and feelings that might not result in that diagnosis. In fact, Dexter only kills very bad people (just as Hannibal Lecter mostly only kills very rude ones) so he is really more a vigilante than a psychopath, and is motivated by a sense of justice that the Nietzschean Dr Lecter might find laughably absurd. We would have to conclude that both, however, are trying to improve the world by removing objectionable characters from its surface.

Dexter follows a suspect, Ron Galuzzo (Andrew Elvis Miller), to the mall where he sells exercise equipment. Galuzzo measures Dexter’s body/fat ratio, a wink to what we are about to find out about the dude and his culinary interests.

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Dexter breaks into Galuzzo’s house and it’s a mess, except for the kitchen, which is clean and spotless. Dexter opens a crock pot and finds a finger in the stew. Dexter is horrified, because I guess serial killers are not used to seeing body parts. Or perhaps Dexter is secretly a vegan.

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In the fridge, Dexter finds plastic containers containing various body parts. One of them holds a whole brain marinating in a garlic sauce.

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Dexter has a killing ritual, in which the victim is bound and gagged; in this case, it takes place in Galuzzo’s kitchen.

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He first lectures Galuzzo on the evils of cannibalism (bit of a nerve from someone whose hobby is slicing people up) then admits that he thinks that he and Galuzzo are alike, because

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Of course, Dexter has a rather better set of knives than most cannibals.

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Galuzzo is the only cannibal featured in the TV series, which is all based around the first book of an entertaining and highly amusing series of eight novels by Jeff Lindsay. A quite different case of cannibalism is featured in the fifth novel, Dexter is Delicious (2010). In the book, Dexter faces a coven of cannibals who eat (sometimes willing) victims in a Dionysian romp.

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The story revolves around Dexter and his sister, Deb, trying to save a young girl who doesn’t want to be saved; she wants to be eaten. I shall leave the cannibal unnamed in this extract, so as not to be accused of spoilers.

“Some of them do. They want to be eaten – just as much as I want to eat them…. Almost makes you believe in a benevolent God, doesn’t it?”

The book (IMHO) offers a much better cannibal story than the one in this episode, and we can only wish that the television gods had adapted it instead of this rather insipid character who presents no real challenge to Dexter, beyond offending his delicate sensibilities. Maybe Legal forbade it. Fine to tie a cannibal up, abuse him and slaughter him, but to eat someone who wants to be eaten? Now there’s an ethical dilemma for our times.

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Rage and appetite: SKIN AND BONES S1E08 of “Fear Itself” (Larry Fessenden, 2008)

Fear Itself was an American horror/suspense anthology television series shot in Canada. It began airing on June 5, 2008.

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Look, it’s a TV video nasty, but the cast is great, and it features a Wendigo, a figure made famous in Hannibal and the movie Ravenous.

The Wendigo (sometimes called Wetigo) is a figure from North American Algonquin folklore. He is a mythical figure – giant, fierce and cannibalistic. He gathers strength from feeding on human flesh, but the flesh makes him grow larger, and so his appetite can never be satisfied. He is sometimes protective, and sometimes a figure of revenge (Cartman may have been taken over by a Wendigo in last week’s blog!) In this story, the Wendigo is “the spirit of the lonely places” and is all about revenge. The Wendigo gets inside people who are weak, hungry, and filled with rage.

We know what’s going to happen. So does the token wise old Native American, Eddie Bear (Gordon Tootoosis) who knows all about Wendigos, as did Joseph Runningfox in Ravenous. Of course, no one is interested in metaphysical explanations from those who might understand the land, so it just escalates from there.

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“Don’t matter what you call it. It’s a madness, it’s fierce, it’s a hunger that can’t be satisfied. It’s an anger that can’t be settled. It’s the Wendigo!”

Grady (Doug Jones from Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy II and Star Trek Discovery) has a ranch but knows nothing about living off the land. His brother Rowdy (John Pyper-Ferguson) is running the ranch, and is clearly making out with his wife Elena (Molly Hagan). There are two children (Cole Heppell and Brett Dier, who you might recognise as Michael from Jane the Virgin).

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The kids challenge Rowdy with the usual line “You’re not our father!” so of course we know he must be. The Wendigo has taken over Grady while he was on a hunting trip (with Chuck and Billy who have, you know, disappeared: down the hatch) and when Grady stumbles back to the ranch, he is skinny, covered in frostbite, and remarkably creepy. And hungry. So hungry, he could eat a horse (and does).

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But he certainly doesn’t want Elena’s soup. When she feels his forehead, he licks her arm, and mutters, “tastes good!” Soon he is feeling fine. And still hungry. Soon it’s Rowdy’s turn to be the family meal. He makes Elena cut up and cook and then eat his brother. OK, he’s possessed by a Wendigo, but it’s still cannibalism in my book.

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CUT IT UP AND COOK IT! …it’s just meat.

Director Larry Fessenden had made an earlier Wendigo movie called, well, Wendigo, which got a respectable 60% on Rotten Tomatoes.

If you want to know what happens in this one (and you can really sort of guess), you can watch the whole episode on Youtube.

It’s worth watching, if only for Doug Jones’ performance as the Wendigo.

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“I could feel a rage growing up inside me. A rage that would not let me die!”

Sounds like an allegory of twenty-first century politics.

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