The “vampire of Hanover” – DEATHMAKER (Der Totmacher, Romuald Karmakar, 1995)

I expected this to be either graphically violent or else painfully dull, but it was neither. It is quite different from any cannibal movie I have reviewed on this blog.

Deathmaker (German: Der Totmacher) is a re-enactment of the transcripts of the interrogation of the serial killer and cannibal Fritz Haarmann who killed and ate parts of at least 24 homeless boys between the end of the Great War in 1918 and his eventual capture and execution in 1924-5.

Haarmann became known as the “Vampire of Hanover” for killing his victims with a “love bite” that went right through their windpipes. He made a living selling the victims’ clothes and flesh (marketed as “pork”) on the black market to grateful customers who were barely surviving the collapse of the German economy after the war.

There are no flashbacks or re-enactments of violent incidents, just three men sitting in a room, and only two of them speak. Imagine it as a play that has been recorded to film. Or think Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre mixed with In Treatment. The great German film maker Ulli Lommel had made a re-enactment of Haarmann’s killing spree some twenty years earlier called The Tenderness of Wolves (Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe). The two films are a wonderful glimpse into the mind of a cannibal, although the characterisation is so different as to be almost unrecognisable

Almost the whole film is set in one room in an asylum, with psychology professor Ernst Schultze (Jurgen Hentsch) interviewing mass-murderer and cannibal Fritz Haarmann (Götz George, who won best actor at Venice Film Festival for this role) to determine if he is sane, or at least lucid enough to be tried and executed. Except for entrances and exits and the occasional visiting doctor, no other people are present, and the only other member of the cast is the stenographer (Pierre Franckh) – whose notes of the meetings this film used as its script – he is variously terrified, fascinated and sympathetic to Haarmann, all depicted entirely in his face, as he never says a word.

The Director, Romuald Karmakar, is known for producing thoughtful films that often follow perpetrators who are responsible for their own downfall. The professor asks unexpected questions about maths or geology, while Fritz plays the clown, but as the questions close in on his life and sexuality, he becomes more lucid, trying to justify his actions, and trying to win the sympathy of his interrogator. The professor has full control over the hulking Fritz, who is soon describing exactly how he killed the boys and young men during sex, with graphic details of how he dismembered them and disposed of the body parts.

“Took out the bowels. And threw them in a bucket. Dumped them in the toilet. It’s all rumpled up. I cut them up and threw them away.”

Haarmann’s boyfriend, Hans, would acquire the boys, sometimes just because he wanted their clothing, and knew he would get it after Fritz finished with them.

The professor, unlike modern psychs, pours scorn on Fritz, contemptuously condemning his homosexuality and violence and dismissing his claim that he will be allowed into Heaven to meet his mother. Would Haarmann have acted as he did if his homosexuality had been accepted? We can’t know that, but we do know that German laws against homosexuality were made more draconian after Haarmann’s case in 1924.

The boys won’t be able to testify against him to the heavenly judge, Haarmann says, because he caved their heads in, and he demonstrates how he did it, smashing his fist into his hand repeatedly.

He laughs, he boasts, he complains, and eventually he cries as he realises that his rampages, which he at first maintained were not his fault, will surely have him condemned to the guillotine.

The subject of cannibalism is barely mentioned, even though that is about all that Haarmann is remembered for now.

The professor tells him there is plenty of evidence that Fritz fried shrimps in human fat, made bouillon, sausages and brawn

We are told that he stripped the flesh from his victims and sold their clothes, and finally we get a quick reference to “Haarmann’s sausages”, almost as a double entendre joke. The ethical debate between the professor and Fritz is not about cannibalism but about the families who lost their sons, and his response each time is that they were just “joy-boys”.

The basis of exploitation, killing and eating others is objectification. A cow or pig can be “just an animal” and a homeless boy can be “just a joy-boy”. Just words, but powerful enough to allow the most despicable acts, as they strip all moral value from the intended victim. Haarmann claimed he did not remember killing them, they would just be lying next to him, dead, next morning. And of course, once they were dead, they were no longer “just joy-boys” and were instead now just meat. Our ability to objectify does not necessarily stop at the species line.

The film received several awards and nominations from the Deutscher Filmpreis in 1996 including Best Feature Film, Best Direction and Best Actor. Götz George is simply superb in the role, for which he also won the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival. Deathmaker was chosen as Germany’s official submission to the 69th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, but did not manage to receive a nomination.

It is not a film for everyone, both because of the descriptions of the dismemberment of human bodies, as well as the fact that, if you don’t speak German, following the dialog in subtitles can be wearing for some people. But it is quite brilliant, and if you can’t find it on a streaming service, it is available on DVD at Amazon. Well worth the effort.

Cannibalism news July 2021: FRENCH POLICE SHOOT SUSPECTED CANNIBAL AFTER BOY’S HEAD FOUND IN BUCKET

French police fatally shot a 32-year-old man suspected of cannibalism on Monday morning (July 19) following the discovery of the decapitated corpse and partially consumed head of a 13-year-old boy.

Police found the remains on Sunday in an apartment in the southern France town of Tarascon, a town between Avignon and Arles.

Public prosecutor Laurent Gumbau told Agence France-Presse that strips of flesh had been ripped from a shoulder, sparking suspicions of cannibalism.

“The body found may be that of the minor… However, it was impossible at the current time to confirm the hypothesis of anthropophagy (cannibalism).” 

The boy disappeared on his way from his foster home in Marseille, about 60 miles away, to see his mother in Tarascon.

Late Sunday night, a neighbour called police and reported seeing a body in a garbage bag. A man, who had previous convictions for acts of violence, fled from his apartment when police arrived by jumping over rooftops, neighbours told the news outlet. Three hours later police found the man and shot him dead, the prosecutor said, adding that the suspect did not appear to have been armed at the time of his death, and had not been formally identified as the killer.

In his apartment, the Bouches-du-Rhône police discovered a dead body in the kitchen, but its right arm and head were missing. The head was later found in a bucket in the bathroom and, according to Le Figaro, had been partially eaten. Satanic cult objects were also found in the home.

Homicide has been with us since the first apeman lifted a bone to beat a rival to death (or actually well before that, using teeth and claws). It is likely that the victor in those early spats would have been loath to waste the resulting meaty corpse.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Accounts of cannibalism still seem to focus on the primitive, the ‘savage’ cannibals eating the unwary missionary who stumbles upon their village, even though there is little evidence that such events ever happened. But in recent years, cannibalism has increasingly been found within our ‘civilised’ cities and towns. 2020 was a big year for cannibalism. So far in 2021, we have had THE OKLAHOMA CANNIBAL in the US and the MEXICAN CANNIBAL who allegedly killed and ate some thirty women. In South Africa at the moment, deadly rioting has led to food shortages that, according to one community leader, has led people to consider cannibalism. Then we have the whole Armie Hammer uproar. These cases, like the one in France, are usually put down to psychotic deviance, the psychological equivalent of a mystified shrug. But economics and politics play their parts too, as does a loss of respect – treating humans as animals (which of course we are) emanates from treating animals as morally valueless, as mere commodities.

Could it be that a toxic mixture of urban loneliness and rampant consumerism, particularly of animal bodies, together with the stripping of humans of their formerly assumed metaphysical superiority to other animals, is leading the murderer to the same conclusion chosen by our pre-sapien ancestors: why waste the meat?

Halloween display in Ukrainian butcher shop window

Meat is meat! THE BUTCHERS (Paulmichel Mielche, 1973)

Since at least the time of Sweeney Todd, the barber who killed his customers and turned them into pies in the early 19th century, enterprising business people have been selling human meat to their customers. In Soylent Green, the US government does a roaring trade in it, and demonstrates sustainable recycling, well before it became fashionable. It’s a trope that is enduringly popular, because it offers metaphors for the fears people hold about their own society. Who among us has not suspected we have been exploited, chewed up and spat out at some time? Except for those doing the chewing up of course. 

The movie was originally called Maxie, but that must have been a bit subtle, as it was renamed for marketing purposes to The Butchers or sometimes Murderer’s Keep. The lead character is a young girl named Maxie (K.T. Baumann) – a difficult role as Maxie is a deaf mute who witnesses the local butcher chopping up dead people for his shop, and is kidnapped by his assistant to ensure her “silence”. They’re afraid she is going to learn to talk. It’s complicated (not really). Baumann expresses what most actors get to say by using her face, movements and sounds, and she is very impressive.

The butchers are Smedke (Vic Tayback from Bullitt as well as bit parts in almost every TV show ever made) and his half-witted assistant Finn, played with gusto by Robert Walden (Lou Grant and lots of other shows). The problem is that, as horror movie villains, they are neither scary nor villainous. Except for their business practices, they are quite sympathetic characters. The gore we usually associate (expect?) with cannibal movies is mainly the result of Finn, the apprentice butcher, screwing up the slaughter of some unfortunate hens. We see that in gory detail, as if the director wants us to question whether it’s worse to eat a living, breathing animal fighting for her life, or a dead body who can feel nothing. The scene reminded me of the gratuitous animal cruelty in Cannibal Holocaust and other Italian cannibal movies, which were supposedly added to make the audience think the violence and cannibalism were real. No such pretence here – they just kill chickens. Life is cheap.

Smedke is buying human corpses, wrapped in brown paper, from a shipping yard (no further explanation is offered) and happily chopping them up for customers who don’t want to pay the prices he charges for the regular cuts. His refrain is:

“Meat is meat! And a man has to make a living.”

A refrain that is lost in this film, but was used to great effect a few years later (“meat is meat and a man’s gotta eat!”) by the ever-cheerful Rory Calhoun in Motel Hell. Smedke is an entrepreneur in Nixon’s America, which is careering toward neo-liberalism, Reagan and “greed is good”. Although he doesn’t get to expand on his philosophy, it seems clear that a dead body is worthless buried, so it might as well be bought and sold.

The interesting aspect of the ‘plot’ is that Maxie cannot tell anyone what she has seen (basically a human foot sticking out of the brown paper) and has no social skills since her father has kept her at home rather than risk her humiliation at school. Yet she can take an ethical position – she tosses out all the meat in her father’s fridge, choosing vegetarianism.

This barely ranks as a B movie, and while I have reviewed a few films on this blog that got a fat zero on Rotten Tomatoes, this might be the first that did not even get onto the site at all. Check this less than glowing review:

“Miekhe… ends up creating the cinematic equivalent of a staph infection, an oblique mess that just spreads and oozes across the screen like fissures on an untreated leg gash. By the end, you aren’t hoping for closure so much as a conclusion – ANY conclusion – just to get us out of this asylum as anti-horror film… And yet, for all its baffling movie machinations, its lack of gory goodness and substantially less than successful storytelling, The Butchers is still a fascinating film experience.”

Indeed, it has a certain fascination if you can navigate through the paper-thin plot – it is a glimpse of small-town America in 1970 as it moves from the optimism of the sixties to the rapacity of the seventies. The cast are mostly great, particularly Baumann and Walden. Talia Coppola, (aka Talia Shire, the sister of Francis Ford Coppola) is shown as a star on the credits, although she has a minor role in the film. She played Connie Corleone in the Godfather series, and Adrian Pennino in the Rocky films, and was nominated for an Oscar in both roles. She is a bit wasted here.

The music is quirky, sometimes totally inappropriate and never boring or obvious like so many horror films. And sometimes it’s just fun to watch a film that no one has heard of, and probably no one ever will. And it asks the key question of cannibal studies: why do people find the killing and eating of some animals unremarkable and others repulsive?

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?”

Humans as livestock: THE FARM (Hans Stjernswärd, 2018)

What does it mean to be “treated like an animal”? We humans are, after all, animals, one species of the family Hominid, or great apes. So why should we not be treated like animals, or, if we are averse to abuse, why then do we treat non-human animals “like animals”? The ultimate act of treating humans “like animals” is the killing and eating or the human body, which of course is made of meat, and various other edible parts.

One of the classics of cannibal studies is the film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, made on a tight budget by Tobe Hooper in 1974, and remade and turned into multiple sequels since then. In these films, cannibals capture and slaughter tourists for their flesh. The Farm attempts to push the slaughter metaphor a whole lot further.

The cannibal who dwells among us has been a popular trope since Sweeney Todd the Barber starting cutting the throats of his customers over 200 years ago, carting their bodies to the pie shop of Mrs Lovett, who turned them into very popular pies. There have been multiple versions of this story, the latest being a musical with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Variations on this theme included Motel Hell and the Danish comedy Green Butcher, starring Mads Mikkelsen (21st century Hannibal Lecter) as you have never seen him before.

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It’s Mads, Captain, but not as we know it.

Early cannibal stories concentrated on ‘savages’ who ate us just because that’s what the imperialists told us that was what primitive peoples did. Sweeney and his ilk looked a lot like us, but happened to be less discriminating when it came to sourcing their meat. Slasher cannibals were a hybrid – a fusion of the foreign savage and the domestic entrepreneur – they were modern, civilised people who had sunk back into voracious savagery. Texas Chain Saw was a progenitor of the slasher films in which a bunch of urban trendies come up against a whole family of degenerate cannibals – people who have dropped (or been thrown) out of civil society and reverted to savagery and cannibalism. Stories about semi-human, savage cannibals waylaying travellers date back to at least Sawney Bean and his incestuous cannibal family in 16th century Scotland, or even further back to Homer’s Cyclops or the various monsters reported by Herodotus.

What slasher and savage cannibal movies had in common was that the cannibals were more of the hunter-gatherer type, setting traps or chasing potential prey, as our ancestors did for a couple of hundred thousand years before the agricultural revolution started, some ten thousand years ago. At that time, we started selectively breeding animals, confining them, controlling their lifecycles, harvesting their bodily secretions, and slaughtering them for meat at our convenience. This movie, The Farm, takes that social evolution into the world of cannibals. What if our backroad cannibals didn’t just chase down tourists, but farmed humans for their meat and their milk?

It’s an intriguing premise, which starts with the traditional horror preamble, a young couple, Nora (Nora Yessayan, who also did the casting) and Alec (Alec Gaylord) stopping for the night somewhere they should know better than to stop, much like Brad and Janet in Rocky Horror Show.

These films have a formula – the sassy, city folk, some of them in an unmarried relationship (and being judged and often punished for it).

The diner with food of an indeterminable origin, the gas station with the weird attendant.

The house or motel with some nasty surprises (e.g. bloodstained sheets), and (yes) the monster under the bed.

But The Farm goes off in another direction after that. The young couple are captured and put in cages.

They are gagged, and so they are voiceless, the way we consider farm animals to be, and treated ruthlessly by the farmers, who are mostly wearing animal masks.

Nora is tied with her legs apart and artificially inseminated, as happens to millions of cows every year.

Alec is confined, knocked on the head and taken off to where human meat is harvested. Somehow, he survives that and comes looking for Nora.

The farm is a catering company, cooking and selling the meat for festive events.

The captured human men are killed whenever fresh meat is needed, the women are fitted to suction machines and their milk is collected.

When they can no longer become pregnant, they are added to the butchery.

I guess we are (most of us) aware that cows, like all mammals, have to give birth before they produce milk. On this farm, as on dairy farms world-wide, the babies are waste products of milk production and are killed soon after they are born. That indifferent killing of the innocent is the most disturbing scene of the film.

Look, it’s BUSINESS. Just as billions of male chicks are minced alive at hatcheries because they can’t lay eggs, so dairy calves are killed if they can’t produce milk, and human babies dashed against the concrete floor in the milking sheds of The Farm. Of course, businesses of all sorts have production and quality problems, and have to deal with unhappy customers.

Nora and Alec escape and seek refuge in a church. How much sympathy would an escaped cow or sheep or pig get in a church? It does give us an understanding of the ideology of the Farm though, with it’s mural based on Matthew 19:14:

Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Farmed animals are often compared to children in that they are vulnerable, selectively bred to be dependent and of course are mostly slaughtered when still infant or barely adult. The Dean of St Paul’s, William Ralph Inge, wrote in “The Idea of Progress”,

“We have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form.”

Nora and Alec, at the start of the film, stopped at a café near the Farm, where they were watched as they uncaringly ate beef and bacon burgers. They were, without their knowledge, judged guilty of eating flesh, of cannibalism of their fellow mammals, and the “animals” are now harvesting their bodies in return.

Eric from scariesthings.com summarised:

“this is a tough watch for most audiences and is even a little rough for hardened horror fans”

The reviewers either loved or hated The Farm. Very few thought it was just OK; it was either slammed as stupid and badly made or lauded as a brilliant expose of modern animal agriculture, told in a looking-glass world where we are the animals. I tend to the second view, but I hope you will get the chance to decide for yourself. The film seems to be on Amazon Prime.

I won’t tell you the ending, but the poster kinda gives it away…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hansel, Gretel and incestuous cannibalism: WE ARE THE FLESH – Tenemos la carne (Emiliano Rocha Minter, 2016)

It’s Hansel and Gretel, Captain, but not as we know it. This Mexican film is a visual experience, rather than a traditional narrative. It is set, like many of the films we have covered in this blog, after what appears to be an unexplained apocalypse. The “witch” is a crazy old guy named Mariano (Noé Hernández) who makes fuel out of old bread and trades it to persons unknown, through a hole in the wall, for food – mostly eggs and meat. Mariano is more Satan than witch.

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He believes in chance, which, he says, is “the greatest criminal to ever roam the Earth.”

He is an aficionado of solitude, but when a young brother and sister, Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) and Fauna (María Evoli), appear in his abandoned apartment, he feeds them and puts them to work on ever more peculiar projects, such as a womb-like cocoon, made of wooden struts and vast amounts of packing tape.

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Mariano receives some meat through the hole in the wall, and cooks it for his guests. But there’s a problem: Lucio is a vegetarian. Fauna tucks into her steak, rather reversing the normal situation where Hansel ignores Gretel’s warnings and eats the gingerbread. But Mariano has laced the meat with poison that, he says, the Nazis used to kill Jews. He won’t give Fauna the antidote until Lucio eats his meat.

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So, it’s all about transgression, overcoming taboos, abandoning inhibitions, accepting pleasure rather than bothering with difficult questions of ethics. Mariano then decides that the kids need to have sex, and Lucio’s objection, that she is his sister, is dismissed:

“Do you think your cock gives a damn about her being your sister?”

So then there’s lots of incestuous sex, some of which is captured in lurid neon heat-map images. Mariano sings to them and masturbates as they perform for him, finally fainting as he ejaculates. Or dies, but is resurrected, because, as we know, the monster is never really gone.

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The Brothers Grimm was never like this. Although who knows what siblings Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm got up to before they became philologists?

Anyway, we finally get to the cannibalism, about an hour into the film, as Mariano captures a soldier, tells him exactly what they have planned.

“We won’t kill you for money. We won’t kill you for an ideology. Or for the pleasure of watching you suffer. It’s not revenge for what you have done. We are neither avengers nor executioners.”

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They sing the Mexican anthem and then slit his throat, catching his blood in a container. Various body parts are rendered into liquid and sealed into buckets, presumably to be traded through the hole in the wall.

Another girl comes into the maze looking for shelter, but is instead raped by Fauna and then Lucio.

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Have we shattered every convention and broken every taboo yet?

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Not quite. Mariano celebrates his naming day, a party in which all sorts of weirdos turn up and get it on. Mariano is to be the guest of honour, but also the main course.

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“It is also the day I’ll live inside your squalid bodies. Don’t forget that the spirit does not reside in our flesh. Flesh is the spirit itself! So I kindly ask that all you lowlifes devour me until there is nothing left.

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There’s a twist at the end, but hey, enough spoilers. Go watch it – it’s only 80 minutes.

Catherine Bray in Variety called the movie a “joyously demented portrait of humanity.” She summarised the theme very well:

“Much of its most vivid imagery is purpose-built to interrogate the moral values society projects onto biological matter: human meat ground to a slush, slopping about in a bucket; a clitoral close-up; a pipette inserted casually into a hole in a boy’s temple; a sister’s gelatinous menses dripping into her brother’s mouth.”

The stubborn belief that humans, unlike other animals, have some sort of spirit that elevates us into the ranks of demi-gods and therefore justifies the havoc we unleash on the rest of nature has crumbled. As Mariano insists, flesh IS the spirit. We are meat, driven by our appetites. Our carefully crafted moral convictions can vanish like smoke in the face of hunger or desire.

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Hansel and Gretel is a seminal cannibal text of course: innocents, abandoned for daring to expect to be fed, and left to face the voracious appetite of the outside world. Many of us probably first heard about cannibalism while sitting on a parent or relative or baby-sitter’s knee, crafting our next nightmare as they read us stories from the Brothers Grimm. Variants of the story are everywhere – a new movie is due soon (I’m looking out for it) called Gretel and Hansel. Here’s the trailer:

“The lucky ones died first” THE HILLS HAVE EYES (Wes Craven, 1977)

The Hills Have Eyes has become a cult classic of the American horror film genre, as well as an important part of the cannibal studies canon.  The film follows the Carters, a suburban family targeted by a family of cannibal savages after becoming stranded in the Nevada desert.

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Wes Craven’s directorial debut was The Last House on the Left (1972), an American version of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (Swedish: Jungfrukällan), a movie that shocked (at least in 1960) with its themes of rape, torture and murder. Craven became known as a “Master of Horror”, and went on to make such classics as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996).

Other influences on this film include John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Like The Last House on the Left before it, the film also drew influence from the work of European masters such as François Truffaut and Luis Buñuel.

Wes Craven liked to find inspiration in the classics, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They say there are only seven or so archetypal stories in literature, and all the others are variations on a theme. So, The Hills Have Eyes is based on the legend of cannibal Sawney Bean, a story that Craven saw as illustrating the fine line between civilized and savage. Bean was believed (and how do we ever sift the fiction from the fact in cannibal stories?) to be the patriarch of a 48-person incestuous Scottish clan which murdered and cannibalised more than one thousand men, women and children in the 16th century. When the King and his soldiers finally caught up with the family, according to the Complete Newgate Calendar,

“The men had their hands and legs severed from their bodies; by which amputations they bled to death in some hours. The wife, daughters and grandchildren, having been made spectators of this just punishment inflicted on the men, were afterwards burnt to death in three several fires.”

Just like the Sawney Bean legend, the violence of the cannibal family in this film is matched by the ferocity of their victims. Unlike Texas Chain Saw, where escape by the “final girl” is victory enough, this movie ends with the “last boy” (as it were) savagely stabbing the last cannibal, and continuing to do so long after he is dead, watched by the “final girl” who is an abused and therefore redeemable member of the cannibal clan. The end of the film is not a fade to black but a fade to red.

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Craven saw this treatment of the Bean clan by supposedly civilised people as paralleling the clan’s own savagery, and illustrated the point graphically in this film.

Chain Saw and Hills showed a slice of American life that doesn’t usually make it on to the screen – the “flyover states” where industry and agriculture have closed up shop, and the air force use the “empty” desert for nuclear testing. The remnants of the population, mutated by the radiation (the gas station dude’s baby, who became the cannibal patriarch, was at birth “twenty pounds and hairy as a monkey”), survive in the economic wasteland by doing whatever they can. In Hills, as in Chain Saw, they do it by capturing “civilised” folk who blunder into their killing fields. The survivors of the American Dream have become depraved cannibals, not just eating their victims, but first raping and tormenting them. In both movies, there is what, in his excellent review, Bloody Disgusting’s Zachary Paul called an archetypal “gas station of doom”, a final point of no return. They, and you the viewer, have been warned.

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As a classic horror film, it is actually quite dull in large sections. This is not a fault of the production so much as the budget: the whole thing was made for peanuts and shot on 16mm film, on cameras that were borrowed from a Californian pornographer. There was not a lot of spare cash for gore, so the episodes of violence are extreme, but short. The sudden jolts of music make up for the missing build-ups.

The symbolism of the film is unsubtle. The cannibals are freaks and monsters, although remarkably technology-savvy:

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The family of victims are the tough patriarch, a former cop, who cannot save them and is crucified by the cannibals, the virgin daughter who is raped by them, and a baby who is stolen and almost (until they changed the script) eaten (they describe her as “a young Thanksgiving turkey”).

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But by the end, both families have descended into mindless brutality.

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A sequel was made by Craven in 1984 called The Hills Have Eyes Part II. Although the villains were allegedly cannibals, there is no cannibalism in it, so I won’t be wasting our time on it in this blog, particularly as it managed a score of ZERO on Rotten Tomatoes, which is quite a feat.

Both films were remade in 2006 and 2007, and we’ll get to those, eventually.

The Hills Have Eyes was part of the “new wave” of horror that arose in the 1970s. Other notable directors who made up this new wave were Tobe Hooper, George Romero, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter and Brian De Palma. Horror had moved away from outsiders (monsters, aliens, vampires, etc) to humans, usually the victims of pervasive social dysfunction and degeneracy. Cannibalism was getting closer to where we live – our species. Later films would move the cannibal into our cities, and then finally into our homes.

Our voracious appetites continue to turn inward.

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#EatTheBabies – climate change and cannibalism

The new trending hashtag on Twitter is #EatTheBabies. Why?

A right-wing group of climate change deniers decided to prank US House of Reps member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a meeting in Queens this week, by getting a woman to stand up and insist that the only way to stop climate change was, as her t-shirt says

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“We got to start eating babies! We don’t have enough time! … We have to get rid of the babies! … We need to eat the babies!”

Yes, of course, the t-shirt is widely available on the Internet now.

Besides being a cannibal story, and getting the Republicans to accuse AOC of not denying she ate babies (really!?), it also reminded a few people of an episode of The Simpsons, in which Chief Wiggum warns the kids off drugs by showing them a drug-addled hippie who has:

the munchies for a California cheeseburger

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It’s Season 8 episode 25, “The Secret War of Lisa Simpson”, in which Bart is sent to military school, and Lisa follows because she wants a challenge, only to be met by extreme misogyny by the other students. You can watch it on-line at daily motion, although the video is reversed (i.e. mirrored) which makes all the writing back to front, but at least puts Homer’s steering wheel on the right side of the car.

This was not the only stab at cannibal themes in The Simpsons, but the others were in the Treehouse of Horrors specials, where you expect those sort of things.

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So that’s a good enough excuse for mentioning AOC’s run-in with cannibalism on a film/TV cannibalism blog, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, last month a Swedish scientist caused an uproar for mentioning cannibalism and climate change in the same Powerpoint presentation at a Gastro conference. Discussing food shortages that are likely to result from the warming of the planet, behavioral scientist and marketing strategist Magnus Soderlund from the Stockholm School of Economics asked for feedback (sorry) of what sort of foods people would be willing to eat, including, at one point, human flesh. This was quickly turned into sensationalist headlines around the world, including  Fox News, which said “Swedish Scientist Floats Eating Human Flesh as Solution to Global Climate Change,” and the London Evening Standard, whose headline read “Scientist Suggests ‘Eating Human Meat’ to Tackle Climate Change.”

Snopes has a detailed look at this story, although it is hard to work out exactly what Soderlund said, since it was in Swedish. But in a statement after the shit hit the fan, the scientist stated:

I do not want to eat human meat, I do not want to be eaten, I do not think that eating humans influences the climate, I am not an activist, I am just a researcher who thinks that it must be possible to ask questions about also the dark sides of what we humans do and do not do.

Amen to that. Let’s also ask WHY we eat what we do, and are disgusted by what we don’t. That’s worth considering, in any language.

The vampire of Sacramento: “RAMPAGE” (Friedkin, 1987)

Rampage is a 1987 film from William Friedkin, the director of The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973). It is based on the case of RICHARD CHASE, an American serial killer who murdered six people in the span of a month in December/January 1977-78. He was nicknamed “The Vampire of Sacramento” because he drank his victims’ blood and cannibalized their remains. In this version, the victims have been altered, as has the killer, who is now named Charlie Reece (Alex McArthur). Charlie is presented as the nice, helpful boy-next door. He’d mow your lawn, or bring in your shopping.

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Then maybe kill you and drink your blood.

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The film wastes no time on showing Charlie getting hungry, killing three people who appear to be chosen at random, and then revealing his self-perception, as a caged tiger.

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The film is mostly about the keen young prosecutor, Anthony Fraser (Michael Biehn). Fraser is caring, empathetic, liberal, an opponent of capital punishment, until he comes across this case.

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“The women’s bodies were cut open to get at the organs… Some of the organs were removed.”

There’s also a glass that has been filled with blood, and drained.

Another family are burying their dog. They know Charlie poisoned the dog, and report him to the police. Then Charlie comes visiting. The mother is cut up like the others and sexually assaulted, the child has vanished.

Charlie is quickly arrested, and we see his cellar, full of body parts, weapons and Nazi regalia. His mother tells his lawyer about how Charlie had to witness domestic violence at a very young age. Charlie tells his psychiatrist about hearing Satan on the radio, telling him to kill people, and taking his blood from him when he disobeys. He describes shooting the little boy so he could suck his blood, then putting him in a trash can.

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All the pieces are there for an insanity plea. The psychiatrists agree to say he was a paranoid schizophrenic who believed his blood was poisoned and his heart failing.

At the trial, we hear how normal Charlie was – his friends talk of his reasoned non-violence, his scout master says he was a good boy, his steady girl tells how thoughtful he was. Then a nurse tells of finding his diary, listing all the dogs, cats and rabbits he had killed. The prosecution’s psychiatrist is asked “did he know he was killing living human beings?”

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That was the point. That was why he did it. He claims he has a belief that his body is failing and infected and he’s convinced himself that someone else’s blood will repair him. He had to kill them to get the blood.

In other words, he was psychotic, but he knew what he was doing at all times, and is therefore legally sane.

As the movie bogs irretrievably down in legal and psychiatric argument, Charlie livens it up as he escapes (something Chase did not do), kills the guards and then invades a church, killing the priest and drinking his blood.

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Back in court, the defence’s psychiatrist says Charlie was driven by his sickness and had no free will. He asks

What makes a respectable young man turn into a killer?

After he is found guilty, the judge orders a PET scan, a new technology that scans the brain.

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“We’re looking at a computer enhanced image of the chemistry of the brain. And what we’re seeing is a picture of madness.”

But it’s too late; in the original version of the film at least, Charlie’s mom has smuggled him pills, and he kills himself.

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Rampage was completed in 1987, just in time for DEG, the production company, to go bankrupt. It was not released in the US for the next five years, and was finally released, with a different ending, in 1992 by the Weinstein company. In that version, he is sent to a state mental hospital, and writes to a man whose wife and child he has killed, asking him to visit. A final title card reveals that Reece is scheduled for a parole hearing in six months. He will probably kill again. While the original version quibbled with the idea of capital punishment, the revised version reinforced the necessity of putting him down. European versions usually show the original ending, in which Charlie commits suicide, and the DA regrets fighting for the death penalty.

Basically, this movie is like a long episode of CSI or SVU, and in fact there is an episode of CSI called “Justice Is Served” which is also based on Chase’s murders. The director, Friedkin, called it “among the lowest points in my career.” The film scored what could charitably be called a modest 44% on Rotten Tomatoes. With only nine reviews, you might call it ignored rather than despised. The script is clunky and some of the acting is wooden, although Alex McArthur as the killer is great, looking a bit like a (more) demented John Travolta. The soundtrack is by the wonderful Sergio Leone, who wrote over 400 movie scores, including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Roger Ebert, the doyen of movie critics, wrote, “This is not a movie about murder so much as a movie about insanity”.

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The real Richard Chase

Well, yes – Chase was, by the age of ten, exhibiting evidence of all three parts of the Macdonald triad: bed-wetting, arson, and cruelty to animals, considered as indicators of future violent tendencies.

Rampage is a classic psychogenic cannibalism story. Like Jeffrey Dahmer or Albert Fish, we can hate what Charlie did and yet not quite blame him for it – he is driven by what we consider wrong beliefs, which cause him to ignore the sanctity of human life. Yet how sacred is human life, in a world in which thousands of children die of malnutrition every day while their government exports grain to the West to feed pigs and chickens? Charlie believes he needs blood due to an imaginary illness, just as so many people are convinced they need to eat animal flesh. He starts on dogs, cats and rabbits and graduates to humans. To the cannibal, we are just one more species on the shopping list: if it’s OK to eat Fido, it must be OK to eat the neighbours. There is a logic there, which the meat industry would much rather you ignore.

 

Next week = some light cannibal relief with the new comedy CORPORATE ANIMALS