“A spoiled bloodline of inbred animals”: BONE TOMAHAWK (S. Craig Zahler, 2015)

This is a cannibal film, also a Western and a horror movie, so it has something for (almost) everyone. Although a low budget work by a first-time film-maker, the film has been widely recognised for the excellence of the script and direction, and the characterisation by a team of top actors. And the graphic nature of its climax.

Bone Tomahawk is set in a small town in the last days of the Old West, a frontier society held together by a sheriff, Franklin Hunt, played by Kurt Russell (who managed to fit in a starring role in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight that year as well), with an understated calm and a brooding power. A drifter comes into town and Hunt shoots him when he tries to run from the saloon, necessitating Samantha (Lili Simmons from Banshee), who practices medicine, to treat him in the jail. She, the drifter and a deputy are all abducted during the night – the only evidence is an arrow in the wall, and a dead African-American stable boy. Who could have done that?

We assume Indians, but a Native American they trust, “the Professor” (Zahn McClarnon, from Longmire and Fargo), tells them these are not the “Indians”, or at least the ones with whom the American invaders have been at war. They are a tribe with no name, no language (i.e. less than human). The local Indians call them “troglodytes”, cave dwellers,

The Sheriff, his “back-up deputy” and comic relief, Chicory (Richard Jenkins from Six Feet Under and Shape of Water), the mysterious Indian-fighter Brooder (Matthew Fox from Party of Five and Lost) and Samantha’s husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson from Fargo) with a broken leg that is fast turning gangrenous, set out in pursuit. Most of the film, until the climax when they meet the trogs, is more a road movie than a Western or a cannibal horror film. It’s four cowboys against the elements. On the long ride out to the land of the trogs, they come across two Mexicans and Brooder kills them, suspecting that they are scouts for a bandit gang. Chicory explains

“Mr Brooder just educated two Mexicans on the meaning of manifest destiny”.

Manifest destiny was a widely held cultural ideology that proposed that the culturally and racially superior American settlers were destined to expand across North America. Inferior, backward, savage peoples were meant to get out of the way, or be exterminated. Even the horses were supposed to be racially intolerant. When the rest of the gang comes in the night and steals their horses, Brooder is incredulous that his horse would allow a Mexican to ride her.

Discrimination, be it racism, speciesism, ageism, ableism or any other, is never all-encompassing. Most racists don’t hate everyone, or at least not equally. The settlers in areas like the old West hated the ‘Indians’ for defending their lands, which the white men wanted. Even in the era when this movie is set, sometime in the late nineteenth century, some Native Americans like the Professor were accepted as, if not equals, at least semi-civilised negotiating partners, while others, who maintained their resistance, were considered bloodthirsty savages, and portrayed as killers, rapists and sometimes cannibals.

In this film, this second group is distilled into a people so inhuman that they do not even have language, which is often the first thing quoted in defining the supposed gulf between humans and other animals. They are accused of raping and killing their mothers and, worse yet, abducting and raping white women, requiring the gallant sacrifice of heroes such as depicted here. One of the party, Brooder, boasts of having killed more Indians than all the rest of the town put together. When pressed, he admits that not all were men, as Indian women and children can also handle an arrow or a spear, and he tells of losing his mother and sisters to an Indian massacre when he was ten. For Brooder, white vs red, civilised vs savage is no different to good vs evil. He is an absolute racist, but for what he considers good reasons.

Yet even these less-than-human troglodytes are racists – they left the black stable-boy behind, because “they don’t eat Negroes”. No explanation is given, and it makes no sense since, under the skin (of whatever colour) we are all red meat. Yet their refusal to eat black people paints the white supremacism of the others as less vile somehow – look, these brutal savages must be exterminated – and they’re racists too, so it’s OK for us to discriminate against them.

Of course, those we wish to destroy must be dehumanised, vilified, and preferably accused of vile crimes, of which cannibalism usually seems to be the leading contender. But there is little evidence of Native Americans indulging in the flesh of their victims, whereas only fifty years before the demise of the Old West, the Donner Party had tucked into the remains of the members of their party who had died in the bitter winter snows of the Sierra Nevada in 1846-47. When they ran out of corpses, they murdered and ate their Native American guides.

The film is written and directed by S. Craig Zahler who also wrote the music with Jeff Herriott. It is a tour de force, a modern film that manages to bring to life the Western, a genre that, like its heroes, does not ever seem to die. American Frontier scholar Matthew Carter points out that this story is

“informed by one of white America’s oldest and most paranoiac of racist-psychosexual myths: the captivity narrative

In these narratives, civilised society is threatened by an evil outside force, and something precious (usually a woman) is stolen and must be recovered. In Bone Tomahawk, traditional narratives are challenged to some extent – the women are not passive, Brooder’s prejudice is challenged, the savages are motivated by the drifters desecrating their burial ground. But the heroes are white men, the story is told from their perspective, the fear of the outsider or alien (remember this is only a few years after 9/11) offers a stark binary which equates civilised with good and savage with evil. It is the myth that was used to justify manifest destiny and the genocide of the Native American tribes. The trogs are barely human – they are covered in white mud which disguises their humanity and they have whistles implanted in their throats instead of having voices, so they cannot be engaged in rational discussion. We see a prisoner scalped and then cut open while alive, to establish their monstrosity.

Their own women, we see at the end, are heavily pregnant, blinded and their limbs removed, so they are simply breeding machines for more warriors, a reference, intentional or not, to the way anti-Islamic propaganda depicts Moslem women as blinded by fundamentalist controls and their burqa.

But perhaps the Professor is the most interesting character. In Westerns, there were good Indians who were assimilated into the dominant culture, often assisted in spreading ‘civilisation’ (think Tonto in The Lone Ranger).

Then there were the evil Indians – the outsiders, vicious and merciless, uninterested in accommodating the invaders on their land, and often (although not always) portrayed as cannibals.

Cannibal News June 2021: SWISS COURT SENTENCES CANNIBAL TO 20 YEARS

On Friday, 18 June 2021, a Swiss court sentenced 46-year-old Alieu Kosiah, a West African rebel leader, to 20 years in prison for rape, murder and cannibalism, committed during Liberia’s civil war. The case before a three-judge panel at the federal criminal court in Bellinzona was Switzerland’s first war crimes trial held in a civilian court.

Kosiah, AKA “bluff boy”, was a commander in the rebel faction United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) that fought former President Charles Taylor’s army in the 1990s. He faced 25 charges, including one in which he was accused of eating slices of a school-teacher’s heart. He was found guilty of all but four of the charges. The court listed the charges as

“recruitment and use of a child soldier, forced transportation, looting, cruel treatment of civilians, attempted murder, murder (directly or by order), desecration of a corpse and rape.”

Criminal complaints were filed by Liberian victims, represented by civil rights group Civitas Maxima. The indictment says Kosiah killed or participated in the killing of 18 civilians, forced a displaced woman to be his “wife”, raping her repeatedly, and recruited a 12-year-old boy as his personal bodyguard. In one incident described in the indictment, Kosiah joined fighters in eating slices of a dead man’s heart off a metal plate. Acts of cannibalism were not uncommon in the conflict.

Child soldiers with ULIMO

Kosiah was arrested in 2014 under a Swiss law that allows prosecution for serious crimes committed anywhere, under the principle of universal jurisdiction. He had denied all the charges and told the court he was a minor when first recruited into the conflict.

Dubbed “the Monster” by survivors of the war, Kosiah is infamously remembered for the Black Monday attack on June 28, 1993 when rebels rounded up and massacred villagers in Foya, Lofa County.

Other Liberian war criminals

Liberia has ignored pressure to prosecute crimes from its continuous wars between 1989-2003, in which about 250,000 people died and thousands of child soldiers were conscripted and taught to kill and commit atrocities. Charles Taylor is himself currently serving a 50-year prison sentence for aiding and abetting rebels who committed atrocities in neighbouring Sierra Leone, but not for his actions in Liberia. His son, Chuckie, was sentenced for torture in Liberia by a U.S. court in 2009.

Ex-warlord Mohammed “Jungle Jabbah” Jabateh has been jailed for 30 years in the US for lying about his past as a leader of a force that carried out multiple murders and acts of cannibalism.

In July 2018, France detained naturalised Dutch citizen Kunti K, a suspected former militant ULIMO commander and placed him under formal investigation for crimes against humanity including torture and cannibalism. Another Liberian commander, Gibril Massaquoi, known as “Angel Gabriel” is on trial in Finland accused of eating his victims, burning kids alive and raping women. A verdict is expected around September this year.

Gibril Massaquoi

An ULIMO commander named Joshua Milton Blahyi known as “General Butt Naked” gave evidence to Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008:

“Any time we captured a town, I had to make a human sacrifice. They bring to me a living child that I slaughter and take the heart off to eat it… A lady offered me her child for my sacrifice. After cutting up the child I divided the heart among my boys and myself. The blood of the child was still on my hand when Jesus appeared to me and asked me to stop being a slave.”

 Blahyi’s crimes included child sacrifice, cannibalism, the exploitation of child soldiers and trading blood diamonds for guns and cocaine, which he provided to boy soldiers as young as nine. He was never charged, and is now an evangelical pastor. He published an autobiography about his conversion.

General Butt Naked and Edna Fernandes

The cannibal as animal

One observation.

During his trial, Alieu Kosiah broke down and shouted:

“I’ve been locked up for six years, I have emotions, I’m not an animal.”

Well actually, he is an animal. We all are: humans are a species of Great Ape, as are our closest relatives the chimpanzees, who also wage war and indulge in occasional cannibalism. The point here, though, is that Kosiah saw himself stereotyped as a black man, an African, in a court full of white Europeans passing judgement on him. To the European, only a century or so ago, all Africans were considered savages and cannibals, little more than beasts, a libel which is hard to expunge, and a demonisation that was just as useful to European imperialist expansion as the use of gunboats.  As recently as 1959, New York Times reporter Homer Bigart (an almost perfect name) wrote to his foreign news editor about his contempt for the new class of African leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah,

“I vastly prefer the primitive bush people. After all, cannibalism may be the logical antidote to this population explosion everyone talks about.”

The savagery and cannibalism of the multitudes of wars that have swept Africa in the last decades have led to appalling atrocities. But let us not forget the role of the colonialist rulers who divided the continent up, regardless of the local tribal areas, and sucked the riches out of the land, leaving the newly independent countries destitute and riven with implacable hatreds.

As Malcolm X wrote in 1965 about the colonisers of Africa:

They projected Africa always in a negative light: jungles, savages, cannibals, nothing civilized.

The legacy of this demonisation (see Milton Allimadi’s new book “Manufacturing Hate: How Africa Was Demonized in Western Media.”) is seen in the support given to psychopathic dictators who seize control for their own enrichment, but also for that of their overseas sponsors.  

Milton Allimadi

Is it so surprising that this mythology of the ‘savage’ cannibal should be internalised and acted out in the heat of the internecine wars of our time?

As Professor Monroe says at the end of Cannibal Holocaust,

Harvesting hitchhikers: UNDER THE SKIN (Book: Michel Faber, 2000) (Film: Jonathan Glazer, 2013)

“We’re all the same under the skin.”

The philosopher Thomas Nagel claimed that we are unable to understand the point of view of another being, giving as examples the difficulty imagining what it’s like for a human to imagine being a bat, or for a blind person to imagine being sighted. J.M. Coetzee in the guise of his character Elizabeth Costello thought differently – it’s about being, seeking, feeling, and of course eating. We all do those sort of things. We can sympathise, no matter how alien that other may be.

The movie and the book of Under the Skin feature a ‘real’ alien – a being from another planet, disguised as a human woman, here to harvest human flesh for food. They both ask – what’s it like to be an alien? In the book, the aliens are quadrupeds, looking something between a horse and a sheep apparently, except for the protagonist, Isserley, who has been surgically mutilated to make her look like a ‘human’ of earth. I say ‘human’ in inverted commas because her people, like many clans interviewed in the reports of anthropologists, believe that they are the humans, and so everyone else must be aliens or subhumans. To Isserley’s people, the denizens of Earth are “vodsels” (Dutch for “food” – the author Michel Faber is originally Dutch) – dumb animals that can be captured, castrated, fattened up and then slaughtered for meat, which is exported back to the home planet.

Isserley is a hunter. Her weapon in the book is a small car which has anaesthetic needles in the passenger seat. In the movie, it’s her appearance – she looks like (because she is played by) Scarlett Johansson (identified in the credits as “The Female”).

Men get in her car and eagerly accept the offer to come home with her, but at home, they disappear into a pool of black ectoplasm.

She stalks her prey, driving around the roads of Scotland and picking up hitchhikers, asking them questions to draw out whether they will be missed and, if they are loners, losers, tranquilising them with a drug called icpathua and taking them back to be processed. The film took an audacious decision to use real men, not actors (most of them), many of whom were offered a lift by Johansson, and recorded by secret cameras in her van. They don’t recognise Johansson as a movie star, just as their unwitting “characters” don’t recognise her as an alien hunter. In the book, Isserley is not portrayed as any kind of Scarlett Johansson, but does have huge breasts, the prototype for the surgery being based on some questionable magazines sent back to the home planet by the advance crew.

The story in both media is not just about being alien (which she is in several ways: as a woman, as an alien, and as a hunter) but about how difficult it can be to sympathise with the other, the stranger, the prey, and how dangerous it can be when one finally does so. In the book, Isserley is purely interested in whether they will be missed, and is unconcerned about what is done to them, which is described in graphic detail: they are shaved, castrated, tongues removed and fattened up. In the film, she will go to any lengths to capture her prey, at one point dragging away a man who had tried to save a drowning couple, leaving their baby crying on the beach.

But what happens when the hunter starts to identify or at least sympathise with the prey? Isserley is made to think through the implications when she needs to convince the aristocratic scion of the ruling family of her planet that the vodsels are just dumb animals, and their feeble attempts to beg for mercy by scratching in the sand of their cages are just gibberish (he is unaware they can speak, as their tongues have been cut out). He is a believer in animal rights, and frees some of the captives, whom Isserley then has to hunt once again, this time with a shotgun. Isserley never really challenges the morality of hunting, mutilating, fattening and slaughtering the stupid vodsels (us) although she is horrified at the suggestion of eating sheep, serene animals who look like the children of her species, unlike the “brutish cunning of the vodsels”. Her morality, like so much of ours, is based on similarity. Her challenge comes when she picks up a man who (we know, although she doesn’t) is a serial killer, sedates him, then realises she has left his dog to starve in his van. She heads back to where she picked him up, frees the dog, and decides to quit, try to make a life as an Earthling, even though she cannot even eat our food.

The Female of the film has a different challenge. She picks up a man with severe facial deformity, who admits that not only will no one miss him, but that there has never been anyone who might have.

She takes him back to the black pond, but rescues him at the last moment, and then flees. Then she ceases to be the hunter, and becomes the hunted. Both the film and the book have a vicious rape scene when the prey, the desperate from among men she collects, turn on her.

The story may be interpreted according to many discourses of our times. It can be interpreted as the struggle of immigrants against the racism and resentment of those whose territory they enter. It is more widely interpreted as a feminist narrative, in which the standard horror trope of the sexually active female being stalked by the monster is turned on its head – the males walking alone at night are the prey, the woman is the molester and murderer. It is also a comment on economic class distinctions: the men she picks up are the strays, the unemployed who are exiled, isolated and vulnerable. She is culling those whom society has expelled, like a lion preying on the old and weak of a herd of antelopes. They are the aliens from this planet. 

The book in particular is a metaphoric condemnation of modern factory farming. The vodsels (that’s you and I) are considered “vegetables on legs”.

“The thing about vodsels was, people who knew nothing whatsoever about them were apt to misunderstand them terribly.  There was always the tendency to anthropomorphise. A vodsel might do something which resembled a human action; it might make a sound analogous with human distress, or make a gesture analogous with human supplication, and that made the ignorant observer jump to conclusions. In the end, though, vodsels couldn’t do any of the things that really defined a human being. They couldn’t siuwil, they couldn’t mesnishtil, they had no concept of slan.”

Aren’t these the same arguments thrown at vegans on social media every day? “Humans” are intellectually superior, and therefore the only ones worthy of moral consideration. And to these aliens, we are not the humans. Isserley and her crew are the embodiment of John Harris’ famous quote (usually misattributed to George Bernard Shaw):

Suppose that tomorrow a group of beings from another planet were to land on Earth, beings who considered themselves as superior to you as you feel yourself to be to other animals. Would they have the right to treat you as you treat the animals you breed, keep and kill for food?

The film is less distinct in its message. Glazer said in an interview that he wanted

“to make a film representing, as purely as possible, an alien view of our world.”

How do we step into another’s consciousness, be it a man or woman or bat, be it a predator or prey? How is it to be an outsider, an alien, a stranger in a strange land? It is difficult to comprehend, and yet sometimes it is easy, because we have all felt like aliens at one time or another. Think of your first day at a new school.

The brilliance of this story is that we see humanity (us, that is) through the eyes of an alien. In the book it’s Isserley’s thoughts and feelings about the vodsels, Earthlings, to whom she feels both contempt and grudging admiration. In the film, it’s images – the dark streets of Glasgow, the crowds jostling and threatening, the shopping mall that suddenly seems like an alien landscape.

In other words, we get to feel how it is to be an alien, proving the truth of Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello when she says: “there are no bounds to the sympathetic imagination”. But this insight is not accessed through rational contemplation, which tells us we can do whatever we want if we have the power and the will, but rather from the heart, “the seat of a faculty, sympathy, that allows us to share at times the being of another.” We sympathise with this alien, as she begins to sympathise with us.

Matt Zoller Seitz, the critic from RogerEbert.com, interprets the story’s message as saying:

“Here is an experience that’s nothing like yours, and here are some images and sounds and situations that capture the essence of what the experience felt like; watch the movie for a couple of hours, and when it’s over, go home and think about what you saw and what it did to you.”

The film earned a very respectable 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, The Guardian called it a masterpiece, but it was a box office flop. Let’s hope it, and the book, continue to ascend into the realms of cult texts. They are both highly recommended for your consideration.

Short cuts: WRONG TURN (Rob Schmidt, 2003)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pregnant and hungry: INSEMINOID (HORROR PLANET), Norman J. Warren, 1981

We’ve looked at some great cannibal movies in this blog, and we’ve also checked out some duds. Inseminoid (called Horror Planet in the US) unfortunately falls pretty much into the latter category, proving that cannibalism alone is not sufficient to make a great film. But hey, it raises some interesting philosophical and psychological questions. Not including “who thought this was a good idea?” and “who wrote dialogue like this?”

Holly: Get your ass up here on the double!
Gary: I know what I’d like to do with her arse.

There’s a group of English and American archaeologists and scientists excavating an ancient tomb on a seemingly uninhabited planet. Uninhabited, but not uninhibited. A couple of them find some glowing rocks, there’s an explosion, then the rocks come to life when Mark (Robin Clarke) and Sandy (Judy Geeson from To Sir With Love) make out in the room where the rocks are kept.

pic-00006.jpg

pic-00007

How many horror stories start with illicit sex and end up with what looks a lot like religious retribution? Think of the Scream movies – sex happens, then slashers.

After much fighting in dim lights and dark caves, Sandy is captured and raped by perhaps the least scary monsters since the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

pic-00020.jpg

pic-00021

Immediately two months pregnant (we know because she vomits in a bin), she starts killing her colleagues and eating their flesh.

pic-00030

Also blowing up what appear to be their pinball machines.

pic-00029.jpg

Like vampires when transformed, Sandy has become immensely strong, but can be brought down by, yep, a punch in her pregnant stomach. One critic summed up:

“…in what has to be a new low, even for extraterrestrial-horror films, all the men end up punching this pregnant woman in the stomach.”

vlcsnap-00001

Besides some wooden acting and clunky lines, the film also suffered from being released not long after Ridley Scott’s brilliant movie Alien, which also showed an alien rape and birth, although that movie had the novelty value of having a man going through a very traumatic labour (yes, if men had to give birth…). Inseminoid was immediately criticised as a knock off of Alien, which the director denied, although there were plenty of other knock-offs being released around that time, including Contamination (1980) and Scared to Death (1981).

But intentional knock-off or not, Inseminoid did not compare well with Scott’s film, one critic saying

“imagine Alien without the fantastic sets, convincing special effects and literate dialogue, and you have a picture of Horror Planet.”

Inseminoid (1981) - IMDb

Alien was, in the words of film studies Professor Barbara Creed, an articulation of the archaic mother – the mother as “primordial abyss”, the place we all came from, and to which we fear we will return. Unlike Freud’s insistence that boys are terrified of what they see as their potential castration when they perceive their mother’s genitals as “a lack”, the monster in Alien, and to some extent Sandy in Inseminoid, represent not a castrated but a castrating feminine. The many shots of teeth seem to refer back to the classic tales of the vagina dentata – the toothed vagina.

pic-00046.jpg

Although Sandy is eventually brought down by the square-jawed all-American hero, he is no match for her twin human-alien hybrids, who are just so cute, until they get hungry.

pic-00051

But Inseminoid had one advantage over Alien: it had a cannibal, and a female one at that. Praise be.

pic-00036.jpg

Next week’s blog: the final episode of Hannibal ever (or until they make a new season).

Would you like virus with that? EBOLA SYNDROME (伊波拉病毒) (Herman Yau, 1996)

Director Herman Yau has made a bit of a career from telling stories of “innocent cannibalism”, in which diners in restaurants unknowingly eat human flesh. His 1993 film The Untold Story was based on the “Eight Immortals Restaurant murders” of a family of ten, which took place in August 1985 in Macau. Portions of the bodies were never found, leading to speculation – yeah, you got it.

Following Gordon Gecko’s statement that “greed is good!” in Wall Street (1987), the 1990s saw a spate of films about entrepreneurs selling human flesh for fun and profit. Beside The Untold Story, Untold Story II and Ebola Syndrome from Hong Kong, we saw Delicatessen from France, Aranyak from India, The Deathmaker from Germany, Perdita Durango from Mexico, while the Americans contributed Ice Cream Man and Fried Green Tomatoes.

You see what I’m up against, trying to update you on all these masterpieces?

vlcsnap-00015.jpg

This film gets even weirder, because there is also a pandemic involved – Ebola, the so-called “flesh-eating” disease. Ebola never really got the public going like COVID-19, maybe because it only affected people in places like the Congo and so did not keep the rest of us awake at night. Also, it spreads much more slowly but, if you do get it, you have a 50-90% chance of dying, and it isn’t “just” pneumonia – it is haemorrhagic, meaning that you can bleed out “through your wazoo”, as they say in Last Man on Earth.

“People with Ebola first have symptoms of influenza, but within 72 hours after infection, the virus will dissolve the internal organs”

Ah Kai (Anthony Wong) is an escaped criminal from Hong Kong who bolts to South Africa after killing his former boss, his boss’s wife and another employee. Here is an image showing Hong Kong industrial relations in action.

vlcsnap-00014.jpg

In South Africa, he works at a Chinese restaurant and one day travels with his boss to a Zulu tribe that is infected with the Ebola virus [NOTE: there is no record of Ebola among the Zulu]. He comes across a woman dying of the disease, and decides to rape her – he’s that sort of guy.

vlcsnap-00047.jpg

He is immune to the effects of the virus, so becomes a living carrier, spreading the disease to others through his bodily fluids. He kills his new boss and his boss’s wife and cousin (seems to be becoming a habit), but he has already given the virus to them, so when he cuts up their corpses and serves them as hamburgers in the restaurant, he spreads the virus all over South Africa.

vlcsnap-00064.jpg

vlcsnap-00068.jpg

He heads back to Hong Kong with the boss’ cash and moves into a fancy hotel, where he proceeds to spreads the virus to the prostitutes he hires, and everyone else he encounters – dramatic music accompanying each new infection.

vlcsnap-00077.jpg

vlcsnap-00082.jpg

Cannibalism as a carrier for pandemics seems apposite right now. Cannibalism and incest, Freud said, were the two great taboos of civilisation, but their prohibitions also define civilisation, so it is not unreasonable to expect at least one of them to pop up in a civilisation-wide disaster. COVID-19 hasn’t been spread by cannibalism yet, or incest (as far as we know) but this movie looks at more than just crime and disease as social disrupters. Ah Kai is aggressive and violent to anyone whom he believes bullies him, usually the rich people who take advantage of his fugitive status. In South Africa (not a place known for Ebola), he is subject to casual racism from the whites, including prostitutes who refuse him their services. The whites, he complains, treat him like a black, and the blacks treat him like a white. He and his victims are dehumanised, which is a precondition for cannibalism – humans are animalised, animals are objectified and become meat.

vlcsnap-00018.jpg

Chinese restaurants, where he works, use a lot of pork, and several scenes problematise the close proximity of pigs to humans in the way they look and, according to some informants, the way they taste. The Ebola is caught at a Zulu camp where multiple people are dying from it; Kai and his boss are there because the racist white butcher is charging too much for pigs.

vlcsnap-00034.jpg

vlcsnap-00035.jpg

When they go to pick up their purchases, Kai uncovers human bodies instead, before he finds the pig corpses.

vlcsnap-00040.jpg

vlcsnap-00043.jpg

Is there really such a difference between corpses? More than 75% of emerging diseases originate in other animals. COVID-19 is said to have originated at a fish market, where close contact between humans and live animals in a small space made it easy for the virus to jump species. Other coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), not to mention bird flu and swine flu, all spread due to the human appetite for flesh.

We used to assume that exotic diseases came from wilderness areas where they had been hosted in exotic animals, which then, like the dying Zulu, were used and abused by humans. But a lot of current research seems to indicate that it is actually our destruction of habitat and biodiversity that causes the spread of diseases like Ebola and COVID-19.

“We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbor so many species of animals and plants — and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses. We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”

David Quammen in the New York Times January 28, 2020

vlcsnap-00086.jpg

vlcsnap-00088.jpg

Really?

Dread Central summed up the movie:

“The horrid acting and paper thin story are forgivable only for the hilarity with which it’s presented.”

That’s a bit harsh! Chinese movies are not as a rule exemplars of subtlety, but Anthony Wong as the virus super-spreader gives it all he’s got, and a bit more too. It’s a rollicking yarn, and it asks some serious questions too. I was surprised to find I quite enjoyed it.

The full movie can be watched at:

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.

vlcsnap-00059.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00009.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00019.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00034.jpg

vlcsnap-00036.jpg

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.”

vlcsnap-00056.jpg

vlcsnap-00057.jpg

vlcsnap-00058.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00070.jpg

Have we shattered every convention and broken every taboo yet?

vlcsnap-00022.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00076.jpg

“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.

vlcsnap-00082.jpg

vlcsnap-00083.jpg

vlcsnap-00090.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00024.jpg


 

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: