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: