“It’s primitive as can be”: GILLIGAN’S ISLAND (1964-67)

A tweet making waves the other day from film director James Gunn reminded me of the many hours I wasted spent as a child watching the seemingly endless travails of the seven castaways on the TV series Gilligan’s Island. Being shipwrecked on a desert island with Mary Ann and Ginger did not seem such an ordeal to my pubescent mind, except every now and the group would be threatened by the arrival of – yep – CANNIBALS!

English professor Priscilla Walton observes that her first encounter with cannibals was also on her television, watching the enormously popular show. The series ran from 1964-67 over some 98 episodes plus occasional reunion movies.

Gilligan’s Island (GI) was a clever reboot of the first English language novel, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (even mentioning that story in the closing song).

“No phone, no lights, no motor car, not a single luxury. Like Robinson Crusoe, they’re primitive as can be.”

Unlike Defoe’s story, Gilligan (Bob Denver) was not a lone survivor of a shipwreck but the hapless “first mate” on a little cruise boat, The Minnow. Gilligan, his skipper (Alan Hale) and five tourists left a tropical port for a three-hour tour, and instead were marooned on an uncharted island, apparently interminably. Various commentators with too much time on their hands have suggested that the seven castaways represent the seven deadly sins (e.g. Ginger was lust and Mary Ann envy). I’m not going near that one, fascinating as it is, because this is a cannibal blog after all. And cannibalism is neither illegal, nor one of the seven deadly sins. It just misses out on all the gongs.

Robinson Crusoe worried ceaselessly about his lack of company, eventually adopting Friday, a local ‘savage’ whom he rescued from a tribe of cannibals. He also spent a lot of the book and some of the movies worried about what to eat, and nervous that Friday might eat him. Like those of us marooned on this planet rather than an island, major preoccupations are always fear and appetite. Appetite is all about food and sex. Fear is about being killed and perhaps eaten.

The obsessions of Gilligan and the other all-white islanders were the same. Of course, it was the sixties, so no sex could be shown except for the movie star, Ginger (Tina Louise) who used her flirty charms to inflame and coax the men into various (non-sexual) activities. But – what did the castaways eat? Well, it was an island, so presumably the would eat sea animals, as well as various plants (including some that grew from a box of radioactive seeds in one episode). There seemed to be a lot of coconut pies.

Then of course, like Crusoe, there were the natives who, like most depictions of indigenous peoples until fairly recently, were assumed to be primitive savages and so, ipso facto, cannibals. No evidence was presented, and no one was ever eaten. From the earliest days of the movie, and well before, indigenous peoples who were being dispossessed by European explorers were declared cannibals, with no evidence needed other than their lack of “civilisation.” Think of movies like Cannibal Holocaust and the various Italian movies of that period, or old classics like Windbag the Sailor, Be My King, or the early racist cartoons like Jungle Jitters.

Sheer Eurocentric racism of course, as I suppose was the choice of the Irish name “Gilligan” for the show’s clown, a boy/man who is usually responsible for thwarting their rescue through his clueless blunderings. The “natives” were invariably people of colour wearing grass skirts with bone piercings in ears, noses, etc and horns on their heads. This probably is the image that springs to mind even now when a cannibal scholar mentions cannibalism in polite company – primitive savages who threaten our safety and bodies if we fall into their clutches. Of course, as Walton points out, the island was the traditional home of the “natives” – it was Gilligan and the castaways who were the intruders, introducing baffling technology and probably a few new pandemics to the locals. There’s a comprehensive study of GI Natives on a Gilligan fandom page. Yes Virginia, there is a GI fandom site.

But the cannibal has moved on. From the outsider who was only sighted by explorers or conquistadors, the cannibal has firmly come home and, since the time of Jack the Ripper who boasted of eating the kidney of one of his victims, the vast majority of reports of cannibalism involve people in urban cities and communities eating their neighbours. Generally, they are dismissed as psychotic personalities who know not what they do. That discourse has become ever less convincing, with cannibals like Fritz Haarmann or Armin Meiwes or even Jeffrey Dahmer all seeming to know exactly what they were doing. The ultimate example of the civilised, enlightened, urbane cannibal is of course Hannibal Lecter, who simply sees eating inferior or rude humans as no worse than eating pigs or fish. Unlike the other examples, Hannibal is fictional, but perfectly represents the cultural trend toward the modern, domestic cannibal.

So, who would the cannibals have been in a re-booted Gilligan’s Island? There are clues. While the men seem largely asexual (Gilligan and the Skipper could perhaps be considered bunk-mates, while the Professor is married to science and Thurston Howell III to Lovey and therefore to asexual domesticity), the women are given standard feminine stereotypes of the virgin (Mary Ann), the whore (Ginger) and the symbolic mother (Lovey). Barbara Creed‘s “The Monstrous-Feminine” emphasises the importance of gender in the construction of female monsters, and so it is not totally surprising that when people turn their fantasies beyond the wholesome storyline of the series, it is the gentle, subservient Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) who becomes the knife-wielding cannibal.

The 2002 comic strip Cool Jerk (above) depicted Mary Ann, or maybe a look-alike, as a cannibal named Mary Annibal. The Silence of the Lambs had swept the Oscars in 1992, and the sequel, Hannibal, had come out in a blaze of publicity in 2001.

Cannibalism on a desert island (or in an inaccessible place like the Andes) is a long tradition, and a rich source of humour. Above is the cover of the Horror Society’s Summer 2015 issue. Can you spot the Cannibal Holocaust reference?

More recently, James Gunn, the director of Guardians of the Galaxy, Suicide Squad and many others (and a known provocateur with a wicked sense of humour) suggested that he and Charlie Kaufman had wanted to restart “Gilligan Kimishima” as a cannibal movie. He tweeted an image of his entry in a Twitter trend that asked people to “pitch a movie with two pictures, no captions.” He juxtaposed the GI tribe with Theodor de Bry’s 16th century engravings of the Tupinambá in Brazil, a series of engravings he based on the sensational accounts of Hans Staden and Jean de Léry, both of whom gave graphic descriptions of cannibalism (hey, it sells books).

Gunn went on to explain that this was a true story. He and Charlie Kaufman had pitched a movie version of Gilligan’s Island to Warner Bros. in which the starving castaways would kill and eat each other. Unfortunately, the creator of GI, Sherwood Schwartz (and later his estate) refused to let it go ahead.

Such a shame. Of course, most of the original GI actors are now dead (Dawn Wells sadly died from COVID-19 just before New Year), but with modern artificial intelligence and deepfake technology, who says we couldn’t have a cannibal feast on an avatar Gilligan’s Island? It would at least be white meat.

What’s your favourite cannibal movie?

Of all the (sometimes) wonderful cannibal movies and shows I have reviewed in this blog, my personal favourite is still The Silence of the Lambs with Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal the Cannibal. It was the first film I reviewed on this blog (does that mean I liked the others less each time? Not at all), and interestingly, it does not actually feature any cannibalism, although we hear a lot about it.

Fun fact!

So I was pretty chuffed to find that The Silence of the Lambs is the favourite horror movie of the State of Utah, according to the Horrornews.net website. They used information from Rotten Tomatoes and Google Trends, and partnered with Mindnet Analytics, to analyse how interest in horror movies varied in each US state and the District of Columbia (DC). The results are presented on their website:

Best Horror Movies: Which Does Each US State Love Most?

This survey covers all horror, whereas in this blog we concentrate on the cannibal, so please let us know your favourite cannibal film (or TV show, but if it’s a series, your favourite episode) either in the comments at the bottom of the page (after a few suggestions) or at cannibalstudies@gmail.com. I’ll let you know the results.

Eat your heart (ETC) out: ANTROPOPHAGUS (Joe D’Amato, 1980)

Joe D’Amato was a prolific director of around 200 films in a wide range of genres, but is best known for his horror and erotic ones. Antropophagus is not one of his ‘best’ (if that word even means anything in these genres) but has developed a cult following in the forty years since its release. D’Amato did not make many cannibal films for some reason – we have previously reviewed his Black Emanuelle film Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, and we still need to look at (eventually) a few more including Emanuelle’s Revenge, Papaya Love Goddess of the Cannibals, Beyond the Darkness, Orgasmo Nero and the sequel to this one, directed under the pseudonym Peter Newton, Antropophagus II. Looks like we’re going to be here for a while, folks!

Joe D’Amato’s cameo appearance in the Athens cable-car scene

The lost travellers encountering savage or insane cannibals is one of the favourite tropes of cannibal stories. Odysseus and his men getting gobbled up by the Cyclops would be an early version (assuming a guy with only one eye in the middle of his head and a god-father is “human” which is pretty important for the definition of cannibalism). But ancient tales loved to dwell on the semi-human monsters outside civilisation eating unwary travellers, as did the lurid tales told by explorers and missionaries in colonial times. Robinson Crusoe is part of the tradition, although he was on his own until he met Friday (whom he saved from, yep, cannibals).

In films, the defining moment for sexed up teens in faulty cars getting slaughtered and eaten by crazed cannibals was Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974, where the cannibals were rust-belt hillbillies killing tourists to replace the closure of the slaughterhouses and loss of their usual victims, and The Hills Have Eyes where the cannibals were mutants created by atomic testing in the desert. The killers got progressively weirder with such offerings as Wrong Turn which was sort of Deliverance with a meat department, but the prize for weirdest demented cannibal probably goes to this one: Antropophagus.

Instead of driving around or breaking down in dodgy areas of derelict states to run into cannibal tribes, this lot are touring the Greek Islands on a yacht. Well, if you’re going to get killed and eaten, do it in style. We start off with a couple of German tourists relaxing on probably the most uncomfortable beach you’ve ever seen, the girl going for a swim because apparently Jaws hadn’t been released in Germany five years before this movie was made?

Her boyfriend, relaxing on some sharp lava, has a rude awakening involving a meat cleaver through his head.

We immediately switch to our jetsetting tourists on a cable car in Athens. One of the tourists is heavily pregnant, so sailing around the islands is an even weirder choice when you think about it, and leads to the most famous cannibal scene involving a fetus in any movie (not many directors other than D’Amato have dreamed of getting away with anything like that).

Antropophagus was written by D’Amato and George Eastman (born Luigi Montefiori), the incredibly tall villain of heaps of Italian B-movies and Spaghetti Westerns as well as several of D’Amato’s other movies. In this one, Eastman plays the slasher, who (it turns out from a journal he left lying around on the island) was driven mad when he and his family were shipwrecked and he ended up eating the wife and child to survive. So now he kills and eats people who come to his island. Everyone needs a hobby. And the role of the cannibal has always been to explore the limits of humanity, and the extremes of inhumanity.

Look, it’s a slasher, and they are not to everyone’s taste, in fact a version of the film without most of the gore was released in the US and UK under the title The Grim Reaper. The acting is pretty awful, ranging from wooden to way over the top. But D’Amato was a talented director (as well as prolific) and the scenes of Athens including the changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Greek Islands, are glorious, and accompanied by suitably cheerful bouzouki music.

The team head for an island which turns out to be ‘almost’ deserted (because everyone’s dead of course). They can’t understand it and ask, forty years too early:

Well, they’ll laugh about that one when they tell the story to their grandkids in 2020 or so. The “final girl” (there’s usually a final girl who survives the slasher) is played by Tisa Farrow, little sister of Mia Farrow, and daughter of Maureen O’Sullivan. Quite a lineage. She’s supposed to be there to look after a blind girl, who doesn’t know where her parents are, but can still tell when the antropophagus is lurking.

The middle section of the film follows the mystified tourists as they explore an apparently deserted town on a remote island, but it’s not really dull, more atmospheric, establishing the existence of evil, a malevolent presence that smells of blood.

Besides the blind girl with the supernose who can smell blood (but can’t apparently smell a room full of corpses), there is Carol (Zora Kerova from Cannibal Ferox) who can read Tarot cards and sense evil vibes.

There’s an electrical storm worthy of King Lear. A scene in a cemetery (of course). A mysterious woman who leaves threatening messages. A blind girl who attacks them with a knife. A whole lot of rooms full of bodies, which surprisingly are discovered by pulling off their shrouds rather than by smelling their decomposition. A seemingly inexhaustible packet of Marlboro (product placement maybe?) A lot of pointless relationship arguments. But, if you’ve bought a ticket to see the gore, then as one critic wrote on IMDB,

“The movie starts with a brutal meat cleaver scene then becomes very slow n downright tedious. The last twenty mins contains the two nasty scenes coz of which this film earned the video nasty label.”

I liked the way the violence is mostly presented from the point of view of the cannibal, rather than the victim. At the beginning we see forward movement, drops of blood, a meat cleaver. Later there is a view of the boat through metal palings and some guttural breathing. When one of the men has his throat torn out, we see the throat, before we finally see the antropophagus with his bloody mouth, bad haircut and poor dental hygiene, but that’s already fifty minutes into the film.

So the scenes of the “normal” people are intentionally dull – there’s pretty scenery, with the occasional interruption for carnage and slaughter. Something for everyone. Makes a nice contrast with the depraved cannibal, who we eventually find out (by flashback!) was a shipwreck survivor and accidentally killed his wife when she wouldn’t let him eat their dead son. Domestic cannibal in domestic dispute.

So – the famous last twenty minutes. Pregnant lady is found by her pretty useless husband in a crypt where rats with red eyes (hungover? Late flight?) are eating corpses.

The antropophagus stabs the guy, who dies slowly enough to watch him pull the fetus from her body and, yep, eat it (turns out it was a skinned rabbit, as if that makes us feel better).

Then in the climax, he gets disembowelled with a pickaxe, and in the last moments of the film, starts to chew on his own intestines.

Yep, both of those scenes were left out of The Grim Reaper. The full film is still banned in England according to The Horror Geek, because they thought it was a real fetus. Read Wikipedia before making censorship decisions, guys!

Antropophagus is available in Blu-ray from Amazon, or the full movie is (or was when I checked) on YouTube – but has Czech subtitles, which some may find distracting. Or you might learn some Czech, and you never know when that may prove useful.

If you can’t / don’t want to watch the whole movie, you can get a comprehensive and extremely funny summary together with some priceless Gilligan’s Island references on the YouTube site of the Horror Geek. Highly recommended.

“No eat man, wrong!” ROBINSON CRUSOE (Buñuel 1954)

Although film directors have revisited colonial era stories of cannibalism with gusto, they have generally done so with modern perspectives. Cannibals in most films, therefore, are not the inhuman savages of Daniel Defoe, Edgar Rice Burroughs or Edgar Wallace. The ‘savages’ in even the earliest films are often presented with humour, for example Lupino Lane’s Be my King (1928), Crosby and Hope in Road to Zanzibar (Schertzinger 1941) or The Wrong Box (Forbes 1966) in which amorous cousins Michael and Julia are reassured that she is not a blood relation: she was adopted after her missionary parents were “eaten by his bible class”. In more serious depictions, the ‘savage’ is either a noble one, or at least is offered some humanity, and often his characterisation (we rarely see female savages) is given an ironic edge to criticise modern, “civilised” society. However, a positive image can be as degrading as a negative one.

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The example here of the cannibal as colonised savage is Luis Buñuel’s Robinson Crusoe (1954). Crusoe is, according to James Joyce “the true prototype of the British colonist… the manly independence, the unconscious cruelty, the persistence, the slow yet efficient intelligence, the sexual apathy, the calculating taciturnity”.

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Buñuel opens his film of the eighteenth-century novel with a shot of Defoe’s book sitting on an ancient map, a nod to the importance to film makers of classic literature. Crusoe (Dan O’Herlihy, who was nominated for Best Actor at the 1955 Oscars) tells us he was on a voyage

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when his father’s warnings of disaster came true; we next see him struggling ashore amid the debris of his lost ship. The island, or at least a severely constrained and isolated space, was considered a prerequisite for cannibalism in the eighteenth century. All his shipmates, or at least the human ones, have been consumed by the sea. Barefoot and hungry, he cracks an egg he finds in a nest, but his European sensibilities do not allow him to eat the baby bird inside.

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Unlike the savages he is yet to meet, he has little hope of surviving in the wild, but is saved by finding and plundering the wreck of his ship, salvaging building supplies, guns and flint to make fire (more important, he realises, than the gold in the drawer below). His whole focus is to secure himself against the wild world: beasts and savages. Although this is a long way from his early surrealist movies, this is still classic Buñuel, particularly the fever dream, reminiscent of his later films The Discreet Charm of The Bourgeoisie and Belle De Jour in which his giggling father pours water on a pig, while the delirious Crusoe begs for a mouthful.

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On the island, European civilised life is represented by Crusoe and his weaponry, and Rex, a dog who has also swum ashore. He finds in a ship’s chest a cure for

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tobacco and the Bible.

Buñuel seems to have felt Crusoe’s pain – he had been exiled from his native Spain for 14 years when he made the film, and was living in Mexico, having lost his job in MOMA after being denounced as a Communist. His longing for home while surrounded by “the other” is obvious in his character’s affection for the dog, while he is quite prepared to shoot birds and stamp on rats and spiders. He domesticates native goats and parrots, but is devastated by the death of Rex, feeling “now truly alone”. Sinking into eccentricity, he talks to two insects, “my little friends” and feeds them an ant.

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But his difficulties on deciding which species of insects are friends soon escalates as Crusoe has to decide which humans deserve to be saved, and which sacrificed. The difference is their status: as cannibals or victims. His reunification with humans after 18 years comes as we follow his footsteps along the beach, only to be confronted with another distinctly human footprint. His abjection is immediate.

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“Men-eaters! From that very land I had once thought to sail to. Revolted, horrified, all that night I watched the cannibals at their ghastly entertainment”.

Their guilt is assumed, but only confirmed after they leave and he comes across their fire-pit which is surrounded by human heads and bones: Typically, cannibal literature paints a “primal scene”, the proof of cannibalism, which is usually not the act of eating human flesh, but the aftermath.

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Crusoe plots a technology-based massacre, including another dream sequence, this time of planting a bomb under their fire-pit, but realises

“I had no heaven-sent right to be judge and executioner on these people, who had done me no injury. I would leave them to God’s justice”.

This resolve is short-lived; seeing Friday (Jaime Fernández, who won a Silver Ariel award – the Mexican equivalent of the Oscar) escape from the cannibals, he steps in to kill the pursuers and rescue the boy. Friday bows to him in a homo-erotic scene in which Crusoe puts his foot on the boy’s head.

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He explains that the boy will be called Friday, while Crusoe’s name is “Master” and that they are “friends”. The boy spits out Crusoe’s carefully harvested and baked bread, indicating that he would rather dig up the pursuers whom they buried earlier.

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Crusoe sits up all night in fear of this new “friend”: “if the cannibals fail to come at me before morning, he might”. He won’t let Friday handle weapons; he shoots birds out the sky to frighten him and puts a strong door on his cave so he can sleep securely. He is reassured to watch Friday eat the flesh of animals, “knowing that the only source of that other meat he so relished”

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He comes to appreciate once more having a servant. The balance of alterities, man to animal, civilised man to cannibal, master to servant, has been restored, yet his fear of the primitive cannibal increases. When Friday sneaks into his room hoping to try his pipe, Crusoe decides to put leg-irons on him, remembering how he had intended those instruments to be used on the savages he planned to carry off to slavery. But Friday is misjudged: “Friday love Master always.” He seizes Crusoe’s gun, but it’s a suicide plan – “kill Friday – no send Friday away.”

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In a moment that crystallises the dreams of empire, Friday has become the good savage, brought to civilisation by the white man, even feminised when he finds a dress in Crusoe’s chest. The primitive cannibal has submitted to our will, but lovingly, in gratitude rather than through force. In the next scene, Friday is armed and helping hunt wild pigs, with Crusoe’s admission that Friday was “as loyal a friend as any man could want.”

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But if Friday is to take on Crusoe’s civilisation, he must also accept his morality. Friday finds Crusoe’s gold coins and thinks them a gift from God. “From the devil”, Crusoe mumbles, but Friday goes off to make a necklace with these baubles, which in this closed circle are of value only to the savage. While they shave each other and share a pipe, Crusoe tries to explain the devil and his works – he also has evolved, or converted, from conquistador to missionary. Yet he is baffled by Friday’s broken epistemic posing of the problem of evil – why doesn’t God just kill the devil? Why is God mad when we sin, if he lets the devil tempt us? Friday, the innocent, the savage, baffles Crusoe, the colonialist, expressing Buñuel’s overt anticlericalism.

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They are set upon by the cannibals and Crusoe is saved by Friday’s gun, just as Crusoe’s gun saved Friday years before. The civilised savage fights the cannibal savages for the life of the Englishman. His gunpowder exhausted, Friday kills the third cannibal in hand-to-hand combat, but the beach is swarming with others. Their preparations for a last stand are interrupted by gunfire; to their amazement the beach is now full of white men who are slaughtering the fleeing cannibals. Like Friday’s foes, these white men have prisoners tied up – their ship’s captain and bosun, against whom they have mutinied.

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Friday and Crusoe free the prisoners, who agree to take Crusoe and “my man” to England if he helps them recover the ship, which of course they do in due course, tempting the ‘civilised’ mutineers, like the devil, with Friday’s gold necklace.

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Dressed like an Englishman again, Crusoe makes a melancholy farewell to his kingdom. He has defeated the evil of the savages and the mutineers, whom he leaves to rule his kingdom.

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Friday has witnessed the violence and oppression of the “civilised” white men, but avers that he is not afraid to go back to civilisation “if master is not”. He is already dressed as a servant. The cannibal can become tame, can learn to eat what he is told, but clearly he can never become “your own kind.”

 

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