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.

The Silence of Hannibal: CLARICE episode 1 (CBS 2021)

So first the bad news – due to contractual arrangements, Hannibal Lecter does not make an appearance in the new TV series called Clarice. He can’t – the DeLaurentiis company (which produced Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal as well as the movies Manhunter, Hannibal, Red Dragon and Hannibal Rising) has exclusive rights to the characters originating in the novels Red Dragon, Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, and MGM have exclusive rights to The Silence of the Lambs, and own the movie too. Clarice Starling first appeared in Silence of the Lambs, so can be revisited in this series, while Hannibal and Will Graham originated in Red Dragon, so can come to life in Fuller’s brilliant series, but the three of them cannot ever meet. With intellectual property as hot as the characters that came from the Promethean mind of Thomas Harris, sharing it around among production companies is about as likely as two dogs with one bone.

The good news is that Clarice is a damn good show, and Rebecca Breeds, the Aussie actor with the West Virginia accent (it sounded good to me, although I’ve never been to WV) is just right in the role. In the pilot, she manages to convey a complex picture of a young woman who is smart, resourceful and tough, fighting for her place in a man’s world, while still haunted by untreated PTSD from her run-in with Buffalo Bill in the movie.

This is a sequel to Silence of the Lambs, and while there is no appearance from Hannibal (who, after all, was on the run after his gory escape in the movie), there are plenty of references to the film, particularly Buffalo Bill (Jame Gumb), the serial killer whom Clarice killed at the climax of the film.

A year after the events of the film, Clarice is waking up at night from nightmares full of violence and deaths-head moths.

She is attending mandatory psychiatric sessions, which she is not happy about, and tries to joke, argue and obfuscate her way out. The therapist says that is

“understandable, given that your last therapist was an inmate in the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane,”

If you remember Silence of the Lambs, you will recall that the serial killer, Jame Gumb, had captured Catherine Martin, whose mother was a US Senator, and was about to skin her to make a “vest with tits” as Hannibal so elegantly put it. The mother, Ruth Martin (Jayne Atkinson), is now Attorney General of the US, and determined that a new serial killer will not be running wild on her watch.

Ruth Martin drags Clarice out of the Quantico FBI HQ where she has been hiding and doing data entry, and attaches her to the new ViCAP (Violent Crime Apprehension Program) task force. She tells Clarice,

“You saved my little girl. You are a woman with a very public reputation for hunting monsters, Clarice.”

The pilot episode is largely procedural, as was Hannibal when Season one started. Someone is killing women and mutilating them. Is it a crazed serial killer? Well, he is biting them, so that qualifies him for this cannibalism blog, but Clarice notices something odd about the wounds. There’s no intimacy. No frenzy.

 “A true psychopath? We’d still be looking. But a true sociopath – they wouldn’t have left their faces.”

The ongoing antagonist in this is Paul Krendler (Michael Cudlitz from Walking Dead) who barely appeared in the film Silence of the Lambs, although he was an important opponent in the book, and became more important as he destroyed her career in the book and film Hannibal in revenge for her unwillingness to indulge his sexual appetites. In this series, he is a cranky old man, dubious of her talents (he thinks she just got lucky in pursuit of Buffalo Bill) and not willing to let her play hunches.

The FBI grunts play tricks on her, putting lotion on the handles of her desk drawers and telling her

Which of course were Gumb’s instructions to Catherine, using the impersonal pronoun ‘it’ to dehumanise her.

Clarice remembers what Hannibal taught her about the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, with a little prompting from her friend Ardelia (Devyn A. Tyler).

She works out that the wounds are “desperately random”, which is what Hannibal told her about the apparently random dumping of the bodies by Jame Gumb. She realises that the murderer is not a crazy serial killer but is cold, calculating and has a set of targets. The rest of the episode is about her tracking him down, while still haunted by her past. Meanwhile, Catherine Martin is frantic to talk to her; Catherine is now an anorexic recluse, because Gumb only took big girls, whose skin would fit on his frame (but at least she has Gumb’s dog Precious, who I always thought was a nod to Tolkein). Clarice suffers flashbacks and nightmares: Catherine in the oubliette, Jame Gumb sewing a garment of human hide.

The press are obsessed with Clarice, the National Tattler calling her (as in the movie), the “Bride of Frankenstein”.

Krendler wants her to toe the official line and tell the press that this is a crazy guy. But this is Clarice. She’s going to tell it like it is.

Now, I know a lot of Fannibals would have preferred a fourth season of Hannibal to a new series about Clarice (and have said so quite vociferously). But let us not forget what Clarice meant to Hannibal, or at least Hannibal in his twentieth century persona. She was one of the first to interview him successfully in his solitary cell. He found her fascinating and was, let us admit it, somewhat smitten with her, in the books and the films. Remember Hannibal’s words:

“I think it would be quite something to know you in private life.”

So let’s not disparage our opportunity to know her. In the movie Hannibal, he points out that he has travelled half way around the world to watch her run, and wonders why she won’t now let him run, then chops off his own hand rather than harm her.

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Unlike many male authors, Thomas Harris can write female protagonists as real, complex people, and he does it so well; not just Clarice Starling, but also the central characters of his first and most recent novels (both non-Hannibal stories) – Dahlia Iyad in Black Sunday (1975) and the eponymous protagonist of Cari Mora (2019).

Hollywood was not willing to countenance a romance between a law officer and (as they saw it) a psychopathic serial killer. But in the novel, the relationships are far more complex: Hannibal hopes Clarice might provide a position in the world for Mischa, his sister, who was eaten by Nazi collaborators during the war. Clarice suggests an alternative: Mischa can live through him, Hannibal, instead, and “she” and Clarice can be like sisters. Remembering Hannibal’s question to Senator Martin (in Silence of the Lambs), she asks if he was breastfed, and if he ever felt that Mischa had made him give up the breast when she was born. Well, he won’t have to give up this one: she offers him her breast, with a warm drop of Chateau d’Yquem suspended from the nipple. He sucks it, but not as a cannibal; as a child, or as a lover. Freud of course would wonder if there is actually a difference.

Unlike the film, in the book Hannibal and Clarice are presumed live happily ever after; the asylum guard Barney sees them at the Teatro Colon, the opera house in Buenos Aires. They are watching Tamerlane, an opera that starts with an Emperor in chains, and ends with a love duet.

This new series, Clarice, is what happens between Hannibal`s escape at the end of Silence of the Lambs and their renewed encounters in Hannibal. It’s important history, one which those of us who loved the books and movies need to explore, even if we loved the Hannibal TV series too.

Clarice is on CBS (where you can watch the first episode if you are in the USA or have a VPN) and streaming on Stan in Australia.

A complete listing of my Hannibal film and TV blogs is at https://thecannibalguy.com/2020/07/08/hannibal-film-and-tv-blogs/

Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s CANNIBAL THE MUSICAL (Trey Parker, 1993)

Ever wondered what Trey Parker and Matt Stone did before South Park? Here’s a surprise – they went to college, where they wrote, directed, produced, co-scored and acted in a musical about cannibalism. This is it.

How’s your American history? It’s certainly never dull – full of wars, insurrections, and also a good deal of cannibalism – historical and contemporary. Probably the most famous incident is the Donner Party, a group of families who became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada over winter 1846-47, and famously turned to cannibalism to survive. Also up there in the mythology is the story of the famous typo, Alferd Packer, a prospector and self-proclaimed wilderness guide, who confessed to cannibalism during the harsh winter of 1874. Packer and five other men had attempted to travel across the San Juan Mountains of Colorado through the bitter winter snow, and Packer was the only one to arrive, some two months later, at the Los Pinós Indian Agency, near Saguache, Colorado. He first claimed the other men had abandoned him, then changed his story to tell of shared cannibalism of the men who had died of the cold, but was eventually charged with murder.

The real Alferd (Alfred) Packer

Incidentally, in case you’re wondering, his name was probably Alfred, but according to some sources, he changed it to Alferd after a mix up with a tattoo. Don’t know if that’s true, but just think of Jame Gumb in Silence of the Lambs, who refused to correct his birth certificate by adding an S to his first name. The author of that book, the meticulous researcher Thomas Harris, may have been having a wink at Alferd with that one.

According to a book on Packer, the judge at his trial sentenced him to death, saying:

Stand up yah voracious man-eatin’ sonofabitch and receive yir sintince. When yah came to Hinsdale County, there was siven Dimmycrats. But you, yah et five of ’em, goddam yah. I sintince yah t’ be hanged by th’ neck ontil yer dead, dead, dead, as a warnin’ ag’in reducin’ th’ Dimmycratic populayshun of this county. Packer, you Republican cannibal, I would sintince ya ta hell but the statutes forbid it.

Packer was not hanged, due to a legal technicality – he was sentenced under state law, but Colorado was not a state at the time of the cannibalism. Antonia Bird’s film Ravenous was also partly based on Packer.

That is pretty much the story that Trey Parker tells, using the names, dates and versions of the events that happened, and even in musical form, he tells it rather more accurately than an earlier biopic called The Legend of Alfred Packer (1980); also a lot more accurately than a later film called Devoured: The Legend of Alferd Packer (2005), which offered audiences the ghost of Alferd eating people in the modern day. Parker and Stone add lots of humour and gore and some very impressive and catchy songs, all written by, and mostly sung by, Trey Parker. Parker and Stone are masters of irony, and it is laid on thick, starting with the card at the beginning saying that the film was originally released in 1954 (some 15 years before Parker and Stone were born) but was eclipsed by the release of Oklahoma. The card goes on to claim that the violence has been edited out, and they follow this with a scene showing Packer killing the other members of his group by biting their necks and tearing off their arms.

The film moves between Packer’s trial (the bloody scene at the start is the prosecution lawyer re-enacting the alleged crime) and Packer’s description of the actual events, complete with dance routines and love songs to his horse, Liane.

The group who persuade Packer to be their guide are totally unprepared for the march from Utah to the Colorado gold fields over the snowbound Rockies, and are warned not to proceed into a big storm by a tribe of Indians, played by Japanese foreign exchange students, who speak Japanese, and even carry Samurai swords.

In a nice bit of cannibal intertextuality (Homer’s Odyssey), they try to kill a sheep belonging to a one-eyed cyclops (actually a Confederate soldier who lost his eye in the civil war). Early shades of South Park, as the cyclops squirts pus from his missing eye.

Sitting around the campfire, starving, they recall the story of the Donner party, and that gives them an idea. Yeah, they eat the guy who was an incurable optimist, who they shot for wanting to build a snowman. Look, it makes sense at the time. They even discuss not exactly the ethics of cannibalism, but at least the aesthetics – they won’t eat the dead guy’s butt, and Packer (Parker) is sick at what part Humphrey (Stone) chooses to eat.

There’s a ballet dream with Alfred dreaming of a reunion with Lianne (the horse), who has run away with a gang of trappers. Yeah, you’ll have to see it.

But the snow has them trapped, and they run out of food, and now the discussion is not which parts of a corpse to eat, but which member of the team should be sacrificed for the next meal. There is a hugely extravagant massacre, following which Packer waits out the winter, but now with plenty of meat, and then heads into town with his story of losing the rest of his party. That doesn’t wash, particularly when the well chewed bodies are found.

There’s a bar fight, pretty much de rigueur in Westerns, and Packer escapes to Wyoming, which he says is worse than being torn apart by the furious townspeople. Eventually he is arrested and brought back to Colorado. During his trial, there is a love interest, Polly (Toddy Walters), who interviews Packer through the bars of his cell in a scene that kept reminding me of Clarice Starling interviewing Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, which had swept the Oscars in 1992, the year before this was made. She becomes convinced of his innocence and – well, it’s complicated. But the film is well worth your 100 minutes, just to see what Parker and Stone could do with real people instead of simulated cut-outs.

The film had mixed reviews, with some of the reviewers not knowing what to make of it. The critic score on Rotten Tomatoes is only 65%, but the audience score is 82%. The critic from Empire said: “there’s an air of genial enthusiasm, tempered by sick humour, that is surprisingly engaging”.

The tagline for the film is:

“In the tradition of Friday the 13th Part 2… and Oklahoma… comes the first intelligent movie about cannibalism!”

Parker and Stone are not shy about their fascination with cannibalism, for example, check out the South Park episode “Scott Tenorman Must Die”, in which Cartman takes revenge on a boy by killing the boy’s parents, and cooking and feeding them to him.

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For a movie made by a couple of students at the University of Colorado, this is very impressive. It’s well made, the cast is great and the music is hard to get out of your head afterwards. I guess not so surprising, when we consider that four years later, in 1997, Parker and Stone launched South Park, which has been running ever since with over 300 episodes shown so far, and more seasons booked until at least 2022.

Modern geniuses.

“Meat’s back on the menu”: HANNIBAL S3E13: “The Wrath of the Lamb”

The grand finale of Hannibal.

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Finales have an obligation to tie up loose ends, answer questions, bury the bodies. It’s the showdown, the shootout, the denouement. But they don’t have to spell it all out too clearly, particularly for the more discerning audience who watch artistic masterpieces like Hannibal. Hannibal Lecter always leaves us thinking.

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Yes, Dr Lecter, we will think about you. What you have to teach us about lots of things, not just about cuisine.

In the first episode of Season 1, the serial killer and cannibal Garrett Jacob Hobbs kills his wife and slits his daughter’s throat because Hannibal has warned him that the FBI “knows” about him. Will shoots him several times, but as he dies, or even as he lies there dead, he smiles at Will at asks:

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Each episode of this extraordinary show has had a theme that can be teased out – some more obvious than others. The theme of this one is multifaceted; it is about life, death, growth, conspiracy and betrayal. The plot is convoluted: the serial killer Francis Dolarhyde has faked his death but has revealed that he wants to meet, greet and eat Hannibal. Hannibal is locked up in The Baltimore Asylum for the Criminally Insane because of his own cannibalistic serial killing events. You will perhaps remember Hannibal gave himself up at the end of episode 7, so that Will would always know where he is. That, my friends, is love, Hannibal-style. But he is not enjoying the rigors of asylum living:

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The FBI wants them both dead, and conspire to “fake” Hannibal`s escape to lure the Dragon.

Will doubts that he will survive this conspiracy and betrayal

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Everyone else is terrified of Hannibal really escaping and coming for them. Hannibal`s former psychiatrist and, well, housemate, Bedelia, is convinced this is a terrible idea. She quotes Goethe’s Faust, a work much loved by Hannibal as well:

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Will has no sympathy. He knows Hannibal will also come for Bedelia if (when) he escapes, because she is on his menu.

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Alana knows Hannibal is going to kill her, because he has promised to do so, and reaffirms that promise:

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Will knows The Dragon will free Hannibal, and then try to kill him, change him, absorb him, as cannibals are so often accused of doing to their victims. We absorb the nutrition of our food, why should cannibals not absorb the strength, spirit and experiences of their victims? And Hannibal is willing to play along, as long as Will asks nicely:

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The climax is at Hannibal`s house overlooking the “roiling Atlantic”, where the Dragon takes on Hannibal and Will takes on the Dragon. Who has conspired with whom, and who is being betrayed?

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Will replies:

“If you’re partial to beef products, it is inconvenient to be compassionate towards a cow”.

The battle is epic, brutal and bloody, and we expect no less. Will learns his lesson at last, that blood really does look black in the moonlight, as Hannibal told him in episode 9. That life and death are not opposite or even separate but part of the “becoming”. That his extreme empathy and Hannibal’s cruelty are one and the same.

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That murder and mercy, as Thomas Harris told us at the end of Red Dragon, are just human constructions, and mean nothing to nature, “the Green Machine”, which is indifferent to who lives and dies, and to conceptions of right and wrong. When we inevitably die, someone will eat us, and nature cares not a whit the species of the eater or eaten. Natural selection means that the Dragon, with the gun and the knife, will kill and absorb Hannibal. The Green Machine doesn’t care. This is what Hobbs was trying to tell Will in the first episode, and what Hannibal has shown him, 38 episodes later.

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But then, there’s love and compassion, the emotion that makes a rat fight a snake to protect her young. Will and Hannibal – together at last, covered in blood, cut to ribbons, but feeling the love.

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Is Hannibal dead?

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The Death of Sherlock Holmes | Conan Doyle Info

Remember how Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty fell to their deaths into the Reichenbach Falls in 1891, causing a massive public outcry among their avid fans, only to see Sherlock reappear in 1894, explaining that he had faked his death to fool his enemies? Well, Bryan Fuller has given us a pretty great clue, as in the final scene we see Bedelia sitting at a table with three settings, about to enjoy a sumptuously prepared meal, the centrepiece being her leg, roasted to perfection.

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Who’s doing the cooking?

We hope, we conspire, we betray, we demand Season 4. Remember that this whole story, the three seasons, has been a prequel to the book and film that made Hannibal famous, The Silence of the Lambs. There is plenty of material in there with which to continue the story, or reimagine it as Fuller does so very well, perhaps, as he suggested, with “Margot Verger taking down the meat industry as a hot, powerful lesbian” and turning them over to PETA.

Hugh Dancy, when asked about another season, suggested it might take five years. Well guess what, Season 3 finished in 2015…

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Next week I’ll publish, for ease of reference, a complete listing of my Hannibal blogs.

“It was… intimate” HANNIBAL Season 2 Episode 10 “Naka-Choko” (Fuller, 2014)

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Intimate is the word for this episode. And hey, this is a cannibal blog, so all the sex going on might seem a bit out of scope, but stick with me, it makes sense. It’s all sex and death today. Sigmund Freud would have loved this episode.

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Everything Hannibal does has a purpose – a plan or, as Will would say, a “design”. He is always a dozen steps ahead of the chess game he is playing with Jack Crawford, which explains the huge punch-up that’s going to happen (we saw some of it at the start of episode 1 of this season).

What motivates Hannibal is what motivates us all. When we pad out to the fridge in the middle of the night, or he abducts a rude person on a dark road, we are concerned with two things: appetite and power. We are hungry, and we have the power to open a packet of instant noodles. Hannibal is hungry, and has the power to kill and cook people. Just a matter of opportunity, and belief. This hunger and lust for power is motivated, Hannibal believes (and I’m not going to argue with him, because that would be rude), by death.

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According to anthropologist Ernest Becker, most of us are motivated by a fear of death, and fill our time with convoluted ways to distract us from thinking about it.

Hannibal, and increasingly Will, are fascinated by it. Hannibal is a psychiatrist, so he is very familiar with Freud’s “death drive”. Freud had always assumed that humans are driven by the “pleasure principle” – we like things that make us feel good. Sure, but later, in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”, he suggested another drive which, he felt, explained why we revisit unpleasant and traumatic memories, both in dreams and often in our compulsive behaviours. This is the death drive, which is in a way more primal, since life itself comes from the inanimate, and must perforce return there. While the sex-drive pressures us toward extending or prolonging life, the ego-drive pressures us toward death. Death, then, becomes a driving force in our unconscious.

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Will has seen this death drive from the start of the story, was repelled by it, then started to recognise it as personified in Hannibal. Will pictures death as the stag-man, or as @BryanFuller calls him, the Wendigo. The Wendigo is a figure from North American Algonquin folklore. He is a giant cannibal figure, who gathers strength from feeding on human flesh, but the flesh makes him grow larger, and so his appetite can never be satisfied.

The Wendigo bite will infect the victim and turn him into a Wendigo too. Just what Hannibal is hoping to do to Will.

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For much of this season, and at the start of this episode when Will kills the cave-bear dude, he has fantasised the Wendigo – when he pummels the guy, he visualises beating Hannibal.

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When Will cracks the guy’s neck, we see him twisting the Wendigo’s antlers. He is trying, symbolically, to kill both the Wendigo that is Hannibal, and the Wendigo growing inside him.

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Violence brings intimacy for Hannibal and Will. Will points out that they are now even – both have sent someone to try to kill the other. Hannibal tenderly bandages Will’s torn knuckles, raw from the beating he gave – whoever he thinks he was beating. Hannibal mutters:

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Will replies:

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They are not just even now, they are almost equal. Will has tasted blood, he seems to be becoming what Hannibal wants him to become. His vision at the crime scene is not his usual recreation of the crime (since he did it) but, instead, the dead guy telling him: “this is my becoming”

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Will replies:

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There seems to be, finally, a genuine love developing between Hannibal and Will – a Nietzschean love. Nietzsche wrote in Thus Spake Zarathustra:

“In your friend, you should possess your best enemy. Your heart should feel closest to him when you oppose him.”

They have been enemies. Now they are ready to be friends, to feel love.

But Bryan Fuller doesn’t let us off that easy. Nothing is ever that straight forward in Hannibal. We suddenly get lots of sex, but it’s not our Übermensch lovers – it’s decidedly heterosexual, and Will and Hannibal are each shown in bed with, respectively, Margot and Alana, who will end up in a lesbian relationship with each other (sorry if that was a spoiler). There’s even an ironic view of Hannibal and Alana doing the pottery scene from Ghost, but with a theremin instead of a wheel.

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The sex is long and graphic, there is lots of groaning and sweating and some ecstatic expressions, but it is all exploitation.

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Hannibal is using Alana as his alibi for his nightly outings, as we will see. Margot Verger wants a male heir so she can kill her brother and still get her inheritance (an idea nurtured by her psychiatrist – one Doctor Lecter).

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Hannibal and Will morph in and out of each other, and at one stage both are in bed with Alana. And, never far away, is the wendigo.

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And we finally get to know Margot’s brother, Mason Verger, who, unlike the 1999 book and 2001 movie of Hannibal, has a face (at the moment). Mason is heir to a hog empire, and is busy breeding a pig that is willing to eat living humans.

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He intimidates Margot with these pigs (not hard as he has had her clothes filled with meat to tempt the porkers). He invites Hannibal, who is not easily intimidated, and knows as much about pigs as Mason:

“A resourceful feeder and an opportunistic omnivore”

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We find out something else too, something which becomes central to the attempts in the later books and movies to find a causality to Hannibal. They discuss Margot, and Mason asks if Hannibal has a sister.

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Mason is impressed with the visit, and Hannibal goes home with a new client and a suckling pig, which he serves to Alana and Will.

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He got the pig, he tells them, from a friend. “A friend of yours. Not a friend of the pig’s” Will comments snarkily. Hannibal’s reply is a veiled threat:

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A fascinating discussion of Will and Hannibal’s relationship follows, complicated by the fact that Alana and Hannibal are both psychiatrists and can’t leave their work at the office. Alana points out that “it’s hard to know where you are with each other.” Will replies that “We know where we are with each other. Shouldn’t that be enough?” Hannibal summarises this triangle as he gazes into his wine glass:

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We’re back to interpreting Hannibal as Satanic. Not my preferred reading, but Fuller hands out no obvious explanations in a plot that is up there with Greek Tragedy.

Anyway. Enough of the sex and exploitation and dead baby pigs. It’s time for the blood bond of the Übermenschen. Hannibal has heard about the Will Graham interviews, and waits, wearing his killing suit, for Freddie Lounds to come home to a nice surprise.

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But Will already has Freddie in his remote shed, where she has found bits of the cave-bear dude. Now it’s time for dinner. We finally get some cannibal talk! Will is apprentice cannibal, Hannibal the master chef. Will says

“I provide the ingredients. You tell me what we should do with them.”

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Now Hannibal gets the rules of the game. “Veal? Pork perhaps?”

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Hannibal offers to make a Peruvian dish called lomo saltado, and hands Will a sharp knife to cut up his meat, a definite gesture of trust, or maybe a tease. Now they are playing with the thin red line between pleasure and pain, eros and death drive.  As they eat, Hannibal analyses the meat: it has notes of citrus. It tastes “frightened”. Will asks “what does frightened taste like?”

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Look up “long pig” – it is widely used as a term for human meat, supposedly coined in the cannibal Pacific islands, and probably a mistranslation. Good enough for Hannibal, though, to know what Will is claiming. They are eating Freddie. Will is claiming he has swapped sides and is the cannibal’s apprentice. He reverses a speech Hannibal makes in Silence of the Lambs, where he chides Clarice for her insistence on trying to find what happened to make him the way he is.

“Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened. You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviourism…. You’ve got everyone in moral dignity pants – nothing is ever anybody’s fault. Look at me, Officer Starling. Can you stand to say I’m evil?”

Will turns it around: he says “I’m not the product of anything”.

 

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Will has, he is claiming, given up good and evil, gone where the universe has taken him. And that is to Hannibal’s dinner table. They discuss the nature of evil – Will says it’s destructive. In that case Hannibal argues (again from the Silence of the Lambs) storms must be evil. And fire, and hail. Or what underwriters call “acts of God”.

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Not gods. Übermenschen.

 

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“An act of dominance: HANNIBAL Season 2 Episode 6 “Futamono” (Fuller, 2014)

Why do cannibals eat people? This episode looks at that question, and demonstrates that they do it for the same reason that anyone eats anything. Appetite and power. Hunger and dominance. They want to, and they can. Isn’t that why people eat other animals?

Hannibal had a near death experience in the previous episode and, as this one starts, he is playing harpsichord. As he explains to Alana Bloom, who is also a psychiatrist and into this stuff:

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He is growing. Becoming, as he hopes Will is growing and becoming – becoming a killer and cannibal like him.

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Well, Will is already a cannibal – as he says to Jack Crawford:

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Look, people as a rule don’t like cannibals much. Will tells Jack that he (Will) has “contempt for the Ripper, contempt for what he does”. What does he do? Jack asks.  In a piece of dialogue straight out of the interview between Clarice and Hannibal in Silence of the Lambs, Will tells us:

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If Will was Hannibal, he’d quote Marcus Aurelius. But this is close enough. Jack points out that the killer harvests organs. That’s what he does, sure, but why? Why does he need to do it?

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Will is quick to point out that Hannibal is not like Hobbs, who honoured the animals (human and other) that he killed and ate. He uses the word “sounder” (a collective noun for hogs) deliberately.

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Well, Hannibal is certainly thinking gastronomically. He is cutting up and skewering the pieces of a heart – human, probably. Alana is helping him, analysing him, working on a definition of humanity as they prepare the heart:

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…and the things that make us human. Good and bad, love and ache.

Hannibal has not recovered from the murder attempt on himself.

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And when Hannibal goes shopping, it’s not random. He has a method. A list of rude people, and a wonderful, hand-written recipe card base.

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The latest victim has been grafted onto a tree in a carpark, his organs replaced with poisonous flowers. All except for his lungs.

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Jack realises why: This is a judgement.

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Jack wants to tell Hannibal about the latest case, but he won’t listen.

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How is he going to do that?

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Well, Will told Jack that if people were being killed, then Hannibal was planning a dinner party. Is this all still too subtle for Jack?

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But now, Will is not alone. Abel Gideon knows about Hannibal, and so does Chilton, who records all their conversations. Jack asks Chilton if he knows what he is accusing Hannibal of? Oh yes.

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Chilton is a believer, now that his life is at stake. He analyses Hannibal as psychopath:

Jack, he fits the profile. He is attracted to medical and psychological fields because they offer power over man. Cannibalism –

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Hannibal eats people because he wants to, and because he can. He shows his dominance, and he dispenses justice. The dude grafted into a tree had, Jack observes, “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” It had been an important nesting habitat for endangered songbirds.

Hannibal is picking victims for his dinner party. The recipes and victims are chosen and prepared carefully, to a Strauss “love song waltz”.

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Hannibal’s party is splendid, with liveried footmen serving the dishes he planned during the sequences above. Chilton and Jack watch the well-heeled, well-fed guests tuck in to the fare.

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Jack rudely takes a plate of delicacies home with him. Or back to the lab.

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But Hannibal is one step ahead – the food was made of animals other than humans – goose, pig, cow.

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But Hannibal has new dinner plans. He drugs Alana, who becomes his alibi as he goes to the asylum and kidnaps Abel Gideon, the man who attempted to steal his identity by claiming to be the Chesapeake Ripper.

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Gideon, now crippled by the asylum guards, will be both guest of honour and main course: Hannibal has amputated his “useless” leg and prepared it as Roti de cuisse: clay-roasted thigh with canoe-cut marrowbone.

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Gideon is a little unsure of the etiquette of the guest / meat.

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Then, there are more tributes to the earlier books/movies:

Silence of the Lambs

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And Hannibal Rising

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And Silence again – the girl in the pit.

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Hannibal has finished his composition. This was his design.

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What a dragon it is getting old: RED DRAGON (Ratner, 2002)

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OK, look, I understand. We loved Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs (Demme, 1991), and we understood when he looked a little, well, worn ten year later when he played the title role in Hannibal (Scott, 2001). It was set some unspecified time after Hannibal’s escape at the end of Silence, and he had had a hard time – he’d had to flee the USA, kill and eat Dr Chilton, settle in Florence, and, worst of all, behave himself and hardly kill anyone there. That can really take a toll on a guy.

But then, nothing succeeds like excess, so Dino De Laurentiis decided he needed another Hannibal movie. OK, how about we see him return to the US and eat his way through a retirement village. No? OK, let’s instead make a prequel, set a bit before Silence, in which Hannibal would logically be much younger but Hopkins will, unavoidably, look much older. Very postmodern, huh?

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The movie Red Dragon (Ratner, 2002) is based on the book of the same name by the brilliant Thomas Harris, the book which birthed Hannibal Lecter in 1982. The book is incredibly rich in insights into the human condition, alienation and the family, the nature of power, the futility of our pretensions of importance in an indifferent universe. Most of the TV series Hannibal (Fuller, 2013-15) is based on this book (and yes, I will start my review of that superb creation soon, in fact as soon as I figure out how to cover 39 episodes without taking all year to do it). Also based on the book of Red Dragon was the terrific movie Manhunter (Mann, 1986) which had everything going for it other than Hopkins, although Brian Cox was a great Lecter, albeit a bit shy of admitting his penchant for cannibalism (it was the eighties).

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Luckily, Anthony Hopkins is a masterful actor and can carry through playing Hannibal a dozen years younger than the same character in his previous movie. But only just. The rest of the cast is also stellar, as you would expect from the reboot of a reboot. The screenplay is by Ted Tally, who also wrote the screenplay for The Silence of the Lambs.

The film starts in Baltimore, where a respectful audience watches and listens to the symphony orchestra’s second flautist pretty much ruin an otherwise masterful performance of the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer’s Night Dream. In that audience is Hannibal Lecter, and he does not look pleased. No indeed. Something must be done. Medium to well-done, perhaps. In a sharp suit and a pony-tail, and quoting Horace, Hannibal later entertains the Board members of the Symphony who revel in his hospitality, despite one of their musicians being currently listed as a missing person. When Hannibal is asked by the Chairwoman to confess what is in the amuse-bouche, he replies: “If I tell you:

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He sits at the head of the table, watching them eat. They are “innocent cannibals” – because they know not what they eat. Well, after all, who really does the homework nowadays as to what’s on the dinner plate?

After the innocent cannibals leave, Will Graham (Edward Norton) turns up – he and Lecter have previously worked together on another serial killer investigation – Garret Jacob Hobbs (which won’t mean much unless you’ve watched the first season of the TV series Hannibal (Fuller 2013), a prequel to the prequel). Will and Hannibal have been trying to profile a new serial killer, the Chesapeake Ripper (who is really Lecter of course), and have been looking for some sort of medical expert, a vengeful crazy who know how to “souvenir” body parts from the victims. But that’s not what he’s doing (we assume that it’s a “he”.) Will has worked it out:

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As Lecter goes to get Will’s coat, Will finds on the bookshelf a copy of Larousse Gastronomique – it opens at “sweetbreads” – the recipe for the body parts that were taken from the victims. As the realisation comes to him – Hannibal is the cannibal! – so does Hannibal, with a large knife.

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Will survives, Hannibal is incarcerated in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, and the Symphony Chairwoman faints in court when she finds out what (or who) was in the amuse-bouche. The case is sensationalised in The Tattler, a scandal sheet, by sleazy journalist Freddy Lounds (played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman). Will retires to the seaside with his son and wife, Molly (a too brief appearance by Mary-Louise Parker of Weeds and West Wing).

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Several years later (according to the card), Will is persuaded to return to pursue a new killer: Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes), “The Great Red Dragon” as he calls himself, or “The Tooth Fairy” as the cops call him, since he likes to bite the women victims as he rapes them, after he has killed them and their whole families. Not a cannibal, but certainly a biter. He uses his grandmother’s teeth – it’s all her fault of course, since she raised him in fear and shame and threatened to castrate him when he wet his bed (come home Dr Freud, all is forgiven). He greatly admires Hannibal, and likes to communicate with him about his “becoming” – he believes that “each being that I change makes me more than a man”, and he sees Hannibal as John the Baptist, to his Christ. And Will goes to see Hannibal, walking along the row of cages containing crazies, just as Clarice Starling will do later (in a movie made 11 years earlier).

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Does the set look familiar?

Hannibal tells him that he and Will are just alike – their imagination raises them above all the other “dullards”. And so the chase begins.

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After all the blood has been wiped off the walls, Hannibal writes to Will:

“We live in a primitive time, don’t we Will? Neither savage nor wise. Half measures are the curse of it. Any rational society would either kill me or put me to some use.”

The film ends with Clarice being announced. A nice segue into Silence of the Lambs, a film which had already swept the Oscars a decade before this.

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Reviews were mixed: some critics hated it, some loved it. Of course it made a fortune when it came out, grossing over 200 million dollars. The public was hungry for Hannibal. The fact that the story had already been made as Manhunter in 1986 didn’t bother anyone – it wasn’t Hopkins, and it didn’t focus on Hannibal, and, worst of all, there was no cannibalism. And let us remember that the book Red Dragon, on which both those movies were based, was also the basis for Hannibal the TV series in 2013, and particularly Season 3. There’s more than one Macbeth, and there’s more than one way to make Red Dragon. One critic wrote:

“The only downside to this delectable third course? The regrettable likelihood that Lecter fans will have to make do without dessert.”

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Hannibal Lecter is not real, but the public hunger for Hannibal the Cannibal certainly is. We put up with the “dullards” who put us, and Hannibal, into cages. We dream of sating our often deranged appetites, and we wish we had the power to do so. Hannibal offers us a fantasy of doing that.

 

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The First Hannibal movie! “Manhunter” (Mann, 1986)

 

Polite cannibal films are careful not to show teeth sinking into flesh. But it’s a bit odd to have a cannibal film, especially one involving “Hannibal The Cannibal”, which doesn’t even mention the subject of cannibalism!

Hannibal Lecter first appeared in print in 1981 in Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon. Incredibly (in hindsight), there was a five year gap before Robert Mann directed Manhunter, a corker of a movie – and the very first Hannibal film. Mann altered both the title of the story and Hannibal’s surname, for no particularly good reason – it seems there may have been some doubt over the copyright to the name, although the plot was almost identical to the book. There have been suggestions in interviews that, because Bruce Lee was churning out Dragon movies at the time, producer Dino De Laurentiis was worried that people would think “Red Dragon” was just another Kung Fu movie.

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The Director, Michael Mann, was named 28 on Total Film’s list of “the 100 Greatest Directors Ever”. Before he got the gig, David Lynch was considered for the job, but reportedly rejected the role after finding the story to be “violent and completely degenerate”. Quite a judgement call from the man who made Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks!

Brian Cox plays Hannibal Lecktor (as it is spelt in the credits). It’s a masterful performance, but “Lecktor” is a minor character who is a foil for the protagonist, Will Graham (played by a young William Petersen, later the star of CSI), rather than a menacing and cannibalistic presence. In fact, Hannibal does not appear until 23 minutes into the film, and then there is no mention of his gustatory predilections. This Hannibal is a simple monster, a serial killer, and is played by Brian Cox as a rendering of the Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel. As Cox says in an interview, “Real evil is something that is so scarily normal”. The back story is that Will was the first to recognise that Hannibal was the serial killer that the FBI was seeking. The book Red Dragon, if not so much this film version, is the fertile soil from which sprouted most of Bryan Fuller’s TV series Hannibal. Also, of course, the Anthony Hopkins version of Red Dragon in 2002, which was a bit jarring, in that Hannibal had visibly aged, despite it being supposedly a  prequel to Silence of the Lambs.

I’ll get to that one. As Hannibal likes to say: “All good things to those who wait”.

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Brian Cox in his lonely cell

So, Cox’s Hannibal is normal, urbane, brilliant and uncomplicatedly “evil”. This approach makes sense: Hannibal can understand the Tooth Fairy (the psychotic killer who is the actual villain of the film – Hannibal is in a cell the entire film). The Tooth Fairy believes he is becoming a higher form of life. He writes to Hannibal:

“You alone can understand what I am becoming. You alone know the people I use to help me in these things are only elements undergoing change to fuel the radiance of what I am Becoming. Just as the source of light is burning.”

Hannibal, in his lonely cell, enjoys collecting articles about disasters, particularly those in which churches collapse and kill worshippers. He deduces from this, as he tells Will, that killing must feel good to God:

“It feels good, Will, because God has power. And if one does what God does enough times, one will become as God is.”

Hannibal believes in a maleficent god, one who enjoys the power of killing. So does he, and so does the Tooth Fairy. Hannibal offers to help Will find the TF, but only because he seeks revenge – he finds out Will’s home address, and passes it on to the TF with instructions to “kill them all”. These are not simple projects when you’re in solitary in a high security mental asylum. He is not just brilliant (and evil) but very resourceful.

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Will before he became Gil on CSI

John Lithgow, Mandy Patinkin, Brian Dennehy and even the director William Friedkin were considered for the part of Hannibal, but Brian Cox got the part, and played it brilliantly. He has on numerous occasions denied feeling cheated that Anthony Hopkins got the sequel (and the Oscar) in Silence of the Lambs. Well, he’s either telling the truth or a very great actor (he’s both).

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Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins as telephonic manipulator Hannibal Lecter/Lecktor

Hannibal’s main scene is below:

Cox did express an opinion that, after Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal had “lost his mystery”. You may have seen Cox not that long ago as General Kutuzov in the BBC production of War and Peace, or as Churchill, in the movie of the same name.

 

In 1986, the idea of some sort of homoerotic relationship between Hannibal and Will was pretty much unthinkable – that had to wait for Bryan Fuller’s masterful television prequel Hannibal some quarter of a century later. Nonetheless, Will Graham gets the best line in this film. As Lecktor waxes lyrical about the way Will has managed to get a journalist killed during the investigation, Will blurts out:

“I’m sick of you crazy sons of bitches!”

But the rest of us are not, Will. We enjoy cannibals, even if they are as modest about their eating habits as Hannibal Lecktor. They remind us that we are not gods, but edible animals.

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Entrepreneurial cannibalism: “Eating Raoul” (Bartel, 1982)

Eating RaoulEating Raoul has become a cult classic since its release in 1982. It was directed by Paul Bartel, who also plays the role of Paul Bland, a use of nominative irony, since he and his wife Mary (played by the wonderful Mary Woronov who starred in Warhol and Corman films) are a bland and horribly normal couple. They live in a block of apartments and eke out an existence working at unsatisfying jobs, while dreaming of somehow opening their own restaurant.

The film starts with a shot of the iconic Hollywood sign and a voice-over, of the type that was popular in film newsreels, describing the contrasts in that town between rich and poor, and tells us that “sex hunger is reflected in every aspect of daily life”.

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“The barrier between food and sex has totally dissolved.”

This contrast then goes to the microcosm of the life of Paul and Mary. They are prudes; they sleep in separate beds and disapprove of sex, except for “a little hugging and kissing”. But there are almost constant “swinger” parties in an adjoining apartment: as if to exacerbate their financial woes, rich and decadent swingers share their lift and their corridors. When one of the swingers tries to rape Mary, Paul kills him with the cast iron frypan, finds $600 in the guy’s wallet, and thus begins a career of hilarious and profitable murders of “rich perverts”, whom they lure with ads offering kinky sex.

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But that doesn’t make it a cannibal film, suitable for this blog. That comes later, when their locksmith, Raoul, enters the scene, ready to make money from the bodies and the victims’ cars.

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But when Raoul himself has to be disposed of, and there is nothing to serve the real estate agent who is going to secure the purchase of their dream restaurant… Well, as Hannibal said in Silence of the Lambs:

“Haven’t you had company coming and no time to shop? You have to make do with what’s in the fridge, Clarice.”

Cannibalism is all about power and appetite, and so Eating Raoul is a perfect allegory for Western (and particularly Hollywood) society. Everyone is either exploiting or fucking everyone else, and why should Paul and Mary Bland be any different? Cannibalism – it’s the ultimate American Dream.

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The full film is currently available on Youtube:

 

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Meat the neighbours: “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (Hooper, 1974)

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The Texas chain saw massacre was named by Total Film as number one of the fifty greatest horror movies of all time. It spawned a number of sequels and prequels, but none as ground-breaking as the original, which was remastered in 2004 in 4K, making it that much more graphic. Time said that it set “a new standard for slasher films”. The concept of a vulnerable woman being terrorised by a monster was hardly new, and some critics suggested that the director, Tobe Hooper, may even have seen the Australian ‘slasher’ film Night of fear, so similar were the psychopaths. Night of fear was banned as too violent, and Texas chain saw, although less gory, was also banned in many countries, and was not available for showing in Australia for almost ten years after production. Night of fear moved from the knife or razor favoured in ‘slasher’ films to an axe; Texas chain saw escalated the weaponry even further with a large and very noisy chain saw. The chain saw is wielded by a particularly striking villain named Leatherface, so called due to his predilection for wearing a mask made of human skin.

Filmed in documentary style, on release it made a half-hearted attempt to appear to be a true story, whereas in fact it was based on the exploits of Ed Gein, a serial killer, but not a known cannibal, who was also the inspiration of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) as well as Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs. It was filmed on a tight budget against expectations it might never be cleared for exhibition. The respected critic Roger Ebert summed it up as “a grisly little item…I can’t imagine why anyone would want to make a movie like this, and yet it’s well-made, well-acted, and all too effective.” Such exploitative movies are profitable if made at the right price point, and Ebert grudgingly allows that the techniques and special effects are far better than the genre demands. He particularly liked the rapid montages of the survivor Sally screaming, with extreme close-ups of her bulging eyeballs, expressing all the foam flecked terror of any animal who realises she is about to be slaughtered.

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Gimme a close-up!

Leatherface lives in a family of ‘others’ who terrorise, slaughter and eat passers-by. They are ‘white trash’, but made trash by the process of industrialisation of agriculture: the abattoir in which the whole family worked has automated or closed, leaving them to use their expertise on a different species. The protagonists are a group of young hipsters, driving their Kombi through Texas to check on the grave of the grandfather of Sally and Franklin, following reports (shown in graphic footage during the credits) of graves being desecrated and robbed (an Ed Gein speciality). The pseudo-documentary style introduction tells us that “an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare”, one that seems to be a thinly veiled exposition of the nightmare faced by the Woodstock generation as they moved from the summer of love into the fall of Vietnam, drugs, the Manson murders and Nixon’s Silent Majority. Hooper spoke of his inspiration coming from the “beginning of the end of the subculture”, while one critic wrote that Hooper opened the way for horror to become a “vehicle for articulating twentieth-century pessimism”. It is revealing that this film about social decline was crafted in the period between Nixon’s landslide re-election and his resignation.

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Leatherface

Besides the disabled Franklin, the other four beautiful people are entirely two-dimensional, laughing at the quaint locals, reading horoscopes and heading off into unimagined horrors when looking for a non-existent swimming hole. Franklin does most of the talking, more so even than Sally, his sister, the only survivor, whose role is mostly to scream and run and scream more. Franklin reminisces about their grandfather (whose grave they are checking) and the abattoir where he used to sell his cattle. His speech is accompanied by images of cows waiting to be slaughtered or drooling, near death, as he describes the killing process – a sledgehammer: “it usually wouldn’t kill them on the first lick”. The cows queue for death as the young people drive past, on the way to their own identical slaughter. They pick up a hitchhiker who tells them his brother and grandfather work at the slaughterhouse. “My family’s always been in meat,” he tells them, an esoteric reference to their own imminent fate, which only the viewers appreciate.

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The family

The family turn out to be very mentally troubled: the wild-eyed hitchhiker is the brother of Leatherface who occasionally puts down the chain saw and dons an apron to take a feminine role in the house of slaughter. Leatherface is actually humanised under his mask: grunting, sweating and showing us his deformed teeth he was as human as on-screen killers got in the days before Dexter and Hannibal. Another relative, the gas-station owner, appears normal and presents a disturbing picture of the schizophrenic nature of modern society: his station has no gas, he sells barbecued meat of a suspect origin, and he constantly offers Sally comfort as he recaptures her, gags her and beats her, all the time assuring her everything will be all right. I couldn’t help thinking of the protestations of farmers who insist that they care deeply about their animals, as they pack them onto trucks for the gruelling journey to a terrifying death.

The film’s final thirty minutes consist of Sally being chased, mostly with a chain saw, with occasional respites where she is captured and tormented before again leaping from windows. Hitchcock famously said that the chase is the “final expression” of the medium of film and ‘slasher’ movies thrive on them. Yet the film’s setting is deliberately confused: instead of the normative divide of country providing meat to the city, here the city kids are providing meat to the rural rejects. As the kids are slaughtered, we hear the sounds of pigs grunting, see a captive chicken awaiting her fate, in a room filled with the bones and skins of several species, particularly H. sapiens. The cannibals’ method of slaughter, the sledgehammer, the meat hook, the freezer, is the same as the way cattle and pigs are treated at an abattoir.

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Pam learns how the professionals do it

Is the film a disguised polemic against farming and slaughtering animals? The reviewer Forrest Wickman called it “forehead-slappingly obvious” in his review “The Ultimate Pro-Vegetarian Film Is the Last Movie You’d Expect”. So much so that PETA listed it in its “top 10 movies that make you go meatless”. Hooper said in an interview that he gave up meat while making the film: “the heart of the film was about meat; it’s about the chain of life and killing sentient beings”. He also claimed that Guillermo Del Toro, no shrinking violet himself in abject film-making, gave up meat after seeing it.

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Sally and friends

Nothing is as it should be in this film, nor was it in Nixon’s and Hooper’s America, circa 1974. It is filmed in bright Texan sunshine rather than horror’s normal Gothic gloom, the psychopathic Leatherface is cooking in an apron when Sally is carried in, Sally’s terror at the dinner table is accompanied with the noises of non-diegetic pigs, the normal filmic heroes (young white males) are butchered without any defence offered, and what were they all eating when they stopped the Kombi at the gas station and bought barbecue? Who among us, Hooper seems to ask, is not a cannibal?

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