“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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The Silence of the Trump (The Late Show)

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Stephen Colbert took over the Late Show from David Letterman in September 2015, but really started drawing the big crowds when Donald Trump was elected President a bit over a year later. Colbert skewers Trump nightly on the late-night show (in fairness, a lot of the material seems to write itself), so when Jodie Foster, who played Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, the movie that brought Hannibal Lecter to fame in 1991, appeared as a guest on the Late Show last December, it made sense that she would appear as a Special Agent. But instead of working for Jack Crawford, hunting serial killers, she is now working for Robert Mueller, hunting the Russian connection to the President.

Here is part the scene they are spoofing, from The Silence of the Lambs.

Go and watch it again. It’s a classic, and has been used hundreds of times in satirical pieces of all sorts. Hannibal is one of the most iconic figures of our time. Representing voracious appetite, a disavowal of the old humanist ideals of the sanctity of human life, a love of the good things of life, and a wicked sense of humour, it’s pretty clear why that might be so.

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Doctor Lecter! Doctor Who?

David Tennant, the tenth Doctor Who, has told Entertainment Weekly that he was in consideration for the role of Hannibal Lecter in the television series Hannibal that ran for three seasons from 2013-15 (and we are still hoping for a fourth?)

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Hard to imagine anyone but Mads Mikkelsen playing the role, in hindsight, although he was, at the time the show was first announced, accused of being no Anthony Hopkins. But, as it turned out, he was perfect in the role, playing Hannibal as a fallen angel, rather than Hopkin’s trickster.

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But had that deal not been done, how would Tennant have been as Hannibal? He says that he met up with Bryan Fuller (the showrunner) a couple of times, and they talked about the role, but, he adds, “Mads Mikkelsen… was a perfect choice for it”. Here he is as Kilgrave on Marvel’s Jessica Jones. A much creepier Hannibal perhaps.

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