BLOODY HELL (Alister Grierson, 2020)

This is a ripsnorter of a thriller, and full of surprises. Defiantly internationalist, the film is an Australian-British action/horror film directed by Alister Grierson (Kokoda, Sanctum, Tiger) and written by Robert Benjamin. It is set in a basement in Helsinki Finland with scenes in Boise, Idaho, and features mostly Australian and New Zealand actors, with American or Finnish accents and dialogue as necessary. It was made on the Gold Coast in Queensland (as many blockbusters have been recently).

The main characters are both personas of Rex (Ben O’Toole – Hacksaw Ridge, Detroit, The Water Diviner).  O’Toole is superb (imagine a combination of Bruce Willis and Robert Downey Jr) in two roles: both the physical Rex and his inner voice, the part of him (and all of us) which commentates his life and ordeals, screams abuse, even when pretending to be calm and collected or even unconscious, and debates the best responses, rational or emotional, to every aspect of what is going on around him. O’Toole called this Rex his character’s “conscience”, but it’s not a Freudian split between an ego and a superego (or id) – it is more nuanced, and the invisible Rex (invisible to other characters – the audience and physical Rex can see and hear him) argues about practical and ethical issues all the time, sometimes compassionate, sometimes sneering and violent. That inner voice, as we all know, is exhausting.

Rex and his inner voice are off to Finland. Why? Well, Rex was in a bank, chatting to a teller he fancied, when a gang of heavily armed men came storming in and violently robbed both the bank and the customers. Rex, ex-military, was able to take on the gang and kill them all, but the last one was ready to surrender when invisible Rex screamed:

As the last robber collapsed, dickless, his gun went off, killing an innocent teller who had been hiding in a cupboard. Rex became a media sensation, with half the population calling him a hero, and the rest a “psycho twat”, and a plea bargain saw him in jail for eight years for causing the teller’s death, leading to his decision to emigrate, on his release. In a flashback to his court case, Rex is asked why he shot the bank robber in that particular spot.

“I wanted him down… and I didn’t want him to reproduce… win – win!”

Why Finland? Well, he shot spitballs at a world map in his jail cell, and fate led him to that country. Where, unfortunately, a family of cannibals awaited him, and he wakes up, barely twenty minutes into the film, hanging by his wrists from a water pipe in a dark basement.

With the classic trope of cannibal films, used so well in Texas Chain Saw Massacre – the extreme close-up.

He is missing a leg, blood dripping from the stump, but his inner Rex is still fine and walking around, and furious at their precarious situation. Our imaginary self, after all, is as threatened by our mortality as we are.

It is clear to us, the audience, that Rex’s body parts are a living larder, although it takes the Rexs a bit longer to figure out why his leg is missing.

“Black market limb trade… is that a thing? I’m pretty sure there’s a niche there.”

It’s actually a very funny film – the dialogue between the two Rexs and even some of the murderous Finns is often hilarious. Rex pulls himself up to the huge knot to try to free himself with his teeth, observing that, short of one leg,

Rex’s love interest is Alia (Meg Fraser – Leech) the daughter, who has spent her life trying to escape her family.

Rex offers to “rescue” her (which considering his position is ambitious), and tells her,

“If we get out of here, I’ll tell you the whole story over dinner. I’ll even pay, huh?”

Now Rex has to dump on vegans to the girl whose family is upstairs eating the meat of his right leg; the family are definitely not vegans, nor can they see anything much wrong in giving their oldest son his preferred meat species. Alia explains that her older brother Pati is “the oldest and the hungriest”. Like Rex, he certainly does like a bit of meat, but, like the Wendigo, there is only one source that will satisfy him. Many omnivores will eat any meat except human. Pati will eat any meat as long as it’s human. As omnis like to say “it’s a personal choice.”

“He’s the reason you’re here. And very soon, there will be nothing left of you.”

Cannibal Studies is usually concerned with the anthropological or metaphorical aspects of the act – exposing the outsider as uncivilised, or else dripping irony about our own rapacious appetites. This film manages to do both, as Rex rants about the Finnish family, and how he wants to be back in the good ol’ USA,

Which is ironic, because if you check the “Cannibal News” category on this blog, you will see that a goodly proportion of modern cases of cannibalism occur in the good ol’ USA (and none in Finland*). The USA is the apotheosis of consumer societies where, just like Alia’s brother,

The rest of the film concerns Rex’s attempts to escape – not easy when one leg is gone and one of the family members has just tried to saw off the second one. You’ll have to see it to find out how that goes. It’s well worth it. Film critic Rob Hunter sums it up nicely:

“It’s a serious tale of survival encased in blackly comic humor, maliciously creepy twins, and the most sweetly sensual stump-washing scene you’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing.”

The movie premiered in Australia on October 8, 2020, and in the United States a day later at the Nightstream Film Festival. It has a 91% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, with comments like “blissfully, absurdly over-the-top, but in a twistedly charming way”.

This is a blackly humorous horror-thriller, and is quite brilliantly executed by Alister Grierson, particularly as the hero, normally the action figure of such stories, is tied to the ceiling and missing a leg for most of the film. You might think that would slow down the pace, but director Grierson keeps it tearing along. I usually stop and start when reviewing a movie, but this one I gulped down in one sitting, then came back for details.

As for the lead actor, Ben O’Toole, he seems to have got a taste for the cannibal stories. He said in an interview that he’d like to play Titus Andronicus, who was William Shakespeare’s favourite cannibal.

Let’s not forget, too, how much cannibalistic symbolism is involved in sex, such as “I could eat you up” as well as various foodie words for cunnilingus and felatio. And of course the French (or Finnish) kiss, when Rex and Alia finally escape.

And just to prove other people like puns too, here is the last frame of the film.

* Actually, there is a case of Finnish cannibalism – Jarno Elg, a supposed Satanist, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1998 for murdering a 23-year-old man, eating some of the body parts and inciting some friends to participate in a ritual that included torturing the victim while listening to songs from The Cainian Chronicle album by the Norwegian black metal band Ancient. Elg was granted parole in 2014.

The movie is available at Amazon.

   

Cannibal Dad: WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (Mickle, 2013)

I’m publishing this blog on Sunday 6 September, which is fathers’ day in Australia and New Zealand, but hardly anywhere else (e.g. it’s June in the US, UK, Canada, China, etc). Well, turns out there are several fathers’ days, which is fair, because there are several different kinds of father.

The father in this movie is a keen family man, and also a cannibal. The patriarchal symbolic order of this family is: the father catches them, the mother (or daughter) slaughters and cooks them.

If the prey weren’t human, some might consider that “normal”.

This time last year (on father’s day down under) I blogged about a Mexican film translated to the same as this one: We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay). Now, we all know that American remakes of “foreign” (i.e. non-American) films can be disastrous (remember Godzilla?) and, to be fair, Jim Mickle, the director, did not like the idea of remaking the excellent Mexican version just so American audiences did not have to read subtitles. But he and co-screenwriter Nick Damici came up with a new angle. In the Mexican film, the father dies, causing family conflict over the role of cannibal patriarch; in this one, it’s the mother that dies, and the children must decide whether to follow the tradition and authority of their father, or follow their own paths.

Frank Parker (Bill Sage) is left widowed when his wife starts shaking and bleeding from the mouth, then collapses, falls into a ditch and drowns. She has just finished shopping at the general store where, through the pouring rain, a butcher carries a dead pig from a truck marked “Fleischman’s” (German for meat man) – the pig’s corpse is cut up and the flesh is minced.

What they’re doing to the pig would usually be considered unremarkable, except that, knowing this is a cannibal movie, we expect the same thing will happen to humans somewhere around the end of Act I.

This is an ultra-religious, white family in the rainy Catskills, and everything they do is avowed to be God’s idea. The daughters, Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner from Ozark) explain to their little brother that he can’t have his cereal, because the family is fasting.

Fasting is usually followed by a ceremonial feast, which this family calls “Lamb Day”.

It is a family tradition passed down from 1781 – we get a flashback via a family journal which is handed to Iris – it was started by their ancestor Alyce Parker (Odeya Rush from Goosebumps) when her father fed them their uncle in one of those pioneering cannibalism events with which American history is so replete (think the Jamestown “starving time” several decades earlier, or the Donner Party several decades later). The Parker descendants have been cannibals ever since.

Their religious tradition requires eating human flesh on special occasions; while the wider community’s ritual anthropocentric carnivorous sacrifice requires the (far more regular) consumption of other mammals, such as the pig being carried through the store.

Eating meat requires the “deanimalisation” of the chosen victim, often by dividing the carcass up into named components like “spare ribs” or “rump”. The Parkers work the same way. Like a cooking show, we witness them “process” the carcass, then cook and consume the flesh; only worth filming because we know (or willingly suspend our disbelief) that this is human meat.

Rene Girard says we maintain social amity by the sacrifice of a surrogate victim, a symbolic consumption of our violent impulses – we eat an outsider instead of warring with each other. For most people, it’s a non-human animal; for the Parkers, it’s whoever is unlucky enough to get a flat tyre near their property. In stark contrast, the Parker’s neighbour Marge (Kelly McGillis from Witness) is vegetarian, and her offers of help to the family are variously accepted or brutally rebuffed, depending on whether it’s Lamb Day. Marge gets a hint that cannibalism, extreme carnivorism, runs in the family when she steps in to nurse the sick little brother. Has he inherited the family hunger?

Cannibalism movies often cling to the Wendigo hypothesis – that there is a metaphysical force that drives the eaters, once having tried human flesh, to crave ever increasing amounts of it – to need it for their very survival. A classic of this genre is Antonia Bird’s film Ravenous. In the original Mexican version of this film, the family believe they need their cannibal ceremony to survive. It’s the same in this version, with the father convinced that when he gets shaky and his mouth bleeds, this means God is telling him it’s time for Lamb Day.

But there’s a modern twist. The town’s (apparently only) doctor (Michael Parks) performs an autopsy on the mother, which reveals that her ailments were more closely related to the disease kuru, which killed hundreds of Fore people in Papua New Guinea and was believed to have been caused by eating the brains and spinal columns of dead relatives in funerary rites.

Then the doc’s dog finds a human bone washed downstream by the floods, and he begins to suspect what happened to his own missing daughter.

Kuru is a prion disease, similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or “mad cow disease”), and is often quoted as a reason why we shouldn’t eat people, in case they have abnormal prion proteins, although that argument is no more convincing than the one against eating cows in case they have BSE (safest option for avoiding spongiform encephalopathy is: go vegan). At any rate, this family have been engaging in cannibalism for some 240 years, believing they are doing God’s will, and hey, who invented kuru anyway?

As Hannibal would say – “typhoid and swans – it all comes from the same place”.

The father’s day feast at the end of the movie is spectacular, and the girls drive off with the diary from 1781, unaware of the kuru diagnosis, and presumably still believing in the necessity to obey God’s will and eat people occasionally. Honestly, it wouldn’t be the stupidest thing that’s ever been blamed on the deity.

Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie 86% fresh, with most critics liking it, and a couple of them really detesting it. The London Evening Standard asked:

“Who can resist a good cannibal movie?”

Well, my gentle readers, clearly not us. And this is a good one.

A complete listing of Hannibal blogs can be viewed here:
https://thecannibalguy.com/2020/07/08/hannibal-film-and-tv-blogs/

Immigrants and cannibals: TWO HEADS CREEK (Jesse O’Brien, 2019)

The thread that runs through cannibalism texts, from Homer’s Cyclops to Harris’ Hannibal Lecter, is the social outsider. It is a theme that never seems to age, since humans love to form cliques, united by an irrational hatred of those who don’t belong, even if it’s just because they dress differently or support a different sporting team. The most obvious example at the moment, and for most of modern history, is the immigrant.

Norman is played by Jordan Waller who also wrote the script – you may have seen him appear in the TV series Victoria. He runs his mother’s Polish butcher shop in Slough (it’s a real place, although there is definitely a pun in there). It’s post-Brexit Britain, and the locals scream abuse and paint his windows with dog-shit.

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He’s English, but his shop sells Polish meats, so he is the hated outsider. His twin sister Anna (Kathryn Wilder) is the assertive one, and is totally uninterested in his butcher shop.

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When they discover at their mother’s funeral (held in the butcher shop) that they were adopted, they find a postcard from their mother, postmarked from a small Australian town: Two Heads Creek. Not sure if this is international invective, but in Australia, “two-heads” is pretty much a synonym for “inbred”, and is used to denigrate rural people. The outsider does not need to come from outside – just a different region will do.

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Norman is named after his mothers’ favourite singer, the Australian pop star Normie Rowe, who was enormously popular in the sixties, until the government decided to conscript him to the war in Vietnam as a publicity stunt. Normie’s oeuvre is featured heavily in the soundtrack. Nevertheless, the twins know nothing of Australia as they sell the butcher shop and head “Down Under” to seek their birth mother, except for clichéd English convict stereotypes, so when the customs agent asks if he has a criminal record, Norman answers “is that a prerequisite?” They travel ten hours to the outback town with a group of Asian immigrants, on a bus driven by an Indigenous man, Apari (Gregory J. Fryer) who is treated like dirt by their guide.

This is a blog about movies involving cannibalism, so it’s probably not a big spoiler to mention why the immigrants are being sent to Two Heads Creek.

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Australian governments of both parties have a long-standing practice of locking up refugees in offshore detention and leaving them there to rot or go mad. So far, they have not considered cannibalism as a solution, so we have to hope they don’t see this movie.

There are lots of explicit cannibalism scenes, as well as some cute intertextual references, e.g.

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The movie is far from subtle in its treatment of jingoism, racism, sexism and various other discriminatory practices popular in Australia and elsewhere.

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But an important thing to realise about cannibalism is that it is an ultimate equaliser – although only certain groups may be chosen as victims, once skinned and cooked, we are all the same. Our differences are, literally, skin deep.

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The scenes of cannibalism are accompanied by another soundtrack, this one the Aussie group Skyhooks, with their big hit “Horror Movie” which, in the song, turned out to be about watching the evening news, and so is just as relevant now as ever. Perhaps more so.

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They do get to meet (and almost eat) their mother, yes, she is named Mary (the wonderful Kerry Armstrong from Lantana, Seachange and so much more), who perplexes them by describing their father as “a good man”.

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The final act is a climax of gore, wildly over the top and full of people being stabbed in the crotch, presumably for the 14-year-old-boy market. The main antagonist, Apple (Helen Dallimore) gets shot with an arrow and goes into the giant meat-mincer with her middle finger the final part to be ground up, while screaming the theme of the movie:

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The best line of the film is from their mother, who is hit in the neck by a lethal boomerang studded with nails, but dismisses it as “only a flesh wound”

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Apari, a descendant of the original inhabitants of the land, is left to clean up the blood and corpses that litter the town. With some justification, as he watches the Australians and the English hobble off, he says:

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This well-crafted film is only the second feature from Australian director Jesse O’Brien. He said of the setting, the mining town of Cracow in the Banana Shire, 500km northwest of Brisbane, that

“I think that myth of the outback being ‘a scary place’, which isn’t always true, does fit rural Queensland really well.”

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The cast is great and the film is fresh, funny and still manages to ask some interesting questions about differences and about appetites. It has a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Film Threat described it as:

“A deliciously deranged horror-comedy, overflowing with blood and wit.”

The movie is available on Amazon Prime.