In the world of cinema, cannibals are not just found in the jungles of Italian exploitation movies or gore-thirsty horror fests. As Mark Fraser has discovered, they also pop up in a range of other genres.
10. Doomsday (Neil Marshall, 2008)
When a heavily armed team of soldiers led by Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) is sent into quarantined Glasgow by the British Government to see if there are any survivors from a virus that took the city by storm some 27 years earlier, it is attacked – and some of its members captured – by a group of post-apocalyptic cannibalistic city dwellers, whose members immediately light up the barbecues so they can get their victory meal underway. A ludicrous and derivative movie on so many levels that this rowdy moment of ritualistic food preparation is probably the easiest part of the film to digest.
9. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (Peter Greenaway, 1989)
After a loathsome thug/thief (Michael Gambon) kills the lover (Alan Howard) of his wife (Helen Mirren), she takes revenge by getting the cook (Richard Bohringer) to roast and glaze the corpse before serving it up to her unsuspecting husband. His appetite suddenly gone (and, to quote Gogol, every vein in his body shuddering with revulsion), the hoodlum can only manage a mouthful before she shoots him, accusing him of being a cannibal in the process. Never has a bit of cannibalism taken part in such an opulent and tasteful setting.
8. Tales That Witness Madness (Freddie Francis, 1973)
The final vignette in this four part anthology sees literary agent Auriol Pageant (Kim Novak) and her guests being served up her daughter (Mary Tamm) at a banquet in honour of her new client (Michael Petrovich), who has orchestrated the young woman’s slaughter so he can eat the flesh of a virgin in order to placate a Hawaiian god. Not surprisingly it all ends with poor old Pageant going nuts and being committed.
7. (TIE) Cannibal! The Musical (Trey Parker, 1993)
Played strictly for laughs, this is loosely based on the true story of Alferd Packer, a Utah miner who – in 1873 – embarked on a journey to Colorado with a group of other diggers to try and cash in on a mini-mining boom. Unfortunately they got lost and starvation, along with a good dose of insanity, set in. Director Trey Parker and co-star Matt Stone revisited the subject of cannibalism in 2001 during season five of their animated television series South Park in an episode that seemed to draw from both the family-eating antics of Tales That Witness Madness and the revenge-driven sub-plot in Ridley Scott’s Hannibal (see below).
7. (TIE) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton, 2007)
Another song fest, although this time a much darker and visually richer one, based on Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s 1979 musical about a vengeful and murderous English barber (Johnny Depp) who kills his customers so his accomplice (Helena Bonham Carter) can mince up their corpses and use the meat as filling for her tasty Fleet Street pies. There’s more bloody throat slitting than cannibalism in this one.
6. Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995)
Talk proves to be not so cheap when garrulous bounty hunter Conway Twill (Michael Wincott) gets so chatty while on the trail of fugitive William Blake (Johnny Depp) that his psychotically moody co-rider Cole Wilson (Lance Henriksen) shuts him up by killing, cooking and eating him. In this instance there seems to be more gristle than meat on the bone.
5. Hannibal (Ridley Scott, 2001)
Hollywood’s most popular cannibal Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) survives an assassination attempt and rescues his favourite FBI agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) in the process. He then takes her back to the lakeside home of her corrupt superior Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta), whom he captures and drugs before cutting off the top of the law man’s skull and feeding him lightly fried slices of his own brain. Later, after escaping from Starling minus his hand, the fleeing Lecter gives a curious boy a cold slice of Krendler’s thinker that he has brought with him in a homemade snack pack. The moral of the story: lollies are not the only things children shouldn’t accept from strangers. As an aside, in Hannibal Rising, Peter Webber’s 2007 prequel, an explanation is provided as to how Lecter stumbled across his first human meal – as a child he drank a broth containing his younger sister that was cooked up by some retreating (and hungry) Lithuanian soldiers during the Second World War.
4. Soylent Green (Richard Fleischer, 1973)
New York City, 2022: While conducting a murder investigation, detective Frank Thorn (Charlton Heston) finds out that, contrary to statements made by the authorities, a processed biscuit called Soylent Green – which is used to help feed the overpopulated masses – is not sourced from plankton (which no longer exists), but comes from people. This explains why some starving street rioters, who get scooped up and carried away by modified garbage trucks, are never seen again. If anything, this movie is proof that a dysfunctional society which is kept ignorant ultimately consumes itself.
3. Alive (Frank Marshall, 1993)
Following the downing of a Chile-bound passenger flight carrying members of a Uruguayan college rugby team and some of their relatives in the Andes, the survivors end up eating the dead in order to stave off starvation. Cannibalism becomes so second nature for this unfortunate group of stranded travellers that when three of them decide to brave the elements and go looking for help, they take a supply of human meat with them as if they are packing a picnic lunch. Based on a true story.
2. Ravenous (Antonia Bird, 1999)
A loopy army officer and seasoned cannibal (Robert Carlyle) plans to convert an isolated army barracks in the Sierra Nevada Mountains into a human meat larder. He is thwarted, however, by a younger captain (Guy Pearce) who – at one point – has to revert to a bit of cannibalism himself in order to survive in the wilderness. A key lesson to take away from this movie: make sure you know what’s in the pot before you taste the stew.
1. Week-end (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)
Nothing is sacred in this story as a horrible and scheming French couple Roland and Corinne (Jean Yanne and Mireille Darc) embark on a road trip across France to secure the latter’s inheritance from her dying father, only to get caught up in a chaotically endless traffic jam. After crashing their car and ruthlessly killing a few people, they eventually come across a group of cannibalistic revolutionaries – the Seine et Oise Liberation Front – which has set up shop somewhere in the forest. The film ends with Corinne consuming the flesh of her freshly cooked husband. Viva the revolution, comrade!