I apologize for my recent blogging silence; I moved and didn't have internet access for quite a while.
Anyway, is there any human fear that equals cannibalism? This taboo is truly one of the most terrifying, as it shows that people really are animals. It would be all too easy to suggest Cannibal Holocaust as the be-all, end-all of cannibal flicks. Indeed, it is a particularly gruesome, unflinching, graphic look at the darkest parts of humanity. Although I do enjoy it, I understand that it's not for everyone. Therefore, I'll suggest some films that probably won't make you vomit. (For the record, I'm a vegetarian.)
Some cannibalism has peppered the history of America. During Western expansion, groups like the Donner party became hopelessly lost and unprepared for the cruel winter. The Mexican-American War delayed their rescue, causing survivors to resort to cannibalism. 1999's Ravenous (directed by Antonia Bird) is set during similar circumstances: an American Army Captain (Guy Pearce), traumatized by his experiences in the war, is transferred to a quiet mountain post. Shortly after his arrival, a traveler arrives and describes how his wagon became lost in the mountains, forced to resort to cannibalism for survival.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of any cannibal film is casting the perfect lead. He must be able to act certifiably insane while maintaining authority. The people behind the film certainly struck gold when they cast Robert Carlyle. After all, if the actor can play Hitler, he can probably portray a cannibal pretty convincingly. Carlyle brings a certain succulence to his character, lingering over his taunts and enjoying every morsel of torture. His pleasure is an absolute delight to watch.
So we've established that the film includes cannibalism, but what's even worse than everyday, run-of-the-mill cannibalism? Cannibalism with a curse. When a character tastes human flesh, he is cured of his ailments, but he will forever need to eat humans. Of course, every tale of immortality discloses the harsh, lonely life that it entails. Similarly, even the most amoral of persons would grow weary of endless murder. Is it worse to die or to need to murder forever?
After the darkness of Ravenous, you'll probably need a chuckle. The whimsical French film Delicatessen (1991, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro) is a charming black comedy lovechild of Sweeney Todd and Amelie. The tale is set in post-apocalyptic France, so the idea of cannibalism is not so demonized. Instead, it's the means of procuring human flesh: a landlord/butcher simply murders his tenants. But some people have managed to avoid cannibalism altogether. An underground group of vegetarians live on the fringes of society, showing that there is an alternative to the desperate reliance on the butcher.
The true beauty of the film lies in its surrealist quirks. Everything is exaggerated to grotesque heights through the use of sharp shots, close ups, and unflattering angles. The picture has a rich yellow tone to it, making everything appear jaundiced and filthy (it is, after all, the apocalypse). While this could be distracting, it instead highlights the repellent nature of the apartment building and its tenants. Add in elements of slapstick humor taken to very dark places, and you have a delightful, humor take on cannibalism. Frankly, it's probably the most you'll laugh at a cannibal movie (at least, I hope so).
And that's it for our trip down Cannibal Lane. I hope you have a festive St. Patrick's Day. Remember to avoid soylent green!