The four-day family food fest known as Thanksgiving is upon us. It’s a special time of year, all about spending time with people you may or may not like, obligated to do so simply because you share some common DNA. Times are tough these days, with the world experiencing its worst recession ever, and groceries are a tad expensive. In lieu of the Cowboys-Raiders game, sit ‘em down for one or two of these culinary classics, each about on the other other white meat. If they don’t go vegetarian, they will at least keep their damn dirty hands off your leftovers.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
One of the most notorious, controversial, and disturbing gore/exploitation flicks to come out of Italy in the 1970s and ‘80s – and that’s saying a lot – Ruggero Deodato’s faux documentary tells of four filmmakers who journey into the Amazon rainforest to film local tribes and get more than they bargained for. The movie was banned in Italy and elsewhere, and Deodato was charged with obscenity and, later, with making a snuff film. (Having the actors appear alive in court helped his defense considerably.)
Motel Hell (1980)
Meet Farmer Vincent, an entrepreneurial sort who captures travelers in his booby-trapped motel, buries them up to their necks in his garden, and the force feeds them to desired plumpness before turning them into sausages – because, after all, “It takes all kinds of critters…to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters!”. When an attractive young woman enters the scene, Vincent (played by none other than Rory Calhoun) finds himself at odds with his brother and sister. Homicidal hijinks and a chainsaw duel ensue.
The Silence of the Lambs, et al (1986-2007)
Sir Anthony Hopkins won an Academy Award for his performance as the brilliant, psychotic Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the 1991 thriller. As elegant as he is carnivorous, Lecter was the ultimate post-modern boogeyman, a slasher you could believe in. Brian Cox debuted the character in the largely forgotten Manhunter a few years earlier; Hopkins’ performance was so powerful that he was paid top dollar to reprise the role in the sequel Hannibal and prequel Red Dragon. (The less said about the 2007 prequel-prequel Hannibal Rising the better.)
As the saying, you may not want to eat the sausage once you know how it’s made. Bob Balaban directed this tweaking of ‘50s nostalgia, about a young suburban who starts to think something’s not quite right about Mom and Dad – specifically, that they’re grilling up more than just burgers in the backyard. Randy Quaid makes for a delightfully eerie man of the house. An obscure black comedy classic.
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, Her Lover (1989)
One of Peter Greenaway’s most controversial productions, this visually posh, often scatological bite of cinema centers on the cook at a posh restaurant frequented by a crime lord whose long-suffering wife begins an affair with a writer, with tragic results. An assault on the senses and sacred cows alike, topped off by a climax in which star Helen Mirren convinces the cook to “prepare” her slain amour, and [SPOILER!] forces her loathsome husband to dine on him at gunpoint — suggesting he “try the cock. You know where it’s been.”
Based on a true story about a Uruguayan rugby team forced to take desperate measures in order to survive after they are stranded in the Andes by a plane crash. Lost in the frozen peaks, they endure weeks of frigid weather, avalanches, injuries, and dwindling food supplies. It is the later that convinces them to consume the flesh of those who died in the crash in order to survive. Expertly and compassionately directed by Frank Marshall, it’s a rare film in which the ultimate taboo is not played for laughs or schlock horror.
Cannibal! The Musical (1996)
Produced, directed by, and starring South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, this student-film-from-hell tells the sordid true story of Alferd Packer, a Colorado pioneer who, to date, is the only person in the US to be convicted of cannibalism. Did we mention it’s a musical? The cheerful musical numbers collide with over-the-top gore, resulting in something akin to Oklahoma! meets The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Antonia Bird’s under-appreciated horror-drama about a disgraced Army officer reassigned to a remote outpost after being disgraced in battle during the Mexican-American War. A half-dead guide shows at the fort with a harrowing tale of snowbound men resorting to cannibalism; however, all is not as it seems. Largely forgotten, a taut story and top-notch cast that includes Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, Jeremy Davies, Neil McDonough, David Arquette, and Jeffrey Jones, make for an enjoyably warped experience. (Davies screaming “He was licking me!” is enough to make it worth renting.)
Keep the River on Your Right (2000)
In 1955, anthropologist Tobias Schneebaum trekked into the jungles of Peru, where he is accepted by a native tribe and, later, a tribe of cannibals (and later claimed to have participated on one occasion). In this intriguing documentary, Schneebaum retraces his journey and relives the scarring memories of his experiences. Dragging the aged Schneebaum (afflicted with Parkinson’s disease) back into the jungle to retrace those traumatic steps reeks of exploitation, but the film’s subject rises above it and is surprisingly open and honest.