This is a list of movies that fit into the sub-genre of horror: the cannibal film. Even though some of these titles could hardly be called “horror,” certainly the very idea of cannibalism is a horrible one. Humans eating the flesh of fellow humans will always give people nightmares. Certain serial kellers like Jeffrey Dahmer prove that there is a (sometimes morbid) fascination with this gruesome phenomenon. In films, for that reason, audiences never seem to tire of well-made movies featuring cannibals.
Here are 15 films, in no particular order, that are stand-outs in the “cannibal” genre. (It should be explained why certain classics have been omitted. For example, DAWN OF THE DEAD might qualify for some as a “cannibal” movie due to the inclusion of eating flesh; though ultimately it [and many great others] falls more accurately in the “Zombie” sub-genre of horror. Therefore, titles that are primarily of the “zombie” genre are not on this list.)
15. Motel Hell (1980, dir. by Kevin Connor)
Most fans of horror, old or new, have seen this strange, comical, cannibal movie. Its status as a classic may be arguable, depending on whether or not you like your gore done with a bit of tongue in cheek. While Motel Hell has more than its share of gore, its reputation doesn’t rest on the special effects, or body count like other horror movies of the time. (see Friday The 13th)
The Motel Hello’s proprietors (Rory Calhoun is Farmer Vincent and Nancy Parsons is his sister, Ida) knock out certain visitors and stray travelers, bury them up to their necks while they fatten them up like cattle, then kill them when they’re “ready to become famous.” All in the “secret garden.” The corpses are ultimately mixed with pork to make Farmer Vincent’s famous smoked meats. Even the small-town sheriff (Paul Linke) is Vincent and Ida’s clueless little brother, Bruce.
Vincent believes passionately that what he’s doing is the Lord’s work. There are too many people in this world, and not enough food. Vincent and Ida manage to solve both problems at the same time.
With its respectful nods to EC Comics, and in particular, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Motel Hell is in a bizarre class all by itself. Often lumped in with the era’s “slasher” craze, the film is more original than the majority of Halloween clones could ever aspire to.
14. Raw Meat (1972, dir. by Gary Sherman)
One of the lesser-known titles on this list, Raw Meat is really worth checking out for fans of cannibal/horror films.
The two big names associated with this movie are Donald Pleasance and Christopher Lee. The movie is quite unusual, and interesting. The plot concerns London’s underground railways, in particular an accident that occurred in the late 1800’s while building a new station.
A construction collapse caused two people, a man and a woman, to be trapped down below. Rescue efforts were futile. The man and woman DO survive, and surprisingly procreate. This creates an entire race of inbred cannibals, the last remaining member of which can only say three words: Watch. The. Doors.
The way the actor playing the eventual kidnapper, Hugh Armstrong, can inflect nuances you wouldn’t believe into “watch the doors” is truly memorable. He snatches a lone woman off a subway platform to make her his new bride, ensuring that the tainted bloodlines continue. There is gore-aplenty here; the cannibal’s cave/home is adorned with the skeletons of previous underground dwellers who wound up being eaten.
Even though its reputation is small, Raw Meat should be required viewing for every fan of the cannibal sub-genre.
13. Eating Raoul (1982, dir. by Paul Bartel)
All in all, it would take an entire year for Paul Bartel to finish his pet project, filmed only when money allowed, and mostly on weekends. It was well worth the effort. The movie, written by Bartel and collaborator Richard Blackburn, remains the funniest of the genre.
In Paul Bartel’s movie, cannibalism is used as a metaphor for conspicuous consumption. Bartel and Woronov play The Blands; Paul and Mary. The apartment building they live in is just full of “swingers.” The sex-addicts’ parties go way into the night, and the Blands feel they’re generally bringing the neighborhood down. The aptly-named couple aren’t concerned with sex at all; in fact, they still sleep in separate beds like a Dorris Day household. Even their furniture is a throwback to the “fabulous 50s.”
When a “swinger” accidentally stumbles into their apartment, he foolishly makes a play for sexy (?) Mary. Paul helps his wife the only way he can: he runs into the kitchen, picks up the frying pan, and smacks the deviant’s head. Surprisingly, he has killed the intruder. When Mary looks through the pervert’s wallet, she finds hundreds of dollars in cash. They keep the money, and dump everything else down the building’s incinerator. Soon, they devise a unique solution to their money crisis.
With just a little false advertising, the couple become Cruel Carla and Naughty Nancy. Under the false pretense of unusual sex-capades, they lure “perverts” to their apartment, Paul uses his frying pan to bop them dead, and the couple then sells the bodies to their new friend, Raoul. Raoul (Paul Beltrain), sells the corpses to Doggy King dogfood as meat. Sounds ridiculous? It certainly is. It’s also ridiculously clever, and extremely funny. Bartel in a sex shop run by John Paragon (PeeWee’s Playhouse’s Jambi) is unforgettably brilliant.
Though critical reception was mixed, audiences ate it up. Helped by the relatively-new VHS rental shops, ER eventually found the audiences who appreciated its pitch-black blend of comedy, sex, murder, and yes; cannibalism.
12. Ravenous (1999, dir. by Antonia Bird)
During the Mexican-American war, Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce) is promoted after receiving an award for bravery. However, the general who gave him the award is well-aware that Boyd’s supposed bravery was actually nothing but cowardice. Albeit, cowardice that inadvertently led Boyd to take over a Mexican enemy camp.
The disgusted general stations the Captain at Fort Spencer, a snow-covered outpost populated by a bunch of strange characters. One cold day, F.W. Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) stumbles into the fort in a daze, telling a mad story of his outfit’s leader resorting to cannibalism because of their food situation. Duty-bound, the soldiers at Fort Spencer investigate the situation, with Guy Pearce in tow.
Ravenous isn’t completely sure what it wants to be. Even though the credits are designed to let the audience in on the idea that it’s also a comedy, it’s not funny. It IS a fascinating mystery, thriller, horror film combination. It may even convert viewers to vegetarianism.
At the time of its release, Ravenous would fly under everyone’s radar, though the film’s admirers would ensure that it lived on as a cult film.
11. Parents (1989, dir. by Bob Balaban)
Years before Bob Balaban made this, his directorial debut, he was probably best-known as the kid who…pleases John Voight in a cinema in Midnight Cowboy. (Yes, that’s a young Balaban retching in the sink.)
Audience reception to Parents was evenly split; half liked it, half didn’t. That’s actually indicative of how the film itself works. Half of it does, and half of it doesn’t. Overall, it’s worth watching at least once. It was the home video market that expanded Parents’s reputation as a dark, cannibal comedy/horror hybrid. The ever-growing VHS market helped many films find a larger audience.
The plot is fairly simple: The Laemle family, Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt, pack their station wagon and their son Michael and move to the suburbs in the 1950s. 10-year-old Michael can’t quite figure out exactly what is being served for dinner. (Here’s a clue: his father works with dead bodies.)
The film tries very hard to be strange and quirky, and it works more often than not. Certain scenes are fantastic. The best, surreal scene has Michael jumping on his bed in slow-motion, with the bed becoming a pool of blood that he eventually sinks and disappears in. Parents is full of those David Lynch-like flourishes. Sandy Dennis plays Michael’s concerned teacher, trying to help Michael through whatever is noticeably upsetting him.
Finally, Balaban’s debut works. It’s certainly got all the requirements of a cult film: bizarre characters, surreal imagery, and is genuinely different.
10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II (1986, dir. by Tobe Hooper)
Hooper signed a three-picture deal with Cannon Films in the mid-80s. During those years, Tobe Hooper released his contractually-obligated films: The cult vampires-in-space LIFEFORCE; the sci-fi remake homage Invaders From Mars; and last-but-not-least, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II was destined to have its problems. Looking back, it’s easy to understand Hooper’s dilemma: if the sequel was too-much like the original, fans would be predictably upset. Conversely, if The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II differed too much, fans would be predictably upset. Damned if he did, damned if he didn’t.
Hooper tried to please both factions by making a sequel that was much more obvious with its humor and politics, while at the same time delivering the blood and gore that the original notably did not have. The finished film was so graphic and over-the-top, the MPAA gave the film the anathema X rating. Cannon’s unusual decision was to release PART 2 unrated. Finally, the movie’s theatrical release earned a very disappointing 8.7 million dollars, with a reported budget of 6 million
Time, not unusually, has been extremely kind to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II. Of all the later sequels and remakes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II would come out looking the best. Dennis Hopper’s career would soon get a major boost with the release of Blue Velvet. Also, Bill Moseley is unforgettably quotable as “Chop Top,” the Hitchhiker’s logical replacement. Finally, genius Tom Savini’s gore adds much that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre lacked.
9. Microwave Massacre (1983, dir. by Wayne Berwick)
While the year of its release is known to be 1983, this movie feels and looks like it was made much earlier. It has a definite 70s look, and it wouldn’t be unbelievable to think that this obscure comedy-gore homage to Hershel Gordon Lewis might have been shelved for years and years.
Jackie Vernon stars as a construction worker married to a caricature of a pushy wife; May, played by Claire Ginsberg. Really, she’s so shrill and mean to her husband Donald, he has no recourse left but to murder her. Her death follows her purchase of a comically enormous microwave, which, when added to May’s murder, equals another cannibal/gore/comedy classic.
Vernon cuts her body up and stores it in his freezer. As days go by, he has to get rid of all the frozen “meat”. His solution is to nuke it, then eat it. Donald’s coworkers decide it’s the most delicious sandwich they’ve ever tasted. And they want more.
For a long time, it wasn’t easy to track this title down. Relax in the knowledge that Arrow Video is releasing MM in a two-disc Bluray edition later in 2016. God bless you.