CANNIBAL COMEDY

Elma Cremin

Co-Founder at Followthethread
A long-time fixture of New York’s glittering social scene, Miami’s jai lai courts, and the interstate highway system’s “big rigs,” Elma Cremin has spent her life absorbing all things pop culture.Movies, cult tv shows, documentaries, art, fashion—you cut her and she’ll bleed out in the colors of an Andy Warhol Brillo Pad box. Finally, after years of working inside the system with such networks as Sundance, Trio, Fuse TV and Ovation, she went “ghost protocol” and co-founded FollowTheThread in order to work outside the petty restraints of the industry and share her remarkable knowledge.

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The very thought of real cannibalism makes us sick – which is probably why we find it morbidly delightful in comedies.

To whet your appetite here is a link to a 1970 Monty Python cannibal skit:

YouTube

We’re inspired this week by the release of the absurdist cannibal French film Slack Bay which premiered at Cannes 2016.

slack SLACK BAY (2016) 

Director Bruno Dumont cites Peter Sellers, Monty Python, and Laurel and Hardy as cinematic influences for his delightful foray into his absurdist farce. 

His cast is a mashup of pros and amateurs. The elder Van Peteghems are played by the cream of French cinema, Juliette Binoche and Fabrice Luchini, while the Bruforts are played by local nonactors whose authentic gruffness undercuts the stars’ antic flamboyance beat for beat. Dumont raises conflicts of class, character, and gender into an off-kilter legend.

He is equally brazen with his bold mashup of genres — cops-and-cannibals, high-society-drawing-room, and rustic-outdoors comedy, set in a French seaside resort village in 1910. The bourgeois Van Peteghem clan vacation in their villa overlooking the bay; the Brufort family of mussel-gatherers and ferrymen live on a ramshackle farm in the lowlands. Several tourists have disappeared, and two loopy police inspectors investigate in vain—what they don’t know is that the Bruforts have been eating them.

As the grisly mysteries mount and love blossoms between the family’s transgender teen and the son of a local fisherman, Binoche and company ratchet the slapstick up to eleven.

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cook thiefTHE COOK, THE THIEF, THE WIFE THE LOVER (1989) 

Peter Greenaway’s sumptuous genre-bender stars Helen Mirren as the wife to an English gangster named Albert Spica who finds herself trapped, offended, and disgusted by her husband’s thuggish ways, as night after night he takes over the dining hall of the restaurant he owns.

She spots a quiet bookish type who dines alone and becomes entangled in a secret affair with him—that is until her crook husband finds out. Spica kills the guy, but Mirren’s Georgina gets the last laugh—when she brings the body back to the restaurant’s chef, makes him cook her deceased lover, and forces her husband to eat the body.

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eatingraoulEATING RAOUL (1982)

Director/co-writer Paul Bartel stars as Paul Bland, who with his wife Mary (Mary Woronov) play a prudish married couple living in Hollywood who take to murdering swingers in their apartment building for a little extra cash.

Robert Beltran plays Raoul, a small time criminal who witnesses the Blands’ dirty business and strikes a bargain for his silence, sharing the profits from the murder victims (Raoul also strikes up a sexual relationship with Mary).

Eating Raoul successfully walks the tightrope between delight and disgust — its absurdist sense of humor makes it an enjoyable romp even when its subject matter becomes rather bleak.

Bartel, a graduate of the “Roger Corman School,” keeps things lively, and often times the movie plays like a sitcom gone pitch black. The characters were meant to return for a sequel entitled Bland Ambition, which Bartel wrote with original screenwriter Richard Blackburn, but it failed to materialize.

Amazon

delicatessenDELICATESSEN (1991) 

Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet became instant cult darlings with Delicatessen, their darkly delicious debut. Set in a steampunky, post-apocalyptic Paris, the movie concerns an apartment building and the building’s bizarre inhabitants.

Caro and Jeunet toy with the interrelationships among the tenants — in the film’s trailer, the squeaky springs of a couple making love echo, in one form or another, throughout the building.

The man making love in the trailer is the butcher (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), who serves as the de facto landlord of the building and offers up cannibalistic delicacies. Caro and Jeunet are working in full-on comic book mode here, and even the cannibalism is delivered on screen with a dash of madcap surrealism.

The movie’s combination of gruesomeness and absurdity has aged well, as have its playful touch with such a dark subject.

YouTube    Amazon    Google Play

Sweeney-Todd-Mrs-Lovett-660x331SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (2007)

Tim Burton’s adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s beloved 1979 musical, is based on the exploits of the so-called barber (Johnny Depp) who gives his customers too close a shave. This is old school horror movie stuff, with a touch of dark humor.

The cannibal part comes in when the grisly and greedy Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), becomes Todd’s partner in crime, disposing of the bodies by dicing them up into meat pies and serving them to the patrons of the pub she owns. Burton adds touches of his signature dark whimsy — such as a musical number composed of shots of people getting their throats slit.

There’s a love story here too, and a tale of revenge, plus Todd trying to reconnect with his long lost daughter. But on purely cinematic terms, it’s really all about the murders and the meat.

iTunes   Google Play   YouTube

cannibalCANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL (1993)

Before South Park, before Book of Mormon, Cannibal! was Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s low-budget first feature, based on Parker’s obsession with one of the grisliest episodes from the Old West – a guide eating his companions after running into trouble in the Rocky Mountains. Perfect material for a feel-good musical.

It references the ‘Donner Party’, the other infamous case of cannibalism from the era. Set in 1873, this musical focuses on Alfred Packer who is accused of cannibalizing members of his West-traveling party.

Given Matt & Trey’s sensibilities, it’s no surprise that the film is an absurdist farce—Japanese are cast as Indians, a cyclops’s eye spurts pus, and Alfred has a kung-fu fight with a fur trapper named Frenchy.

Cannibal! is surprisingly light on gore for a Troma Team release concentrating instead on sight gags, sex jokes, and absurd songs like “Shpadoinkle” and “Hang the Bastard.”

Amazon

BULLETS GRATIA BULLETS

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Kris

Can't decide what to watch?FollowTheThread.
Each week Elma and I give you 5 opinionated but culturally relevant choices, based on our experience of curating smart sticky stuff for Ovation, Trio, Bravo, A&E, Sundance, Fuse, and others.
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With the release of Reservoir Dogs 25 years ago, Quentin Taremtino launched a thousand genre-bending would-be artistes.

Rabble-rousing British director Ben Wheatley, in league with his wife and collaborator Amy Jump, have been among the more successful. 

Free Fire is their latest project,  and they’ve decided to supercharge Chekov’s  edict about the gun in the first act (got to be used by the third): if a crate full of assault weapons appears in the first act, why not screw the plot and just let ‘er rip?   

Say what you will about the Wheatleys, they aren’t dull, so in their honor, this week we’ve picked a selection of “Super B’s” — films with auteur aspirations and genre roots, 

   

FREE FIRE
FREE FIRE (2017)

British director Ben Wheatle seems perennially poised on the brink of that transformational Tarentino-style breakthrough.   His career started with a wild grab-bag of projects — animation, viral videos and adverts; TV shows (check out seasons 5&6 of our cult favorite Ideal and the whacked sketch series Modern Life).  With grade school sweetheart/wife/screenwriter/ collaborator Amy Jump he launched his online laboratory mrandmrswheatley.

In 2009 they dived into features with the 8 day/$30,000 Sopranos-meets-Mike-Leigh crime drama Down Terrace.

In their latest, they’ve virtually eliminated plot: if this is violence porn, who cares if the pizza delivery guy gets home?

It makes sense on at least one level – their last film, a style-driven adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s dystopian novel High-Rise was regarded as a noble failure at best.  So why not shoot for the mainstream with a Tarentino-meets-Richey bullet fest?  Starring, among others, Oscar winner Brie Larson.

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A Field In England
A FIELD IN ENGLAND (2013)

One of the reasons everybody holds out so much hope for the Wheatleys is that despite being steeped in pop/mainstream culture the Mr. and the Mrs. have a relentlessly arty  streak – as exhibited by their fourth film, the B&W historical drama A Field in England.

If they were satisfied with simply churning out cult classics, the Wheatleys might be happier puppies.  But you always get the feeling that they’re torn between a desire for a mainstream hit and critical acceptance; in interviews Wheatley roll calls all the right names: Roeg, Goddard, Cronenberg, Kubrick.

Shot on $300k in 13 days, A Field is set in the 17th century during the British civil wars – the period which inspired Hobbes famous “nasty, poor, brutish, and short.”  A Field in England hits every miserable base and adds in buried treasure, alchemy, and, just for good measure, some psychedelic mushrooms.

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 Reservoir Dogs
RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

We’re old enough to remember the tremor that Reservoir Dogs produced, foreshock to the earthquake of Pulp Fiction.  Despite the scores of imitators, nobody has been able to duplicate its louche brilliance.   Not even, for us, Guy Ritchie who was fun but slight.

 

Of course you’ve seen it, probably more than once.  But it’s been a few years.  Don’t you want to watch it again?

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Shivers
SHIVERS (1975)

The Wheatleys have done horror flicks too.  Canadian master  David Cronenberg used that genre to mine his own deep obsessions, resulting in widespread acclaim.

Shivers was Cronenberg’s first commercial feature and he used it to start his own subgenre (body horror; parasites erupting from victim’s stomachs, two years before Alien).  He married it to a cultural critique provocative enough to trigger arguments in the Canadian Parliament.

The whole film takes place in a antiseptic upscale apartment building.  An aging scientist – Hobbes, Dr. Emile Hobbes — kills a teenaged girl, cuts open her stomach and pours in acid; and then commits suicide.

Only gradually do we learn that Hobbes wasn’t psycho killer but an idealist desperately trying to save the world the world.  Believing that in the antiseptic modern world humans had lost touch with their deeper natures, he created a sluglike parasite to bring them back into balance.  And he believed so strongly that he implanted the sluglike parasite in his teenage mistress.  Oops – it infected her with irresistible sexual desire.  He kills her in a futile attempt to stop the parasite from spreading.

Too late patient zero has already screwed half the men in the building, and we watch the parasite spread like wildfire.  By the end of the movie the whole city is doomed.

Wheatley was following in Cronenberg’s footsteps when he adapted an unfilmable J.G. Ballard novel.  But Crash was something astounding you’d never seen before, whereas High-Rise was flashy but static. Not even Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons could save it.

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REDEMPTION
THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2012)

 This kinetic tour de force of action and bullets is the bar that  Wheatley has to clear with Free Fire.  Even though it was made by a British film-school grad artistic pretensions are put aside for dead-on world-class genre.

Welsh director Gareth Ewans is 6’7” and for many years lived in Jakarta with his Indonesian wife and daughter.

After graduating from film school in Wales, he signed on to direct a documentary about pencak silat, an Indonesiam martial art form.  Through that he discovered pencak silat expert Iko Uwais working as a deliveryman and cast him in their first feature, the low-budget Merantau, which became a cult hit and led to two Raid films.

In The Raid, Iko Uwais plays Rama, member of a SWAT team who are trapped in a high rise when a gang raid goes wrong.  Rama and his fellow officers must then battle their way out of the complex fighting both drug lords and corrupt cops but enlisting unexpected help along the way.

Uwais also choreographed all the action sequences.

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A Clockwork Orange
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1972)

Even though The Killing inspired them all, for violent choreography nothing trumps the Singin’ In The Rain sequence from A Clockwork Orange.   In a Guardian article, Wheatley recalls traveling to Paris to see it.

This was because Kubrick himself asked Warners to pull it in the UK after it was linked to several cases of juvenile violence and his family got threats.  It didn’t reappear in England until after Kubrick’s death.

As dystopian violence goes, it is still without parallel.  At the time, Kubrick toned it down in various ways for release in various countries; but even after all these years it’s still at the edge of the envelope, equally mesmerizing and disgusting.

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