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