With Chianti & Fava Beans: Celebrating a Few of the Best Cannibal Horror Movies
By Giallo Julian & Ashley Hilt
Cannibalism…I don’t have a profound statement to go along with that, I’m just stating what this article is about. Specifically, cannibalism in film. There are enough flicks about the subject that it has developed its own subgenre. Why? Because cannibals are cool, that’s why! At least, movie cannibals are (no offense to any cannibals reading this). There’s just something about a person craving the flesh of his fellow man that lends itself to interesting, well-thought-out narratives about the nature of the human condition…and also mindless, gore-filled, blood-soaked grindhouse schlock.
Tackling cannibals alone is a bad idea, however! That’s why I asked Ashley Hilt to accompany me on this expedition to the dark jungles & frozen mountains that people-eaters are known to roam…and by that, I mean we’re going to talk about a couple of our favorite films in the genre. Safety in numbers! Let’s dig in!
Ashley’s Pick #1
Cannibal Ferox (Directed by Umberto Lenzi; Starring Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Lorraine De Selle, Danilo Mattel; 1981)
“Three friends set out to disprove cannibalism on a trip to the Amazonian jungle, where they meet two men trying to escape a vicious cannibal tribe.” (via IMDB)
Directed by Umberto Lenzi, Cannibal Ferox is often in competition with cult classic Cannibal Holocaust. Most fans argue which film came first, who ripped off what, and so on. Ferox was released in 1981 while Holocaust was released in 1980. However, Lenzi has a history in the Italian cannibal genre with his 1972 film Sacrifice! (also known as Man From Deep River). So, who came first? I’m not sure that really makes a difference here.
The film does not hold anything back. The antagonist is highly unlikeable, which is nice because he does get what he deserves, but it is hard to watch him be so cruel. My largest gripe is not just the authentic animal killings, but how excruciating those animal deaths are. They go on for way too long and seem to be shown for no real plot development.
The music is hilarious, not fitting the atmosphere most of the time, which makes it almost impossible to take the scenes seriously. The practical effects are very well done, however. They use a lot of editing to hide what they knew wouldn’t look good, but there’s still plenty of shots that make you question if what you’re seeing is actually real or not.
While there are better cannibal movies out there, Cannibal Ferox is worth a watch. It is a classic cult movie and when you see the revenge take place, it’s satisfying. I wouldn’t say it offers anything new to the genre, but if you like these movies, then you will enjoy what it has to offer.
Giallo’s Pick #1
Ravenous (Directed by Antonia Bird; Starring Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, David Arquette; 1999)
“In a remote military outpost in the 19th century, Captain John Boyd and his regiment embark on a rescue mission which takes a dark turn when they are ambushed by a sadistic cannibal.” (via IMDB)
Cannibals & the Wendigo. They have a bit of a history together, in case you didn’t know. The whole idea is that if you find yourself up in the woods of Northern America and take a bite of some of that tasty people-meat, something will happen to you. In most cases, you turn into a horribly grotesque monster with an insatiable lust for human flesh. In this movie, you gain the strength of the devoured victim and become nearly superhuman…with an insatiable lust for human flesh. So, yeah, kind of the same thing both ways now that I think about it.
I personally feel this film is unique when it comes to the cannibal genre…mostly in how it’s essentially a vampire flick. There’s the addiction to some part of the human anatomy (“flesh” instead of “blood”), the struggle to resist the gruesome craving, how the ghoulish curse is passed down by the consumption of one’s blood and guts (par for the course), and a charismatic British man who may or may not be a monster (always British, aren’t they?)…yeah, it all checks out! My point is, if you like cannibal or vampire films, I think you’ll like this movie.
It’s tense, darkly comedic, and full of fun scenes that usually end with someone’s bits boiling in a cauldron with some potatoes. If you have already seen the film and are interested in it’s production, Atun-Shei Films did a fantastic video on the subject. Check it out!
Ashley’s Pick #2
The Green Inferno (Directed by Eli Roth; Starring Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Aaron Burns; 2013)
“A group of student activists travels to the Amazon to save the rain forest and soon discover that they are not alone, and that no good deed goes unpunished.” (via IMDB)
In 2012, Eli Roth announced that his next project would be an homage to classic Italian cannibal films and fans beamed with excitement. Roth is no stranger to guts, gore, and taboo topics. He was the perfect man to reinvigorate this seemingly dead genre. The film was set to release in 2013, but the distributor went bankrupt and we did not get to see this film until 2015. It was worth the wait.
The Green Inferno follows a group of activists that are going to Peru to stop a company from further destroying the natives’ land. After their demonstration, they celebrate before suddenly crashing into the jungle. Mistaken for the ones that have been destroying their home, the locals capture the surviving members of the group and take them as prisoners.
Eli Roth did a really good job at capturing the genre’s atmosphere. He was able to create that same lightning in a bottle that we got in the 70s and 80s, even managing to do it without killing a single animal. Personally, I feel like this one was an instant classic and I believe fans of the genre would agree with me. There’s no shortage of gore and social commentary, just like the originals. It’s a beautiful love letter and a good film to start with if you’re trying to get into the genre, especially for animal lovers. You get the same feel for the movies without being scarred for life. Plus, the modern take is refreshing to see.
Giallo’s Pick #2
Bone Tomahawk (Directed by S. Craig Zahler; Starring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox; 2015)
“In the dying days of the old west, an elderly sheriff and his posse set out to rescue their town’s doctor from cannibalistic cave dwellers.” (via IMDB)
So, let me go down the list. Cowboys? Check. Cave-dwelling cannibals? Check. Kurt Russell? Double check. One of the best gore scenes in the past decade? Oh, you bet. This film appealed to me in every way imaginable; Western-Horror that’s also a throwback to the grindhouse cannibal flicks of the 80s. Did I mention Sid Haig and David Arquette are in it, too (albeit briefly)? Just throwing that out there!
Now, I’m going to be frank with you, because I care. This film isn’t for everyone…especially those who don’t like Westerns. The first hour of this film is a slow burn (a well written and acted slow burn, but I digress) and if that’s not your thing, I get it. That being said, when it does shift focus to horror, it does so deliciously.
You want to know something else I think is interesting?…I’m going to assume you said “yes”. Thank you for indulging me, it means a lot. Anyway, turns out this movie is part of a trilogy! Thing is, the first and third parts are books…I also think it’s a strange way to go about making a series, but hey, it’s different! They aren’t connected narratively or anything, they all just follow the same theme of gore-filled horror in the Old West (oh boy!). The books are A Congregation of Jackals and Wraiths of the Broken Land. So, if you want more after watching this flick & don’t mind reading, there you go!
Well, we did it! We braved the Amazon, hiked through California’s snow-covered mountains, rode past the brutally dry desert of the West, and came back in (relatively) one piece…save for a missing bite or two. I can’t thank Ms. Hilt enough for joining me on this endeavor! Without her, I’m sure I would be snug in someone’s stomach right now. Maybe we’ll embark on a journey back here again sometime. Until then, stay full! Ciao, friends!