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Meat Is Murder: The 10 Best Cannibal Films

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist September 25, 2013 at 2:00PM

This weekend's "We Are What We Are," an English-language remake we liked almost as much as the original, deals with a family that has a certain taste that's frowned upon in most polite circles. Simply put: they're cannibals. And cannibalism, in the long and colorful line of cinematic taboos, is certainly one of the more outrageous. But it can also provide the backdrop for seriously twisted, enjoyable, over-the-top films with the ability to scare and make you laugh, sometimes all at once. And with "We Are What We Are" on its way to theaters, it got us thinking about the best movies in which people don't just need people, they eat people.
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Eating Raoul

"Eating Raoul" (1982)
More a black comedy than an out-and-out horror movie, "Eating Raoul" walks a fine tonal tightrope and somehow manages to get away with it, mostly because its absurdist sense of humor makes it an always pleasurable romp even when its subject matter becomes rather bleak. Director/co-writer Paul Bartel stars as Paul Bland who, along 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 before striking up a bargain for his silence, sharing the profits of the murder victims (Raoul also strikes up a sexual relationship with Mary, which might be the most insane part of the whole movie). As the title suggests, the movie climaxes (spoiler alert) with a wonderfully wacky bit of cannibalism in which Raoul is both killed and consumed. Bartel, a graduate of the "Roger Corman School," knows how to keep things lively, and often times the movie plays like some pitch black sitcom gone horribly wrong (at one point Paul tries to sabotage Raoul's lovemaking by slipping him a mickey meant to diffuse his erection). Everything is arch and camp but at 83 minutes, the movie never wears out its welcome and always has something fun and goofy up its sleeve. The characters, in fact, were meant to return for a sequel entitled "Bland Ambition," which Bartel wrote with original screenwriter Richard Blackburn, but it failed to materialize. We did see a brief return of the Blands, however, in the Corman joint "Chopping Mall," which sounds like a slasher movie and not a movie about killer robot security guards running amok and blowing people's heads up (what it actually is).   

Parents

"Parents" (1989)
Like "Eating Raoul," "Parents" walks a fine tonal line between campy and horrifying, but unlike "Eating Raoul," tips more towards the terrifying, especially in a series of prolonged, nightmarish sequences in which our young protagonist Michael (Bryan Madorsky) starts imagining the outlandish horrors he suspects are quietly happening all around him. Michael is just an everyday kid living in '50s suburbia, except that he has a growing suspicion that his parents (played by Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt) are murderous cannibals. And what's more—he fears that he's feeding him their "leftovers" (when he asks his father what the leftovers were before they were leftovers, Quaid quips back, "Pre-leftovers"). Director Bob Balaban does a lovely job with the material, emphasizing the production design's period detail while also pumping up the surrealism whenever the mood suits him (to great effect, it should be noted). When the movie's funny, it's really funny, and when it's scary, it's really fucking scary. It's also a sharply satirical work, as well, showcasing the underlying nastiness of the "Leave it to Beaver" era of housewives and diligent dads. Released by the now defunct Vestron Pictures, it has gained something of a cult life on home video, although a true reappraisal of "Parents" has yet to happen. Unlike "Eating Raoul," we can't imagine this one getting the Criterion Collection treatment anytime soon. Which is a shame. 

Delicatessen

"Delicatessen" (1991)
Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet became instant filmmakers-to-watch with "Delicatessen," their darkly delicious debut. Set in a steampunky, post-apocalyptic Paris, the movie concerns an apartment building and that building's bizarre inhabitants. Caro and Jeunet are obsessed with the interconnectedness of the tenants, which is exhibited brilliantly in the film's teaser trailer, where the squeaky springs of a couple making love echo, in one form or another, throughout the building (a kid inflating the tire of a bike, a woman beating a rug, etc.) 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 zany surrealism. (The "plot" of the movie, involving Jeunet and Caro favorite Dominique Pinon and a race of underground freedom fighters, who also happen to be vegetarian, is less enjoyable than when they just let the characters, who are equal parts Federico Fellini and "Friday the 13th," do their thing.) "Delicatessen" has aged nicely, mostly because of its mixture of gruesomeness and goofiness, and its light touch with such a grisly subject.

Trouble Every Day

"Trouble Every Day" (2001)
Claire Denis’ underrated genre piece centers on two couples, each of them coping with a unique hunger. Americans Vincent Gallo and Tricia Vessey must cope with the fact that their taste skews towards human flesh, but they can’t erase the physical affection between them that intensifies when one of them opts to feed on a third party. These two are diseased in the worst sense, each of them disgusted by their own desires of the flesh: when they gaze upon the gory milieu they’ve just created, both of them know that modern science has to find a cure for them in a hurry. On the other side of the spectrum is the power dynamic between Denis regulars Alex Descas and Beatrice Dalle. Her hunger is animalistic, and it forces him to keep building restraints for her, ones that she continues to break. With minimal dialogue, both of these relationships feature co-dependent people struggling with their vices, caught between doing what’s right for their lover, and preserving the relationship. Denis’ film is memorably gory, and unforgettably gorgeous: there’s an intense eroticism to a moment when a chained-down Dalle has her way with a curious teenager, leaving behind blood-streak walls that resemble a twisted modern art exhibit. Frequent Denis collaborators The Tindersticks contribute their moodiest, most tuneful score, sensual chamber music that gracefully accents the forbidden love happening onscreen.

This article is related to: Features, Cannibal, Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal, Hannibal, Tim Burton, Ridley Scott, Trey Parker & Matt Stone, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, We Are What We Are


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