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Meat Is Murder: The 10 Best Cannibal Films

by The Playlist Staff
September 25, 2013 2:00 PM
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"Hannibal" (2001)
While Jonathan Demme's "Silence of the Lambs" will be best remembered for introducing, to the world at large, the character of Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (portrayed, in an Academy Award-winning performance, by Anthony Hopkins), it's Ridley Scott's "Hannibal" where we actually get to see him do his ghastly business. In this grotesque bit of Grand Guignol, Hopkins slices the top of the head of a federal agent (Ray Liotta), removes part of his brain, and then serves it to Liotta, all while plucky FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore subbing for Jodie Foster), half-drugged, watches on in horror. At the time the sequence made waves for its graphic violence, even though looking back on it, it's kind of cartoony and, like so many of the movies on this list, is equal parts funny and horrific. Maybe even more perverse is the movie's final scene, which shows Hannibal, now missing a hand, feeling a bit of brain to a small child on an airplane. Yick. Although, to be sure, both the brain-eating scene and the scene with the little kids and the "leftovers," are keeping with the movie's tone, which is so over-the-top that it would be hard to spot the top from where the movie is perched (it involves a pack of killer pigs and a man whose face was removed years before by Lecter, played by an uncredited Gary Oldman). There is a certain air of joylessness to the sequel, though even without some of the original ingredients, "Hannibal" does have enough bizarro charm to make it a tasty treat. 

"Blood Diner" (1987)
There's wacky and then there's "Blood Diner," a loose, pseudo-remake/sequel/something of Herschell Gordon Lewis' infamous 1963 splatter classic "Blood Feast." "Blood Diner" shares the original movie's creaky plot mechanics (involving an ancient cannibal goddess… or something) and love of purposefully phony-looking fountains of gore, and is something of a hoot. Rick Burks and Carl Crew play the owners of a vegetarian diner who slice and dice women in the hopes of resurrecting a primal goddess (it should also be noted that they are doing all of this under the command of their dead serial killer uncle, whose pickled brain they keep in a mason jar). This would be unrelentingly ghastly if the movie didn't have such a wonderful sense of humor, as corny as it is, with dialogue like "The first thing we need are a couple of stomachs from two tramps" (keep in mind the disembodied brain says this), which oscillates between the revolting and the hilarious. There are a lot of food jokes, of course, with some of the sharpest barbs reserved for the vegetarian food crave of the period. Of particular note are the film's sub-par optical effects and make-up, which only adds to the "hey-let's-put-on-a-show" atmosphere of the movie. This one is an acquired taste, we admit.    

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (2007)
Oddly overlooked upon its initial release, there should be a long, dedicated cult following ahead for Tim Burton's adaptation of the beloved Stephen Sondheim musical of the same name, which is based on the supposedly true exploits of the titular barber (played in the film, with "Bride of Frankenstein" hair, by Johnny Depp) who gave his customers a little too close of a shave. This is old school horror movie stuff, with arching arterial sprays of crimson shot against stark grey backgrounds. The "cannibal" part comes in when Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), Todd's partner in crime, disposes of the bodies by dicing them up into meat pies and serving them to the patrons of the dusty pub she owns. It's ghoulish stuff, for sure, but Burton adds a lightness of touch to the material, even when it boils down to little more than a musical number composed of various shots of people getting their throats slit. There's a love story in there, 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. As adapted by John Logan, the movie trims away much of the fat of the original musical (sorry, we couldn't resist), offering a leaner, meaner version of "Sweeney Todd," one that's all sinewy and full of muscle. While most would say that a leaner version would be less delicious, it's hard not to eat up "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," no matter how disgusting those meat pies look.

Honorable mention: Movies that almost made our list include the obvious, like "Silence of the Lambs," "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (the original, of course), and sci-fi fable "Soylent Green," as well as more marginal, esoteric fare like "Society" (by "Re-Animator" principle Brian Yuzna), "The Revenant," "We're Going to Eat You," and the original "Blood Feast," a movie that's still more fun to talk about than it is to actually watch. There's also the original "We Are What We Are," and "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover," which uses cannibalism as one of the cheekier taboos it trots out. "The Road," while less a straight-up cannibal movie than one about a father-and-son's survival in an ashy, post-apocalyptic world, still features a band or roving cannibals, as does "Doomsday" and, infamously, "C.H.U.D," a movie whose acronym-for-a-title suggests a band of Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. More recent examples include the indie curio "Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal" and Eli Roth's "Green Inferno," which just had its somewhat limp premiere at Toronto. And last but certainly not least is "Alive," the magnificent, based-on-a-true story drama about the survivors of a horrible airplane crash that are faced with the unthinkable: eating their dead fellow passengers, probably the only option worse than the airplane food itself. 

Which of your cannibalistic favorites did we miss? Sound off below.

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  • Phiip | July 23, 2014 5:43 AMReply

    You missed a masterpiece of black humor and comedy : The Green Butchers (it's a wonderful danish film).

  • pig | February 13, 2014 1:35 AMReply

    theres a movie is someone hiding from cannibal. everytime a alarm rang the cannibal will appear and hunt for human. anyone know this movie? or tittle i forgotten :S

  • wr | December 9, 2013 3:29 AMReply

    flesh eating mothers

  • meganre | December 2, 2013 6:50 AMReply

    The best cannibal movie is "Hunger." It seems so real.. and it is well acted and directed. Several people wake up in an underground hole that's finished with cement. They don't know how they got there. They are all confused. The only thing down there with them (5 or 6 people in total, can't remember) is two huge, gigantic barrels of water and some carving knives. They quickly realize that they are going to be down there for a while. One of the women is a doctor. She explains to them the side effects of hunger. As the days pass, they all get tired, weak and delerious. One man even has a heart condition. Slowly but surely, as 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 days pass..they decide to kill off the man with the heart complication and eat him. The whole movie is filmed in a way to make it seem background music, etc. It is a newer movie, I believe, 2009. Check it out. I know you all will love it..I did :)

  • GypsyEyes | January 14, 2014 12:48 AM

    Totally Agree Here!! This is actually one of my favorite movies, and a movie I go to the "more like this" section of when searching for new movies. Also the reason I came looking for this page actually... lol.

  • Kkkk | October 21, 2013 9:09 PMReply

    Definitely the Wrong turns .. Ew so nasty ..

  • Stu | October 2, 2013 4:39 AMReply

    You've missed the best cannibal film ever: Van Diemen's Land about Alexander pierce an Irish convict in Tasmania who ate his fellow convicts. It's a spectacular masterpiece of the highest order.

  • Karloff | September 30, 2013 8:08 AMReply

    And Dumplings !!! Best Cannibal Movie Ever by Fruit Chan.

  • Xian | September 29, 2013 12:54 PMReply

    Not only did you forget to mention the shockingly brief scene of the "meat" cellar (and those sad, partially limbless wraiths hiding in dark corners to avoid being on the menu in "The Road"), but you didn't mention "Quest For Fire"... it features (toward the end) a central man vs. man-meat conflict of cannibalism for the upper-paleolithic trio of men we follow in the film.

  • Pork Chop | September 28, 2013 11:03 PMReply

    2,000 Maniacs

  • Paul | September 27, 2013 10:11 AMReply

    Have you ever seen Titus (or read the Shakespeare play)? "Why, there they are, both baked in that pie which their mother hath fed, eating the flesh she herself hath bred!"

  • yorozuya emma | September 26, 2013 3:06 AMReply

    You forgot a notorious Hong Kong film called "The Untold Story"

  • Lefty | September 26, 2013 2:09 AMReply

    Too bad you didn't mention "La Peau Blanche", great film.

  • cirkusfolk | September 25, 2013 4:59 PMReply

    Ravenous is hands down the best cannibal movie ever made!

  • Mitchell | September 25, 2013 4:33 PMReply

    There's no way that Sweeney Todd (OK) and Hannibal (lousy) are better cannibal films than The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover.

  • Stu | October 2, 2013 4:40 AM

    Couldn't agree more.

  • Brett | September 25, 2013 4:22 PMReply

    The movie Cannibal should have been mentioned.

  • ED | September 25, 2013 3:14 PMReply

    Was introduced to Eating Raoul in high school on a lark. Love that movie.

  • CB | September 25, 2013 2:27 PMReply

    Anders Thomas Jensen's De grønne slagtere starring Mads Mikkelsen is a masterpiece of black comedy.

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