For most folks, the phrase “cannibal movie” conjures the image of two things: Hannibal Lecter’s mask-clad visage, hungry for some liver with chianti and fava beans, or for the more horror-inclined, a horde of amazonian tribesman swarming a ravaged body. Hannibal is the most famous people-eater in the world, and Italian exploitationists like Ruggero Deodato and Umberto Lenzi own the genre, but if you dig a little deeper there is so much more gruesome fun to be had.
In the name of broadening your horror horizons, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best little known or underrated cannibal films. From suburban horror comedy to artsy erotica, and a few too nebulous to slap a label on, if you’re looking for an offbeat cannibal film, you can’t go wrong with these delectable suggestions. Bon Appetite!
15. Cannibal Girls (1973)
Director: Ivan Reitman
Stars: Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Randall Carpenter, Bonnie Neilson, Mira Pawluk
Before directing movies like Ghostbusters and Kindergarten Cop, Ivan Reitman started out in exploitation flicks. This one is a blackly humorous horror tale of cannibalistic cuisine about three man eating beauties, a sinister Satan styled impresario and a bizarre glut of townsfolk.
Self-proclaimed rock musician Clifford Sturges and his new girlfriend Gloria are traveling in their dilapidated old Cadillac to the small, snowy town of Farnhamville for a peaceful, romantic getaway. With their car barely making it, they check into a motel and are told by the proprietor about a local legend of horrific proportions. It seems that a trio of very attractive young ladies lured three traveling (and apparently very horny) geeky males to their farmhouse, seduced and slaughtered them in a ritualistic blood rites fashion, and feasted on their flesh. That same night, Clifford and Gloria are lead to a restaurant which happens to be that very farmhouse, as they are greeted by the tuxedoed, bearded eccentric Reverend Alex. Their dinner-time visit is bestowed with the expected sinister and ultra weird attributes, and they end up spending the night at this less-than-inviting “bed and breakfast”, something they’ll surely regret in the morning.
14. Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals (1977)
Director: Joe D’Amato
Stars: Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Nieves Navarro, Donald O’Brien
Investigative reporter Emanuelle is working undercover in a mental hospital, armed with a camera concealed in a doll. She finds nothing newsworthy until a patient attacks a nurse and bites her breast almost completely off. This situation resolves itself by Emanuelle booking a ticket to the jungle in order to get a scoop on cannibals. She is accompanied by an anthropologist, a hunter and his sex crazed wife, a nun and a random blonde chick whose purposes seems to be throwing off her clothes every two minutes.
Released years before most of the cannibal movies you know and love, Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals can be seen as being both an innovator of the cannibal genre and a prime example of it, introducing many of the tropes of the genre – the assertion of truth, the untrustworthy companions, and others. Rather than juxtaposing the cannibal society against the civilized society to highlight the wickedness of the latter, the filmmakers choose to present the cannibals as true villains: wholly evil and in no way analogous to conventional society. But besides all that, for those who simply enjoy seedy exploitation, this is a flick that really delivers the goods.
13. The Mountain Of The Cannibal God (1978)
Director: Sergio Martino
Stars: Ursula Andress, Stacy Keach, Claudio Cassinelli, Antonio Marsina
Susan Stevenson, accompanied by her brother Arthur, is trying to find her missing anthropologist husband Henry in the jungles of New Guinea. They enlist the services of Professor Edward Foster, who thinks Henry went to the mountain Ra Ra Me, which the locals believe is cursed and the authorities won’t allow expeditions there. Nonetheless they head towards it, en route meeting another explorer called Manolo. However, it seems everyone has their own private agenda and a deadly cannibal tribe are living nearby…
Surprisingly restrained by cannibal movie standards, The Mountain Of The Cannibal God (aka Slave Of The Cannibal God) spends most of its running time doing more of a safari adventure sort of thing, the only indication of its underlying nature being the occasional presence of masked and mud-smeared natives lurking half-seen in the underbrush. Its latent mean-spiritedness also surfaces from time to time in recurring scenes of animals eating each other – anaconda vs. monkey, crocodile vs. turtle, hawk vs. cobra, etc. But most of The Mountain Of The Cannibal God could almost pass for a low-rent Italian rip-off of an Allan Quatermain movie. Oh, and there’s also a cannibal midget (see the image above). He’s adorable.
12. The Forest (1982)
Director: Don Jones
Stars: Dean Russell, Gary Kent, Tomi Barrett, Ann Wilkinson
Another of the numerous backwoods Friday The 13th inspired slasher flicks, The Forest was for sure aware of what audience it was looking to target. With that being said, it’s also not a typical by-the-numbers slasher either. There’s no teens here, no T&A, no have sex and die, no masks and no campfire tales. Its lack of convention makes it somewhat of an outsider amongst the titles that it has become classified alongside, but don’t let any of that deter you, this movie is a schlock-filled gem. Here, a bunch of innocent campers must defend themselves from the threat of a crazed, cannibalistic killer who is tormented by the spirits of the family he viciously murdered.
It’s true to say that The Forest is in no a great film (and that’s being extremely charitable), but it’s entertainment in its purest form. If you’re looking for scares, you won’t find them here. But if you’re looking for a silly and amusing piece of cinematic camp, you can’t go wrong with this one.
11. Microwave Massacre (1983)
Director: Wayne Berwick
Stars: Jackie Vernon, Loren Schein, Al Troupe, Claire Ginsberg
Once upon a time, the standard weapons in horror movies were limited to crude weapons, such as knives, axes, pitchforks, and the like. With modern technology advancing year-to-year, horror filmmakers always seem to take advantage of new tools and instruments with which to dismember and mutilate their film’s intended victims. In the ‘70s, chainsaws and power tools were all the rage. Never to be left behind by technology, it was only a matter of time before the horror genre eventually found a way to put the ‘80s cooking sensation known as the microwave oven to a good, macabre use.
In Microwave Massacre, construction worker Donald is having a hard time getting anything good to eat since his wife has decided to only cook gourmet foods. That and her constant harping cause him to snap, and he whacks her. Somewhere in the confusion he comes up with a new use for the microwave oven, and begins to eat much better. Soon he’s experimenting with different recipes. And different meats. It’s wonderfully ridiculous.
10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Stars: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley
Over ten years after making the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper returns to his deranged family of reclusive cannibals for another round of chainsaw chases and non-stop screaming. Hooper brings a real budget this time (having recently “directed” Poltergeist for Steven Spielberg) and the talents of veteran make-up artist Tom Savini. This means he can make things bigger, louder, and gorier than ever before; and they are. He also brings a wacky, self-deprecating sense of humor, as if deliberately flaunting Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s status as one of the first and still greatest “slasher” movies. The result is an impish take-off on the original film (and contemporary horror movies in general) which elevates its own clichés (buckets of blood and gore, droll dialogue, the screaming female lead) to the level of high camp.
TCM 2 is loosely concerned with a small-town disc jockey named “Stretch” (who does most of the screaming) and an embittered Texas Ranger. They team-up and decide to put an end to the murderous activities of the Sawyer family once and for all (that is, of course, until Texas Chainsaw Massacre III). The tale is a strange, sweaty, uncomfortable mix of horror and humor and it’s completely brilliant. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
9. Rabid Grannies (1988)
Director: Emmanuel Kervyn
Stars: Catherine Aymerie, Caroline Braeckman, Richard Cotica, Danielle Daven
Brought to you by the wonderfully demented minds at Troma, Rabid Grannies is as goofy and as dumb as you’d expect a movie titled Rabid Grannies to be. It’s also a lot of good, bloody fun. The basic premise is that a rather large rich family are all reuniting to celebrate the birthdays of two elderly sisters. As this dysfunctional family get to the mansion where the party is to take place, the old women get a gift sent to them by their estranged nephew. The present is a wooden box which is filled with some sort of demonic mist that turns these grannies into monstrous, flesh-eating creatures. A bloody gore-fest ensues, as the voracious grandmonsters begin devouring relatives – giving new meaning to the term “family dinner.”
Despite the obvious budgetary constraints, the gore here is quite well done and original. One of the highlights include one of the grannies literally biting her rotund nephew’s butt off. And as you could probably surmise, all of the violence has a strong undercurrent of black humor, which thankfully is never constrained by the bounds of good taste.
8. Lucky Stiff (1988)
Director: Anthony Perkins
Stars: Donna Dixon, Joe Alaskey, Jeff Kober, Fran Ryan
Directed by thee Anthony Perkins (his only directing credit apart from Psycho III), Lucky Stiff centers around the character of Ron Douglas, a fat glasses-wearing man who is thrilled when a beautiful woman named Cynthia invites him to her family’s home for Christmas dinner. Little does he know that Cynthia’s family are cannibals – and he has been selected to be the main dish for their Christmas feast.
Granted, the premise appears a bit loopy. When Ron finally does get to Cynthia’s family manor, the relatives are a bunch of inbreeding buffoons who’ve taught the entire surrounding area to enjoy the taste of human helper. While they try to play it straight, they just can’t help but drool when they see Ron’s robust physique and ample portions of well-marbled white guy meat. There is a random toxic waste dump, a surreal bit involving the hands of another visitor to the home (the supposed bride to be of Cynthia’s brother), and some scenes of superfluous gore. Yet, the smartassy, National Lampoon-ish script consistently saves the day. It never lets us out of the far more fanciful aspects of the story, and sprinkles in enough levity to keep the darkly humorous tone tolerable. Cannibalism and incest – in a light tone!
7. Dumplings (2004)
Director: Fruit Chan
Stars: Catherine Aymerie, Caroline Braeckman, Richard Cotica, Danielle Daven
This Hong Kong story follows an aging actress who is desperate to regain her youth. To this end, she seeks the help of Aunt Mei, a local chef. Aunt Mei has a reputation for making dumplings that give women youthful looks. These dumplings have a mysterious recipe, but are proven to work, with Aunt Mei being the perfect example. Her clients get first hand witness as to what they can do just by looking at her. So, what’s her secret? Well, the dumplings are filled with veggies, herbs… and unborn fetuses. Yeah.
An interesting tale on how far some people will go to preserve their looks, Dumplings never hides the hideous ingredient that goes into the unorthodox snack. Less of a horror film than just plain horrific, nothing here is meant to scare you, but it is meant to hit on every guttural impulse you have. You’ll remember Dumplings long after the credits; in that it does not disappoint.
6. Frontier(s) (2007)
Director: Xavier Gens
Stars: Karina Testa, Aurélien Wiik, Patrick Ligardes, Estelle Lefébure
Opening in complete chaos (and never really leaving there), Frontier(s) revolves around four young people who have fled a riot-torn Paris with a bag of cash, and are heading towards Amsterdam. After splitting up into two groups the friends decide to meet at a secluded bed and breakfast near the French border. Soon enough the friends realize that the folks running the establishment are fascist neo-Nazi cannibals intent on creating a superior race and having an unconventional meal.
One of the most obvious things to note about this film is that it wears its influences on its sleeve. The obvious reference point is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You have human remains laid about causally, gun shot wounds, fingers blow away, a throat bit out, and the list goes on. Also, remember in Hot Fuzz where Nick Frost’s character asks, “Is it true that there’s a place in a man’s head that if you shoot it, it will blow up?”? Frontier(s) answers that question with, “Hell yes!”
5. Doomsday (2008)
Director: Neil Marshall
Stars: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Alexander Siddig, Malcolm McDowell, Lee-Anne Liebenberg
It sure would suck if the world came to an end; we have a contingent of survivors who take it upon themselves to not only become cannibals but make a freakin’ spectator sport out of the practice. Because if this love letter to post-apocalyptic movies of old is any indication, eating the flesh of others is fun! Brimming with exploitation antics, grindhouse sensibilities and exploding bunnies, Doomsday conjures a future thrown back to the dead-end styles and amoral excesses of the ’80s – and no future could be bleaker than that.
Here is the plot in a nutshell: in April 2008, a deadly virus (The Reaper) breaks out in Glasgow and spreads like wildfire. The authorities decide, in a very 28 Weeks Later sequence, to quarantine the country and shoot down anybody who tries to get out. But then, 30 years later, a deeply dystopian and slummy London sparks a new outbreak of the virus (which feeds off poverty and overcrowding). The government sends a team up to Scotland to find out why some people survived the virus up there. Unfortunately, the last survivors of Scotland have fallen into total barbarism.
4. Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Director: Karyn Kusama
Stars: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody
Thanks to a Satanic ritual gone wrong, former high-school cheerleader Jennifer Check is a literal man-eater, forced to consume human flesh in order to stay alive. She limits her diet to horny classmates, mostly because she’s so hot that they don’t think twice about traveling to dark, secluded spots with her. However, unfortunately for them, she’s the only one getting lucky.
For all its flaws, lapses in good judgment and good taste, Jennifer’s Body is a movie that gets it. Playing with the notion of the hot chick as a man-eater, and reminding millions of teenage girls of the sexual power they may not even realize they have. It’s a feminist statement wrapped in gory violence and gratuitous glamour shots of its titular character. It’s a brisk, bloody mix of gory horror and high school comedy; Mean Girls Of Darkness or Army Of Heathers, to put it in movie studio pitch-speak.
3. The Day (2011)
Director: Douglas Aarniokoski
Stars: Ashley Bell, Shannyn Sossamon, Dominic Monaghan, Shawn Ashmore, Cory Hardrict
The Day follows a group of five people working to stay alive in a post-apocalyptic future. They think they find shelter and safety in an abandoned farmhouse, but they soon find themselves fighting to stay alive as a tribe of savage cannibals are hot on their trail. It’s sort of like Night Of The Living Dead, but this time it’s not mindless wandering corpses banging on doors and windows, but a thinking enemy determined to get into the building.
Much has been made of The Day being just another generic post-apocalyptic movie, rehashing an old formula without bringing anything new to the table itself. However, the film indeed rises above a number of post-apocalyptic clichés and becomes instead a breath of fresh air. While it certainly isn’t a game changer by any means, it still remains a rather entertaining little film that manages to deliver a few unique spins on a world that we’ve seen countless times before.
2. American Burger (2014)
Directors: Johan Bromander, Bonita Drake
Stars: Fredrik Hiller, Aggy K. Adams, Madeleine Borg, Liam Macdonald
Here is cannibal film that simmers in its ridiculousness and celebrates every minute of it. In it, a bus load of American students, all jocks, cheerleaders and nerds, are on a culture trip in Europe when they stumble upon a mysterious Hamburger stand in the deep European woods, selling 100% American Burgers. You can probably guess what the secret ingredient is.
These poor kids (and teachers) find out first hand what goes into these beef patties when they arrive at the American Burger factory for a tour. Not long after their arrival they meet a strange butcher/chef (also known as the Demented Chef), who seems to be in charge of the place. After a few theatrics, possible Tourettes, and sizing them all up, he advises them that they will be collected shortly. Just then, they are ambushed by hoards of men in white uniforms who systematically slaughter the group one by one – and the real fun begins.
1. The Neon Demon (2016)
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Stars: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Keanu Reeves
Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest journey into cinematic WTFery, The Neon Demon, is a mad ballet of envy, erotic obsession, necrophilia and cannibalism. We follow Jesse, a 16-year-old newcomer to Los Angeles who hopes to break into a career in modeling. Her virginal, doe-eyed freshness prove irresistible to everyone she encounters – agents, photographers, fashion designers, and even a rogue mountain lion. But Jesse especially catches the attention of makeup artist Ruby, whom she meets at her first photo shoot.
After a series of bizarre events occur, a terrified Jesse calls Ruby, who tells her to come to her place for safety. After Jesse comes to Ruby’s house, Ruby tries to initiate sex with Jesse, who rejects her. Upset, along with two model gal pals, Ruby gets revenge by murdering Jesse by shoving her into an empty swimming pool. We watch Jesse, bones broken, still alive, slowly bleed out. The sight of this unfilled pool suddenly being filled with a pool of blood is both sad and frightening. Not to mention what happens next; namely, the girls eat Jesse and bath in her blood. Because hey, you got to stay young somehow…
Are there any other underrated cannibal films you’d like to add? Let us know below.