Anthropophagy, the technical term for folks eating other folks, strikes the human conscience like few other taboo acts, eliciting a mix of dread, disdain and plain old nausea.
Cannibalism features in the folklore and legends of many cultures and is most often attributed to evil characters or as extreme retribution for some wrong. Examples include the witch in Hansel and Gretel, Lamia of Greek mythology and Baba Yaga of Slavic folklore. A number of stories in Greek mythology involve cannibalism, in particular cannibalism of close family members, e.g., the stories of Thyestes, Tereus and especially Cronus, who was Saturn in the Roman pantheon. The story of Tantalus also parallels this.
As fans of transgressive cinema here, it is no surprise that we’ve come across many instances of cannibalism in our cinematic travels. In fact, there have been many transgressive masterpieces (as well as many exploitive duds) dealing with the subject. And that’s what we’ll be discussing today. Yup, this is the 50 Greatest Cannibal Movies Of All Time (please note, some readers may find images in this article to be distressing).
50. Cannibal Girls (1973)
Director: Ivan Reitman
Stars: Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Randall Carpenter, Bonnie Neilson
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.
49. 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.
48. 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 (originally Les Mémés Cannibales) 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.
47. Grimm Love (2006)
Director: Martin Weisz
Stars: Thomas Kretschmann, Keri Russell, Thomas Huber, Rainier Meissner
The old cliche goes, “You can’t make this stuff up…”, with 2006’s Grimm Love, we’re inclined to believe that. If you locked Eli Roth, Stephen King, and Rob Zombie into a room with only a typewriter, it’s doubtful they would dream up a plot involving an aspiring cannibal meeting up with a guy who simply wants nothing more than to have his penis bitten off and eaten along with the rest of his body – while he’s alive for most of it. Nope, it’s not fiction… this is straight from the headlines.
The 2001 case of the “Rotenburg Cannibal” Armin Meiwes serves as the inspiration for this psychological thriller which attempts to explore the events that led to this truly grim case. We meet Oliver, a lonely middle-aged man who spends his evenings exploring online communities where users discuss their cannibalistic fantasies. After posting several “Dear John” ads looking for a willing victim, he’s eventually answered by Simon, a young gay man that feels he’s endured enough pain for one lifetime. The pair eventually meet, with Simon swallowing a bottle of painkillers chased with two bottles of liquor in order to dull himself enough for this consenting feast to take place. Here the tragic story of the guy who finds his soulmate/dinner on the web is told in flashback by a snooping student. Sensitively directed by Martin Weisz, Grimm Love emerges as another case where truth is much stranger than fiction.
46. Macabre (2009)
Directors: Timo Tjahjanto, Kimo Stamboel
Stars: Shareefa Daanish, Julie Estelle, Ario Bayu, Arifin Putra
In 2009, Indonesian writer/directors “The Mo Brothers” (aka Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto) unleashed their horror movie Macabre on the populace of Singapore. They made a deliberate effort to merge the American slasher genre with more traditional Eastern horror and they definitely achieved this. It draws influences from American horror so much so that it could easily carry off the title “The Indonesian Chainsaw Massacre” and bears many similarities to its Texan counterpart. Despite this similarity to Tobe Hooper’s cinematic work of art, down in the details this is a very different film and the beauty is in the detail. This beauty is what makes Macabre stand out from the crowd and makes it a tremendously engaging and exciting film.
The movie starts with a stereotypical road trip with a team of good looking youngsters. It is a last ditch attempt to reconcile newlywed Adjie with his sister Ladya and her tiny mouth. After some drunken brawling the crew take off but barely get out of the car park before almost knocking over a bedraggled Maya. Maya, seeming very disorientated, claims to have been robbed and feeling all samaritan like the friends see no harm in making a slight detour to drop Maya off home at her isolated house in the middle of nowhere. Maya’s mother, the enigmatic Dara, insists that she repays the act of kindness with a feast. It soon becomes apparent that the feast is a precursor to a much more exquisite meal.
45. Hunger (2009)
Director: Steven Hentges
Stars: Lori Heuring, Linden Ashby, Joe Egender, Lea Kohl
Five strangers wake up in a dark, underground cave-type setting with no way out. They are trapped in one small room with a strange clock on the wall and a couple hundred gallons of water in four barrels. A cryptic note leads them to discover their captor’s objective: to see how long they can last without food, and whether they are willing to do the unthinkable as their hunger deteriorates their bodies.
Yet another in a long line of movies that follow the reliable Saw narrative of several unrelated characters cut off from the outside world and either tortured, or forced into committing acts of atrocity to survive. Here, the central plot device is cannibalism. Like the Saw series, these five disconnected characters all try to figure how they are linked to their current predicament. The main thrust of the story is to see how supposedly normal people would act if put in a life threatening situation. SPOILER ALERT: They don’t handle it too well…
44. The Green Butchers (2003)
Director: Anders Thomas Jensen
Stars: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Mads Mikkelsen, Line Kruse, Ole Thestrup
Svend and Bjarne work in a butcher shop. Tired of their bullying boss, the two decide to start their own organic butcher shop. However, Svend and Bjarne’s shop doesn’t attract any customers. Then one morning Svend finds a dead man in back of their establishment, the victim of an accident. When his former boss comes to buy meat for a large dinner, Svend cuts up one of the dead man’s legs, soaks it in marinade and puts it on sale. The result is a huge success. But customer demand creates an equal demand for new bodies, so Svend turns to killing people to get fresh supplies.
Helmed quite surreally by Anders Thomas Jensen, the director’s color palette is soaked in green – a symbol for Svend and Bjarne’s greed, their ever-diminishing humanity, and the past that haunts their every action. Svend desperately looks to his childhood, explaining to Bjarne how children used to beat him using pieces of wood and, most horrifying, a bicycle pump. He sadly uses the horrors of the past to justify the horrors of the present, but fails to realize that his new line of work shouldn’t be used as a salve for his splintered, falsely empowered identity. That salve may as well be the man’s special marinade, which the filmmakers brilliantly uses to further confound Svend’s misguided notions of the way the world works. What we get from The Green Butchers is absurdity and deadpan humor culled from the comic ingredients of cannibalism and retardation.
43. 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.
42. The Day (2011)
Director: Douglas Aarniokoski
Stars: Ashley Bell, Shannyn Sossamon, Dominic Monaghan, Shawn Ashmore
The Day follows a group of five people working to stay alive in a dystopian 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.
41. Doomsday (2008)
Director: Neil Marshall
Stars: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Alexander Siddig, Malcolm McDowell
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.