10. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Susan Lanier, Michael Berryman, Dee Wallace, John Steadman
The upper crust Carter family is traveling on vacation towing a travel trailer from Ohio to Los Angeles. On the way, the family insists on seeing a silver mine in the Nevada desert as part of their trip. An hysterical old man at a petrol station tells them not to go there, but of course our intrepid family ignore him and end up with a broken car in the middle of nowhere. They end up in the hands of mutant, redneck cannibals who survive in the barren area by preying on unsuspecting families like the Carters. After a night of extreme violence at the hands of the cannibal family, the remainder of the Carter family decide to take revenge on the rednecks which leads to even greater bloodshed.
After the success of the film, Wes Craven made a sequel, The Hills Have Eyes Part II, in 1985, which he later disowned. Alexandre Aja directed a remake of The Hills Have Eyes in 2006 (which, many say, actually supersedes its predecessor). Craven and his son Jonathan wrote the sequel to the remake in 2007.
9. Raw Meat (1972)
Director: Gary Sherman
Stars: Donald Pleasence, Norman Rossington, David Ladd, Sharon Gurney
A somewhat more obscure British production that has found a greater audience on home video after a DVD re-release in 2003, Death Line was the original title before it played American theaters as Raw Meat, a delightfully lurid title change that emphasizes the cannibalism aspect of the story. A series of disappearances in a particular station of the London Underground turns out to be the work of a demented tunnel dweller (“The Man”), a descendant of a group of workers who were hopelessly trapped in a turn-of-the-century tunnel collapse and presumed dead. Instead the group survived and continued on by eating their own dead. When his mate dies, this last living descendant starts to venture out into the underground to search for human victims to bring back to his lair for food.
The Man’s lair is one of the highlights of Raw Meat. It’s a disgusting, skeezy pit filled with the half-eaten remains of surface dwellers; one particularly nasty shot tracks along a partially devoured arm crawling with maggots. But there aren’t just meals down there – the cannibals have their revered dead rotting in plain sight as well. The Man himself is covered in scabs and gooey spots; we learn that he carries the Plague, which surely accounts for some of his buboes. He’s filthy and disgusting and has a pretty great beard.
8. 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.
7. Cannibal Ferox (1981)
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Stars: John Morghen, Lorraine De Selle, Bryan Redford, Zora Kerowa
As Umberto Lenzi’s follow-up to his cannibal classick, Eaten Alive, Cannibal Ferox (aka Make Them Die Slowly) takes the madness up a few thousand notches. In fact, upon its release, the film’s US distributor claimed it was “the most violent film ever made.”
Gloria Davis is a NYC university student writing her college thesis on cannibalism. Believing it a myth and desiring to debunk the practice as a byproduct of Western colonialism, Gloria travels to the Amazon jungle with her brother Rudy and friend Pat. Not long after losing their transportation, they set out on foot. Deep in the jungle, they run afoul of two men – Mike and Joe, who claim to be diamond hunters pursued by cannibals. Gloria and her brother quickly realize that something is not quite right with Mike and his story. Learning the truth too late, the innocent interlopers are captured by the vengeance seeking jungle savages. Making them pay along with the guilty, Gloria receives a shocking revelation regarding her ideas on the practice of anthropophagy. The lucky ones die first. As for the rest, well…
6. Delicatessen (1991)
Directors: Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Stars: Marie-Laure Dougnac, Dominique Pinon, Pascal Benezech, Jean-Claude Dreyfus
It’s hard to pull off the post-apocalyptic comedy, because not a lot of stuff seems all that funny in the wake of mass death and the collapse of civilization, does it? French film Delicatessen, then, might be the only film to have ever pulled off post-apocalyptic funny to any proper degree of success.
Helmed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (famous for Amelie), Delicatessen tells the story of a landlord who – in the wake of the apocalypse – struggles to get by (and for good reason) in a hellish France. The film manages to find the perfect balance between disgusting and comic; you spent the entire time watching Delicatessen with an expression somewhere between a grin and a grimace stuck on your face. As the cannibalistic implications begin to stack up, so does the tension, but ultimately Jeunet’s film is a success because of the world that it creates: though it’s a black comedy, the dark visions of post-apocalyptic France are incredibly disturbing.
5. Ravenous (1999)
Director: Antonia Bird
Stars: Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, David Arquette, Jeremy Davies
During the Spanish-American War, a soldier driven to extremes by hardship grapples with cannibalistic urges in himself while confronting a vicious serial killer who is blissfully living the anthropophagite lifestyle. Ravenous is a brilliant mix of cannibalism, gruesome gore, sly black humor and quasi-philosophy. The film also sets itself apart by offering an imaginative story-line with numerous twists and incredible characterizations.
The only thing better than watching this with someone for the first time, is watching it with someone who thinks they know where the story is going to go. Ravenous is a horror film that feels as if it would be perfect for both horror and non-horror fans. The horrific elements are all in place, but the tired tropes that dominate most horror movies are not at all present. There are no jump-scares to be found here. In fact, there are no real scares of any sort – the horror is more psychological, mixed with the occasional gore and grossness that, while graphic, is never done to the point of excessiveness. Ravenous is a film beyond duplication. There is a brilliance at work here that lifts it above the star-studded pack into a dimension all its own.
4. Raw (2016)
Director: Julia Ducournau
Stars: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas
Raw (aka Grave) is a cunningly written, impressively made and incredibly gory tale of one young woman’s awakening to the pleasures of the flesh — in all senses of the term. The central narrative in Raw opens with an amuse-bouche of a scene, functioning as something of a tease for the banquet to come. Strict vegetarian Justine orders plain mashed potato in a canteen, but when she chows down, she’s disconcerted to find a chunk of sausage in her mash. Her parents are even more outraged, determined to preserve her herbivorous purity. It’s not really a spoiler to reveal that her imminent ascent up the food chain will involve more adventurous hors d’oeuvres.
The vast majority of the action takes place over Justine’s first week at the veterinary college that is her parents’ alma mater, and also where her older sister Alexia is already studying. This location is key to what follows: Like the dance academy in Dario Argento’s Suspiria, the college appears to be a placeless, hermetically sealed environment permeated with heightened emotion; a kind of twisted dream-logic dominates and permits events to get suitably out of hand… and they do. This is cinema as a punch in the gut and not for the squeamish, casting female desire as ravenously predatory in a way that few films have ever had the audacity to do.
3. The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Director: Jonathan Demme
Stars: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Levine, Scott Glenn
A horror movie winning the Academy Award for Best Picture? That seems like an impossibility, yet The Silence Of The Lambs – the story of a rookie FBI agent teaming up with an urbane cannibal killer to catch an even worse serial killer – managed to sweep all five of the main Oscar categories (including Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay) back when it was first released. An anomaly? Sure, but it was also a matter of undeniable quality — The Silence Of The Lambs is a gruesome, no-punches-pulled masterpiece of suspense.
No respectable conversation of the cannibal genre would be complete without prominently featuring Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lector. Comedian Hannibal Buress likes to point out that the name Hannibal was once synonymous with the Carthaginian leader, one of the greatest military minds in world history. But since The Silence Of The Lambs, the name has been usurped by a psychiatric cannibal. Dr. Hannibal Lecter is behind bars for the majority of TSOTL, but his presence is persistently ominous, instantly deconstructing our hero Clarice Starling within mere moments of meeting her. And of course when he gets free from his maximum security incarceration, he goes on a rampage of perverse violence which ultimately results in him wearing a dude’s face. TSOTL was followed up with Hannibal in 2001, Red Dragon in 2002, Hannibal Rising in 2007 (featuring a young Lecter), and, most recently, the Hannibal television series which sadly came to an end in 2015.
2. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Stars: Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, Paul A. Partain, Teri McMinn
Sure, the chili has won awards, but trust us, you really, really don’t want to eat it. Or at least don’t ask where the meat comes from. In short, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is an indisputable classic of the genre, a punishing, unrelenting nightmare that never allows viewers even a moment of sanity or security. The film can, and will, be reinterpreted by critics and theorists for decades to come. Though, the movie tells a fairly simple tale at heart. A group of five teenagers driving through rural Texas happen upon a deranged, cannibalistic family. Psychological terror and chainsaw mayhem ensue.
Loosely based on the real-life crimes of serial killer Ed Gein, TCM has become one of the most recognized, beloved horror movies of all time, and the mythology has found its way into almost every facet of popular culture. The cannibalistic Sawyer clan would return again for Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 in 1986, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III in 1990, The Next Generation in 1994, the remake in 2003, The Beginning in 2006, and Texas Chainsaw 3D in 2013. They’re certainly a busy family.
1. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Stars: Robert Kerman, Gabriel Yorke, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen
New York anthropologist Harold Monroe travels to the wild, inhospitable jungles of South America to find out what happened to a documentary film crew that disappeared two months prior while filming a doc about primitive tribes deep in the rain forest. Well, not only does he discover what happened to them but it turns out they had a run-in with some natives who don’t mind indulging in rape, beheadings and some cannibalism.
Tell a tried and true horror fan to name a cannibal film, and 9 times out of 10, you’ll hear “Cannibal Holocaust.” The ne plus ultra of its ilk, Cannibal Holocaust is not a film for the fearful of heart. It piles atrocity upon atrocity up until the viewer’s brain is bent backwards trying to comprehend the depravity on the screen. What unfurls is a masterclass of depravity and horror. We are treated to cannibals being torched from their huts just to make good footage for the crew. The crew rape a native girl. They come across a woman impaled on a stake that enters through her vagina and exits through her mouth. There is a forced abortion, a man shoving a stone dildo up a woman’s bits, and on top of this, enough real life animal slaughter to keep the RSPCA in business for a quite a while. Eventually the crew peeve the natives off so much they get their comeuppance, all the while the camera is rolling and captures their demise. Basically perfect: it achieves its goals in virtually every respect. Director Ruggero Deodato made a movie whose purpose is to make you feel awful, and it does just that.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (movies that didn’t make the list due to not quite meeting the criteria needed to be called a “cannibal movie”): Deranged (1974), The Gestapo’s Last Orgy (1977), Faces Of Death (1978), Cut And Run (1985), Manhunter (1986), The 13th Warrior (1999), Sin City (2005), The Road (2009), Split (2016), The Girl With All The Gifts (2016).
Let us know your personal favorite cannibal movie in the comment section below.