Cannibalism in Cinema: Om Nom Nom!

Cannibal Holocaust's Front Cover

With only a week left until Shameless Screen Entertainment releases Cannibal Holocaust on DVD and Blu-Ray (pre-order your copy HERE) – one of the single most disturbing and powerful films ever made –   its time to celebrate and sink our teeth into some succulent flesh. Over the next couple of weeks, the Cult Labs blog will be licking its lips and tucking into some tasty human chow as we go cannibal mad! With blogs about Ruggero Deodato, the Italian Cannibal cycle, real-life cannibalism, sneak peaks of the upcoming release and loads more, you better grab the nearest knife and fork as this is going to be one heck of a delicious week!

What better way to kick of this man-eating marathon with a brief history lesson. So pull up a chair, get out a pen and please no talking in the back (!) as I quickly take you through the history of Cannibalism in Cinema.

Ad for 'Shipwrecked Among Cannibals'

Cannibalism has played a key role in film long before Deodato shoved a woman on a wooden stick and called it art. In fact, one can trace cannibalism right back to the early days of moving images when films were silent, black and white and often lasted only a few minutes. These would often be shown as part of a larger night of entertainment. Perhaps one of the earliest known films with a cannibal theme throughout is a little known and seldom seen short film called The Enchanted Kiss from 1917 and directed by David Smith. This American movie, running no longer than 20 minutes, told the story of a man who learns in a dream that he can remain youthful forever by eating the flesh of young girls. Lovely.  Other early exams of cannibalism in cinema include Idol Dancer from one of the most important men in cinema, D. W. Griffith (often said to have turned film into a narrative-driven form) and Universal’s 1920′s ‘documentary’ Shipwrecked Amongst Cannibals. Unfortunatly, many of these older films were shot on nitrate film stock which deteriates over time. As such, most of these films are either completly lost or remain in very damaged and missing copies. It’s pretty easy to see how these played a part in cannibal film history, though. Many of which would contain rather racist depictions of cannibal tribes – black ‘savages’ standing over large bubbling couldrens wearing hardly anything. Not a million miles away from Cannibal Holocaust perhaps. Obviously these were a product of their time and share dominant ideologies that would now be seen as politically incorrect. Even Disney had a stab at a Cannibal film, although they’d rather forget about it! Whilst it’s only hinted at in the film, the title alone (Cannibal Capers) says quite a lot.

The Doctor will see you now...

One of the first full length cannibal film was the brilliantly titled Doctor X. Considered to be a spin on the classic ‘old dark house’ genre popular at the time, Doctor X dealt with many taboo subjects from prostitution, murder, rape and, of course, a spot of yummy cannibalism! Staring Fay Wray and directed by Michael Curtiz, Doctor X tells the tale of a psychotic cannibalistic murderer – slightly different to the savages of earlier (and later!) years. The film was released before the Production Code was underway (a set of self inflicted guidelines to try and stop the corruption of movies) so perhaps these taboos are no surprise. The film is most important for being one of the last films ever to be made using the two-colour Technicolour process…even if the trailer is in black and white.

A few more films about people eating people followed. Blah de blah de blah. Until 1963 when…


Vintage newspaper ad for Blood Feast - the first gore film

along came a little movie that goes by the name of Blood Feast Yes, Herschell  Gordon ‘Godfather Of Gore’ Lewis’ very own momentous Blood Feast! The film became an instant drive-in success with reports of queues stretching around the block, barf bags, a novelisation, countless imitators and a huge dedicated following to this day (myself included!). Why? Well there had never been a film quite like it: a film with so much emphasis on gore, guts and gruesome details! And all, for the first time, in colour (a huge selling point)! What’s more this film broke the ultimate taboo – canibalism. Fuad Ramses is a cannibal who delights in cooking an ‘Egyptian Feast’. The film was so violent it surprisingly joined Cannibal Holocaust 2 decades later on the controversial Video Nasty list!

Spanish poster for 'Jungle Holocaust'

Without a doubt Blood Feast was one of the most controversial films ever made at the time. But that reputation didn’t last long when the Italians got their hands dirty and produced a cycle of exploitation films so shocking, so disgusting, so degrading they left a permament stain on cinema. After Mondo Cane and  Deep River Savages a flurry of human flesh feasting took hold of film and ripped it limb from limb. Titles including Mountain of the Cannibal God, Cannibal Ferox, Eaten Alive, Ruggero’s Jungle Holocaust and Cannibal Holocaust to name but just a few. But more about those in a later blog.

Cannibalism in Cinema has struck a whole load of important horror films. From The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Night Of The Living Dead and of course the multi-award winning Hannibal series of films. But let us not forget the lighter side of things! Devouring the flesh of a fellow human being is such a taboo that cinema has ‘loled’ at it, especially in comedy musicals like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the various versions of Sweeney Todd (“I mean with the price of meat what it is, when you get it, if you get it…“), the recent theatre musical spoof of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Cannibal: The Musical and even the odd The Undertaker And His Pals.

But whilst there may be a whole history of man eating man movies, there’s no doubt. Cannibal Holocaust is quite simply the king of cannibalism. Om nom nom!

Got a favourite Cannibal film? Why not let us know on the forum here!

Pre-order Cannibal Holocaust (complete with Ruggero’s brand new edit specifically for this release and a heap load of extras!) now here, here or here!


1 Response » to “Cannibalism in Cinema: Om Nom Nom!”

  1. Reece says:

    In a word: PARENTS (1989)

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