With ‘Raw’ hitting cinemas this seemed like an ideal time to select my top five cannibal movies. In all honesty I don’t really have anything to add to this introduction, fairly straightforward right? Well I suppose I should elaborate that my criteria for picking these five and their order comes down to a combination of their quality and how heavily they feature the cannibalism in question. After all this is a list of cannibalism first and foremost so once I’m satisfied that the cannibalism within the movie plays a large enough part or is iconic enough to earn a spot. Then I take quality into account to determine the best, and of course by “best” I just mean my own personal opinion on what constitutes the best, because why not? So now onto the top five.
Starting off is a film that takes a somewhat unusual approach to one of the most horrifying taboos of human society. As opposed to being a conventional horror film this 1999 movie starring Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle takes a darkly humorous approach to the story of an infantryman (Pearce) who upon investigating a case of disappearances from an isolated outpost discovers a frontiersman who has been feasting upon human flesh. Director Antonia Bird does an intriguing job of blending the films many contrasting elements, from its dark comedy to its fascinating thrills and the underlying horror of it all. Not to mention its terrific performances from all involved.
4: The Silence of the Lambs
It would not be a list of cannibal movies without an appearance from the one and only Dr Hannibal Lector. Played masterfully by Anthony Hopkins in a performance that would earn an Oscar for Best actor for just 16 minutes of screen time. Hopkins’ portrayal of the character possesses such an eerie stillness that never fails to unnerve the viewer, contrasting the sheer ruthlessness of Lector with his calm demeanour. But it is easy to talk about nothing but Hopkins when discussing ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ which is a shame as every other piece of the film is equally as excellent, including Jodie Foster’s phenomenal performance as Clarice Starling that earned her an Oscar as well.
In fact on the subject of Oscars one must remember that ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ is one of only three films to have ever taken the main five Academy Awards (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay) and remains the only horror film to have ever won the award of Best Picture. Johnathon Demme’s masterwork remains just as brilliant today as it was over 25 years ago. In fact it is almost certainly the best film out of this selection, but sadly the cannibalism in question is not what you would call integral to the plot of the film and it’s discussed much more than it is seen. In other words we get to hear Lector describe that delicious meal of human “liver, fava beans and a nice chianti” but we never get to see it. Disappointing I know, but a great film regardless.
Made as a homage to the works of Terry Gilliam, this 1991 dark comedy film about a butcher living in a post-apocalyptic future who lures in victims to be sold as meat. One could almost call the film whimsical (a word rarely associated with cannibalism) in that it contains a darkly humorous streak as well as some truly terrific cinematography and set pieces. Despite being conceived as a homage to Gilliam, the directors of ‘Delicatessen’, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, make the film endlessly unique through both its style and substance. It is detached and satirical in nature but by no means is that to say that the film cannot be intense when it wants to be, but for any fright it might cause the viewer they are just as likely to be uncomfortably laughing at it.
2: Bone Tomahawk
If you heard of this stylish and violent Kurt Russell western from 2015 (no, not THAT one) you may be confused as to why it is on here. But those who have seen it will identity it as one of the best genre subversions and merges in recent memory. Transitioning from a brutal western to a terrifying horror film in minutes in which a group of gunslingers set out to end a series of brutal killings committed in their town only to discover that the culprits are a tribe of savage cannibals who throw them into a fight for survival, ‘Bone Tomahawk’ is astonishingly effective.
Not only does the movie’s thematic current of pioneering civilisation play into the western genre, but they’re made all the more poignant when the alternative to civilisation is being eaten if you don’t have your wits about you. Amid all of the pulpy violence and brutality though lies an undercurrent of poignancy that carries surprising weight. ‘Bone Tomahawk’ is utterly unique and utterly terrifying in every regard. See it for Kurt’s moustache alone.
1: Eating Raoul
Once again my choice here takes an oddly satirical turn rather than any kind of conventional horror. Maybe I just admire the way a filmmaker takes the most taboo and horrendous of subjects and injects a darkly comic streak into it. Paul Bartel’s cult classic ‘Eating Raoul’ is such an oddity that I almost feel obligated to give it the number one position. The story revolves around an uptight couple who begin murdering swingers and eventually eating them as a meal. Bartel not only uses the cannibalism as a metaphor for consumerism but he handles the whole subject with such a deft touch of dark comedy that you’ll find it as hilarious as it is disturbing.
It is so sharp it its satire and so effective in its humour that the nonchalant attitude it carries regarding the murders and meals is too harrowing to really believe. Naturally it is over the top in a certain regard but the way it’s contrasted with the subtly of other aspects only make it all the more remarkable. Held up by a number of great performances as well as its slick screenplay, watertight satirical tone and deliciously dark sense of humour, ‘Eating Raoul’ is the funniest film about cannibalism and, for my money, also the best.