Copyright November, 2000 by Richard Dunstan.
As might be gathered from the heading, this is about cannibal movies. Just what are cannibal movies? They are, obviously, movies that are about, or that feature, cannibals. These include not only the Italian "chunk blower" or Zombie/Ghoul sub-genres of Horror Films, but jungle adventure, comedy and X-rated sex films as well. The list of Cannibal Movies includes such films as "Microwave Massacre", "Raw Force", "Dr. Butcher, M.D.", "Slave of the Cannibal God", "Eat and Run", "White Cannibal Queen", "Invasion of the Flesh Hunters", "Africa Screams", "The Folks at Red Wolf Inn", "Jungle Man-Eaters", "Eaten Alive by the Cannibals," "King Solomon's Mines" (1985 version) and, of course, Ruggero Deodato's infamous "Cannibal Holocaust."
The way I am classifying cannibal movies, we can think of them as a sort of "Super-Genre" encompassing several genres and sub-genres. For the most part, cannibal movies are sub-genres of either the Horror or Adventure genres. But, since cannibal movies are any movie which features cannibals or cannibalism as a plot development feature, they may also include comedy or sexploitation films as well. It may help, therefore, to explain some of the elements which comprise cannibal movies and identify those sub-genres which comprise the Cannibal "super-genre."
First, we'll start with what I call "Cannibal Comedy Cliché." This includes all of the clichés associated with the spear chucking black savages popularized by humorists since the nineteenth century. These clichés appear in such films as Abbot and Costello's "Africa Screams" or Bob Hope and Bing Crosby's "Road to Zanzibar" and "Road to Bali." It can also be found in children's cartoons such as Betty Boop in "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You" and "Zula Hula" or Porky Pig's version of Robinson Crusoe. Understandably, these cliched images are very tame and somewhat humorous, with the stranded protagonists usually being cooked alive in the Big Black Cannibal Pot while the natives dance around. These are obviously very racist images.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the "Cannibal Chunk Blower" Horror/Adventure film. These films are almost entirely of Italian origin. The images used here are of the hapless victims being eaten alive by the mud caked jungle savages or by the undead zombie ghouls. The main point of these movies is the shock and gore value associated with human cannibalism.
In the middle ground is the sexploitation film. To me, many of the more cliche of the cannibal images have a great erotic as well as humorous value. The exotic jungle setting, the lovely heroine tied to a tree and stripped naked as the leering savages smack their lips and slaver over her delicious body. Lots of oral sex double entendre. While such images seem to have been made popular one-line jokes and cartoons in publications such as "Sex- To-Sexty", they usually are watered down quite a lot in films and are never used to their potential.
Again, the Cannibal Zombie movie needs to be mentioned. These, of course, come under the heading of "splatter" horror films. Images here involve the dead coming to life as mindless re-animated corpses to eat the living. Films such as George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead", as well as the Italian "Zombie" or the Spanish "Blind Dead" series are obvious examples.
Cannibals also make great documentaries, although mostly bogus or sensationalized ones. "Survive!", "Donner Pass", "the Legend of Alfred Packer" and "The Sky Above, The Mud Below" all make for great dramatized documentaries with lots of shock value.
For many of the movies listed here, the subject or idea of cannibals or cannibalism is a major premise. For others, it is referred to only in passing. While I have attempted to be complete, this document is still not exhaustive. Some of the more minor references (for example, "Safari 3000" with David Carradine and Stockard Channing) are not included for that very reason, and some sequels to movies which are reviewed are also not included. In the case of other films where the references may be more prominent but are still not included, I saw it so long ago or the film is so obscure that I cannot recall the title or much of anything about it. It was quite surprising to me that there were so many films which have such references. It is even more surprising that there are even more that are not included here.
Cannibalism is probably our oldest and strongest taboo, and for this reason it seems to hold a morbid fascination. Nearly everyone knows the cannibal cliche, which is well known in western society. Even in the old silent movies, the image of the jungle native and the cooking pot is lampooned as cliche. The question then is, where did this cliche come from? Where are the movies which feature it? The fact is, this cliche appears in very few movies. Of the over two-hundred entries listed in this document, only a few feature the man-in-the-cannibal-pot cliche; and they are all comedies.
Of the remaining movies, nearly all are from the horror genre. Cannibalism in these films is used for it's shocking and taboo-breaking effect. They are usually violent and gory and attempts to evoke what Stephen King calls the "gross-out" form of horror. In this they are quite effective. Ruggero Deodato's "Cannibal Holocaust," for example, is generally agreed upon as being one of the grossest movies ever made.
So why our fascination with cannibalism in cinema? I won't attempt to answer that question here. To do so would, at best, be speculation on my part. But here is a list of Cannibal Movies with which I am familiar; with a little review, where possible, for each. I'll leave it to you, the reader, to answer that question for yourself.