The Best Movie Ever | Best Cannibalism Movies
Cannibalism, most people agree, is pretty danged gross. The act of eating another human being is, indeed, one of our oldest taboos, so that’s why it’s in so many horror movies, like this weekend’s The Green Inferno. Professional goremeister Eli Roth is bringing the particularly twisted cannibalism subgenre of the grindhouse era back to theaters, and if it’s anything like his earlier films Hostel and Cabin Fever, it’s also probably going to work as a highly effective ipecac.
But cannibalism movies aren’t just gross. Some of them are also brilliant and thoughtful examinations of man’s inhumanity to man, and the terrors that emerge from those who live on the outside of everyday morality. Indeed, there are actually quite a lot of great cannibalism movies. But what, pray tell, is the best cannibalism movie ever?
Previously: The Best Movie Ever | True Crime
We asked our film critics – William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold and Brian Formo – to present their picks, and unlike those myriad “Top X” lists roaming around the internet, this time they only get to pick one. Find out what the best cannibalism movies they consider to be at the height of the genre, and come back every Wednesday for more highly debatable installments of Crave’s The Best Movie Ever!
Best Cannibalism Movies Ever
Witney Seibold’s Pick: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Cannibalism is the the funnest taboo. The thought of eating another human being sets my – and everyone else’s stomach – on edge. Why don’t we, as a species, eat one another? Thousands of people die every day. That’s a lot of food we could use to nurture ourselves, so why aren’t we eating our friends and family? Because it’s just weird. So this has allowed enterprisingly naughty filmmakers to exploit audiences in a deliciously tasteless fashion. The gorehounds of the 1970s especially knew how icky cannibalism can make us feel, so there was a brief but voluminous influx of cannibal-themed films loaded with all the teeth-gnashing blood-‘n’-guts your sick little heart could choke down. The crown jewel of the genre is, of course, Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, which remains, to this day, one of the most disgusting films ever made.
I cannot, however, in good conscience, recommend you watch Cannibal Holocaust. It is not for the weak-willed. It is a deep cut for only the most devoted horror fanatics. It is, in short, one toke over the line. I can, however, point to a cannibal film that, while extreme, is impressive and scary enough to be stomachable. Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a great film, and a watershed moment for cinema. Stylistically, the film is grimy, fetid, and oily. It’s set in a filthy world of filthy cannibals, and even the film stock itself looks yellowed by human tallow. This is a wonderfully visceral movie, and one of the great horror standbys.
In terms of structure, a lot began with this film. It follows a group of young people as they investigate a backwoods home in rural Texas, only to be beset by a family of inbred cannibals who have been routinely slaughtering humans for generations. Just about every slasher trope that you are familiar with likely began with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, from the surviving innocent to the pick-’em-off killings. Although raw, disgusting, and often feeling like a snuff film, there is a bare-bones aesthetic to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre that feels direct and deliberate. It is hard-edged and sad. It’s a horror film and a tragedy and a swirling miasma of meat-flavored madness.
William Bibbiani’s Pick: Parents (1989)
Cannibals, like the rest of our boogeymen, are typically frowned upon. They are made into monster strangers who live on the outskirts of civilization (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) or isolated within urbania, judging us sociopathically as little more than cattle (The Silence of the Lambs). But what if the cannibals were… your parents?
Bob Balaban’s dreamlike horror fable Parents isn’t nearly as famous as many of its man-eating brethren. (The film was relatively hard to find for many years, which didn’t help.) But it is probably the best of the bunch, depicting the most unwholesome of behaviors with an Ozzie and Harriet patina of nostalgic romanticism. The year is 1954, and everything is just fine. America is white and conservative and affluent and nothing bad ever happens and if it did nobody ever talked about it. Mom and dad are having blood orgies on plastic sheets in the living room, but shhhh…
Told from the prospective of a young boy who begins to suspect, to his terror, that his Mom (Mary Beth Hurt) and Dad (Randy Quaid) are serving human flesh for dinner, Bob Balaban – a bleak satirist, apparently – paints a grotesque portrait of American culture. Cannibalism steps in to represent every ugly truth we hide under the bed, but Parents isn’t afraid to show off the grotesque gore. It of It just understands that the scariest part of the whole cannibalism phobia isn’t being eaten… it’s wondering what you just ate.
Brian Formo’s Pick: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Is it a stretch to name The Silence of the Lambs the best cannibalism movie ever? It might be. I don’t know. I can’t say that I’m anywhere close to an expert on the genre as it makes me squeamish. Like the fava beans and a fine chianti that Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) would like to eat a human being’s liver with, Jonathan Demme’s film is a great small plate cannibalism meal for those who don’t want the full course.
Lecter is the most famous cannibal in all of cinema and he’s felt throughout the film’s entire running time—which shows the powerful nature of Hopkins’ performance since he’s only on screen for 16 minutes. Which is certifiably insane when you think about it. His rumbly voice, his face guard, his iconic pronunciation of Clarice Starling’s name (“Hello, Clarice“) create perhaps the biggest character ever who had less than 20 minutes of screen time.
We are drawn to Hopkins’ Hannibal because he is charming, intellectual, and even caring. Three qualities we’d never expect from a cannibal. What would compel a man, whose brain appears so advanced, to eat human beings? That isn’t answered in this film because Lecter is an advisor to the FBI, who are on a manhunt for another homicidal maniac, Buffalo Bill. Lambs isn’t about Doctor Lecter. And he’s so damn polite that he doesn’t let his interview sessions with Starling (Jodie Foster) become about him. It’s Hopkins’ performance that made audiences want author Thomas Harris to devote a whole book to Hannibal (and later a masterful television series, R.I.P.). That book and film, Hannibal, is nowhere near as uncomfortably eerie as The Silence of the Lambs because it answers some of those questions—and it’s harder to stomach seeing the Doctor practice on what he eats.
Let us know what you consider to be the best cannibalism movies ever in the comment section below!