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The Dreadful Ten: Top 10 Cannibal Films!

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No matter how jaded horror fans can be at times, there’s little denying the satisfaction true horror hounds feel in the return of cannibal fare in the genre. With HANNIBAL redefining TV (and FANGORIA #343) and Eli Roth’s highly anticipated love letter to classic cannibal fare, THE GREEN INFERNO, coming to theaters from BH Tilt on September 25th, not only are macabre man-eaters back in the zeitgeist, but they’re back in all of their grisly gory. And to commemorate the return of cannibal cinema, FANGORIA has decided to commemorate the various flesh-eating frighteners from horror history with this week’s Dreadful Ten!

  1. WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (2013, dir. Jim Mickle)

WE ARE WHAT WE ARE

While the 2010 original is a work of art in its own right, Jim Mickle’s 2013 remake of Jorge Michel Grau’s slow-burn cannibal film about the meaning of family and tradition dispenses with some of the more convoluted plot points of the original film in favor of something much more simpler and quieter. With a new script from Mickle and co-star Nick Damici, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE is haunting, creepy and packs a visceral punch in its last act whilst capturing the inherent dread of the original film throughout the narrative. And by switching the gender roles of the original film, Mickle creates a tale of father and daughters that feels uniquely tied to traditionally American gender politics, which gives even further weight to the horror that this could ostensibly be the family next door.

 

  1. CANNIBAL FEROX (1981, dir. Umberto Lenzi)

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Even though Umberto Lenzi won’t be receiving an honorary Oscar anytime soon for his exploitative, over-the-top work in the genre, there’s little denying what influence Lenzi has had on filmmakers in the years since. CANNIBAL FEROX (a/k/a MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY), a cash-in designed to run on the momentum of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, is repulsive, offensive and absolutely insane… but presented in such a self-assured way that it is absolutely mesmerizing and entertaining. Lenzi, a master of shock and awe, pulls no punches with CANNIBAL FEROX and while the film’s animal cruelty is nothing less than reprehensible, the work of FX artist Gianetto de Rossi is the stuff nightmares are made out of.

 

  1. MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (1972, dir. Umberto Lenzi)

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Lenzi’s first cannibal opus, also a cash-in on the popular MONDO CANE, MAN FROM DEEP RIVER was the progenitor of the jungle-bound subgenre, introducing audiences to a fictional world of depravity, ultraviolence and, yes, not-so-fictional animal cruelty. But where MAN FROM DEEP RIVER truly works best is in its narrative: as opposed to FEROX, MAN FROM DEEP RIVER allowed Lenzi to take a biting look at international culture appropriation as well as the bond of those in horrific circumstances. And, of course MAN FROM DEEP RIVER has a sensational visual style that feels uniquely proud of the sinister on-screen happenings, which would become a trademark of the gore-friendly Lenzi.

 

  1. DELICATESSEN (1991, dir. Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

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While definitely on the fringe of horror (and likely more along the lines of the darkest of dark horror comedy), DELICATESSEN contains an undeniable charm and manages to garner some genuinely effective humor from its pitch black premise. And among the films listed in this Dreadful Ten, it’s likely the easiest to watch, what with the chaotic camerawork, bizarre subject matter and lighthearted reaction to its own gruesomeness. Nevertheless, DELICATESSEN isn’t without its grim moments, and like most of Jeunet’s work, the film spends enough time making you care about the characters that you’re sincerely drawn into the brutality that they’re inflicting or being inflicted upon them.

 

  1. CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980, dir. Antonio Margheriti)

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Perhaps the most engaging film of director Margheriti’s exploitation era, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE is one of the strongest pound-for-pound cannibal films of its time. Paired with Alexander Blonksteiner’s memorable score, John Saxon’s underrated lead performance and Fernando Arribas’ perpetually immersive lens, APOCALYPSE feels elevated among many of its contemporaries, especially when considering the gorefest is set in an urban environment as opposed to a far-away jungle. Unfortunately it’s a difficult film to legally find nowadays, but if you’re a fan of flesh-eating freaks, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE is a film worth tracking down.

 

  1. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974, dir. Tobe Hooper)

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What can you say about THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE that hasn’t already been said? While the film treats its cannibalistic aspects like an afterthought, there’s few films that effectively present American cannibalism as shocking and sadistically as THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. And while the film has been spun and rebranded many times over the years, whether as a dark comedy or a statement on the Vietnam War, the simple fact is that, four decades later, there is no family of cannibals as infamous as the Sawyers.

 

  1. THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977, dir. Wes Craven)

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Mutants. Cannibals. Savages. THE HILLS HAVE EYES is among the most stark exploitation films of its time, turning heads and stomachs of those who never got around to the grindhouse cinemas of 42nd Street. Moreover, THE HILLS HAVE EYES posited that it wasn’t just foolish young adults who were vulnerable to the preying eyes of cannibals on American soil: vacationing families, children, and infants all could hypothetically be on the menu.

 

  1. RAVENOUS (1999, dir. Antonia Bird)

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Possibly the most outright entertaining and fantastic of the bunch here, Antonia Bird’s tale of pre-Civil War cannibalism in America is a modern masterpiece of horror cinema. With a cavalcade of incredible character actors, a terrifying premise and an even scarier execution of said premise, RAVENOUS is a bloody descent into madness that incorporates both a dark sense of a humor and an impressive use of Native American mythology into its sordid story. But above all else, RAVENOUS showed a story of depraved cannibalism through a unique female lense, allowing the film to go into organically stranger and dread-inducing places than the material may otherwise suggest.

 

  1. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991, dir. Jonathan Demme)

The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Blu-ray Screenshot

There is simply no fictional cannibal that is as notorious or as notable as Hannibal Lecter, the man-eating mad doctor who plays cerebral chess with tortured FBI agents Will Graham and Clarice Starling. And, of course, the character took the world by storm with his disturbing debut in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS; while the cannibalism on display is limited, its use is nonetheless effective, with Anthony Hopkins being as riveting as he is unsettling as Lecter.

 

  1. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980, dir. Ruggero Deodato)

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Tell a tried and true horror fan to name a cannibal film, and 9 times out of 10, you’ll hear “CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST.” Ruggero Deodato’s subversive, utterly disgusting masterpiece of exploitation cinema (and one of the few to outright criticize its audience), CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST takes no prisoners and subjects you to some of the most horrific imagery ever put to screen. And while the film is mostly known for its multiple acts of true animal cruelty, Deodato should also get credit for constructing some of the most realistic and off-putting gore scenes of all-time, whose basis in fiction is still questioned to this day.

 

And while we have 2 weeks to wait and see if Roth’s THE GREEN INFERNO will bump a flick from that list, here are some honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut…

Unrelenting Man-Eaters:
Andrew van den Houten’s OFFSPRING
Marino Girolami’s ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST

 

Surreal, Strange and Scary:
Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2
Tsui Hark’s WE’RE GOING TO EAT YOU

 

Flesh-Eating Funnies:
Bob Balaban’s PARENTS
Trey Parker’s CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL

 

Weird, Wild and Wicked:
Kevin Connor’s MOTEL HELL
H.G. Lewis’ BLOOD FEAST

 

Just Plain Wrong:
Rob Schmidt’s WRONG TURN
Joe Lynch’s WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END

 

Eli Roth’s THE GREEN INFERNO hits theaters from BH Tilt on September 25th.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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