That old cut up Ed Gein usually gets all of the credit (or blame) for inspiring the cannibal slasher sub-genre. I’ve uncovered three lesser known tales of cannibalism that may have influenced the genre during the 1970s and 1980s.
1. The Legend of Sawney Bean: For over 20 years Sawney Bean and is inbred clan turned the coast of Scotland into their family hunting grounds. Over 1,000 people were murdered and eaten by the cannibalistic clan before King James I and an army of 400 well armed soldiers tracked them down. Upon entering Bean’s cave, the men discovered piles of human bones and pickled human flesh. Retribution was harsh and swift. The men of the clan had their arms, legs, and genitals chopped off and bled to death. The women and children of the clan were forced to watch the men’s punishment before all being burned alive at the stake.
The legend of Sawney Bean can be found in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, The Hills Have Eyes, Cannibal Campout, and Lunchmeat. All of these films deal with civilized people becoming lunch for savage, inbred families who are regressing down the evolutionary ladder. Leatherface-The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III captures Sawney’s spirit the best. The whole family, even the little girl, is shown partaking in the family tradition of hunting and killing humans for food. Even more disturbing, the clan in Leatherface is reproducing. As one member states, Leatherface might not be a handsome man but he makes beautiful babies.
2. The Accidental Cannibals: This urban legends centers around an Eastern European family and the package they receive from a relative living in the states. Inside the package the family discover a beautiful ornate jar containing a mysterious powder. The women in the family decide the powder is an exotic spice from America and begin adding the spice to the soups, puddings, and everything else served during the evening meals. A few weeks later, after all of the spice has been consumed, the family gets a shocking letter from the States. A relative writes to inform the family poor old granny died in America several months ago and her dying wish was to have her ashes spread across the mountains of her homeland. The letter concludes with a description of the urn containing granny’s ashes. It’s a beautiful ornate jar.
Slashers using the theme of The Accidental Cannibals include Microwave Massacre, Motel Hell, Offerings, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. The joke is the folks in these films don’t know the secret ingredient in the wonderful food they’re consuming (Cook’s Bar-B-Q, Farmer Vincent’s Fritters) is human flesh. The viewer is usually let in on the joke early on while the hapless characters munch away until the big reveal at the conclusion of the film. We know there is a little extra meat on that meat lover’s pizza in Offerings and dead hookers in the lunch boxes on Microwave Massacre.
3. Survive: On October 13, 1972 Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed in the Andes Mountains. The rugby players who survived the crash stayed alive for 72 days in that frozen hell by eating the dead passengers. When the survivors were finally rescued and their dietary habits were uncovered, it created a world wide media storm. Sensational books (Alive) and films (Survive!) were rushed into production to cash in on the story.
The three best examples of “survive at any cost” slashers are My Bloody Valentine, Humongous, and Anthropophagus (aka The Grim Reaper). Harry Warden might not be thought of as a cannibal but the restored footage in the special edition dvd clearly shows Harry chewing on a handsandwich provided by a dead co-worker. One wonders if Harry nibbled on those hearts before stuffing them in candy boxes. The killer in Humongous is never shown consuming human flesh but he’s keeping those bodies on meat hooks for a reason. With no other food source available on Dog Island the killer has to add stranded boaters to the menu if he wants to stay alive. Anthropophagus is the story of a man who eats his wife and son to stay alive while lost at sea. Unfortunately for the other characters in the film, the man becomes addicted to consuming human flesh. The visual highlights in Joe D’Amato’s cannibal classic include star/script writer George Eastman ripping out a mother’s fetus for a quick snack and chewing his own intestines after they’ve been ripped out by a well placed pick-axe.