As a genre, horror is intended to be transgressive and push boundaries. If there’s a taboo subject matter, cannibalism would have to rank pretty high on the list. Not surprisingly then, plenty of horror movies have sunk their teeth into the subject. Just last week, Hulu released horror-comedy Fresh to a strong critical reaction. In the spirit of Fresh, this week, we look at some of best, controversial, and obscure cannibal horror movies. From mutant hillbillies to haute cuisine, below are ten different horror movies featuring cannibals.
Cannibal Girls (1973)
Several years before he made Meatballs with Bill Murray, Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman made this weirdo Canadian Grindhouse horror-comedy. As its title implies, Cannibal Girls finds a bickering couple stranded at a small Ontario bed and breakfast run by the Reverend and three beautiful women – who also happen to be cannibals. In addition to Reitman, future SCTV alum Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin play the couple. Too bad the low-budget Cannibal Girls never balances its horror and comedy. Neither Levy nor Martin get to put their talents to much use. However, cult movie enthusiasts may enjoy this horror spoof.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
You couldn’t have this list without including Tobe Hooper’s (Lifeforce, Salem’s Lot) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Alongside Deliverance, Hooper’s classic has influenced countless movies as well as setting the template for just about every rural ‘Hillbilly‘ horror outing. Low-budget, raw, and stripped down like a documentary, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn’t have the explicit gore its reputation suggests. But it’s still a terrifying movie that lingers long after the credits. Countless sequels and remakes haven’t come close to replicating the shock of Leatherface’s first appearance.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Clearly influenced by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes still stands on its own as a 70s horror classic. Like The Last House on the Left, Craven continued to push boundaries with story-telling and onscreen violence. But Craven also had interesting things to say with his movie. His contrast between the All-American Carter family and Hills’ mutant cannibals offered a side dish of social commentary to accompany the nihilistic violence. Liberal son-in-law Doug’s rapid descent into savagery is the kind of subtext that made Craven’s work so enduring. Nearly 30 years later, Alexandre Aja served up a surprisingly good remake. Ignore the 1980s sequel.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Even after over 40 years, Cannibal Holocaust remains one of the most controversial movies filmed. In the 1970s and 1980s, Italian cannibal movies became their own exploitation subgenre with movies like Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive. Technically, Cannibal Holocaust – and its story of an anthropology professor who discovers the footage of a documentary crew who went missing in the Amazon – is the first found-footage movie. While director Ruggero Deodato attempts some commentary about the barbaric nature of modern society it’s lost in stomach-churning Grindhouse violence. Cannibalism, mutilation, sexual violence, and the killing of live animals on screen – if you watch it once, you’ll probably never want to watch it again.
Not even older horror fans may recall this obscure title. A staple on video store shelves, Parents bombed at the box office and failed to impress critics. Of course, it’s not hard to see why this one failed to connect with most audiences. Simply put, Parents is bizarre mix of horror and black comedy about a boy in 1950s American suburbia who discovers his parents are cannibals. In regards to tone, Parents is all over the map, never fully confident as straight horror or satire. Nonetheless, it has enough moments and gonzo performances to warrant a cult status.
Sadly, Ravenous didn’t get much attention on its initial release. Moreover, critics were initially underwhelmed. Ignore both those facts – this horror-western is underrated. Set in the 1800s at a remote military outpost, Ravenous finds Guy Pearce and a decent supporting cast fending off Robert Carlyle, a strange man they’ve rescued who turns out to be a cannibal. It’s a quirky little movie with as much dark humor as horror. Not everyone will appreciate the slower pacing. But Carlyle is terrifying and Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn’s score sets an unforgettable atmosphere.
No follow-up to Silence of the Lambs was ever going to meet expectations. And before its release, Hannibal garnered attention for all the wrong reasons. Both original director, Jonathan Demme and Jodie Foster – reportedly unhappy with author Thomas Harris’ story direction – opted out of the sequel. But Ridley Scott gets points for the movie’s visual style and the sheer audacity of its climax. Few things can match the shock of watching Hannibal Lecter removing Ray Liotta’s skull cap, cooking a piece of brain, and then feeding it to him. Even if Hannibal falls short, Anthony Hopkins ensures the sequel is still worth watching.
Wrong Turn (2003)
Though it was a minor box office hit and derivative of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn has its dedicated fanbase. Since its release, the movie about deformed, inbred cannibals preying on tourists in West Virginia has spawned five straight-to-video sequels and a remake. One of those sequels was good; most of them were not very good. As for the remake, it was an ambitious update on a formulaic horror movie. Still the original Wrong Turn had Stan Winston’s make-up effects and Eliza Dushku making it a fun, guilty pleasure.
The Green Inferno (2013)
Few directors were better-suited than Eli Roth to revisit – albeit indirectly – Cannibal Holocaust. Though it’s not a remake, The Green Inferno’s story of naïve college students encountering a cannibalistic tribe while trying to save the Amazon rainforest is clearly a homage. Similar to its inspiration, The Green Inferno boasts the gore characteristic of ‘70’s and 80’s Italian cannibal movies. Aside from its relatively slow build-up, The Green Inferno is a relentless endurance test that will leave most viewers equal parts uncomfortable and disgusted. If you’re looking for hardcore horror, Roth doesn’t compromise. Everyone else will probably want to skip out on this one.
On its release, French director Julia Ducournau’s Raw sparked overwhelming critical praise. And it was very much justified. Typically, cannibal horror movies have fallen into the territory of exploitation. Yet Raw is more arthouse than Grindhouse. Ducournau tweaks the premise by fusing some unnerving gore, sexuality, and family drama. Briefly, Raw follows first-year veterinarian student Justine, a vegetarian, who develops a taste for flesh after she’s forced to eat meat as part of a hazing ritual. Be forewarned – you may swear off meat after watching this one. And Ducournau followed this one up with last year’s equally provocative, Titane.