David Backus as Stash
Dustin Loreque as Hub
Vince Buckley as Caretaker
Bud Campbell as Clarence Heckles
Stash and Hub (Backus and Loreque) are two disgusting-looking cannibalistic ghouls wandering through a graveyard at night. They’re attempting to find the grave of Mr. Clarence Heckles (Campbell) so as to steal his body for later tasty meals. As they walk they discuss the nature of being a ghoul and also, weirdly enough, eating, condiments, and humanity’s relationship with food. When they finally reach his gravesite, they set to work exhuming the corpse, something they appear to have a fair amount of experience at. On this night, though, the corpse may not come so quietly.
I wanted to like Cannibal Flesh Riot far more than I did. It’s directed by one of the more well-known horror artists and authors currently working, Gris Grimly. A soundtrack was released under the same name including some of my favorite bands (though just about none of that music actually appears in the piece). There’s even, on the director’s cut, a brilliant introduction by Gris Grimly himself discussing the nature of various zombies, vampires, and ghouls as a “primer” of sorts before the short proper.
Unfortunately, once the intro ends, the short is nothing like what I expected. I understand what Grimly was trying to do. It appears to be him combining a slew of different techniques to create a film that encompasses his usual style of drawn or painted work. But, as a film, the short needs to pick a style and stick with it. If it wants to be serious, that’s fine, but don’t incorporate goofy, cartoony sound effects into it. If it’s trying to be a goofy cartoon (the apparent overarching goal), that’d be fine too… though that seems heavily at odds with Grimly’s choice to shoot this in serious-looking black and white. But then, okay, it’s in black and white now so it could be a period piece of some sort. Then THAT gets thrown out the window when our leads start discussing commercials and McDonalds later on in the short. The entire Cannibal Flesh Riot endeavor just comes off as wildly uneven to me.
In terms of technique, I can appreciate some degree of mixing media, but they need to flow well into each other to avoid jarring transitions. When Stash and Hub reach the graveyard, they seem to be live-action actors walking into a stop-motion set. Then, with no warning, they’re stop-motion actors walking through a stop-motion set, and then live action walking through live action! Most of these shots, when they happen, look very good in and of themselves. However, the viewer still can’t help but suddenly stop and say “wait weren’t those two just real people” and thus get momentarily taken out of the work.
The Cannibal Flesh Riot script also puts me in a tough position. On one level, like the film as a whole, I get what he’s going for. The seemingly random discussion between Stash and Hub on how to spice up their cannibal meals or the nature of condiments or how people rationalize thinking of their food as people (a la the California Raisins) are interestingly written and at times funny, but they’re out of place in this story! I don’t want the majority of the short I’m seeing about two cannibalisticgraverobbers to be an in-depth discussion on the nature of relish, spices, and condiments!
I don’t want to come off as completely negative about this because there are a few things it does right. For instance, for all the weirdness of the dialogue, Backus and Loreque are great in this. If the viewer didn’t have their graverobber chemistry to hold the story together, everything would fall apart. The script may seem wrong for Cannibal Flesh Riot at times… yet you still want to hear these characters read it. Also, I should say that Grimly does pay homage to the genre very well in a few scenes. Possible references to the blood geyser in Nightmare on Elm Street and the POV attacks in Evil Dead are particularly memorable. Finally, for a first film, Grimly and his crew should be commended for at least nailing down sound editing in terms of dialogue. They still have an issue of sound effects that seem inorganic to what we’re seeing, but they’re definitely on the right track.
Overall, Cannibal Flesh Riot is trying to do too much at once. I’m sure Grimly can do these stylistic techniques well individually. When he tries to do them all at once in a 30-minute piece though, it just comes off as overloaded and diminishes the amount of work that went into them. Similarly, while the sense of humor of the piece is in keeping with that I’ve seen in his children’s books, it still feels a little awkward in this particular story. If he reigns himself in a bit on his next short, I’m sure he can make something great.