A recent study conducted by the geniuses at asapScience focused on cannibalism, specifically, the side-effects of a diet high in human flesh—hypothetically, of course. If you were stranded on a deserted island or lost in the Andes, for example, you might think a human body is packed full of powerful proteins and nutritious vitamins, but you’d be wrong. It turns out being a cannibal isn’t good for your health. Who knew?
Not only do you risk getting all kinds of blood born pathogens if the man-meat isn’t cooked correctly, humans are low in both calories and proteins; most of us also have these nasty things called prions in our muscles and organs. Prions will actually bore into your brain until it’s full of holes like a sponge. No Bueno.
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While it might not be practical, as one of society’s ultimate taboos cannibals & cannibalism will always make for excellent horror movie fodder. Below, in no particular order, are my Top 15 Gory Horror Movies About Cannibalism! Have a read and let me know what you think in the Comments section! Did your favorite horror movie about cannibalism make the list? What are some other cannibal-themed horror movies that you think should have been included? Sound off in the Comments section!
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, Directed by Tobe Hooper)
Official Synopsis: When Sally (Marilyn Burns) hears that her grandfather’s grave may have been vandalized, she and her paraplegic brother, Franklin (Paul A. Partain), set out with their friends to investigate. After a detour to their family’s old farmhouse, they discover a group of crazed, murderous outcasts living next door. As the group is attacked one by one by the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), who wears a mask of human skin, the survivors must do everything they can to escape.
While cannibalism exploitation movies were huge in Europe in the 1970s, Texas Chainsaw Massacre took human flesh-eaters out of the remote jungles of South American and into the American heartland. Leatherface and his clan have become iconic, and Tobe Hooper’s film is considered seminal. It’s worth noting that the TCM franchise is one of the few 20th Century franchises to successfully reinvent itself for 21st Century audiences (unlike its contemporaries like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, which can’t seem to reinvent themselves to save their lives!).
Related Article: “Leatherface” Scribe Wants to Make a Chop-Top Movie
Ravenous (1999, Directed by Antonia Bird)
Official Synopsis: Upon receiving reports of missing persons at Fort Spencer, a remote Army outpost on the Western frontier, Capt. John Boyd (Guy Pearce) investigates. After arriving at his new post, Boyd and his regiment aid a wounded frontiersman, F.W. Colghoun (Robert Carlyle), who recounts a horrifying tale of a wagon train murdered by its supposed guide — a vicious U.S. Army colonel gone rogue. Fearing the worst, the regiment heads out into the wilderness to verify Colghoun’s gruesome claims.
Based loosely on the trials of The Donner Family and incorporating elements Native American Wendigo mythology, director Antonia Bird elevated the cannibalism subgenre to the level of high art with Ravenous. This film succeeds in no small part due to its extremely talented cast, especially Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, and David Arquette.
Related Article: 10 Amazing Horror Movies Directed by Women
Parents (1989, Directed by Bob Balaban)
Official Synopsis: Ten-year-old Michael Laemle (Bryan Madorsky) senses that something is not quite right with his family. Sure, his mother, Lily (Mary Beth Hurt), is the perfect 1950s housewife, and they have a comfortable life in the suburbs, where his dad, Nick (Randy Quaid), works at a mortuary. But what’s with the enormous cuts of meat that his father brings home every night? What, or whom, do they come from? Michael takes his concerns to a school counselor (Sandy Dennis) who decides to come over for dinner.
This comedy was so dark and deadpan, I don’t think people really understood Parents when it was released in 1989. Decades later, Parents still stands as a unique entry in the cannibalism subgenre. Thankfully, Vestron Video just released an outstanding DVD re-issue giving it renewed attention and appreciation. That fact that Randy Quaid stars as a 1950’s suburban cannibal should be all the motivation you need to pick this gem up.
Related Article: “Parents” Finally Getting Blu-ray Release Thanks to Vestron Video!
We Are What We Are (2013, Directed by Jim Mickle)
Official Synopsis: The Parkers, reclusive people who cling to ancient customs, find their secret lives threatened when a torrential downpour and the death of the family matriarch forces daughters Iris and Rose to assume special responsibilities.
While most films portray cannibals as savage and/or depraved, We Are What We Are presents cannibalism as a cultural practice; something endowed with ritualistic significance and enforced with religious fervor. This is a slow burn drama and a twisted coming of age story that pays off with a powerful and brutal climax that won’t soon be forgotten.
The Hills Have Eyes (2006, Directed by Alexandre Aja)
Official Synopsis: A family road trip takes a terrifying turn when the travelers become stranded in a barren atomic zone established by the U.S. government. However, the unlucky travelers discover to their horror that the wasteland is far from uninhabited. A band of bloodthirsty mutants prowls the area, and there is nothing they like better than fresh meat.
No disrespect to Wes Craven’s original, but Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes is a rare example of a remake that surpasses its predecessor. Aja’s Hills is an excruciating exercise in depravity, where mutant cannibals are as likely to rape you or burn you alive as they are to eat you. This one pulls no punches and established the French filmmaker as an international treasure and a fear practitioner of the highest caliber.
Related Article: EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Horror Heavyweight Alexandre Aja
The Green Inferno (2015, Directed by Eli Roth)
Official Synopsis: New York college student Justine (Lorenza Izzo), a lawyer’s daughter, meets a student activist named Alejandro (Ariel Levy) when he goes on a hunger strike on behalf of underpaid janitors. Smitten, Justine agrees to help Alejandro undertake his next project: to save the Amazon. She soon learns to regret her decision when their plane crashes in the Peruvian jungle and she and the rest of their group are taken captive by a tribe of hungry cannibals.
As you may already be able to tell, I’m not a big fan of Video Nasty era cannibal exploitation films. I’ve never really enjoyed the savage natives trope, and I’ve never watched Cannibal Holocaust as a form of protest against cruelty to animals (the same reason I’ll never watch the first Friday the 13th movie again, but that’s another article). Still, Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno flipped established expectations by balancing unimaginable gore with a hefty dose of environmental politics and social commentary. Hardly lacking in controversy of its own, The Green Inferno is nonetheless a satisfying horror movie geared towards 21st Century horror fans.
Wrong Turn (2003, Directed by Rob Schmidt)
Official Synopsis: Friends Jessie (Eliza Dushku) and Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui) are traveling with pals Scott (Jeremy Sisto), Evan (Kevin Zegers) and Francine (Lindy Booth) when they have car trouble in West Virginia. Moments later, motorist Chris (Desmond Harrington) crashes into their disabled vehicle. Stranded, the friends discover that they’re being stalked by a horde of backwoods cannibals. The woodsmen are hungry and fierce, and they’ll be eating well unless Jessie and pals can outsmart them.
The first remains the best; 2003’s Wrong Turn is a nonstop thrill-ride and pure horror bubblegum. The franchise struck a winning formula by combining the cannibal horror of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the backwoods depravity of Deliverance.
Frontier(s) (2008, Directed by Xavier Gens)
Official Synopsis: A thief (Karina Testa) and her gang encounter a family of sadistic neo-Nazis.
Take the best aspects of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hostel, and The Descent—and you’re still nowhere close to understanding this chaotic and unprecedented splatter-fest. Frontier(s) is considered one of the crown jewels of the now-defunct New French Extremity subgenre, and Xavier Gens is still a name to follow.
Motel Hell (1980, Directed by Kevin Connor)
Official Synopsis: Vincent Smith (Rory Calhoun) and his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons) run a rural hotel, but they earn most of their cash operating a food stand that specializes in world-famous sausages. After years of success, however, the duo’s upstanding brother, Sheriff Bruce (Paul Linke), eventually discovers the grotesque details of his siblings’ booming business: Vincent and Ida are actually plumping up their hotel patrons, killing and dismembering them, and then grinding them into frankfurters.
The most deliberate horror comedy on this list, Motel Hell is clearly a send-up of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, yet still managed to produce innovations that remain unique to this day (most specifically, the corpse garden). The film’s slogan is like secret code among lovers of 1980’s horror schlock: “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s Fritters!”
Related Article: 1980’s Era Horror Movies that NEED a Remake
Pandorum (2009, Directed by Christian Alvart)
Official Synopsis: Astronauts Payton (Dennis Quaid) and Bower (Ben Foster) awaken in a hypersleep chamber with no memory of who they are or what their mission might be. While Payton stays behind to monitor the radio transmitter, Bower ventures out of the chamber into the seemingly abandoned spaceship. The men quickly realize that they are not alone and that the fate of mankind hinges on what they do next.
Three words: Cannibals in space. A bunch more words: Pandorum is one of the few horror/sci-fi films to compellingly incorporate elements of human cannibalism. It presents itself as a puzzle that only becomes more terrifying as it unravels. If you were disappointed by Alien: Covenant, watch or revisit Pandorum for a reminder that truly harrowing outers space horror still exists.
Related Article: The Best Horror Sci-Fi Movies of the 21st Century
Bone Tomahawk (2015, Directed by S. Craig Zahler)
Official Synopsis: In the Old West, a sheriff (Kurt Russell), his deputy (Richard Jenkins), a gunslinger (Matthew Fox), and a cowboy (Patrick Wilson) embark on a mission to rescue three people from a savage group of cave dwellers.
The fact that Robert Englund, the actor synonymous with Freddy Krueger, said Bone Tomahawk “scared the shit” out of him should be taken as a ringing endorsement. This one is slow-burn and character-driven, presenting a truly unique and unnerving manifestation of cave-dwelling troglodytes. Scenes of mutilation and imprisonment are nearly unparalleled in our modern horror landscape.
Butcher Boys (2012, Directed by Justin Meeks and Duane Graves)
Official Synopsis: A birthday celebration at a fancy restaurant leads to some friends’ encounter with flesh-peddling cannibals.
One of my favorite films of the 21st Century is this criminally underrated gem by the creative dynamic duo of Justin Meeks and Duane Graves. If you liked Hostile, you’ll love Butcher Boys; if you’re a fan of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this movie plays out like a love-letter to Hooper’s groundbreaking classic. (Psst: Watch for cameos!).
Related Article: 21st Century Masters of Horror
C.H.U.D. (1984, Directed by Douglas Cheek)
Official Synopsis: Photographer George Cooper (John Heard) is documenting the lives of subterranean homeless people, a population that has mysteriously dwindled. After receiving information from a reporter, George becomes aware of a conspiracy theory about cannibalistic monsters lurking in the sewers. He teams up with the reporter, a policeman (Christopher Curry) and a priest (Daniel Stern) to fight two battles: one against the cannibals and the other against a corrupt government official.
Somehow, C.H.U.D. became a horror movie punchline, but this underrated horror gem is closer to a drama than a comedy, with a truly stunning performance from Daniel Stern. Follow the link below to read my recent retrospective on C.H.U.D. I guarantee it’ll change any preconceptions you may have. Give these Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers a visit!
The Neon Demon (2016, Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn)
Official Synopsis: Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to Los Angeles just after her 16th birthday to launch a career as a model. The head of her agency tells the innocent teen that she has the qualities to become a top star. Jesse soon faces the wrath of ruthless vixens who despise her fresh-faced beauty. On top of that, she must contend with a seedy motel manager and a creepy photographer. As Jesse starts to take the fashion world by storm, her personality changes in ways that could help her against her cutthroat rivals.
The Neon Demon is a powerful example of metaphorical filmmaking, an examination of how Hollywood devours dreams and dreamers.
Raw (2017, Directed by Julia Ducournau)
Official Synopsis: Stringent vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier) encounters a decadent, merciless and dangerously seductive world during her first week at veterinary school. Desperate to fit in, she strays from her principles and eats raw meat for the first time. The young woman soon experiences terrible and unexpected consequences as her true self begins to emerge.
Raw is just as grotesque as you’ve heard, but probably much deeper than you’ve been led to believe. I’m barely able to scratch the surface of the film and its harrowing subtexts in a traditional film review. Raw is brutal and extreme but also authentic and engrossing; difficult to watch but completely engrossing, with characters that are as easy to love as they are hate. As we near the half-way point of 2017, Raw is a contender for best horror movie of the year. Don’t miss it.