It’ll be interesting to see if “Raw” lives up to its hype from the Toronto International Film Festival, where people reportedly passed out in response to its graphic gore.
The French film by Julia Ducournau is something of a feminist anthem built around a demurring young vegan who transforms into a flesh-crazed cannibal during her stint at veterinary school. In more fantastical fare — vampire, zombie, or cannibalistic tribe flicks (like the cult classic “Cannibal Holocaust”) — people eat people all the time, almost to the point of normalizing it. What’s more unsettling and provocative is when regular folk, like Ducournau’s voracious heroine, prey on their fellow humans — sometimes covertly so, skirting the law, norms, and even opportunistically turning their friends and family into a bloody feed.
The most famous of the lot is of course Hannibal Lecter, the Thomas Harris literary creation that spurred a film franchise and TV series. Here’s a list of other “cannibals among us” films, with an eye on the esoteric and outré.
Other femmes who feast on flesh
David Cronenberg’s “Rabid” (1977) intended to star Sissy Spacek as the ingenue who, after an accident and a radical operation, can only subsist on human blood. The studio nixed the idea, and producer Ivan Reitman (who would go on to make “Ghostbusters” and four years prior made the lame camp comedy-horror “Cannibal Girls”) decided to cast porn star Marilyn Chambers. Spacek would end up making “Carrie,” and Chambers, leveraging her raw sexuality, proved eerily effective as the reluctant predator of “Rabid.” Also worthy, Nicholas Winding Refn’s tale of Hollywood dreams and lurid excess, “The Neon Demon” (2016), and “Under the Skin” (2013), where an otherworldly Scarlett Johansson patrols the streets of Glasgow seeking lads who don’t have anyone waiting up for them.
In the near future (2022), the world is overcrowded and food is in short supply. Based on the 1966 novel “Make Room! Make Room!,” “Soylent Green” (1973) tells the tale of a pervasive corporation that manufactures an unappetizing but sustainable food source. Add to the dystopian mix a murder, with a gritty detective played by Charlton Heston on the case, and you have the same engrossing genre blending that made “Blade Runner” a re-watch classic. Of course, this being a sci-fi flick, Heston, as he did in “Planet of the Apes,” gets to belt out the revealing last line in all his hyperbolic glory.
“Delicatessen” (1991) is a wicked ort from French filmmakers Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“Amelie” ) and Marc Caro, set in the not too distant future where sustenance is (again) scarce, leading one enterprising butcher to add to his stock by placing employment ads in the “Hard Times” newspaper. Applicants go from the interview process to the meat processor. The directors’ retro postapocalyptic envisioning feels warmly infused by “Metropolis” (1927), and the absurdist humor, flipping civility on its head, cuts deep. There’s also “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (2007), which rightly earned Johnny Depp an Oscar nod for his performance as a wronged family man turned murderous barber who enters into an unholy arrangement with the bakery owner downstairs (Helena Bonham Carter). In “Parents” (1989), a 10-year-old boy (Bryan Madorsky) suspects mom and dad (Mary Beth Hurt and Randy Quaid) might be serving up human flesh. And the title of Paul Bartel’s quirky romp, “Eating Raoul” (1982), set in a Hollywood apartment building full of swingers, says it all.
The fall of civilization, and how people treat each other sans law or active governance, has always provided fertile ground for movies. Mostly we’ve been served the zombie-apocalypse (take “The Walking Dead” or “28 Days Later”), but John Hilcoat’s 2009, big-screen adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s viciously spare novel, “The Road” takes a provocative peer at a post-cataclysmic world where fauna and flora are no more and only man is left to forage the barren landscape and struggle with the prospect of his fellow kind as a food source. In McCarthy’s cold world of violence and despair, the very last embers of civility and hope burn bright.
Madness and desire propel Claire Denis’s “Trouble Every Day” (2001), which polarized critical audiences when it premiered. The grim weave finds a young American newlywed (Vincent Gallo) in Paris trying to track down a fellow doctor (Alex Descas) who specializes in “mental diseases and problems of libido.” Gallo’s Shane is tormented by visions of his wife (June Brown) soaked in blood and a desire to consume flesh when sexually aroused. While he’s able to hold himself in check, the doctor’s wife, Coré (Béatrice Dalle), suffering from a similar affliction, has acted on her desire and, as a result, is immured in the couple’s countryside manse. The film’s most vivid and disturbing scene comes when an enticed intruder breaks into Coré’s room and a consensual act of carnal knowledge turns bloody. The notion of playing with your food gets redefined by gruesome imagery that will haunt you for days.Tom Meek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, the name of the film “Eating Raoul” was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.