The new Netflix series THE SANTA CLARITA DIET is set to premiere on February 3rd, starring Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant in what is reported to be a comedy about cannibalism. It will join a long tradition of films that attempt to mine laughs out of the eating of people. I mean, they can’t all be JUNGLE HOLOCAUST.
Here are some movies you may want to check out – and some you may want to avoid — in the run up to binging all of THE SANTA CLARITA DIET.
1. THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS (1966, dir. T.L.P. Swicegood) Offbeat and extremely low-budget early gorefest about a mortician who partners with some goons who agree to kill people to drum up his business and then serve the bodies as meat in their diner. Only in this film can you get some incredibly bloody gore and an extended pratfall on a skateboard in the same movie. This has to be the most Herschell Gordon Lewis movie not directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis.
2. CANNIBAL GIRLS (1973, dir. Ivan Reitman) Only the second film ever directed by future comedy Midas Ivan Reitman, CANNIBAL GIRLS was supposedly designed as a spoof of horror movies, as evidenced by the fact that a bell would ring during theatrical showings to warn audiences of an upcoming gore scene. Watching it now on DVD, however, it seems to play pretty much straight. The only real indicator that any of it is supposed to be funny is the fact that it’s directed by Reitman and stars future SCTV cast members Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin.
3. MOTEL HELL (1980, dir. Kevin Connor) “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent Fritters.” So goes the tagline for MOTEL HELL, the great horror comedy in which a pair of farmers (Rory Calhoun and Nancy Parsons) kidnap victims passing through, bury them up to their necks (severing their vocal cords so they can’t scream) and eventually turned them into world-famous smoked meats. This low-budget effort has a ton of scuzzy early-‘80s charm, a whole bunch of completely twisted visuals and one of the greatest punchlines in all of horror.
4. EATING RAOUL (1982, dir. Paul Bartel) One of the all-time great cannibal comedies more or less builds to the title punchline, but it’s a lot of fun getting there. Director Paul Bartel’s co-star Mary Woronov play Paul and Mary Bland, a pair of ‘80s moral conservatives who begin to make money by killing and robbing swinger who respond to a classified ad. This is the only movie on this list to be included in the prestigious Criterion Collection, so you just know it’s legit.
5. MICROWAVE MASSACRE (1983, dir. Wayne Berwick) I mean, sure. I guess. This horror “comedy” – recently remastered in high def for Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release – is famous for having a great poster (it was one of two VHS boxes that I made sure to walk past as a kid wandering the video store; it terrified me but I was compelled to always look) and absolutely nothing else. Comedian/voice of Frosty the Snowman Jackie Vernon plays a sad sack who kills his mom and accidentally starts eating her, only to discover he has a taste for human flesh. The movie is pretty insufferable – neither funny nor horrifying – but, to be fair, does have its own cult following. Nobody’s perfect.
6. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 (1986, dir. Tobe Hooper) The great Tobe Hooper followed up his classic – one of the most intense and unpleasant horror movies ever made – with this bonkers sequel that skews totally comedic. This time, the Sawyers have taken to entering their human chili into cook-offs, which is Hooper and co-writer L.M. Kit Carson’s clever take on consumerism and capitalism in the ‘80s. The cannibalism here is talked about and not seen (unless you count Chop Top heating up pieces of his scalp and snacking on them), but it would be unconscionable to make a list of cannibal comedies and not include America’s favorite cannibal family.
7. BLOOD DINER (1987, dir. Jackie Kong) This wild, gory and altogether insane horror comedy is maybe the only movie on the list to mix cannibalism with vegetarianism. Two brothers (Rick Burks and Carl Crew) begin murdering and dismembering women to offer a blood sacrifice for the goddess Sheetar to return, in the meantime serving human remains in their popular vegetarian diner. Director Jackie Kong brings her usual anarchic sensibility and cartoonishly over-the-top humor to the proceedings, and though the movie took some time to find its audience it’s now regarded as a classic. In the words of SHOCKWAVES’ Elric Kane, Kong Is King.
8. LUCKY STIFF (1988, dir. Anthony Perkins) Aside from PSYCHO III, this is the only other movie directed by Norman Bates himself. This one is a much more straightforward comedy in which a hapless sad sack (played by stand-up comic Joe Alaskey) is left at the altar and rebounds with the gorgeous Donna Dixon, who turns out to be a descendant of the Donner Party and is only interested in her new man as a feast for her family. Like a number of movies on the list, the actual cannibalism exists only as an idea off screen – a comical fate to be avoided but not a real threat. Alaskey’s performance is…an acquired taste (no pun intended) and the humor is too broad to ever really be funny. In a lot of ways, this feels more like a TV movie than a theatrical release.
9. CANNIBAL WOMEN IN THE AVOCADO JUNGLE OF DEATH (1989, dir. J.F. Lawton) A silly but surprisingly funny spoof in which Playmate-turned-DTV “erotic thriller” queen Shannon Tweed leads an excursion into the dangerous jungles of Los Angeles (!) to track down a radical cult of feminist cannibals – they have sex with and then eat the men – led by Adrienne Barbeau’s Dr. Kurtz. Written and directed by J.F. Lawton (who would go on to pen PRETTY WOMAN and both UNDER SIEGE films), CANNIBAL WOMEN is a straight-up goofy comedy and features no actual onscreen people eating, but it’s also very entertaining. Bill Maher, who shows up as the token macho male and becomes the butt of most of the jokes, is as smarmy as ever. Most impressive, though, is Shannon Tweed, who displays good comic timing and is a much more charismatic screen presence than her eventual filmography might suggest.
10. PARENTS (1989, dir. Bob Balaban) This super dark, super quirky black comedy is never overtly funny or jokey, instead leaning on a kind of Lynchian weirdness in the way it juxtaposes idyllic ‘50s suburbia with abstract production design, canted angles and creepy performances by Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt as the cannibalistic parents of a quiet young boy (Bryan Madorsky). This has found a cult following over the years, as it has just the right mix of dark humor and general weirdness. And now it’s finally out on Blu-ray as part of the Vestron Classics line!
11. DELICATESSEN (1991, dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro) A black comedy out of France in which the landlord of a run down apartment building murders people and carves them up to sell to tenants in his butcher shop downstairs. The film, Jeunet’s first, features the director’s typically inventive camerawork, detailed production design and completely off-kilter sense of humor for a movie that looks and feels like nothing else on this list.
12. CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL (1993, dir. Trey Parker) Made while Trey Parker and Matt Stone were still students at the University of Colorado Boulder, this musical horror comedy is very loosely based on the story of real-life cannibal Alferd Packer, who confessed to eating his fellow travelers when stuck in the snowy Colorado mountains in the late 1800s. As is to be expected, even this early Parker/Stone effort is incredibly funny and subversive with terrific songs and just enough people eating to earn a spot on this list. The movie was eventually picked up and distributed by Troma, making it one of the best titles in their enormous catalogue.
13. RAVENOUS (1999, dir. Antonia Bird) Great, bloody little sleeper of a horror film (rediscovered in recent years thanks to Scream Factory’s Blu-ray) set in the mid-1800s find Guy Pearce doing battle with Robert Carlyle, a cannibal bent on eating humans to possess their strength. Grisly, darkly comic and with a real sense of bone-chilling cold and desperation, RAVENOUS plays the material more or less straight, which is what makes it such a cool film and one of my favorites of the admittedly limited subgenre of “cannibal comedies.”
14. EDDIE THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL (2011) This Canadian production stars Thure Lindhart as the former darling of the art world who takes a job teaching in a very small town and ends up living with a local man who, as the title suggests, goes out and kills/eats people while asleep. The murders inspire Lindhart’s artist to create new work for the first time in years, so he encourages Eddie to keep…um…sleepwalking. Reminiscent of Roger Corman’s classic A BUCKET OF BLOOD in the way that it satirizes the art world through the lens of horror, EDDIE is a little thin but manages to be one of the few cannibal comedies to really spray some blood.
15. FRESH MEAT (2013, dir. Danny Mulheron) This is the unsung gem of this list, a New Zealand cannibal comedy in which a Māori girl (Hanna Tevita) returns home from boarding school family to discover they have become cannibals…just in time for the whole family to be taken hostage by violent criminals who have no idea what they’re in for. There’s some terrific gore, a couple of funny performances (particularly from Temuera Morrison as the family patriarch), an oddly sweet love story and even a bit of social commentary about racial tensions in New Zealand. Don’t be fooled by the terrible, terrible poster art — FRESH MEAT is really, really fun.