(Warning: Scenes of gore and horror feature here)
On Wednesday I was cooking from Robert Rodriguez’s “10 Minute Cooking School” as it appeared on the DVD extras for Once Upon a Time in Mexico. That was far from the last time that Rodriguez used a great deal of culinary content in one of his movies. Four years later his enjoyably ridiculous faux-grindhouse picture Planet Terror was packed with talk of Texas barbecue and the way you should never reveal the secrets to your barbecue sauce recipe. Advice that I completely ignored. Fortunately, so does Rodriguez in the third segment of his cooking school extra.
Barbecue, however, is not the main foodstuff on offer in Planet Terror. That would be brains. Yes, it’s a zombie movie so, at the end of the day, it’s mostly about eating people. Of course there is a bit of a difference between zombies and cannibals, but still this got me thinking about eating people on film.
Perhaps the most noted movie cannibal (certainly the only one to win an Oscar for his portrayal as a people eater) is Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. The character may have also been played by Brian Cox (not the astronomy professor), Gaspard Ulliel and Mads Mikkelsen, but it’s Hopkins “fava beans and a nice chianti” version from The Silence of the Lambs that we all remember. However, despite the repeated notion of Lecter as a sophisticated gourmet cannibal, when we actually see him eating someone it’s far more visceral than fine dining.
Ridley Scott’s far sillier sequel has Lecter on the outside after this escape scene and, therefore, with the potential to show his culinary skill with a human cadaver. Instead, though, the movie gives us this preposterous scene where Lecter forces Ray Liotta’s cop to eat his own brain while still alive. It doesn’t exactly make you as hungry for brains as Planet Terror‘s zombies.
Perhaps Hopkins’ best looking dish of human meat wasn’t as Lecter at all. Julie Taymor’s imaginative film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus shows smart referential casting by bringing the erstwhile Lecter to the role of the bard’s most famous people cook. Taymor’s darkly comic version of the story features the classic image of delicious looking pies cooling on a windowsill, only these are to be served to the mother of their contents.
Generally the more successful film cannibals have been in the darkly humorous world. The situation of people trapped in a remote wintery location turning to cannibalism was used to entertaining effect in cannibal western Ravenous (with a score by Damon Albarn) in which an enjoyably hammy Robert Carlyle chewed more than the scenery.
Meanwhile, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s Delicatessen shows us a dystopian future where a sinister butcher offers the only meat still available, while a gang of sewer dwelling rebels eat only pulses and lentils. It’s not so much that human flesh is portrayed as appealing to eat, just that you can see how it might be better than the alternative.
Delicatessen‘s evil butcher is clearly of a type with The League of Gentleman‘s Hilary Briss, although the exact nature of Royston Vasey’s “special stuff” is never made completely clear.
Probably it is going to be TV that will give us a really good look at fine dining where people are the key ingredient. Now that Hannibal Lecter has his own weekly TV spot it’s only a matter of time before we see all the ways that we could become dinner rather than diner.