Monday, 4 July 2011

Video Nasty #13 - The Cannibal Man

The title of this 1973 Spanish film is troublesome. Given that there's little flesh-eating1 in the film, it's been dismissed by gorehounds as one of the more marginal of the 39 titles. However, there's a delicious double irony to the title as well. Had the the film been released under its original title La Semana del Asesino (or Week of the Killer), in all probability, the film would have escaped the DPP's Terror. On the other hand had the film not been banned, it might have languished in obscurity, a fate most undeserving of this curious and interesting film.


The story concerns a lowly, introverted slaughterhouse worker named Marcos. One night while out with his girlfriend, Marcos inadvertently kills an irate taxi driver. Increasingly pressured by his nervous girlfriend to go to the police, Marcos strangles her, forcing him into commit more murders to cover up his crimes...

If there's a weak point in The Cannibal Man, it's the ease in which the film's protagonist slides into the act of murder. Even his second victim, Marcos' own brother is afforded little remorse after he's dispatched with a blow to the head. Perhaps director Eloy de la Iglesia simply wanted to load his film with as much contentious imagery as possible - by the beginning of the 1970's, Spain was becoming increasingly liberalized and the loosening bonds of censorship saw Spanish film makers tackle some provocative topics. The violence in the film while not gratuitous is sometimes explicit, but to call the film purely an exploitation picture would be doing it a disservice - it's more Fassbinder than Fulci.


The film as a whole might be best read as a sort of Kafkaesque nightmare and the film is laced with some strange ideas and logic - as the bodies begin mounting up, Marcos is tormented not by some quizzical detectives, but by a pack of stray dogs that gather in increasing numbers at his home, giddy from the smell of putrefaction from the corpses stored in a bedroom. There's also a sense that Marcos' way of life is disintegrating along with the corpses - at one point Marcos sadly concedes that he will be forced to give up his ramshackle cottage to make way for another block of high rise apartments. And there's also the matter of Marcos' confused sexuality and his ambivalent relationship with a predatory homosexual - Marcos makes love to two women in the film but his friendship with Néstor is his most relaxed and rewarding.


Eloy de la Iglesia had made a number of films before he wrote and directed The Cannibal Man, and it shows. There's a certain flair to the visuals, and the combination of clever lighting and some arresting camerawork make the most of the spartan set where much of the film takes place. There's also a strikingly evocative score, accentuating the sense of melancholy felt throughout the film. Vicente Parra's excellent portrayal of the doomed Marcos remains the focal point of the film, and there's sterling support from Eusebio Poncela who handles the tricky role of the homosexual Néstor with poise and sensitivity.


Blue Underground's 2007 DVD, a port of the old Anchor Bay disc features a good 1.85 anamorphic transfer. The image is sharp and colorful but the print used exhibits some flutter every now and then, not a deal breaker but worth noting. The only audio provided in the English dub track, a shame the Spanish track could not be sourced but over all the English dub is really very good. The only extra offered in a trailer. Finally, the Blue Underground sleeve is a doozy, easily the label's goriest design to date! Well worth seeking out.

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Notes
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1. The Cannibal Man title has often been described as a misnomer but there is one scene where Marcos unwittingly eats some meat from the slaughterhouse where he works - the same place where he has been mincing the body parts of his victims. When Marcos discovers where the meat is from he's suitably nauseated...

6 comments:

  1. I have heard a lot of good things about this one, Wes. There is a book called Meat is Murder by Mikita Brottman that discusses cannibal cinema and Cannibal Man is given quite a lot of space in it. I must get the Blue Underground disc.

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  2. Y'know, it's one of the few books from that Creation series that I never picked up. The Killing For Culture book is a good read as well, as is the Lost Highways and their book of John Waters interviews... If you can get the BU disc cheap Jon, it's really quite a haunting film...

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  3. Great review Wes, I'm really intrigued by this and I love the "it's more Fassbinder than Fulci" line.

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  4. Thanks Mart... I don't imagine The Cannibal Man had any influence over Fassbinder, but there is an echo of the film in Fassbinder's 1978 film In A Year With 13 Moons - both films include scenes shot inside a working slaughterhouse...

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  5. Not even heard of this one - but it's certainly an intriguing story idea. There was a Mad TV sketch that played this out in short form for humor - as someone accidentally kills someone, then starts piling the bodies up as more and more people wander in and catch him in the act.

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  6. Craig, one of the greatest aspects of the Video Nasties list was that it put obscure films like that into the forefront. It's a fine film and one of those sleeping Nasties I'd enthusiastically recommend. That Mad sketch seems just right, the story could easily stray into black comedy territory. Fortunately The Cannibal Man (which i must stress again is a terrible title!) leans more towards the flavor of a nightmare...

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