Top 12 Horror Movies About Cannibalism

What’s eating you?

“Eat Me.” –Anonymous

A couple days back, after blogging about the limbo status of Eli Roth’s ode to 1970’s and 1980’s Italian cannibal films, The Green Inferno, my mind started reflecting on some personal favorite horror movies about cannibals and cannibalism.

But before I jump in, I feel compelled to address the elephant in the room: Cannibal Holocaust.   Equally celebrated and despised, Cannibal Holocaust has achieved a level of mystique that most films never dream of. As a fierce opponent of censorship, I will crusade for this film’s right to exist. However, there are aspects of Cannibal Holocaust that I find absolutely repulsive. I’m not talking about the gore, I’m talking about the racist portrayal of indigenous South American tribes and the on-screen slaughter of innocent animals. For this reason, Cannibal Holocaust is not eligible for inclusion on my list and, truthfully, I’d prefer to keep comments and conversations about it to a minimum. I realize that by detesting the film, I’m only adding to the mystique that gives it such staying power; it’s an ironic catch-22 that I’m fully aware of, but what can I do?

If you really want an in-depth discussion of Cannibal Holocaust, you can read the viral op-ed I wrote earlier this year: HERE.

Now let’s talk about Cannibal films that are actually worth your attention!

Parents (1989)

Director: Bob Balaban

Writer: Christopher Hawthorne

Stars: Randy QuaidMary Beth HurtSandy Dennis |

1-Parents 1989 poster

Parents is a vastly underrated black comedy.  It’s the 1950’s and 10-year-old Michael starts to wonder where his doting parents get the huge chunks of meat they always serve at dinnertime.  As kids with wild imaginations will do, Michael begins to harbor terrifying suspicions that his parents are cannibals.  The “twist” is that he isn’t overreacting and his parents really ARE serving him human flesh.   Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt are perfect as the titular parental-units.

 

Motel Hell (1980)

Director: Kevin Connor

Writers: Robert JaffeSteven-Charles Jaffe

Stars: Rory CalhounPaul LinkeNancy Parsons |

2-Motel Hell

“It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters!”  Motel Hell is a hilarious stab at the normally grim cannibalism sub-genre of horror.  Everyone just loves Farmer Vincent’s meats.  The “secret ingredient” comes from his “garden” out back.  Motel Hell is an experience in and of itself, definitely one of those “so bad it’s good” kind of movies.

 

Ravenous (1999)

Director: Antonia Bird

Writer: Ted Griffin

Stars: Guy PearceRobert CarlyleDavid Arquette |

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Ravenous is another underrated masterpiece that’s perhaps the best cannibal film ever made.  Drawing on the legend of the ill-fated Donner Party and the Native American myth of the Wendigo, Ravenous elevates the cannibal sub-genre to the level of high art.  Set in the 1840’s, Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle give performances of a lifetime.   Unbelievably and unforgivably, this film has a lousy 37% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Perhaps one day, this film will garner the attention and respect it deserves.

 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Writers: Kim Henkel (story), Tobe Hooper (story)

Stars: Marilyn BurnsEdwin NealAllen Danziger |

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The Granddaddy of all cannibal movies, TCM still manages to shock and sicken audiences 40 years after its original release.  Gunnar Hansen’s outstanding portrayal of Leatherface helped cement the character’s legacy as one of the most reviled Horror icons in history.  The final “Dinner” scene is epic in its depravity and disgusting to behold.  It certainly would not surprise me if Marilyn Burns, the actress who played “final-girl” Sally Hardesty, suffered permanent psychological trauma from her experiences on set.

 

Hannibal Rising (2007)

Director: Peter Webber

Writers: Thomas Harris (screenplay), Thomas Harris(novel)

Stars: Gaspard UllielRhys IfansLi Gong |

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While not as impressive as either Silence of the Lambs or Hannibal, the 2 movies that proceeded it, Hannibal Rising is a worthwhile experience nonetheless.  What makes it particularly apropos for this list is the way this prequel examines the psychological root cause of Hannibal Lecter’s “need” to consume human flesh.  HR documents Hannibal’s childhood in Lithuania at the end of WWII until his coming of age as a brilliant if damaged intellectual.  This is essential viewing for Lecter fans.

 

Delicatessen (1991)

Directors: Marc CaroJean-Pierre Jeunet

Writers: Gilles Adrien (dialogue), Gilles Adrien(screenplay)

Stars: Marie-Laure DougnacDominique PinonPascal Benezech |

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Delicatessen is a French post-apocalyptic black comedy from writer/director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the same guy who directed Amelie & City of Lost Children.  Evil landlord Clapet places “Help Wanted” ads to lure victims to the building—where they are butchered and served to the tenants.  Clapet’s daughter Julie falls in love Louison, a retired circus clown and the landlords next intended victim.  Desperate to save her love, Julie recruits the Troglodistes, a militant vegetarian sub-group who reside in the sewers.  Ok, it’s not so much a horror movie, but it’s visually epic and very dark.  Sweet flick.

 

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

Director: Alexandre Aja

Writers: Alexandre Aja (screenplay), Grégory Levasseur(screenplay)

Stars: Ted LevineKathleen QuinlanDan Byrd |

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I’m referring to the 2006 Remake since I have never seen Wes Craven’s original from 1977 (please forgive me).  Writer/director Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes is about as shocking and brutal as a horror film can be.  Based on the tale of Sawney Bean, the semi-mythical leader of a 16th century cannibalistic clan in Scotland, this modern retelling follows a family on an ill-fated road trip through the Nevada desert.  While the “mutants” in THHE are definitely cannibals, there’s mostly just a bunch of sadistic motherfuckers who are just as likely to rape you, kidnap you, or burn you alive as they are to eat you.  Definitely not for the squeamish (or those who have trouble with rape scenes), THHE is simply hard-fucking-core.

 

The Woman (2011)

Director: Lucky McKee

Writers: Jack KetchumLucky McKee2 more credits »

Stars: Pollyanna McIntoshBrandon Gerald FullerLauren Ashley Carter |

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The titular woman in The Woman is the last surviving member of a family of feral cannibals who resided in the thick forests of the Pacific North West.  Chris Cleek is a lawyer with a hankering for hunting who discovers the woman bathing naked in a creek.  Chris Cleek is also an oppressive patriarch with some seriously disturbing parenting methods.  He decides to bring the woman back to his family’s home in an attempt to “civilize her”.  This film has a deliciously controversial history that’s definitely worth researching.  The ending is fucking crazy.

 

Dying Breed (2008)

Director: Jody Dwyer

Writers: Michael Boughen (screenplay), Jody Dwyer(screenplay)

Stars: Nathan PhillipsLeigh WhannellBille Brown |

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One of my absolute favorite After Dark releases, Dying Breed follows a group of friends on a conservationist trip to Tasmania.  They hope to find proof of a though-to-be-extinct tiger.  Instead they find an isolated community of decedents of “The Pie Man”, a notorious cannibal who escaped a penal colony in the 1820’s.  Dying Breed is no joke, extremely violent and unnerving without a shred of comic relief. For some reason, the DVD art features an eyeball in a martini glass which has absolutely nothing to do with anything—quite misleading.  It’s a shame because with a bit more effort in promotion and presentation, Dying Breed could have been a hit.  Fans of Australian Horror (or “Ozsploitation”) especially need to take note of this underappreciate gem.

 

Frontier(s) (2007)

Director: Xavier Gens

Writer: Xavier Gens

Stars: Karina TestaAurélien WiikPatrick Ligardes |

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s) is the crown jewel of New French Extremity.  Simply a must-watch for all serious Horror aficionados.  I’ve heard it described as a French version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but that barely scratches the surface of the terrors that await viewers of Frontier(s).  Imagine the best aspects of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hostel, and The Descent, throw in more firepower than a Rambo flick—and you’re still nowhere close.  And did I mention the Nazis?  Frontier(s) is the kind of film that will leave you shaken to the core.  Those unfamiliar with New French Extremity should be aware: Films in this sub-genre don’t give a damn about happy endings.  For the brave, Frontier(s)is an unparalleled cinematic experience.

 

We Are What We Are (2013)

Director: Jim Mickle

Writers: Nick DamiciJorge Michel Grau (an original screenplay), 1 more credit »

Stars: Bill SageAmbyr ChildersJulia Garner |

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The American remake of a 2010 Mexican film of the same name, We Are What We Are topped many “Best Horror of 2013” lists. It’s a deeply disturbing film with a palpable sadness throughout. I don’t think anyone in the film smiles—ever. Its exploration of Cannibalism, however, is intelligent and nuanced, incorporating elements of “tradition” and delving into the science behind eating human flesh. We Are What We Are is also a sobering reflection on gender roles in a patriarchal society. It may be slow at times, but the final scene will fuck you up!

 

Hidden in the Woods (“En las afueras de la ciudad”) (2012)

Director: Patricio Valladares

Writers: Andrea Cavaletto (screenwriter), Patricio Valladares (screenwriter)

Stars: Siboney LoCarolina EscobarDaniel Antivilo |

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Brutal, controversial, and incredibly difficult to endure, the cannibals of Hidden in the Woods are perhaps cinema’s most sympathetic. Abandoned and ill equipped to deal with society at large, 3 siblings attempt a gut-wrenching exodus from the remote jungle they call home.   This Chilean export is brimming with abuse, incest, rape, exploitation, drugs and murder and is not appropriate for viewers under 18. An American remake is in the works and will star Michael Biehn (Terminator, Aliens).

Did I exclude your favorite horror movies about cannibalism? Sound off in the comments!

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7 Comments on this post.

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  • Evan Baker
    20 November 2014 at 1:31 pm - Reply

    I must say, I’m pretty surprised that you haven’t seen the original The Hills Have Eyes. Based on your tastes, it seems like something you would have sought out long, long ago.

    It’s been way, way too long since I watched Delicatessen. In fact, I’m surprised and ashamed that I don’t have a copy of that one. 🙁

  • Josh Millican
    20 November 2014 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    Seeing the original The Hills Have Eyes has always been on my list of things to do, but I saw the remake first and was so blown away by it, I couldn’t imagine the original being better. While I’m a child of the 70’s, I’m more attracted to post-911 horror movies (as I’m working on a book about how 9/11 forever changed the landscape of Horror cinema) and 1990’s horror, as that was when I “came of age”. Also, the remake is directed by Alexandre Aja, one of my all time favorite French directors.

    • Evan Baker
      20 November 2014 at 6:06 pm - Reply

      Oh, wow, I am super excited about that idea for a book! Very cool!

      As I’m sure you’ve gathered, I’m a little old-school in my tastes. Not just in horror, but in cinema – heck, pop culture – in general. For me, the 60s in many ways represented the peak of cinematic style and storytelling. (Not to say there isn’t a TON of post-60s stuff that I love.) So, alas, the cannibal sub-genre emerged right at the point where my interest becomes more sporadic, and it’s one of the areas of horror that I really don’t know much about at all.

  • Josh Millican
    20 November 2014 at 6:16 pm - Reply

    It’s good for The Blood-Shed that we all have our individual areas of expertise.

    • Evan Baker
      20 November 2014 at 6:19 pm - Reply

      Agreed. And I feel like I can trust you guys’ recommendations about things I otherwise might not have bothered to check out.

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