‘Haven’t you ever been with a girl before? What are you,
some kind of homosexual?’
The Cannibal Man; the thrilling tale of a man bitten by a radioactive cannibal who uses his new flesh eating powers to bite – I mean fight crime. Not quite folks, that plot only exists in my dreams every night. Instead we have the least nasty Nasty so far.
I wonder what eager viewers thought back in the early 80s when they rented The Cannibal Man for some gut-munching thrills and were instead presented with a low-key Spanish drama that grapples with class satire and homosexual subtext? Mind you, even the VHS cover blurb seems to warn away potential gorehounds with the honest observation that this is ‘a fascinating character study of a frightened man.’ There you go, you were told, so no asking for your money back please.
The film begins by introducing us to Marcos, who works at a slaughterhouse. Inevitably, this means the filmmakers decide to open the film with real shots of bulls hanging from their feet and being sliced open. It’s a strange and exploitive way for a not-very-exploitive film to open, though I suppose in a narrative sense they try to justify it by using these shots to show how Marcos is unafraid of blood and death.
On a night out, he accidentally kills a taxi driver, setting in motion a series of murders as he tries to cover up the ever increasing body count. It could have made for an amusing and blackly comic story, but instead director Eloy De La Iglesia chooses to play it straight, making for a sombre and occasionally depressing watch. Which is not to say that the film isn’t successful, not at all! Like most European horror cinema of the 70s, there are frequent longueurs, but you are rarely more than ten minutes away from another poor idiot stumbling into that bedroom full of corpses and getting offed by Marcos, who surprisingly manages to maintain fairly sympathetic throughout, 70s sideburns and all.
The kills are brief and bloodless, save a hatchet to the face and a throat slitting that was cut from the 1993 VHS re-release. Amazing that the removal of three seconds can turn a film from ‘liable to deprave and corrupt’ to something you can buy in HMV…
But the story is compelling, and there are a couple of terrific scenes; one where a woman slowly realises that not only is Marcos a killer, but that she is going to be his next victim. Her performance as her fate dawns on her transcends the sometimes clumsy dubbing on the English language print under review. The other is a romantic swimming pool scene between Marcos and his neighbour Néstor. Néstor is clearly infatuated with Marcos, though it’s unclear whether Marcos knows his friend is gay. Regardless, Néstor becomes Marcos’ only ally and the two share a wordless sequence underwater that is quite lovely. I’m not sure what to make of the end of it, where we see beach balls being repeatedly thrown at the screen – world’s worst metaphor or something far more innocent? You be the judge.
It’s unclear why this film was singled out for prosecution. I can only assume that it was the title that did it, roping it in with such extreme titles as Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox and, ummmm, Cannibal Terror. If it had been released under it’s original Spanish title, Week of the Killer, then I doubt we’d be talking about it here. But you’ll be glad you sought it out, because it’s actually a pretty good movie.
Now, if anyone wants to finance my Cannibal Man superhero movie, get in touch. This is a story that simply must be told!