Monday, October 17, 2011

Cannibal! The Musical

When I originally chose a 90s era horror comedy, I decided I was going to see if I could actually sit through Dead Alive. However it's not available on Netflix Streaming, and I didn't want to pay to rent something I might very well turn off before the end. Perhaps one day, when I'm not feeling so squeamish, I'll take the risk.

In having to go back to the drawing board, I realized there was a film I had added to my Netflix Streaming queue ages ago, but had never actually watched yet. I imagine it was my love of South Park and BASEketball that made Netflix suggest it for me, as this is a film made by Trey Parker and Matt Stone while they were still film students. It is far more black comedy meets musical than a horror film, but there's no denying there are definitely horror elements here.

With the very first opening scene, I started to wonder if I had really chosen a "safer" choice. We watch a crazed cannibal maniac taking bites out of a group of other people. Of course it's hard not to laugh here, as watching him rip a rather fake looking arm off a man and then proceed to beat him with it can only be seen as comical. It turns out this gory moment is actually just a "reenactment" of what the prosecutor is telling the court at Alferd Packer's trial.

This is in fact based on a true story, as Alferd Packer was a real guy who was tried for killing and cannibalizing his companions on a trip from Utah to Colorado where they got lost in the snow, something we're all a little more familiar with as a Donner party situation. It is of course a loose basis, as given the time period and Packer's changing confessions, no one really knows for sure what happened. And of course, it's a comedy, so you can't expect true accuracy here anyway.

The film doesn't have the same hilarity as the finer episodes of South Park or the aforementioned BASEketball, but there are definitely some strong moments that show the potential of these future comedy superstars. The songs are done in the same style that South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut would later follow. It's a kind of tribute to musicals like Oklahoma! and Pollyanna, with over the top and absurd lyrics. The same rude, crude humor that has made them famous shows itself here with the song "When I Was On Top Of You." It's about his horse, of course, what were you thinking of?

One of the things that tickled me the most was when the traveling group runs into the "Nihonjin" tribe, a supposed Native American group played entirely by Japanese actors who speak Japanese to the characters. It's just the perfect kind of silliness, with a nod to the fact that Indian characters in westerns were rarely played by true Native Americans, that just hit my funny bone perfectly.

The horror doesn't really show up again until the cannibalism occurs, about halfway through the film. The group suggests that they should act like the Donner party and eat their dead companion to survive. Once he is gone, they are still hungry and wondering who they should eat next. Packer goes out alone to try to find help, and when he returns he finds all but one of his companions dead. This is based on at least one of the confessions Packer gave in real life. When Packer faces off against Bell, the remaining companion, the gore is once again ramped up to comedic effect here. I believe the official term is "splatstick" and while the guys were performing on a very low budget, it is indeed hilarious. If there's any scene of the film you need to see, this one is it. The squeamish need not be concerned as it definitely rests heavily more in the comical realm than gross.

Overall, the film felt a little dry to me. There's some really great scenes, but it sort of drags in between, and the songs are not as strong as their later South Park efforts. I think it's definitely a must see for anyone who is a fan of Parker and Stone, but the rest can probably skip it.

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