Showing posts with label cannibalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cannibalism. Show all posts

Sep 8, 2020


In the horror film documentary The American Nightmare, Wes Craven talked about what it was like being in the presence of a “dangerous filmmaker.” What that meant was to be watching a film, directed by said filmmaker, that was willing to do anything — include any taboo — to unsettle the audience. In context, Craven was talking about his colleague Tobe Hooper and his Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but he easily could have been talking about himself. Hitting the ground running as a soon-to-be-legendary horror director with his first film, The Last House on the Left still remains the most controversial title in his career — one that features an extended rape sequence of a young girl, and which leads her parents to take bloody revenge. Craven followed up five years later (but in between, directed a softcore porn film about incest under the pseudonym Abe Snakes) with The Hills Have Eyes, semi-based on a true story, and which reined in (slightly) the disturbing shocks of The Last House on the Left while exploring similar territory: how do the civilized react when facing an uncivilized threat?

Based on the infamous Sawney Bean clan — a cannibalistic family who lived in a cave in the dusty west and who preyed on weary travelers before they were caught and tortured to death “for justice,” The Hills Have Eyes follows that concept beat-for-beat. A family on vacation takes a shortcut (no!) through abandoned desert land previously used by the government for atomic bomb testing and run afoul of cannibal mutants who like to eat people. And, like the history that inspired it, The Hills Have Eyes asks: at what point do the “good” people, forced to do what they think is right, become just as vicious as those victimizing them?

Hearing Craven speak of dangerous filmmakers conjures images of his first two films; and when it comes to The Hills Have Eyes, following the cannibal clan’s first attack on the sitting-duck family, during which one of their members is raped, and her baby taken, you realize that Craven is one of those dangerous filmmakers about which he muses. At that moment, the audience are terrified to see what becomes of the stolen child. Based on what they have seen up to this point, they throw in the towel and readily believe they are in the presence of a filmmaker who will do anything to shock them. The baby, in a real or unrealized way, becomes the focal point that binds the two families together — the only “innocent” one among them, both families are willing to do anything to possess her, and both for very different reasons.

Compared to The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes is more polished, and seems intent on telling a more accessible story. (I said “compared to,” mind you.) Having said that, The Hills Have Eyes is still an ugly film — one that’s willing to strive for certain “dangerous” goals, and show you a group of people who are willing to do anything to survive, including a heartbreaking scene where they’re forced to use one of their departed family members as bait for the cannibal family clan hunting them.

But Craven also wants you to consider the source of evil, and The Hills Have Eyes asks the question in reverse. A good family turns to evil to fight off their attackers; the attackers are forced to evil once their land becomes contaminated by government testing; and being that this was a late ’70s film, the recently ended Vietnam War was still weighing heavily on everyone’s minds — including filmmakers — so at what point does the government become evil while committing it in the name of good? The Hills Have Eyes suggests that the creation of evil is on an endless loop: what is evil will corrupt that which is good, and that former good will go on to corrupt, etc., until nothing good is left.

The Hills Have Eyes bares every bit of its limited budget, from its single shooting location, to its not-so-seasoned actors (including an early on-screen appearance from the most famous mom in cinema history, Dee Wallace of E.T., Cujo, and The Howling), to its filmmaker still honing his skills with the written word and behind the camera. The Hills Have Eyes may ride on a simple concept, but it asks a complicated question — one that filmmakers have been trying to answer since it was unleashed upon audiences forty years ago.

The Hills Have Eyes would go on to accumulate one sequel (which is infamously bad — I’ve somehow never managed to see it, despite it featuring a flashback experienced by a dog) and one very credible, if not superior, Craven-produced remake (which would inspire its own terrible sequel written by Craven and his son), along with a metric ton of rip-offs. Despite the series’ collection of strongpoints or shortcomings, none of them contained that element of danger of which Craven originally spoke. In that regard, The Hills Have Eyes has taken to the desert utterly alone.

[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]

Nov 27, 2014


In 2011, Indonesian police arrested a 29-year-old cannibalistic woman who admitted to killing and eating up to 30 girls and then her husband. She kept the human meat in her refrigerator to eat when she pleased. The woman also confessed to cooking human meat for her friends and relatives at dinner parties held at her house. She blamed her inner desires for killing and eating the people and said she would do it again if she had the chance.

Story and image source. 

(In case you missed the joke...Happy Thanksgiving.)

Feb 10, 2014


My unintended marathon reading of true crime books continues with The Cannibal: The Case of Albert Fish. This non-fiction account of Albert Fish's cannibal crimes against his adolescent victims was written by Mel Heimer, a former reporter. The book itself is quite slim 150 pages or so and a breeze to read, technically. However, it does delve into some pretty graphic descriptions of Fish's crimes, using both his own words and those of the author, so it can be difficult to traverse, depending on your own icky scale.

Neighbors, friends, and families of serial killers more often than not describe them as quiet, friendly, unassumingly, and nice. Ed Gein was looked at as a harmless old hermit. John Wayne Gacy was a clown at children's parties. But Albert Fish has the distinction of being among the oldest serial killers ever caught. It was his elderly and distinguished appearance that led so many people to instantly trust him. Though he claimed responsibility for at least a hundred murders, police work and his own confessions totaled a solid number of five lives taken. He was given many nicknames once news of his crimes hit the media, chief among them being the "Werewolf of Wysteria" and "The Grey Man."

The most infamous of Fish's murders was that of Grace Budd, nine-year-old sister of Ed Budd Jr., who had placed an ad in the paper that he was looking for work outside of the city, and to whom Fish was responding when he contacted the Budd family to explain that he owned a farm and was looking for a farmhand to help out with everyday work. He used the pseudonym of Frank Howard, and to further sell his lie regarding his farm, he had brought with him a small jar of cottage cheese, which he claimed derived directly from his farm's resources. (He had in actuality stopped off at a market before arriving at the Budds.) Once there, Budd made nice with the family, sitting down with them and making polite conversation. His original target being Edward Jr., Fish changed his mind upon arriving, deeming the boy "unattractive" for Fish's purposes. Instead he set his sight on young Grace and managed to convince her parents that he knew of a nearby party that he was considering attending and that Grace should accompany him. The Budds instantly trusted Fish due to his almost statesman-like appearance and agreed to let Grace attend the party with him.

Fish then left with Grace. The Budds never saw her again.

The book then recounts Fish's plan, beginning with taking her to an abandoned cottage, and ending with his method for disposing of her body.

Grace was reported missing, and for six long years, the police turned up many clues and followed up on many suspects, none of which or whom proved to be helpful. Soon the case became stagnant, though not altogether dead, and it was a simple piece of stationary that led the police to finally capture the Werewolf of Wysteria.

The poor family had been deluged over the years with all sorts of crank letters and claims, and it got to the point that they stopped reading them and simply delivered them directly to the police. It was on a piece of unique stationary that Fish had anonymously sent the below letter to Grace Budd's mother.
Dear Mrs. Budd:

In 1894 a friend of mine shipped as a deck hand on the Steamer Tacoma, Capt. John Davis. They sailed from San Francisco for Hong Kong, China. On arriving there he and two others went ashore and got drunk. When they returned the boat was gone. At that time there was famine in China. Meat of any kind was from $1–3 per pound. So great was the suffering among the very poor that all children under 12 were sold for food in order to keep others from starving. A boy or girl under 14 was not safe in the street. You could go in any shop and ask for steak—chops—or stew meat. Part of the naked body of a boy or girl would be brought out and just what you wanted cut from it. A boy or girl's behind which is the sweetest part of the body and sold as veal cutlet brought the highest price. John staid there so long he acquired a taste for human flesh. On his return to N.Y. he stole two boys, one 7 and one 11. Took them to his home stripped them naked tied them in a closet. Then burned everything they had on. Several times every day and night he spanked them – tortured them – to make their meat good and tender. First he killed the 11 year old boy, because he had the fattest ass and of course the most meat on it. Every part of his body was cooked and eaten except the head—bones and guts. He was roasted in the oven (all of his ass), boiled, broiled, fried and stewed. The little boy was next, went the same way.

At that time, I was living at 409 E 100 St. near—right side. He told me so often how good human flesh was I made up my mind to taste it. On Sunday June the 3, 1928 I called on you at 406 W 15 St. Brought you pot cheese—strawberries. We had lunch. Grace sat in my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her. On the pretense of taking her to a party. You said yes she could go.

I took her to an empty house in Westchester I had already picked out. When we got there, I told her to remain outside. She picked wildflowers. I went upstairs and stripped all my clothes off. I knew if I did not I would get her blood on them. When all was ready I went to the window and called her. Then I hid in a closet until she was in the room. When she saw me all naked she began to cry and tried to run down the stairs. I grabbed her and she said she would tell her mamma. First I stripped her naked. How she did kick – bite and scratch. I choked her to death, then cut her in small pieces so I could take my meat to my rooms. Cook and eat it. How sweet and tender her little ass was roasted in the oven. It took me 9 days to eat her entire body. I did not fuck her tho I could of had I wished.

She died a virgin.

In my previous recommendation of Edward Gein: America's Most Bizarre Murderer, I explained I prefer a true-crime account to be comprised majorly of the subject's own words. In that regard, The Cannibal is equally fascinating, though likely more so. To directly compare, while Gein never seemed quite to know why it was he killed those he did, as well as cannibalized them and even lived with dug-up corpses, it's made quite clear that Fish simply enjoyed everything he did, though he sometimes suggested that he didn't know why he did the things he did. He referred to himself as "queer" (referring to the mid-20th century meaning of the word), and in letters to the few of his children that continued to correspond with him, he often wondered what compelled him to kill and devour.

Once captured for his crimes against Grace Budd, a physical examination of him revealed over 20 needles purposely inserted in his pelvis. His reasons for having done so varied greatly, and soon there were five very distinct explanations he offered, each conflicting with the other.

And it's actually this very random factoid where my only real criticism of the book comes into play: the more unusual facts about the peculiar Albert Fish will stick immediately in your mind, so when this information is repeated later in the text, you'll definitely notice. Several accounts, such as the strange needle story, or the manner in which Fish was finally caught by authorities, appear at least twice  and these are just to examples. It certainly doesn't diminish the reading experience in any way, as you could likely read about a man sticking needles into his pelvis a hundred different ways and never become bored, simply because, god damn, that's fucking weird, but perhaps a more discerning editor would have cut out these reuses so as not to harp on some weird anecdotes in a book already full of them.

Of all the true crime books I've read so far, The Cannibal might so far be the most vicious, and this has to do not only with the age of Fish's victims, but the brutality committed against them. Though he tried to feign confusion and even alarm about himself, he never made it a secret that he enjoyed killing and maiming. "I have had kids in every state," he even once bragged, though it was unknown whether that represented murders or rapes (or both). Still, The Cannibal is terribly interesting in the way true crime is meant to be. The accounts of Fish's crimes are presented objectively, leaving no stones unturned. His own words are especially powerful, and the letter presented above is just one example.

Jan 21, 2014


As I’ve said before, there’s been no better friend to the horror genre than Edward Gein. Perhaps you’ve heard of him? He killed two women (that we know of), dug up the graves of a dozen more, and kept parts of them in his home for various purposes. Which parts? I’ll let the author of this book tell you in his own words:
“What follows is probably the most unusual case in modern times. It is the story of Edward Gein, America's most bizarre murderer, grave robber, maker of exotic household items, wearing apparel, and possessor of undoubtedly the finest private collection of female heads, vagina, vulvas and unquestionably the most notorious character ever to stand before me in court.” 
Without Gein, Robert Bloch would not have written the book that became the ultimate slasher film Psycho; same goes for Thomas Harris, who would not have written The Silence of the Lambs. And perhaps the most “accurate” account of Gein’s crimes, never would we have met Leatherface, Grandpa, and the whole Sawyer clan with Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. (As far as films go, I’m only naming the good ones. There are far far more titles, and boy, do they plummet that ladder of quality.) Gein even enjoyed a brief appearance in the recent Anthony Hopkins film Hitchcock, in which he was played by character actor Michael Wincott.

Being that I am a true crime obsessee, Edward Gein, America's Most Bizarre Murderer  seemed an obvious choice for me. I find Ed Gein to be nearly as fascinating as I do Carl Panzram—in fact, it was through reading Killer: A Journal of Murder that I realized reading horrific accounts that befall humanity when crossing paths with the inhumane, while morbidly interesting, can be that much more interesting when the text utilizes the subject’s own voice. It was after reading this that I decided any further reading on a particular true crime would hinge on that one requirement. After reading something as powerful as Killer:  A Journal of Murder—a tome comprised largely of Panzram’s own words—other true crime accounts I’d read by people unconnected to the cases they were examining utterly paled by comparison.

Though I’m sure true crime authors who have written about all kinds of serial killers/mass murderers have done their homework, I’d rather read about it from the point of view directly connected to the case. That, to me, makes the book seem more legitimate. Very rare can such a book be made up of the subject’s own words, as, by law, a killer cannot profit off the sharing of his or her crimes. The next best thing is to get the story of someone who was there.

Enter Judge Robert H. Gollmar, who presided over the murder trials of Ed Gein.

Wiki crash course:
Edward Theodore "Ed" Gein (August 27, 1906 – July 26, 1984) was an American murderer and body snatcher. His crimes, committed around his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin, gathered widespread notoriety after authorities discovered Gein had exhumed corpses from local graveyards and fashioned trophies and keepsakes from their bones and skin. Gein confessed to killing two women – tavern owner Mary Hogan on December 8, 1954, and a Plainfield hardware store owner, Bernice Worden, on November 16, 1957. Initially found unfit for trial, after confinement in a mental health facility he was tried in 1968 for the murder of Worden and sentenced to life imprisonment, which he spent in a mental hospital.
I’m not sure that I would call Edward Gein, America's Most Bizarre Murderer, the definitive account on Ed Gein the man, but as for the crimes that rocked Plainview, Wisconsin, in the late 1950s, as well as the trial that would follow a decade later, it does provide a pretty complete overview of the case. Interviews with psychologists, law enforcement, and transcripts directly from the trial are provided—sometimes with mixed results. When the subject of discussion is of Ed Gein, or his crimes, then the book is incredibly interesting and compulsively readable, but in the interest of providing detailed accounts of how evidence was removed from the scene to satisfy the reader who might, perhaps, doubt that Gein was responsible for the crimes of which he was charged, pages upon pages of explanations on which guns were removed from the scene, and which bullets were found, and which bullets fit which gun, and could you describe how these bullets were loaded into this gun?, and on and on, it can read monotonously after a while. Ditto for the fingerprinting techniques, which also went on for too long.  Again, this was crucial testimony for the prosecution, and I understand its inclusion in the text; it just doesn’t make for compelling reading. For the legally minded, however, I’m sure this particular material reads just as interestingly as the others.

Because why not?

The book really pulls no punches with the sharing of very graphic details, even going as far as including crime scene photographs taken of one of Gein’s victims—flayed and mutilated like a hunter would a deer.

Oddly enough (and perhaps for padding purposes), following a trend the judge noted occurring at the time, also included are examples of “Gein humor”—more specifically, jokes that began circulating following the news of his arrest, and for which type of crimes. These are as bad as you might suspect, but were probably hilarious to Wisconsin farmers in the late 1950s.

Q: Why did Ed Gein's girlfriend stop going out with him?
A: Because he was such a cut-up.

Q: Why did they keep the heat on in Ed Gein's house?
A: So the furniture wouldn't get goose bumps.

And, you know—other jokes just as stupid.

The book ends with one final interview, performed between Judge Gollmar and Ed Gein, with the latter being forever confined to a mental asylum for the criminally insane. This is the only point in the book in which Gein comes off as aloof—even lighthearted—and it makes you wonder if this man had played the entire court system in order to get away with murder. Yes, his sentence was still life behind bars, though they were not prison bars, but those of a hospital, where some of his rights and comforts would still be maintained. To summarize the defense’s entire strategy, a tactic combining claims of an accidental shooting and “I don’t remember what happened” allowed Gein to skate having to plead guilty to murder. And this was perhaps the most interesting part of the book. Yes, women being killed and mutilated, and bodies being unearthed from graveyards, all makes for cheap shocks and creepy thrills, but the most eye-opening was the spotlight on the American justice system. The prosecution and the judge knew Ed Gein was guilty of murdering at least two women, and likely responsible for dozens of other disappearances from surrounding areas. They simply knew it. The dissected body of one of his victims was found strung up in his shed, decapitated, and shackled with ropes as if she were a trophy deer shot during a hunt. But despite this, coupled with the fact that his confession was later thrown out, as it was determined to have been delivered under duress and persuasion, certain evidence obtained during the investigation was deemed inadmissible because preliminary investigating law enforcement did not obtain the proper search warrants to enter his property. That and Gein simply had no motive.

That loopholes like that exist in our justice system is actually scarier than any old murder.

Edward Gein, America's Most Bizarre Murderer is essential reading for anyone interested in the murderous exploits of Ed Gein, or those interested in true crime, but it may perhaps be invaluable to those considering entering law as a career. And if you'd also like to know the silent partner behind some of your favorite horror films, he's been waiting for you.  

Now Available:
The world’s oldest celebration comes to life in The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween, an anthology that honors the darkest and strangest night of the year. Each story is designed to be intrinsically and intimately about Halloween—its traditions, its myths, and its effects—and they run the gamut from horrifying to heartbreaking. Halloween night is the tapestry through which a haunted house, a monstrous child, a late-night drive to a mysterious destination, and other tales are weaved. Demons are faced, death is defied, and love is tested. And not everyone makes it out alive. The End of Summer has arrived.