“You can only kill a person as easy as that in the movies.”
Decried as a “Video Nasty” in Britain, Eloy de la Iglesia’s The Cannibal Man is another one of those movies that suffers in part due to its very lurid and misleading title and key art. Yeah, the prominently-featured meat cleaver murder does show up in the film, but it’s hardly indicative of what you can expect going in, any more than titles like Cannibal Man or The Apartment on the 13th Floor are.
The print on the Severin Blu-ray has the Spanish title, which translates to the much more apt Week of the Killer, which still sounds like you’re getting something more grim than what we’re presented with here, a character study of an almost accidental serial killer that is really more a camp farce about repressed homosexuality and life under the crushing heel of Francisco Franco and his fascist regime, who were still in power in Spain when this movie got made.
In fact, the closest Cannibal Man ever gets to justifying its international title is in the method by which our murderous protagonist eventually disposes of his victims – feeding them into the much-ballyhooed new machine that they recently installed at the slaughterhouse where he works. So, while he’s never actually a cannibal, he presumably turns the unsuspecting families who consume the soup that his employer churns out into cannibals without their knowledge, a fact that is acidly foreshadowed by an early-picture commercial of a smiling mom saying, “I always give my family the best food that I can find.”
Indeed, though it never reaches the perverse depths of the hellish Pet-Pak Cannery from Russell Mulcahy’s Razorback, it’s also true that nothing Marcos ever does to his victims comes close to matching the horror that he works around every day at the slaughterhouse – a metaphor for Franco’s regime if ever there was one.
Before we ever see Marcos butchering his victims, we see the grisly efficiency of the slaughterhouse floor, where twitching cows are strung up by their hind legs, blades plunged into their necks as metal pails are held up to catch the gush of blood, workers milling around everywhere in ways that make the slaughter seem like a spectator sport – echoing the shirtless boys who seem to be perpetually playing soccer in the vacant lot next to Marcos’ run-down home, or the starving dogs who roam the area at night.
While there is a certain queasy horror to the killings themselves – how inevitable they seem to become, the way they all circle around the closed-up room where Marcos keeps the bodies until it’s time to chop them up and feed them to the machine – much of the film plays like camp, and Iglesia is every bit as concerned with Marcos’ budding relationship with his well-off neighbor Nestor, who secretly spies on him from his high-rise apartment, as he is with Marcos’ steady decline.
“Legit shocked that something as blatantly homo-centric and anti-fascist as this actually made it past the Spanish censors in 1972,” Evan writes at Letterboxd. Five years later, Iglesia would direct Hidden Pleasures, which has been called Spain’s first openly gay movie. While Cannibal Man may not be as open as that later flick, to paraphrase a Letterboxd user describing James Whale’s The Old Dark House, the gay subtext here threatens to become gay supertext.
There’s not just the infatuation with men’s flesh – which happens before we are even introduced to any of our principal cast – there’s the obvious romance between Marcos and Nestor, a romance that is never consummated by is no less real for it, and which ultimately serves as the former’s salvation at the bottom of a pit that he seems otherwise doomed to stack with endless corpses…
Besides his work as Monster Ambassador here at Signal Horizon, Orrin Grey is the author of several books about monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters, and a film writer with bylines at Unwinnable and others. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year and he is the author of two collections of essays on vintage horror film.