Eloy de la Iglesia, 1973
Starring: Vicente Parra, Emma Cohen, Eusebio Poncela
Marcos, a butcher working at a slaughterhouse, has an altercation with a cab driver and accidentally kills the man. His young girlfriend witnessed the murder and begins to nag Marcos about marriage. She decides to go to the police about the cab driver, so Marcos strangles her and stows her body in his home. This quickly spirals out of control, as anyone who ventures into his house and threatens to find the growing number of bodies also becomes a victim, particularly as Marcos grows more paranoid. He doesn’t know how to dispose of the increasingly ripening corpses, but gets the idea to cut them up and bring them down to the slaughterhouse, where he will mix them in with meat to be sold to the community…
Cannibal Man is a thoughtful, challenging film that — at least in terms of reputation — is overwhelmed by its title. The only cannibalism takes place off screen, when Marcos disposes of the bodies in the bulk soup made at the meat factory, something that is sold to the poor citizens of the neighborhood. Director and writer Eloy de la Iglesia — also responsible for Bulgarian Lovers and underrated giallo film The Glass Ceiling (1970) — made a sort of Spanish blend of Maniac, Repulsion, and The Tenant. It’s more a psychological thriller than a gory horror film and has a definite Kafkaesque feel.
As with most horror made during this period in Franco-controlled Spain, there is a political context at work. The cab driver is a clear example of this and Marcos ultimately is forced to kill him because of his repressive, violent attitude (he attacks Marcos and his girlfriend because they are kissing in the back of the cab). Poverty is another major issue of the film and Marcos’s latent rage is due to the poverty that he seemingly cannot escape from.
This was one of the infamous Video Nasties, though I suspect this is more out of thematic content than the actual violence. The violence mostly occurs off screen, though there’s a strangulation and throat slitting that are mildly graphic. Though this is a subtle film, it moves at a decent pace as Marcos kills basically everyone in his life. De la Iglesia mostly keeps the tone serious and grim, though there are some occasional, effective uses of comedy. There’s a particularly tense and comical scene when Marcos is bringing a duffel bag full of body parts to work to dispose of and his coworkers snatch it. They spend an anxiety-inducing few moments tossing it around and keeping it from Marcos.
It’s a somewhat silly plot device that Marcos doesn’t know what to do with the increasing number of bodies in his home, particularly since he works in a meat plant and deals with animal corpses all day. I think this also relates to his desire to keep the people he loves with him, even after they are gone.
Nearly all the major characters are desperate for love or at least some physical affection, including Marcos’s unfortunate girlfriend, his brother and his fiancee, the barmaid Rosa, and Néstor. This at the heart of Cannibal Man and Marcos himself is struggling with more than just what to do with the mounting bodies — he seems to only really be comfortable and relaxed around Néstor, though gay relationships were forbidden both in public, private, and on screen during this period.
Marcos kills in girlfriend while kissing her, in an odd, though effective scene, and one that is thoroughly un-erotic. Like few other horror movies from the period, Cannibal Man conveys the fear of being trapped in a domestic life and anxiety about conventional sexual mores. There’s plenty of class tension and much of Marcos’s frustration is due to the lot he has been given in life. Néstor, of course, is the contrast of all of these things - release, relaxation, wealth, and forbidden, unspoken homosexual love.
Vicente Parra (Soft Skin on Black Silk, Cotolay) is quiet, but compelling as Marcos. He’s excellent at building tension and anxiety throughout the film, both directed at him and his victims. He’s a sympathetic figure because he doesn’t want to kill, but keeps doing so because he made (and continues to make) bad or stupid decisions. Eusebio Poncela (Matador, Law of Desire) is likable as Néstor, Marcos’s neighbor and friend.
Cannibal Man has somewhat of a unique place in Spanish cinema. It’s different from the monster films being made by Paul Naschy, and much more thoughtful than the Spanish attempts at the giallo being produced at the time. It is the most similar to A Bell from Hell, Cannibal Man opens at a slaughter house and concerns a reluctant, inexperienced murderer. Both films share elements of the surreal, the absurd, and have a stubborn strain of anti-fascist, antiauthoritarian sentiment. It comes highly recommended and is available uncut on DVD.