In popular culture, and exploitation movies, cannibals are the disreputable cousins of the zombie; they have the embarrassing habit of eating unsuspecting people without any supernatural justification. There’s a distinct difference, though, between American and Italian cannibal movies – the former adhering to tropes related to serial killer stories, while the latter draw on anthropological ideas to provide a gloss of realism to graphic exploitation imagery. The contrast can be seen clearly between Andrew van den Houten’s Offspring (2009), Lucky McKee’s The Woman (2011) and Pollyanna McIntosh’s Darlin’ (2019) and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (1981).
Three movies from the 1980s rooted in the intersection of dreams and reality are rescued from obscurity with excellent Blu-ray editions — two in recent Arrow releases, Harley Cokeliss’ Dream Demon (1988) and Mike Hodges Black Rainbow (1989), and one, Bernard Rose’s Paperhouse (1988), on a now out-of-print French disk.
While they form one of the main building blocks of society, families are often mysterious when viewed from the outside, providing opportunities for mystery, suspense and horror since we began telling ourselves stories. Outsiders who penetrate the strange membrane between community and family may be faced with codes and rituals which can turn dangerous … as in four recently viewed movies: Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide (1961) and Games (1967), Freddie Francis’ Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1970) and Ted Post’s The Baby (1973).
Jörg Buttgereit’s transgressive films are notorious for their gore and disturbing subject matter – murder, suicide, necrophilia – yet for all their graphic exploitation imagery, they display genuine artistry and a serious perspective on life, death and the emotional and psychological ties which bind being and non-being.
Revisiting movies from the early 1970s, I recently watched Howard W. Koch’s rather ugly cop feature Badge 373 (1973), with Robert Duvall as a rule-breaking, racist misogynist NYC detective; Willard (1971), Daniel Mann’s adaptation of Stephen Gilbert’s dark horror novel Ratman’s Notebooks; and two features by George Roy Hill, his faithful adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) and his most personal, and best, film The Great Waldo Pepper (1975).