By JOSE CRUZ
Are you champing at the bit for our next CineMacabre Movie Night virtual watch party following our recent showing of Antonio Margheriti’s Cannibal Apocalypse? Hungry for more cinematic experiences where the actors chew the scenery and each other alike? What better way to indulge that craving than partaking in a series of hand-picked, finger-licking fright films featuring everyone’s favorite living skin-muncher, the cannibal!
This being Rue Morgue, we wanted to give our watchlist a bit of a different spin. So that is why we have decided to break our readers of their quarantine doldrums by providing everyone with an all-expenses-paid trip to the nastiest place on earth: Walt Grisly World! There you will find each of our featured films residing in the themed land to which they are best suited. So pack the SPF 50 BBQ sauce, don your nibbled mouse ears, and head through the park gates as we visit six film lands where the eats are suspicious and the rides are to die for…
*Note: the resorts and other locations included in this article are not based whole or in part on any existing properties or companies, and any correlation between these fictitious landmarks and those that may actually exist should be treated as a complete and utter coincidence.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Freedom Park)
You and your loved ones have just entered the park, so you need an attraction for staters that won’t scare the kids or scandalize your parents. The classy feature attraction in classical Freedom Park is the way to go. Located between the Tomb of Presidents and the Happy Mansion, you find that there’s something here to please everyone’s sophisticated tastes. Soaring musical numbers! Period costumes! Johnny Depp! London filth! Arterial spray! Borat! Your mother will be so happy.
You settle into the colonial-era barber’s chair for a refreshing shampoo to commence the day. The employee assisting you—an intense chap rocking a Bride of Frankenstein coif and a razor-sharp vendetta—can’t seem to settle on if his name is Todd or Ben. There’s a flighty woman in a soiled apron (Helena Bonham Carter) who keeps pushing her breakfast pies on you. You grab one hesitantly and give it a nibble. Doom seems to be on low simmer in this merrily macabre musical land. The deadly, dazzling wordplay of the song “A Little Priest” that the barber and baker perform for your family puts you ill at ease. As you exit through the gift shop in the dungeon your eyes flicker from the exposed meat of your breakfast pie to the offal contents oozing out of the ancient grinder.
In the light of day, you and your family shake it all off as strictly polished Halloween spookhouse stuff. You take a moment to indulge in a show of theatrical goosebumps, but you still can’t help but feel as if your soul (and your breakfast) have been tainted.
Parents (Maple Street of America)
Now that everyone’s warmed up, you and the family begin to traipse down Maple Street of America. While the rest of the gang is enchanted by the confections and the trolleys, you sense that underneath it all lies a festering layer of rot, like those bugs roiling under the picket fence in Blue Velvet. As in Lynch’s film, the vibe here seems to be 1950s suburbia filtered through a bizarro black comedy operating on a bandwidth somewhere between Joe Dante and John Waters.
You and the family step off the avenue and enter a mom-and-pop shop. The proprietors are a strait-laced breadwinner (Randy Quaid) and happy homemaker (Mary Beth Hurt), but their sinister air seems to have taken a cleaver to the Leave It to Beaver lifestyle championed by the sudsy televisual entertainments of the era. There’s an adolescent boy (Bryan Madorsky) sitting in the corner, babbling about bodies in the basement. Dad just shakes his head and says, “Kids! Who made the little bastards?”
Your stomach is upset. You’re not sure if it’s from the breakfast pie, the glittering eyes of the proprietors as they pan-fry kidneys, the vibrant kitsch of the kitchen, or witnessing the troubled young lad navigate the queasy rite of passage of finding out who his parents really are. Every time you think you want to laugh or crack a grin, you catch a glint of meat hooks down the basement stairs or hear Randy Quaid say some deranged shit that just bums you out all over again. You start to wonder if the boy’s rantings are having an effect on you. Surely he’s mistaken. These two clean-cut citizens couldn’t really be flesh-eating monsters, could they? The proprietors hand you a seeping sandwich and a glass of milk on the way out. Ribs, you tell yourself. A rib sandwich. But like the boy at the end of this movie land, you can’t be too sure.
Hoo doggy! Your family is looking a little green around the gills after that last stop, so an afternoon stroll through the wide, open prairies of Pioneerland is just what Doctor Butcher, M. D. ordered. It is here that you find the odd little attraction known as Ravenous, a dark-hearted ballad of sly humor and late-90s gloom.
This stop in your cannibal festival (cannival? festibal?) gives a shout-out to some pillars of flesh-eating history. The frostbitten, desperate living vibes of the lonely New Mexican fort echo the tragedies of the Donner Party and Alferd Packer, while the mythological mixer of the Wendigo legend provides a grounding in the mysterious and the ancient. The historical recreation being played out for you and your family seems to have suffered from some behind-the-scenes director juggling and script rewrites, resulting in a production with the uneven temperatures of leftover meatloaf.
But a good cast is worth reheating, and this one is anchored by the solid performances of its two lead performers—Guy Pearce as the eternally haunted, cowardly, and conflicted John Boyd and Robert Carlyle as the devilish, unstoppable Colqhoun—and bolstered by great character turns from the likes of Jeffrey Jones and Neal McDonough. The bluegrass band led by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn that plays in the mess hall is equal parts Deadwood-styled folk and jangling horror movie chordwork. Despite the pioneer death experiences that transpire before you during your stay, you admit to feeling a pang of hunger as you watch Colqhoun prepare and dig into a bowl of human stew. Maybe it’s the biting cold outside. Maybe it’s the crackling fire inside. Maybe it’s the fact that human flesh smells damn good when soaked in a hearty broth. Maybe, you think, there’s something to this cannibalism thing after all.
As Colqhoun himself would say, “Bon appetit”.
Soylent Green (Future World)
The fresh air seems to have brought some color back to your family’s cheeks, but the jaunt in the hungry wilderness has left them with a glassy, faraway look in their eyes. You know just the thing. Away with all this sentimental nostalgia and historical hogwash! What you and the gang need is a visionary trip to THE FUTURE.
Upon disembarking from the Moanarail, you’re somewhat disappointed to learn that THE FUTURE is the year 2022. No matter. At least the place resembles cities you’ve been to, even if it is a little crowded. And hot. And smelly. But that’s cities for you! There’s the respectable presence of venerated Hollywood talent like Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson to put you at ease. (They were both in The Ten Commandants! Surely this Future World is the fruit of those hopeful seeds.) Still, there’s this funny feeling that you can’t shake. It could be all the long lines of pissed-off people in Future World. Or the constant drone of those patrolling garbage trucks. Or the fact that there only seems to be one concession sold in this area, some hipstery nonsense that looks like big green ecstasy tabs.
Still, despite all these misgivings, you can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief—at least this place doesn’t have any goddamn cannibals. You laugh, trying a little bit of the hipster ecstasy. Not bad. Mom really seems to love it. But then the twisting course of this movie land’s mystery begins to play on you. Heston and Robinson don’t seem so cheerful anymore. In fact, the square-jawed hero is running towards you now. He seems to be shouting something.
Motel Hell (Critter Town)
At this point in your vacation, everyone has just about lost their minds. The children babble incoherently. Your parents transition between bouts of racking sobs and raucous laughter. You sense that the end is near, so you follow the greasy scent of down-home home cookin’ and use your Quick Card to get to the front of the line leading to Motel Hello, a popular eatery in Critter Town. Or Motel Hell, as it is more commonly known to its admirers.
The head chef, a broadly-played hayseed by the name of Farmer Vincent (Rory Calhoun), has become known throughout the heartland for his smoked meats. As he intones to your family at the checkered tablecloth booth where you sit, “It takes all kind of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters.” Your daughter looks at you, fresh worry in her eyes. Surely Farmer Vincent wasn’t talking about the cute and rascally critters that you saw on Mount Sploosh? You pat her hand and reassure her that, no, Farmer Vincent would never do anything to hurt the little animals.
But then you turn to the last page of the menu. It describes, in vivid detail, the farm-to-table process of how Vincent and his wife Ida (Nancy Parsons), in a nod to genre hallmarks like Psycho and Tourist Trap, waylay travelers on the highway only to then plant them in their garden until the silently screaming cabbage heads are perfectly ripened. You’ve barely finished reading when the scarlet-splattered curtains lift up from the stage at the head of the dining room to reveal the evening’s entertainment. A chorus of singing cabbage heads flank the stage as the climactic battle between Sheriff Bruce (Paul Linke) and a hog-headed, chainsaw-wielding Farmer Vincent plays out to the greatest hits of the Bumpkin Bears.
You look around the dining room. The audience is eating it all up. They seem to love this movie land’s bristling black humor and winking excess. They laugh heartily and devour their food even heartier. You join them in the laughter, shoveling fritters all the while. You can’t seem to stop.
Cannibal Ferox (Explorer Land)
All good trips must come to an end. After the guffaws and gorging at Motel Hell, you take your shell-shocked family to the River Voyage for a final, relaxing trip to close out the day. Your vacation—and perhaps life itself—has lost all meaning. This is why when you see the voyage is being led by a drug-addicted psychopath named Mike (Giovanni Lombardo Radice), you barely flinch a muscle. What difference does it make?
The boat sails by janky animatronic hippos and lions that have seen better days. With their rusted hides and mangy hair, they look exactly how you feel. Mike is raving at the head of the boat, something about cocaine and emeralds. Good for him. At least he still has the fire. You’re passing a hopping band of robot natives in grass skirts now. You wonder what final meal is in store for you and your loved ones at this attraction. That’s when the robot natives begin to wade towards the boat.
You realize then that these are not animatronics. Clapped in ghostly clay, they advance towards the boat, eyes blazing over decades of being subjected to the jeers and stares of gawking tourists. Like you. Like your family.
It isn’t long before the natives have Mike, you, and the rest of the River Voyagers back on land, but you surely would’ve thrown yourself to the short-circuiting crocodiles if you knew what was in store for you. You hear the haunting, flat tones of a woman’s voice intoning over and over again, “Make them die… slowly.” And that the natives do. They subject Mike to tortures not fit to print, relieving him of various appendages before slicing his skull open like a cantaloupe and gobbling up his brains. Metal hooks and poisonous darts are dispatched without mercy. Rubbery intestines are brandished and imbibed with gluttonous glory. The whole affair has the sleazy, devil-may-care attitude of prime exploitation filmmaking embedded in its sweaty pores.
The natives drag you and your loved ones to the spit and the boiling cauldron. That’s when it finally dawns on you. You’re not here as a privileged guest of the park any longer—you’re part of the attraction. You have been perfectly fattened up over an entire day’s worth of fine theme park dining. Farmer Vincent would be proud at how ripe you’ve become.
As you’re lowered into the seething soup to which you are the main ingredient, you see another, second River Voyage full of happy vacationers rounding the bend. They point and laugh and whip out their selfie sticks to catch a shot of the primitive cannibals at work. Your flesh is boiling off your bones, but you still can’t help but smile. Just before the broth completely overcomes you, your grinning skull regards the happy tourists and you shout:
“I’m going to Grisly World!”