"Alright, nobody move, or...I'll eat this guy, right in front of you!"
Cannibal! The Musical stands out to me for interesting, unusual reasons. It's one thing to look at the movie as part of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's road to creating "South Park" and movies like Team America: World Police, but it's interesting how little -- and I mean that in the nicest way -- the duo changed between 1993 and the debut of their hit TV show, and even through to today. I can easily imagine a world without "South Park" where Parker and Stone kept working for Troma, still creating films as ridiculous as a puppet musical and characters as hilariously low-brow as talking excrement, just with severely reduced budgets. It's not to say that Cannibal! is perfect; there are pacing issues, some of the acting is poor, and there are definitely times it looks like a student film. I just feel like Parker (and to a lesser extent, Stone) hasn't changed his attitude or approach to filmmaking in almost twenty years, and it's kind of cool to see how far they, er, haven't come.
For one thing, Cannibal! The Musical's witty songwriting fits right in alongside South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut and Team America. Only Orgazmo (scripted as a musical but shot down before filming) and the unfairly reviled, dumb-genius sports spoof BASEketball (which Parker didn't direct) don't follow the trend. From beginning to end, we're serenaded with remarkably catchy tunes like "Shpadoinkle" (which inspired the jingle from the Braniff logo that used to play at the end of "South Park" episodes), the double entendre 80's ballad "When I Was On Top Of You", and the somewhat indescribable "Let's Build a Snowman!". There probably aren't very many student films with an expertly-timed musical reprise joke ("That's All I'm Askin' For", which, like the "America, Fuck Yeah" reprise from the Team America soundtrack, might be considered a "Bummer Remix"), but Cannibal! nails it and other moments with numerous songs that are both funny and musically sound. These tracks might lack the technical polish of the cuts on their bigger-budget productions, but on an artistic level, they're just as well-made.
The details of Cannibal! also create a treasure trove of additional comedy. Perhaps the most notorious trivia about the movie is the appearance of several aliens, which can be spotted by eagle-eyed viewers (and even those barely paying attention will likely catch the most prominent one). Does it have anything to do with anything? No, of course not, but it's there to delight anyone crazy enough to look for it or surprise viewers on the second or third time through. Cannibal!'s subtle accuracies to the true story of Alferd Packer are curiously amusing too, my favorite reference being the fact that Packer is building a model of a house while sitting in his jail cell (a hobby of the man in real life). Nobody ever makes any reference to it, but he's clearly doing it in almost every shot, and for some reason, the sight of it just strikes me as extremely hilarious. There's also the fact that the inaccurate half of Cannibal! is based on The Odyssey for little to no reason, right down to a hulking cyclops (this one with a squirting knife wound).
Plenty of acting in Cannibal! could kindly be described as "unpolished", but there are a core group of recognizable actors giving adequate performances. Not surprisingly, these are the same people who would also pop up in future Parker/Stone projects. Dian Bachar gets a lot of cornball dialogue, but when it comes to the jokes, he fits with the group as well as he does in BASEketball and Orgazmo, with just enough comic timing to steal a few moments for himself. Sushi chef Masao Maki plays the hilarious "indian" chief, and his line delivery is just as unusual as it is in Orgazmo. It's hard to explain, but it just seems like Maki's internal beat is entirely off-tempo from the rest of the world. Off in her own corner, there's the beautiful Toddy Walters as Polly Prye, a reporter trying to clear Packer's name, and eventually, his love interest. She went on to become a singer, so it's no surprise that she's got the best voice of everyone in the movie, and she's pretty charming even though most of her material gets shoved to the side by the plot. At the center of it all is Parker, credited as Juan Schwartz (a play on one of Packer's real-life aliases), acting more like a sheepish child who accidentally set the house on fire rather than a tormented prisoner who was forced to eat his fellow man. Watching Parker act is almost reflexively unpretentious; he always seems to have an affable attitude and laid-back delivery that goes back and forth between thinking the material is funny to thinking the whole idea is hilariously stupid.
All of this ramshackle, all-in goofiness is still visible in the best of Parker and Stone's output since Cannibal!. It's interesting how "South Park" affords them the perfect level of celebrity: I bet three out of five people wouldn't notice Parker walking down the street, despite creating, writing, directing and starring in one of the most popular shows currently on television. I've noticed that Stone is always the one to appear in documentaries like Bowling For Columbine and This Film is Not Yet Rated, and I wonder if it's on purpose. Earlier in this review, I name-checked BASEketball as an underrated comedy (something Parker and Stone would openly mock), but perhaps I should be glad the film wasn't a hit, because we might've had a string of decreasingly funny Trey and Matt foisted upon us or they'd have taken on one of the many high-profile, low-creativity projects offered to them since their breakout success (like Dumb and Dumberer). Even what appeared to be a self-generated project, Giant Monsters Attack Japan!, seems like a non-starter. Maybe if Troma was footing the bill,
the project would look more appealing, but for now, fans will just have to enjoy Cannibal! as Trey continues to make "South Park" -- and every other project he does -- on his own terms.
Troma has never been the slickest in the home video artwork department, tossing together numerous combinations of cheap Photoshop, dusty posters and gaudy colors to slap on their products. However, since this is the prestigious Tromasterpiece Collection (complete with a hilarious faux-Criterion logo animation), Cannibal! gets a nicely painted front cover complete with billing block that actually looks like it should be framed on someone's wall. The back cover is still a mish-mash of oversized fonts, but this is a much nicer cover than they usually design -- all the logos fit on the spine, and hey, it's not bright yellow like the other Cannibal! DVD, eh? The two-disc set is packaged inside a clear case with an overlapping 2-disc tray, with gigantic chapter selections on the inside front and a Disc 2 that reminds me of Anchor Bay's Bad Taste Limited Edition disc art.
The Video and Audio
For being a 16-year-old film (the 13th anniversary refers to its release, not its production), Cannibal!'s 1.33:1 full-frame presentation looks pretty damn good. It's extremely grainy and soft, without very much fine detail, but the colors are surprisingly strong and there isn't any dirt and only a couple of scratches. The audio isn't quite as good, entirely due to the film's low-budget production values. Several lines are washed out due to echo and cast members mumbling; it'd have been nice for Troma to include subtitles on this release, but no dice. The songs are well-mixed, though, brightly reproduced on a Dolby 2.0 Stereo track. Both the video and audio seem like a noticeable upgrade from the original DVD (the framing is slightly different too -- one of the aliens is far more visible than it was before).
Disc 1 opens with trailers for Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead and Getting Lucky.
Just like the previous DVD of Cannibal!, the film is preceded by a silly introduction (5:13) -- although this one is different than the one on the other disc -- with "Uncle" Lloyd Kaufman explaining what's on this new 2-disc set.
First up are a series of interviews conducted by Lloyd with Trey Parker (20:36), Matt Stone (26:02) and Jason McHugh (21:45), under the header "Refrigerated Giblets". Trey seems slightly awkward about being on camera at first, but warms up when Lloyd gives him a taco. Among other things, he chats about why Troma didn't end up with "South Park", the intense pressure while shooting Team America, the flaws with "Family Guy" (which I agree -- ugh), both the cons and pros of doing BASEketball, potentially suing the creators of Brokeback Mountain, the lawyers at Comedy Central, Stan Brakhage, Michael Bay being a "cheese-dick", running out of ideas and the personal situations that inspired the film. Matt covers farting on Lloyd and Jeff Fahey, farting on America with "South Park", how Cannibal! is the most profitable movie they've ever made, Mohammed, why Comedy Central hasn't played Cannibal!, the need to move to LA for the business, final cut and taking responsibility, specific deadline struggles on Team America, Michael Caine being awesome and Spike Jonze taking his and Trey's photo in the Oscar bathroom. Both of these interviews are funny and candid, and fans should eat up every minute. This is no slight against the third interview, either; Jason McHugh lays out the most straightforward overview of the film's production, the various problems with the movie industry (the struggle to produce independent films, film festivals and the MPAA) and finishing off with Cannibal!'s future on stage. It's not as funny as the other two interviews, but it's twice as informative, and aspiring filmmakers will want to hit this one before the more jokey, roaming pieces with Trey and Matt. There's also a hilarious clip in this section with Trey talking about Lloyd's film Poultrygeist (2:39), which, at the time of the interview, Trey had not seen and in fact had yet to go into production, and a really easy-to-find easter egg (2:08) with Trey talking about his wife, speaking Japanese and "LOST".
The only other extras on the first disc are a pair of audio commentaries. The first one is the infamous "inebriated" commentary with Parker, Stone, McHugh, Dian Bachar and Andy Kemler, in which they basically sit around mocking the film's silliness. It's amazing how this commentary manages to be just about as informative as most of the tracks I've listened to over the years, despite the group's increasing drunkenness (which eventually derails the track for a whole five minutes due to a technical issue) and the fact that most of it is jokes. Wonderfully, the second track, which gathers actors Toddy Walters, Ian Hardin and John Hegel and producer/first assistant director Alexandra Kelly (plus actor/director of photography Robert Muratore, for about 13 minutes) is a pretty great (and, perhaps, equally drunken) compliment to the classic track; another sea of jokes surrounding the occasional tidbit of information. There's some overlap between the two tracks and a few odd gaps in the second where it seems like chunks have been edited out (especially during "This Side of Me"), but it's nice to hear from a whole slate of people whose opinions on Cannibal! aren't as well-known.
Disc 1 ends with a page of DVD production credits.
Disc 2 is apparently titled Shpadoinkle Special: Alfred Packer's Recipes, and it kicks off with deleted scenes (7:41), under the title "Severed Remains". All of these scenes are taken from the scenes with Masao Maki, and about half of the material is still in the final cut, although you get to hear Trey do a fine reprise of "When I Was On Top of You".
"Beneath the Carcass" (14:13) is several chunks of interesting B-roll footage, taken during the filming of the bear trap, the gunshot, the campfire (filmed in Parker's parents' backyard), and a few odds and ends, followed by the relevant scene from the finished film (which seems really unnecessary for the campfire bit, since such a long chunk of the movie is included). It's followed by "Dismembered Delicacies" (3:17), a nice little reel of artwork and press kit materials, set to a couple of songs from the movie.
"Cannibal Close-Ups" (22:48) is made up of clips from four of the various amateur productions of the film that are put on around the world. They're relatively impressive, all creating a few original jokes amongst Parker's material, although there's a strong air of "you had to be there" throughout the reel, and I'm not sure such long clips (mostly songs) are necessary. "Uncle Lloydie's Cannibal Cameo!" (3:31) is a related bit of footage from Kaufman's clearly improvised appearance in one of the stage performances in Washington D.C.
"Sausage Surprise" (1:32) is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a PSA about hermaphrodites, starring Trey, Matt, and Lemmy from Motorhead. Yep.
Next, both the Cannibal! The Musical (1:23) and Alferd Packer: The Musical (2:41) trailers used to sell the film and attract investors are included here. Both spots contain plenty of specially-filmed footage that was never intended to be included in the movie, so it makes for an interesting curiosity piece. It's also worth noting that these trailers are the only place you can hear any of "Shatter Proof!" on this disc, along with bits of two other songs that aren't from the finished film.
But wait, there's more! Just when it looks like the disc is over, "Amputated Appendages" leads to 6 more features that are less Cannibal!-centric. "Lovely Scenes from Bergman's The Virgin Spring" (3:16) leads to the same trailer for Poultrygeist from the first disc, while "Demons Among Us Wisdom" (1:18) and "Ray Wise's Cyxork 7 Trailer" (2:00) are, to varying extents, more truthfully identified. "'Wildman' Music Video Directed by Uncle Lloydie" (5:34) is a foreign clip with a truly amazing performance by Lloyd as a blind man in love with a sexy barmaid and featuring a brief appearance by Toxie -- absolutely the best music video I've seen in ages! -- which makes the lame "'Headbanger Face Rip' by Municipal Waste" (1:54) pale in comparison. Finally, the weird "Radiation March" (0:54) is included, just 'cause, I suppose.
Cannibal! The Musical easily blows away plenty of "early" films by bigger-name directors, and it fits better in Parker's directorial oeuvre than many of those movies to boot. The A/V quality -- from what I remember -- is also a jump up from the previous Troma release, plus the addition of a hilarious new commentary, excellent interviews and more. If I were nitpicking, I remember an interview with McHugh and perhaps Parker from the original disc that isn't included, but the other bonuses on this disc more than make up for it. Even those who don't necessarily enjoy "South Park" but like Troma or horror/comedies are encouraged to tap dance down to a store and grab this highly recommended release right away.
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