Cannibal! The Musical Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 2000

Cannibal! The Musical artwork
Sky is blue and all the leaves are green
And my heart's as full as a baked potato!
I think I know precisely what I mean
When I say it's a shpadoinkle day!

Long before Matt Stone and Trey Parker introduced the world to the potty-mouthed third graders of "South Park" (1993 to be exact), their twisted minds came up with a tasty (or tasteless, depending on who you ask) movie musical, made 'in the tradition of Friday the 13th Part 2 and Oklahoma!' With the cheeky title "Cannibal! The Musical", this low-budget production dramatizes the life and times of Alferd Packer, a gold prospector from the late 1800s who is the only American citizen to have ever been convicted of cannibalism-- of course, the events depicted in this film have little in common with historical record. Despite the film's low-budget trappings, including amateur actors in abundance, the goofy, wildly irreverent, and media-savvy humor seen in "South Park" is evident here, making "Cannibal! The Musical" finger-lickin' good!

We're tired of being sick, we're sick of being poor.
We've had a little luck, now we want a little more.
Enough so we'd never do anything anymore.
That's all we're asking for!
Trey Parker

Told in flashback by a jailed Packer (Parker, appearing under the name 'Juan Schwartz') to Polly Pry (Toddy Walters, who also lent her voice to "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut"), a sympathetic and comely reporter from The Denver Post, the film traces an ill-fated expedition. Packer and his horse Leanne, in the company of a group of like-minded prospectors, leave Utah to find gold in the hills of Colorado. Along the way, they have a run-in with some mean trappers who like to kill cute furry things (as well as sing), meet the Nihonjin Indian tribe (who look and sound suspiciously Japanese), and decide to 'go around' the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, all they find when they get to Colorado is that they are hopelessly lost. And when winter sets in, they also find that they have no food.

Oh, stop! That's sick!
I agree! Nutter was singing in the wrong key!
No I wasn't! It was Loutzenheiser! I was singing in E flat minor.
The song's in F sharp major!
I think they're the same thing. I mean, E flat is the relative major of F sharp.
No it isn't! The relative minor is three half-tones down from the major, not up!
No, it's three down. Like A is the relative minor of C major.
But isn't A sharp in C major?
Wait, are you singing mixolydian scales or something?
Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and the cast of Cannibal! The Musical

Pretty soon, the members of the expedition start dropping like flies, and end up becoming alternative food sources for the survivors. At the end of winter, only one man emerges alive from the Colorado wilderness, Packer, who is promptly arrested and put on trial for the murder of his fellow prospectors, as well as for practicing cannibalism. Could Packer be innocent of the serious charges levied against him? Can Polly conjure up an eleventh hour reprieve for Packer's appointment with the town's hangman? Or will Packer hang from the neck until dead for his alleged and monstrous crimes?

So let's build a snowman
We can make him our best friend
We can name him Bob or
We can name him Beowulf
We can make him tall or
We can make him not so tall

Though the subject matter sounds rather unappetizing, "Cannibal! The Musical" has more in common with those old school Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, such as "Oklahoma!", as well as the Disney animated musical (which also served as fodder for "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut"). True, there are some scenes of gore (particularly the film's opening sequence), but most of it is handled in the tongue-and-cheek manner that Stone and Parker have made careers out of. One running gag pokes fun at horror movie villains that refuse to die, no matter what the hero jabs or stabs into him, while another memorable scene has an unexpected punch-line, the result of one man's wildly-inappropriate reaction to another man breaking out into song ("Let's Build a Snowman") at a most inopportune time.

Your eyes, your smile,
Made my little life worthwhile.
There was nothing I couldn't do,
When I was on top of you!
Toddy Walters and Parker

Speaking of song, the music in "Cannibal! The Musical" is quite catchy, and you may find yourself unexpectedly humming some of the film's more show-stopping tunes, such as Packer's recurring theme song, "Shpadoinkle Day", "The Trapper's Song", Packer's ode to his horse "When I was on Top of You", and the film's ending musical extravaganza, "Hang the Bastard!" Parker, who also directed, does a great job in mocking the movie musicals of Hollywood's Golden Era, particularly in how he constructs some of the more elaborate production numbers. If you enjoy the absurd yet infectious musical stylings seen on "South Park", or are merely a fan of the Hollywood musical, then this is your movie!

Hang the bastard, hang him high,
Hoist his body to the sky.
It's as nice as a day can be,
Won't you come to the hanging with me?

Ever since the mainstream success of "South Park", interest in Trey Parker's long-lost film project "Cannibal! The Musical" has been steadily gaining momentum. In addition to screenings across the United States in colleges and arthouse theaters, as well as some 'live' performances o on stage, the wonderful folks at Troma Entertainment (the same company that released the 'classic's "The Toxic Avenger" and "Surf Nazis Must Die!") have issued a collector's edition DVD, which has a surprisingly sharp picture and terrific sound quality, despite the miniscule budget of the film. With its off-kilter humor, great music, satirical production numbers, and availability on a DVD that is priced-to-own, there's little reason not to catch this flesh-eating bug. Shpadoinkle!

His face will turn red,
Then purple, then blue.
We'll watch from up here,
To get a good view.
And when his eyes bug out we'll know,
It's the end of him,
And the end of the show!

Images courtesy of Troma Entertainment. All rights reserved.

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