Archive for the ‘Cannibalism’ Category

MOVIE “DONNER PASS” WILL SATISFY YOUR HUNGER FOR HORROR   Leave a comment

Teens' poor choice of a vacation spot proves deadly in horror flick.

Teens’ poor choice of a vacation spot proves deadly in horror flick.

By C. Michael Forsyth

I’ve long been intrigued by the tragedy of The Donner Party, pioneers who set out for California in the winter of 1846, became stranded in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and were forced to resort to cannibalism to survive.

News of the grisly events captivated the nation. The California Star reported, “A more shocking scene cannot be imagined than that witnessed by the party of men who went to the relief of the unfortunate emigrants. The bones of those who had died and been devoured by the miserable ones that still survived were lying around their tents and cabins. Bodies of men, women and children, with half the flesh torn from them, lay on every side. A woman sat by the body of her husband, who had just died, eating out his tongue; the heart she had already taken out, broiled, and ate! The daughter was seen eating the flesh of the father; the mother that of her children.”

Donner Party members James and Margaret Reed faced a terrible choice when stranded in the mountains.

Donner Party members James and Margaret Reed faced a terrible choice when stranded in the mountains.

The movie Donner Pass takes that already-horrifying tale and adds an extra ingredient to the stew: As a result of eating human flesh, the wagon train’s leader George Donner becomes a wendigo, endowed with unnatural strength and longevity—as well as an insatiable hunger for man meat. When a group of present-day teens pay a visit to a cabin in the cursed mountain pass, they soon find themselves on the menu.

The first scene set in modern times is less than promising. Four teens of quickly identifiable types drive toward the cabin, while one recounts an urban legend that Donner still haunts the woods. The story-teller cavalierly jettisons the well-known facts of the tragedy. In his version, Donner was the sole survivor, while in actuality 48 of the 87 members of the party lived. Par for the course, the kids are not deterred by talk of Donner’s ongoing snack attacks nor is their enthusiasm dampened by news that a woman’s half-eaten corpse was recently found, apparently the victim of a homicidal maniac.

KILLER, SHMILLER: The fact that there's a cannibal killer on the loose doesn't keep the Whore (Krystal Davis from a topless dip in the hot tub.

KILLER, SHMILLER: The fact that there’s a cannibal killer on the loose doesn’t keep Valerie The Whore (Krystal Davis) from a topless dip in the hot tub.

After Joss Whedon so brilliantly dissected the hackneyed remote-cabin scenario in Cabin in the Woods, it’s hard not to groan at another stab at it. However, the movie turns out to be well-executed, with some imaginative twists—and more than one of the characters is nursing a surprising secret. Yes, of course the archetypes Whedon pinpointed are back: The Good Girl, the Whore, the Jock, the Nerd, etc. And the characters die in exactly the order you’d anticipate. (Don’t expect the amorous couple who get busy in the hot tub to make it to the prom). But the interplay between the characters is engaging, particularly when they turn against each other as the situation grows more desperate. Although most of the plot turns are telegraphed five or ten minutes ahead, they are well thought out—and you many not actually see the final twist coming.

TRUST NO ONE: The Bitch (Adelaide Kane) creeps up on The Jock (Dominic DeVore).

TRUST NO ONE: The Bitch AKA Nicole (Adelaide Kane) may have a hidden agenda.

This isn’t the first time Hollywood has sunk its teeth into the myth of the wendigo, which is rooted in Algonquin Indian folklore. The movie Ravenous (1999) also featured a vampiric cannibal spawned by a Donner-Party-type catastrophe, and the intrepid brothers in TV’s Supernatural did battle with one.

Interestingly enough, psychologists have identified a real version of the phenomenon, just as there is for lycanthropy. “Wendigo Psychosis refers to a condition in which sufferers developed an insatiable desire to eat human flesh even when other food sources were readily available, often as a result of prior famine cannibalism,” according to Wikipedia.

I think one reason the Donner Party tragedy so profoundly affected the mind of the public is that it exposed an ugliness in Manifest Destiny and our winning of the West. Just as the sinking of the Titanic later put a damper on the Gilded Age, the Manson family murders revealed the dark side to carefree hippie movement of the 1960s and the Challenger disaster knocked the wind out of America’s triumphant space program.

PARTY ANIMALS: Georgia Donner, Eliza Donner and Mary Brunner survived the Donner Party tragedy--by resorting to the unthinkable.

PARTY ANIMALS: Georgia Donner, Eliza Donner and Mary Brunner survived the Donner Party tragedy–by resorting to the unthinkable.

And perhaps it lingers in our imagination more than a century and a half later because of the awful choice it presented. Would you resort to cannibalism to survive? Drawing straws and dining on the unlucky loser may seem morally defensible in an extreme famine. What would Jesus do? Hard to imagine Him nibbling on the calves of St. Peter. Still, He did say, “Eat of my flesh,” at the Last Supper, so He might be forgiving of cannibals. Anyhow, not much of a worry for a fellow who can mass produce fish and loaves of bread at will. But I digress. Chew the question over, then answer the poll below:

Also by the writer of this review is the new novel Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini in The Adventure of the Spook House

Houdini and Conan Doyle investigate a bizarre disappearance  in new book.

Houdini and Conan Doyle investigate a bizarre disappearance in new book.

Now on DVD: “THE DESCENT: PART 2.” PERFECT FOR HALLOWEEN — OR ABYSMAL?   1 comment

BACK FOR MORE: Spunky Sarah battles a woman-eating subterranean freak.

By C. Michael Forsyth

I’m not ashamed to admit that the 2005 British movie “The Descent” scared the living daylights out of me. In fact, I’d have to count it among the most frightening flicks I’ve ever seen. The predicament of the six female spelunkers trapped in the bowels of an Appalachian cave and stalked by cannibalistic mutants is plenty harrowing even BEFORE the monsters show up. The heroines must combat claustrophobia, cave-ins, narrow tunnels that trap victims like rats, perilous drops and more. Of course, when the naked, drooling “crawlers” begin to pick them off, the situation gets worse in a hurry.

Now, the premise was not especially original. ‘The Cave,” which was released the same year, introduced a more novel concept: a germ that causes every living thing it infects to become vampire-like. In contrast, creepy underground races have been haunting our imagination at least as far back as “Superman and the Mole Men.” (And let’s not forget the old Weekly World News mascot Batboy, who looks like a benign version of the crawlers.) But the realism of the cave sequences (although filmed on a set) gave the movie a powerful impact. And while the crawlers are not all that tough as movie monsters go (a fit woman can beat one in a fair fight and their heads cave in easily), the slimy, maggot-colored critters really do make your skin crawl. Plus, forgive me if this sounds sexist, but the fact that the unlucky cave explorers were all women – with no male “protectors” — heightened the terror level.

Still, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to a sequel. We all know the vast majority are gratuitous, a naked ploy by money-grubbing producers to squeeze every last dime out of an idea. And since in most cases, the creators have gone onto bigger and better things and the follow-ups are turned over to young hacks with no loyalty to the original, the result is almost always disappointing. In this instance, although the original’s writer/director Neil Marshall stepped aside for director Jon Harris and writer J. Blakeson, he remained on board as producer. The creative team stays true to the themes of the original and manages to recapture the tension and claustrophobic horror.

Instead of doing the obvious and mimicking the original’s successful formula – say, by sending down a fresh crop of all-girl adventurers — the filmmakers pick up the story where the last one left off. Sole survivor Sarah (Shauna McDonald) has somehow made it to the surface and stumbles out of the woods. Traumatized and bloodied, she is unable to recall anything about her ordeal. Accompanying a mixed-gender rescue party, Sarah reluctantly returns to the cave in search of her companions.

Early on, I thought I’d pegged the movie as a turkey. The sheriff (Gavan O’Herlihy) makes some absurdly stupid decisions that strain the audience’s ability to suspend disbelief. For starters, he drags Sarah from her hospital bed to return to the cave, supposedly to help the rescuers negotiate their way through the maze of tunnels – although she clearly has amnesia! And HANDCUFFING himself to another person while fleeing the carnivorous sub-humanoids isn’t exactly prudent either.

Sarah’s abrupt switch from shell-shocked victim to monster-killing superwoman – ala Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in “Aliens” – is also a bit hard to swallow. And, at first, it seems like the characters, who quickly get separated due to a cave-in, are going to be bumped off in fairly predictable order. But the encounters with the crawlers are truly terrifying and exciting, each one a well-executed set-piece. The outcome of these battles rarely seem predetermined; I defy you to guess correctly who will die and when. As in the original, the intensity of the relationships gives the movie some dramatic heft. And the themes of revenge and self-sacrifice are revisited here.

In one aspect, this movie is actually an improvement over the original. The characters look different and are distinctly drawn. In the original “Descent,” the women looked and sounded so much alike, other than the exotic, indomitable Juno (Hong Kong- born Natalie Mendoza), I had difficulty telling the women apart and was even unsure of how many of them there were! Here it’s easier to root for particular characters to survive.

Like the original, the movie has a downbeat and rather puzzling ending. Maybe some kind reader will explain it to me in a comment. Or perhaps all will be made clear in the inevitable “Descent 3.”

So, as sequels go, I have to give this one a solid B+. Maybe not as fresh and shocking as the original, but spooky enough to merit a place on your Netflix queue.

TERROR STALKS THE WOODS in this video promoting "Hour of the Beast." To watch it, click below.

To see the book trailer for C. Michael Forsyth’s critically acclaimed horror novel Hour of the Beast, and hear Chapter One read by the author, CLICK HERE.

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