It's hard to imagine what kind of mind might conjure up such bizarre themes, unless you're familiar with the artwork of Cannibal Flesh Riot's Writer/ Director Gris Grimly. Grimly's cartoonish and garish illustrations have graced the pages of recent editions of such works as Sleepy Hollow and Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Madness. He has also collaborated with such noteworthy writers as Neil Gaiman and R.L. Stein and has written quite a few volumes all his own, including a series of "Wicked Nursery Rhymes".
To call the man "Twisted" would probably be one of the largest compliments you could give the man.
As an artist, the man is very gifted, though probably not for everybody. As a film maker... he has made my kind of movie and has brought the same vision from his printed art to the screen with Cannibal Flesh Riot!
Now before you start jumping to conclusions concerning what a film with such a title might be all about, in actuality, you're probably wrong. Shot in a stark black and white, this film is all about two philosophical "Ghouls" who walk the Earth by night hunting for dead human flesh to dig-up and munch on. These goofy ghoulies are hilarious. Dustin Loreque's Hub looks like something plucked from the back cover of White Zombie's La Sexorcisto while David Backhaus' Stash looks like he would feel at home on one of the darker segments of MTV's Liquid Television. If that's not enough, CFR! has the look of a Swedish Expressionist film, with maybe just a tad of Nosferatu thrown in for creepy measure. That's all wrapped in to a cheesy Halloween theme that is so very silly that the Live-Action segments come off as more Cartoonish than the stop-motion animated portions.
The content of the story is less "Black Comedy" than it is "Black Farce". Sure these two grave-robbers in black-on-white makeup are on a mission to find din-din (a din-din of dead human flesh, of course), along the way they're going to be discussing culinary delights and varied ways of making the same old boring main course all the better. For example, Stash has recently discovered the joys of... condiments. No, nothing so vomitous as you might be thinking, we're talking about Ketchup, Mustard, Mayonnaise... Condiments. Naturally, being a thinking ghoul, Hub has his own ideas about that. From this point we meander through a food-based discussion on life, advertising, consumerism, cartoons and commercials. The strange, dark humor of having two creatures of the night who dine on humans who are most assuredly "inanimate" discussing the oddities of animated raisins and other food advertising mascots being anthropomorphized for the purpose of getting Americans to eat them is an experience I would recommend to just about anybody. After all Hub and Stash's food can't get up and dance around, can it? Well... can it?
Sure, this really isn't for "everybody", but it's also not what you're probably picturing. This film has a bit of profanity to it and some minor scenes of gore. The rest isn't significantly more shocking than, say, Corpse Bride. That's not to say that it's never scary. In fact, the stop-motion animation here is a perfectly hysterical and classically frightening addition that is very well-meshed with the rest of the film. That said, the film never stops being a crazy comedy and ends up being more funny than scary. Needless to say, it's always entertaining.
An interesting thing about Cannibal Flesh Riot! is that it does intentionally look cheap, but never seems to lean on this as a crutch. I've seen a good number of independent films that had next to no budget and tended to use the concept of "We meant it to look cheap!" because that is the best they could come up with. Grimly's film all seems to be intentional. His use of out-dated set-dressing techniques fix this one firmly in the sub-genre it aims for and his inter-weaving of special effects (stop motion is NOT easy, folks) in with the live action uses techniques straight out of Obie O'Brien's King Kong work. Often Cannibal Flesh Riot! does seem to be obvious in these attempts but it still works very well. The addition of fake film grain and age to the digital print to enhance the theme, for example, is a technique that has been over-used. However, I can say that this film is better for its inclusion than it would have been without the idea.
Of course, among the most fun and most funny things about Cannibal Flesh Riot! is the extent to which it lives up to its subtitle "A Film about Food" (alternately "A Black Comedy about Food"). This is precisely that. The very idea of a half-hour film that focuses on two ghouls in such a deep and thoughtful discussion about such things (and the frightening elements thereof) is, quite appropriately, a riot. Yeah, there is a bit of a mystery here and some funny scenes with cops, but it's Stash and Hub's show and it's a good one at that, worth a surprising Four Stars out of Five. The screening copy I was sent contains two versions of the film, the "Festival Cut" and the slightly longer "Director's Cut", featuring a fittingly classic and gothic introduction to the film. Both versions are worth your time if you can get into the feel for this film. If you're not into it from the visual elements alone, the music by Peter Sandorff certainly helps set the mood as both comically scary (in that 50's B-Movie/ Haunted House kind of way) and funny with its slapstick cues. Now if you'll excuse me, all this food has made me a bit peckish. I'm off to prepare a Vegetarian Feast. Remember, though, Kiddies, what the old Public Service Announcement advised us of back on those happy Saturday mornings... "don't drown your food!" You'd be surprised at the folks who are frightened at the concept.
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