Monday, December 14, 2009

Cannibal! The Musical (1996)

Oh snap, here we go. This movie is kind of a big deal to me, so expect many exceptionally written paragraphs of plot, adulation, observation, and trivia about Trey Parker's first film, Cannibal! The Musical. Based on the true story of Alferd Packer, a miner tried for murder and cannibalism in 1874, the film follows our kind-hearted but pretty clueless hero Alferd (Trey Parker) as he innocently leads a small party of men into Colorado Territory, hoping to find gold in the town of Breckenridge. The group consists of Mormon minister Bell (Ian Hardin), girl-crazy Noon (Dian Bachar), gratingly upbeat Swan (Jon Hegel), know-it-all Humphries (Matt Stone), and pessimistic butcher Miller (Jason McHugh).

They encounter a trio of asshole trappers heading the same direction, who steal Packer's only friend: his horse Leanne. While taking refuge in a strange, possibly secretly Japanese Native American camp during a snowstorm, Packer decides to ignore the dangerous weather and lead his group after the trappers, hoping to get Leanne back and make it to Breckenridge before spring. When they get lost in the snow and run out of food, desperation and starvation take over. The whole tale is set within the frame of Packer's trial months later, as told to sympathetic reporter Polly Pry (Toddy Walters) from his jail cell.

Though laced with spontaneous musical numbers, anachronisms, and nonsensical humor, Cannibal! The Musical is actually pretty accurate in its plot. Filmed over spring break while the cast and crew were attending the University of Colorado, several scenes are set in the real historical locations of Packer's experiences. The story is based on his testimony, which Trey Parker believes, relating how when they were lost and starving Bell went crazy and killed the rest of the group and started eating them while Packer was ahead looking for a landmark. I'm inclined to believe that version too just because Trey makes the character so sympathetic.

Some aspects of the movie make it obvious that it's their first, but generally this is a really impressive student film. It has decent costumes and great locations, and is shot pretty well. The music is excellent, with a lot of Oklahoma! references (something I can always get behind) and self-aware moments. The performances aren't consistently good, but generally pretty sharp. Production values are... varied, but the bad make-up and ridiculously fake beards and wigs just make it funnier. All in all it's pretty remarkable this movie was made at all, much less turned out as awesome as it did.

Listening to the drunken commentary (which I highly recommend) is not only hilarious but also really informative. Cannibal! is surprisingly reference-heavy, looking to old musicals, historical tidbits, related movies, inside jokes, and elements from their filmmaking classes. Under the layers of biography and comedy, it's all just a veiled dig at Trey's ex-fiancee Leanne, who dumped him for an a capella singer a month before the wedding. With that kind of background knowledge, the movie suddenly takes on a whole new meaning.

I'll admit that when I first saw Cannibal! I thought it was fairly mediocre, with scattered funny moments, overacting, and a so-so structure. But the more I watched it, the better it got. All of these little subtle jokes started popping up, and things that seemed stupid at first suddenly became genius, plus it's just really cool to see Trey Parker and Matt Stone before they had even thought of South Park. It has given me infinite amounts of enjoyment and quotable lines, and for that I am grateful. Plus the music is so darned catchy! Shpadoinkle!


PS This site has tons of extras and trivia, if you're interested.

"Hang the Bastard"


  1. This is like the great, lost work for Matt Stone and Trey Parker fans. I absolutely love it.

    I was going to review it myself last week, but Netflix keeps sending me the special features disc instead of the actual movie. I've got a new disc arriving soon. This one had better be right. :/

  2. I have to admit when I saw the picture on your blog I was thinking to myself, "Has someone else actually seen this film?" I thought I might have been the only one. Nice review, this movie is definitely not for everyone but if you are fan of Stone and Parker it is a must see.

  3. What a great post, thanks so much for sharing this!

  4. Aaah I saw this on the side and couldn't help but comment on it! It's one of my boyfriend's favourite films that he's made me endure a few times. Even though I love a musical, this one certainly isn't for me. Nice to see there are other fans out there though!