Blue Underground // 1972 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // October 24th, 2007
When the butcher goes berserk...
Marcos (Vincente Parra, Soft Skin on Black Silk) works a dead-end job in a slaughterhouse. Approaching middle age, he's a frustrated man. He lives with his brother in a run-down house that will likely soon be taken from them and razed to make room for high-rise apartments for the wealthy. Strange and something of a loner, he has a beautiful young girlfriend, Paula (Emma Cohen, Voyage to Nowhere), but her parents don't approve, so she can only see him on the sly.
One night, when out with his girlfriend, he gets into an argument with a taxi driver. The argument escalates, and when the driver attacks Paula, Marcos hits him with a rock. He and Paula flee, and it's later reported that the taxi driver has died.
Marcos doesn't want to go to the police. He is poor and believes only the wealthy can find justice. He commits a second murder to avoid being exposed for his part in the death of the taxi driver. When that murder is discovered, he kills again.
Soon, bodies are piling up in Marcos's home. The house stinks, and Marcos must come up with a way to deal all the corpses.
In the midst of this, he makes a new friend, Nestor (Eusebio Poncela, Matador), a strange and "sensitive" young upper-class man from a nearby high-rise who has taken an interest in Marcos because, as he explains, they are both outsiders. Nestor is always popping up places where Marcos is, and he makes comments that suggest he knows things about Marcos.
Are Marcos and Nestor really kindred spirits, so simpatico that Nestor has unexplained insights into his friend? Or does the answer lie in the binoculars Nestor uses to watch the neighborhood boys at play -- and to watch Marcos?
Cannibal Man is an incredibly misleading title for this little-seen Spanish gem. Yes, the dead do end up consumed, but not by Marcos. He is not a cannibal, and cannibalism has almost nothing to do with the film. While Marcos is the instrument of people's deaths and their postmortem fates, he is appalled when actually confronted with the reality of what's come from his efforts to hide his crimes. It is, in fact, one of the only moments he has a "normal" reaction to what he has done.
There is no police procedural here, nor is there any public concern (that we see) about the victims -- no nosy reporters or relatives to take center stage. The film stays firmly focused on Marcos. Our hero is a dolt, a tortured soul at the end of the line, an immature man whose choices are made without logic or sensitivity. His work in the slaughterhouse seems to have numbed him, as has his resignation with his life. His concerns about class injustices are not mere proletariat whinings. This is Franco's Spain in the early '70s, and there are constant reminders of social divisions, from the high-rise apartments overrunning the low-income housing, to a scene where Marcos's work friends express resentment over a promotion he's received, to an encounter that he and Nestor have with the police.
Nestor is interesting as both a character and an idea. We first see him on the balcony of his high-rise, looking down at Marcos, through his skylight, while Marcos lounges in his living room. He insinuates himself in Marcos's life, and the intrusion is not completely unwelcome. While it's strongly implied that Nestor is homosexual, there is never any overt seduction, and the scenes between the two men have an unsettling erotic tension.
The killings are quite graphic (according to the DVD case, Cannibal Man was banned in several countries because of its violence). We get to know the characters just enough to have some feeling for them, and director Eloy de la Iglesia (Pals) finds suspense in some unexpected places. There's also a good deal of wit in this film; for instance, in an early scene, Marcos eats a pastry while watching a cow dismembered and drained; he does the same thing in a later scene while contemplating disposing of a body.
Blue Underground, which has put out some great discs of off-the-beaten-path films, drops the ball here. Both the transfer and audio are fairly weak, with the picture going particularly soft and grainy and certain points. We get the film with an English dub track, no option for the original Spanish with subtitles. The only extra is a wretched trailer made (apparently) for the picture's release in England. I would have loved a little background on the film and the director (who apparently made a number of weird and little-seen cult items, before taking a 15-year hiatus to battle drug addiction), whether in the form of a commentary or liner notes. This is evidently the third release of this film; Anchor Bay brought it out in 2000, then packaged it as a double feature with Mountain of the Cannibal God in 2003. These earlier releases were also bare bones and are now out of print, making this new edition the only game in town.
Cannibal Man is an extremely well-made Euro thriller with welcome social commentary and subtext. Suspenseful, disturbing, and graphically violent, the film succeeds in its depictions of both physical and psychological horror.
Marcos is crazy as a mad cow, but the film itself is free of all charges. Blue Underground gets a warning for its atypically lackluster effort on this disc.
Review content copyright © 2007 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb for Eloy de la Iglesia