Movie review - Cannibal! The Musical
Cannibal! The Musical
Original title: Alfred Packer: The Musical (Made in 1993)
Created by the Avenging Conscience, Inc Production company
Written, produced and directed by Trey Parker
Original songs by Trey Parker
Score collaboration headed by Trey Parker
Released by Troma Films, 1996
Starring: Jaun Schwartz (Trey Parker), Matt Stone, Jon Hegel, Dian Bacher, Jason McHugh, Ian Hardin, Toddy Walters and an accompanying cast of several
Genre: Musical comedy, western
Age appropriateness level: 14-adult
Content for advisory: contains some strong language, subtle sexual innuendo, obviously fake gruesome scenes
Venue watched: Netflix
Reviewer rating: 5 Popcorns (out of possible 5)
Official description: Cannibal! The Musical is the true story of the only person convicted of cannibalism in America - Alferd Packer (according to Colorado lore. The sole survivor of an ill-fated trip to the Colorado Territory, he tells his side of the harrowing tale to news reporter Polly Pry as he awaits his execution. And his story goes like this: While searching for gold and love in the Colorado Territory, he and his companions lost their way and resorted to unthinkable horrors, including toe-tapping songs!
Inspired by real-life events and turned into a musical comedy by Trey Parker (of South Park fame), this film opens up with a wry dramatic prologue (see below review) and ends with an equally sardonic ending (see below review).
This movie opens with the recounting of the horrible deaths of five men at the hands of cannibal, Alferd Packer, during their trek to find the Colorado Territory. The tale is an appalling and moving one, and one totally conjured up by one very theatrical prosecutor. But to his credit, the prosecutor manages to get the town crying for Packer’s blood even before the trial ends. One person, however, is unconvinced of Packer’s villainy – pretty journalist, Polly Pry from Lake City. Polly gets to interview Packer in jail. During her visits Packer gives his account of the tragedy.
This film was made by Trey Parker (of South Park fame), with the help of his friend Matt Stone (also of South Park), along with several of their college friends and personal associates and before any of them were famous. It was filmed on location in Colorado and though the scenery is panoramic the budget was visually low by Hollywood standards. Most projects with such credentials might fairly need a Watch at Own Risk warning, and the hesitant viewer might expect nothing more than a cavalcade of sophomoric jokes and hijinks, pitifully convincing special effects and worse –as it is a musical- a bunch of puerile songs.
Except for the pitifully convincing special effects, however, the hesitant viewer would be wrong to make these presumptions.
Alferd Packer’s story begins by telling Polly how he and his beloved horse set out one day on a happy-go-lucky ride through the countryside. Packer and Liane (the horse) chanced upon a group of miners (mainly Mormons) who were hoping to find gold in the Colorado Territory but were in need of a guide to get them there. The friendly and not very sophisticated Packer was recruited for this role and he and Liane set off with five other men across the forbidding wilderness.
During the journey the men met up with some unforgettable characters: three trouble-making trappers, a Cyclops, a lamb and a group of “Indians” with samurai swords. They encountered frostbite and the “biggest freak’n river” any of them have ever seen. Lost and without even a compass, the men eventually ran out of food. Their once sunny dreams of wealth slowly turned to dark despair, and the only release to their suffering could be found in song and dance, Mormon optimism and some not-very-yummy boot leather.
But topping Packer’s list of calamities –even the threat of being convicted and hung by the neck- is that Liane abandoned him.
This movie was released under the Troma label, and Troma is best known for such self-consciously bad films as Toxic Avenger, Nuke ‘Em High and the delightful Monster in the Closet. Now as enjoyable as these films are on a cult-following level, Cannibal! The Musical had some things going for it those others didn’t –namely an articulate script, real comedic magic, good music and quality acting. And for those pitifully convincing special effects mentioned earlier, they worked in perfectly for this production.
The humor here is deadpan at its best, with loads of non sequiturs and sight gags that are gentle compared to films like the Scary Movie films or the Naked Gun series. That Parker and friends also succeeded in parodying the whole musical genre without once spoofing any particular musical or film. I found this particularly refreshing.
If you are a South Park fan (and I am), it is practically impossible not to draw parallels between that show and this film. Most notable is Parker’s knack for composing memorably humorous songs, which, of course, was the paramount achievement with SouthPark: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. There are also preludes of things to come, such as the voice that shrieks out suddenly in one scene (Eric Cartman before there was an Eric Cartman). The character of Polly Pry is a adult (and sweeter) version of SP’s Wendy Testaburger. The anxious-to-hang judge is played by none other than Parker’s real-life dad, Randy, who Parker has openly admitted, inspired the SP character of Randy Marsh. And then there is that convincing yet at times uncomfortable male-bonding element going on between the ill-fated men. It is an element that carried over to the young characters in SP, and which has draw and maintain affection with fans.
One obvious contrast is that CTM has little of the crudeness and none of the mean-spiritedness typical of South Park. And while SP often relies on contemporary issues for background and celebrities as villains/side-characters, CTM doesn’t rely on any of this. Its comedy is exclusive of itself.
That the creators of this film were still in college and that the story inspiration behind it a pretty dark one deserves noting as well. If it had been an average group of college kids and their friends and family taking on such a challenge the end product might have been cute at best. But CTM had more than cute behind it; there was genuine talent and a distinct sense of ensemble purpose to create quality humor out of a very grim true-life subject.
Reviewer’s final verdict:
I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of Cannibal! The Musical. It is an entertaining hilarity fest with a remarkably novel premise, energetic cast and catchy songs. It not only made me laugh, but laugh until tears poured down my cheeks. If you enjoy parodies with subtle mature subject matter, I think Cannibal! The Musical is sure to find a fond niche in your heart, too.
Reviewer rating: Five Popcorns
As promised earlier:
The film’s Prologue: “The film you are about to see was originally released in 1954. Upstaged by the overwhelming popularity of "Oklahoma!", it's short-lived theater run was cancelled, and "Alferd Packer: The Musical" soon fell into obscurity. The original negative, re-discovered just last year, has been painstakingly restored using state-of-the-art color enhancing and computer reconstruction technology. The film's violent scenes have been edited out for your viewing pleasure.”
The film’s Epilogue: “Due to the graphic nature of this film, it should not have been watched by small children”
Music & lyrics by Trey Parker
Don’t Be Stupid (cut from original release)
That’s All I’m Asking For
When I Was On Top of You
This Side of Me
Let’s Build a Snowman
Hang the Bastard!
reviewed © November 15, 2011 by Beth Perry
Watch the “That’s All I’m Asking For” scene from Youtube