Nothing satisfies like a good food movie. Big Night and Babette's Feast are classics among the cuisine-meets-cinema set. But on the week of Halloween, it's time to move beyond Eat Drink Man Woman and Tampopo. Here are some flicks with a bit more . . . bite. Pass the popcorn.
THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER: I said "no food." I didn't say there was nothing to eat. In Ravenous, eating your enemies comes with a bonus: superhuman strength. What's not to like? Perhaps the insatiable hunger that accompanies it? The concept derives from the Native American myth of the Weendigo, in which the cannibal takes on the spirit and strength of the cannibalized. In 1847, the folks at remote and unpleasant Fort Spencer, California, learn this the hard way. A stranger who claims to have been menaced by a flesh-chomping monster leads them on an expedition into the winter wilderness. Deception, murder and a big pot of stew follow.
Why watch it? For the cool cast - including Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle - the interesting take on Manifest Destiny, and the fact that it's probably the only movie in the world likened to both Dances with Wolves and Night of the Living Dead.
Serving suggestion: Pork stew with winter vegetables.
TENANT 1: How long did that other guy last us?
TENANT 2: A week. Not counting the broth, that is. In post-apocalyptic France, the food ain't what it used to be. Frogs have fled with their legs, and escargot is escargone. It's a gourmet's nightmare. But a wily butcher lures unsuspecting handymen to his apartment, where he converts them into cuts of meat to sell to the building's odd tenants. The newest potential victim, a former clown, gets wise to the scheme, and is eventually rescued by a vegetarian militia called Les Troglidistes. Anthropophagy at its strangest.
Why watch it? For the cachet it will give you among film buffs, and for the general strangeness.
Serving suggestion: Liverwurst sandwiches.
PAUL BLAND: It's amazing what you can do with cheap meat . . . if you know how to treat it! And of course, the right wine always helps.
Mary and Paul are boring. Even their last name is Bland. They're grossed out by sex, and fantasize instead about owning a restaurant. Coming up with the capital poses a problem, though, until they hit on the obvious solution: luring "perverts" to their apartment and bumping them off with a cast-iron pan. After training with a dominatrix, they place an ad in the paper, and the clients roll in. Things are going fine until they meet Raoul, who helps them sell the corpses to a pet-food producer. Raoul also introduces Mary to marijuana and the pleasures of the flesh. Will she choose bland Paul or hot-blooded Raoul? The movie's title doesn't leave much doubt about the outcome, but you'll giggle or groan as you watch the Blands go from chewing chicken to eating Raoul.
Why watch it? For the really strange folk the Blands encounter in their S&M operation.
Serving suggestion: Beef enchiladas with "red sauce," rice and refried beans.
Michael Lamale is 10 years old when he finally wonders how his parents can serve "leftovers" every night. Michael seems to be part of the perfect '50s family. Perky Mom wears Bo-Peep dresses, and Dad works hard at a company called Toxico so that he can bring home the bacon. Only the bacon he's bringing home doesn't come from a pig. On his perilous quest to discover the origins of the "leftovers," Michael witnesses one of the strangest sex scenes on record. Don't miss the human legs hanging from hooks in the basement.
Why watch it? For suburban gore, freaky subversion of 1950s ideals, and Randy Quaid in his creepiest role ever.
Serving suggestion: Barbecued ribs, mashed potatoes and frozen corn.
CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL
MILLER: Haven't you ever heard of the Donner party?
HUMPHREY: Yeah, the Donner party, they got stuck in the California mountains.
PACKER: They had to eat each other to stay alive. [The miners all look over at their dead companion's body.]
HUMPHREY: Well, heck yeah! Why not?
BELL: Wait a minute, Humphrey, you wouldn't even eat your shoes!
HUMPHREY: Well, yeah, but you put your feet in shoes! This has gotta be the goofiest cannibal film ever made. A college project by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of "South Park" fame, it's based on the true story of Alfred Packer. In the harsh winter of 1873, he and four companions set out in search of gold mines. When Packer returned alone, bearing the other men's money and a few strips of human jerky, he was accused of murder. His subsequent trials and jailing are a matter of much interest in Colorado, where many still defend his innocence. Parker tells the story via seven silly song-and-dance numbers. This may sound like a strange way to relate a tale involving murder and flesh eating, but ponder the plot lines of some other famous musicals: West Side Story involves a gang murder, and Rent deals with the pain of being broke and living with AIDS.
Why watch it? Because it's the most ludicrous thing you'll ever see. Or if you really enjoy "South Park."
Serving suggestion: Trail mix and beef jerky.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: . . . is brought to you by Soylent red and Soylent yellow, high-energy vegetable concentrates, and now delicious Soylent green. The miracle food of high-energy plankton gathered from the oceans of the world.
DETECTIVE THORN: It's people. Soylent green is made out of people . . . Next thing, they'll be breeding us like cattle for food . . . We've gotta stop them somehow. In 2022, the government has finally solved the problems of overpopulation and world hunger in one fell swoop. The solution? Soylent green, which is promoted as a calorie-packed plankton product, but in reality, might be Grandma. Charlton Heston's character, Detective Thorn, gets wind of the awful truth while investigating the murder of a Soylent company exec, and with the help of his partner, looks for proof. Websites say that Heston opted to be in Soylent Green because he's very concerned about overpopulation. Maybe this explains his position on guns?
Why watch it? For the fear factor - as global warming gets worse and the U.S. population skyrockets, this movie seems realistic and out of date at the same time.
Serving suggestion: Tofu stir-fried with an assortment of greens.
WAITER: For entrees this evening I have swordfish meatloaf with onion marmalade, rare roasted partridge breast in raspberry coulis with a sorrel timbale . . . Although he doesn't generally eat his victims, Patrick Bateman occasionally keeps a human head in his freezer beside the low-fat sorbet. And he admits to having tried to "cook a little" on occasion. Although there's minimal cannibalism in this film, it does serve up plenty of food. The characters spend much of their time at hip restaurants, and the opening credits dissolve into shots of beautifully presented, over-the-top dishes while a waiter drones on about daily specials. Also note Bateman's sleek stainless-steel kitchen appliances and anachronistic set of Global knives.
Why watch it? For the sex appeal, and when you want to think about the correlation between consumerism and cannibalism.
Serving suggestion: Sorbet with head-shaped gingerbread cookies.
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
CLARICE STARLING: Most serial killers keep some sort of trophy from their victims.
HANNIBAL LECTER: I didn't.
CLARICE STARLING: No, you ate yours. The characters' names - Hannibal the Cannibal, Buffalo Bill, Clarice Starling - suggest a silly horror film set in cowboy country. In fact, this is a scholarly movie melding opera, art, gourmet cuisine and, well, gore. Although Hannibal Lecter isn't the film's focus, he steals every scene he is in. A psychiatrist-turned-psychopath, Lecter seems to know what everyone is thinking, and takes great pleasure in messing with people's minds. He's suave and cruel as he guides FBI agent Clarice Starling towards a serial killer who is making "woman suits" from his victims.
Why watch it? Because it's a damn good movie, that's why. Plus, you'll get to shiver deliciously when Lecter delivers the line about eating a census taker's liver with fava beans and Chianti.
Serving suggestions: Liver (calf, not human) with fava beans and Chianti, of course. If you can't get fava beans, try lima. Or you could eat some lamb.
HANNIBAL VICTIM: When the fox hears the rabbit scream he comes a-runnin' . . . but not to help. More brutal and unnerving than its prequel, Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal gives the title character his due. A former victim of Lecter's tries to orchestrate his death, but ends up instead in Lecter's clutches - along with a few other folks who have proven to be a bit rude. Anthony Hopkins, who plays Lecter, hams it up for the camera, especially in the scene featuring a group of deadly hogs. But the most shocking moment feels more like Faces of Death than a Hollywood feature film - Hannibal scoops out a man's frontal lobe, sautés it, and feeds it to him.
Why watch it? For closure. Didn't you always want to know what became of Lecter and Starling's relationship?
Serving suggestion: Anything but your own brain.