Saturday, April 23, 2011

Netflix Queue Challenge: Cannibal! The Musical

Cannibal! The Musical has been in my queue for years. It's a pre-South Park project by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and since I'm seeing their current musical, The Book of Mormon, this weekend, I decided it was time to finally watch it. I haven't watched South Park regularly in years, but I've always liked their sensibility, and of course I love a good musical and a good musical parody.

Unfortunately, Cannibal! is neither. It opens with a title card telling us that it's found footage from a 1950s flop attempt to capitalize on the success of Oklahoma! that's been colorized and digitally reconstructed. The card also says that the violent scenes have been removed. Those are both promisingly funny ideas, but it's not clear what they have to do with anything. There's really no attempt made to make it look or sound like a film from the 50s, and the very first scene is reminiscent (deliberately, I assume) of Monty Python's violent Sam Peckinpah sketch, so that's a confusing mixed message.

The whole thing has the feel of a Funny Or Die video, except it was made in 1993. And it's a feature. And it looks like it was shot on VHS. As a side note, it's really amazing how technology has made low-budget film-making possible. And musical-making, for that matter. The video quality is fuzzy, the sound quality is worse, and the music is Casio-keyboard-style. What these guys could have done with a digital camera and Garage Band!

There are some really funny moments, like a gag where someone tap dances in a hole in the ground (if you've ever seen a classic movie musical, you've probably seen a tap number on an improbable surface where no one is wearing tap shoes), and a rather too literal interpretation of the term "dream ballet."

But it's mostly just a jumbled mess, hard to judge on the merits of either a movie or a musical. It was neither good enough nor funny enough to work for me. It just feels like a college lark, which is all well and good, especially from people who would go on to produce great things, but it shouldn't necessarily be released into the wild. There are ideas here that Parker and Stone are still returning to - genre parody, musical theatre, mormons, wholesome Americana turned on its head - but it's sort of remarkable how not good it is here. South Park was only three years away. Certainly the crude animation suited their budget better, and it seems like the shorter format helped them focus. I mean, this movie is 27 minutes longer than Legion. I think they really benefited in later projects from having collaborators who would edit them, not to mention more experienced producers and songwriters.

It's an interesting artifact, but I can only recommend it to super-fans...and maybe not even then.

1 comment:

SB said...

Actually, you're not far off. I happened to stay in the same dorm with a relative of Matt's in 1993, and she got her hands on a VHS copy of this film. We watched it once a week for a year.

According to her, this film was shot as a project during their own college years. Since the school they were attending was located in a place where the legend of Alfred Packer had some meaning, they decided to spoof it.

Much of the cast is comprised of staff and students of their film school; bribed, begged, or bullied into their roles. The tribe of "indians" is the Japanese Club.

I love this movie just because it really was shot for VHS, on very rudimentary equipment, they borrowed the horse that someone just happened to have, made all their own terrible costumes, and basically did it in about two weeks. It was never meant to be released as a feature film, but got picked up as a novelty some years later.

It's terrible, and horrible, and still hilarious. :) Maybe knowing the story behind this thing will help. ;)