Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Cannibal! The Musical: Special Edition (1996)
Studio Line: Troma Team Video

Cannibal! The Musical is the true story of the only person convicted of cannibalism in America - Alfred Packer. The sole survivor of an ill-fated trip to the Colorado Territory, he tells his side of the harrowing tale to news reporter Polly Prye as he awaits his execution. And his story goes like this: While searching for gold and love in the the Colorado Territory, he and his companions lost their way and resorted to unthinkable horrors, including toe-tapping songs!

Packer and his five wacky mining buddies sing and dance their ways into your heart...and then take a bite out of it! Cannibal! The Musical is Oklahoma meets Bloodsucking Freaks. Brought to you by the Troma Team and Trey Parker, the Rogers and Hammerstein of Horror!

Director: Trey Parker
Cast: Juan Schwartz, Ted Henwood, Toddy Walters, Ian Harding, Jason McHugh, Matt Stone
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English Digital Stereo; subtitles none; single sided - daul layered; rated NR; 90 min.; $24.95; street date 3/7/00.
Supplements: Two Original Tromatic Introductions "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and Cannibal! The Musical Producer Jason McHugh Make Shocking Confessions to Troma's own Lloyd Kaufman!; Wild Behind The Scenes Footage; Troma Intelligence Test II; Original Theatrical Trailer; Tour of Troma Studios!; The Brand New Soul of Troma!; Hilariously Inebriated Commentary by "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone; Trey and Matt's Hermaphrodite Public Service Announcement with Lemmy from Motorhead!
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: C+/C+/B+

Whenever I get reader review requests, I try to honor them but unfortunately I don't always succeed. That's partially because some of the movies in question don't really interest me, and with a kazillion DVDs on my plate, I need to pick and choose pretty carefully.

Recently I was asked to check out Cannibal! The Musical, an early effort from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys behind South Park. Frankly, I'm an iffy SP supporter, and the news I'd heard on their non-cartoon work wasn't especially positive, so I didn't feel any great eagerness to investigate this film.

However, a few days later I got a second request for Cannibal! from another reader. Two separate e-mails on the same film? Sounds like an overwhelming declaration of desire to me, so I got right on it!

Actually, despite my initial misgivings about the film, once it arrived I felt more interested in it. After all, I'd really enjoyed SP: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, which also was a musical at heart. I hoped that this precursor of that winner would provide a nearly as entertaining experience.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen. While I thought Cannibal! was moderately enjoyable, I can't say it did a lot for me. At best, it's silly and witty, but much of the movie simply seemed dull to me. Even at a brief 95 minutes, the film felt too long, as some of the subplots dragged on and on without end.

I found it interesting to note that although Cannibal! first was released in 1996, it actually was made three years earlier while Parker attended college in Colorado. Apparently he made it on his free time but ended up ditching lots of classes to work on it and ultimately got the boot from school.

Although I encourage all you kids out there to stay in school, I guess one can't criticize Parker's career choice, as he seems to be doing pretty well. One can see occasional glimpses of his talent in Cannibal!, but the whole project feels forced and inconsistent to me. The concept of the piece is good, as it's a musical based on the true story of Alferd Packer, a 19th century guide who allegedly chowed down on his partners.

As one might expect, much of the tale has been fictionalized, though it appears that Parker provides a fair amount of historically accurate data. In any case, the project exists for no reason other than to create a silly spoof of musicals - and to get back at Parker's ex-fiancee, which is something I support; anytime someone uses their position to slam a person who did them wrong, I feel this is a good thing.

The movie itself is more of a mixed bag. It has some funny moments but these were too few and far between to keep me tremendously interested. As I mentioned, the piece dragged on for too long and got pretty tedious at times. I never seriously considered bagging it, but my patience was sorely tested during parts of the film.

Cannibal! was a student movie and it looks like it. Actually, it seems surprisingly polished in some ways, but it still appears cheap and crudely-made. Of course, given the cheesiness of the concept, some of this works to the film's advantage.

Ultimately, however, Cannibal! The Musical stands as a mildly interesting historical piece and little more. It's kind of like the old Simpsons cartoons from the Tracey Ullman Show; they're cool to see from a fan's point of view but they aren't very funny. Cannibal! in entertaining enough to merit a look for South Park fans, but it seemed somewhat weak nonetheless.

The DVD:

Cannibal! The Musical appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the picture betrays the project's low-budget origins, it generally looks fairly nice, with only a few substantial concerns to mar the presentation.

Sharpness appears pretty good throughout the film, though some wider shots can seem too soft and hazy; it's a mixed bag but one that generally is clear and accurate. Moiré effects and jagged edges only appear a few times during the movie. Print flaws are a moderate concern. Mild grain is evident occasionally, and some speckles, scratches and grit also pop up from time to time. Again, some of these issues seem related to the modest budget of the film; it's hard to avoid flaws when the movie costs about ten cents to make.

Colors are often quite attractive and bold, but they usually seem overly dense and thick. A rather heavy tone influences the movie, and colors can seem oversaturated. Black levels seemed pretty good, with solidly dark tones and decent contrast. Shadow detail appeared equally fine, as low-light situations generally remained appropriately clear and visible. All in all, I found Cannibal! to look very watchable at all times, and it occasionally presented a very strong image; however, it included too many issues to merit anything above a "C+".

The same factors influenced my rating of the film's Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround soundtrack. Actually, I thought it sounded surprisingly good based on the movie's origins, but it possessed quite a few flaws as well. The soundfield seemed pretty mild. Other than music, which provided some very good stereo separation, little audio emanated from the side channels; I noticed occasional effects and a bit of speech from those speakers, but not too much. The surrounds kicked in some decent general ambiance - also primarily related to the music - but weren't a huge factor. In any case, I found the soundfield to seem acceptable for this kind of project.

Quality appeared decent but variable. Dialogue fluctuated the most. Clearly a lot of speech was dubbed, and this factor seems very obvious. Dubbed lines sounded clear but overly warm and artificial, whereas much of the "natural" speech seemed edgy and sibilant. Intelligibility remained fine throughout all of the variations, however, but the changes made the track more distracting than it should have been.

Effects sounded largely clean and without distortion; I can't say they really appeared realistic, but they were without any of the obvious flaws that affected the dialogue. Music came across quite well. The songs boasted some fairly nice dynamic range, and the bass was surprisingly deep and taut. As with much of the dialogue, the tunes featured a "canned" quality that made them a bit distracting, but since musical showtunes are an artificial device anyway, I found this concern less problematic in regard to the music.

Possibly the most negative aspect of this soundtrack came from the excessive tape hiss evident during many scenes. This noise doesn't appear at all times during the film, but it's a pretty frequent nuisance, and it can become rather dominant on occasion. It appeared that the hiss stemmed from mostly the original recordings; dubbed pieces weren't nearly as noisy. As with the picture, the audio featured a broad mix of good and bad; ultimately I felt it deserved a fairly average "C+".

Cannibal! features a fair range of supplements, starting with one of the most out-of-control audio commentaries on record. This track features director/writer/star Parker plus cohorts Stone, Jason McHugh, Dian Bachar, and Andrew Kemler. At the start of the piece, they state that they plan to booze it up throughout the commentary, and they aren't joking; these guys go to town and what begins as an informal and crude track becomes more so as it continues.

Not that I see those issues as problems, though they could have been; both Clerks and The Kentucky Fried Movie feature group recordings that often degenerate into chaos, and I really disliked those two tracks. The piece for Cannibal!, however, pretty much works, though it can be awfully inane at times. I learned a lot about the movie, which is most important, and the commentary can be pretty entertaining at times. It's definitely a unique experience.

Cannibal! tosses in a fair number of other extras as well. We get two introductions to the movie from Troma chief Lloyd Kaufman. There's "Lloyd's Cannibal! Intro", which lasts three minutes and 20 seconds, plus "Lloyd's Original Cannibal! Introduction", which runs two minutes and 15 seconds. Basically, each of these relates some details about the production and Troma's involvement with it. I'm unclear for what product the "original" intro was produced, though I'd guess it appeared on an old VHS release. The new one discusses the fame and fortune that befell Parker and Stone in the interim. Both are pretty funny and entertaining, though I prefer the new introduction.

"Behind the Scenes" shows some details of the creation of four different segments of the movie; each of these is followed by the final product, which pads the running time considerably. Each section lasts between one minute and six and a half minutes with a total of 14 and a half minutes. Some of the scenes from the finished film felt a bit redundant, but the "BTS" clips themselves were fun. It's actually fairly interesting to see Parker and Stone when they aren't hamming for the camera, which is what they usually seem to do during interviews; these moments create some nice views at how this extremely cheap product was made.

In the "oddity" category falls the "HUMMUS PSA". This 90-second spoof of public service announcements stars Stone and Parker and attempts to educate us to the painful lives experienced by hermaphrodites. I thought it was dopey and unamusing, but others may feel differently.

"Cannibalistic Quips" features interview clips with Stone, Parker, McHugh, Bachar and independent filmmaker Glasgow Phillips. It's a tremendously informal affair shot one Sunday morning at one of their houses. The seven minute program is mildly interesting but nothing spectacular, though it does add a little more perspective on the creation of the film.

A couple of promos appear. The "Alferd Packer Trailer" appears to be the "demonstration" piece created to raise money for the film. It lasts two minutes and 40 seconds and features a lot of material not found in the final product; for example, Stone's character wears a beard in this feature. The "Cannibal! Trailer" runs for 80 seconds and includes some of same elements as above, though it also combines footage from final film.

"A Cannibalistic Chorus" lets you skip directly to any of the movie's various songs if you're so inclined, while "Cannibal! Live" offers just what it says: we find 18 minutes of clips from a stage production of the movie. It's very odd and very bad, and I don't mean that in a campy, wacky way; it's just lame and not entertaining at all. It feels like the stage show was produced by a bunch of people who think they get the joke but don't - it really looks like a miserable piece of work.

That completes all of the Cannibal!-related components of the DVD. However, we find lots of Troma promotional materials. "Tromatic Appetizers" starts with a "Tour of Troma Studios". Mainly this offers movie clips in 10 various departments (such as "Executive Washroom" or "Board Room". Some of the pieces include new introductions of specially-created bits. Much of the stuff isn't very interesting, but since we find a fair amount of nice female nudity - especially in the "Wardrobe" - I recommend it

The "Troma Intelligence Test 2" offers a fun contest to examine your knowledge of Troma's offerings. I don't know much, but the multiple choice format during this 20 questions gave me a fair shot. Correct answers reward you with some more fine female nudity, while mistakes result in Troma nastiness through various pieces of violence mostly. It's a fun segment, and the listing of source films from which the clips stem adds a nice touch.

"The Tragedy of Billy" is another odd little "Public Service Announcement" ala the "HUMMUS" piece. This one concerns safe gerbil ownership, and it's not very funny either.

"Tempting Tromabilia" presents an entertaining advertising supplement. "Brand New Soul of Troma" provides a compilation of movie clips, while "To Order" offers an amusing parody of those "900-HOT-GIRL" commercials. I didn 't care that much about the joke, but the woman was pretty sexy at least.

"" advertises their website (surprise!), while "Secrets of Troma" promotes a book by Kaufman. Finally, "Radiation March" features a very odd anti-pollution clip.

Lastly, "Coming Distractions" includes trailers for four different Troma movies. We find long and graphic ads for Terror Firmer, Citizen Toxie, The Rowdy Girls, Killer Condom. I'll say this for Troma: they may go nuts with self-promotion, but at least they make it pretty interesting.

Too bad the movie itself isn't anything special. Cannibal! The Musical offers a few laughs and it makes for an interesting experience overall, but it seems overly-long and drawn-out and lacks much creative spark. The DVD features flawed but largely decent picture and sound plus some very solid supplements, including a unique audio commentary. Fans of South Park or gleefully-crude humor may want to give this one a rental.

Menu: DVD Movie Guide | Archive | Top