Cannibal! The Musical (1993)


Long before Trey Parker and Matt Stone became famous for South Park they were students at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  While there Parker, always a fan of musicals, decided to make one based on Alferd Packer.  For those who don't know, Alferd Packer signed on as a guide to lead a group of miners from Utah to a small gold mining town called Breckenridge in the Colorado territory.  Problem is he wasn't too good at it and, after a series of bad decisions, his group was stranded in the Rocky Mountains as heavy winter storms came in.  One member of the party, Shannon Bell, allegedly killed the other members while Packer was looking for help, and was killed by Packer in self-defense.  When the storms closed in Packer was forced to subsist on the bodies of his fallen companions and, when his version of things came into question, he stood trial for murder.

It's not something most people would approach as a musical, but enter Parker with a camera, a script and some big plans.  He knew about as much about making a film as Packer knew about getting across the Rockies, but with a bit of help from some friends he managed to pull it off without having to consume any crew members - as far as we know.  

Alferd Packer (Parker) is on trial for murder in Lake City, Colorado.  Polly Pry (Toddy Walters), a journalist from Denver, has come to observe the trial as well as get Packer's side of the story.  She gets him talking when she mentions his horse Liane.  Liane, which he had since he was a child, touches off the series of events that lead to tragedy for the group he is leading when it leaves in the middle of the night with all their food and supplies.  

The group is made up of Shannon Bell (Ian Hardin), George Noon (Dian Bachar), Isreal Swan (Jon Hegel), James Humphrey (Stone) and Frank Miller (Jason McHugh).  Although they soon realize they are following the wrong guy they press on.  Despite being welcomed by a group of "Indians" to wait out the winter Packer decides to press on due to being taunted by a group of trappers led by Frenchy Cabazon (Robert Muratore), leading to their final fate.  Meanwhile, in the present, Polly starts to fall for Packer and decides to do what she can to get him exonerated.

Cannibal! The Musical does include some fun, low-budget gore, but the highlight of the movie is, of course, the songs.  The humor is what would be expected from Trey and Matt, less wild than they would do with South Park, but the trademark tunes are there.  "Shpadoinkle", "When I Was on Top of You", "This Side of Me" and "Let's Build a Snowman" are all up there with the stuff Parker would do later, even if the choreography is often a bit rough.  

The only problem is that Parker had a lot to learn when it came to making a feature film.  In stretching a three-minute short into a full 95-minute movie there are pacing issues that drag things out a bit too long, often getting in the way of the jokes.  It's not as bad as many first-time films, and I am surprised that Parker managed to do what he did on pretty much no budget.  It is one of those movies where it goes from comic brilliance to amateur hour from scene to scene.

Still, there is a lot to like here, even if one is not usually a fan of Parker's humor.  There are some nods to historical accuracy, but don't go looking for Parker to be a stickler for it, as the entire movie is framed as a restoration of a 1950s-style musical that has been rescued from obscurity.  Of course, that's where Cannibal! The Musical still finds itself despite the popularity of its creator, but it is worth taking a look at for a good laugh and some great music. 

Cannibal! The Musical (1993)
Time: 95 minutes
Starring: Trey Parker, Toddy Walters, Ian Hardin, Jon Hegel, Dian Bachar, Matt Stone, Jason McHugh
Director: Trey Parker

 

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