1973’s Cannibal Girls was the Canadian Horror Debut of Future Comedy Icons
In October of 1974, Canada became a notable player in the world of horror cinema with the premiere of Black Christmas. Released within weeks of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, both films are cited by historians and enthusiasts alike as two of the most seminal movies in the development of the North American slasher genre.
But a year before Bob Clark—the future director of A Christmas Story—bestowed the holiday season with the great Canadian bloodshed of Black Christmas, another cast and crew ripe with budding comedy stars stomped their foot-holes into the national industry with a weird, seedy and erotic take on the horror genre. Cannibal Girls, released in 1973, was the second feature film directed by an up and coming Ivan Reitman.
A Slovak-Canadian filmmaker, Reitman is now best known as a comedic powerhouse with a diverse resume of production credits including Meatballs, Animal House and Space Jam, and directorial credits on classics ranging from Ghostbusters, to teaming with Arnie on such classics as Kindergarten Cop and Junior.
Not only was the campy Canadian b-list film on the formative slate for Reitman, but the movie was also co-written by a young Daniel Goldberg, co-writer of Heavy Metal and producer of The Hangover series. In addition to Reitman and Goldberg, Cannibal Girls featured future SCTV cast members, and iconic comedic character actors, Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin.
While Cannibal Girls may not share the same level of regard as Black Christmas for changing the landscape of Canadian horror, Canuxploitation noted that it “quickly gained a reputation as one of the sleaziest Canadian B-movie concoctions of its era”.
Many critics want to brush Cannibal Girls into the waste bin like a forgettable hunk of cinematic Canadian cheddar cheese, but the film has more value than just the notable names attached. Reitman and Goldberg took a detour with Cannibal Girls into waters unchartered by most Canadian filmmakers. While the grindhouses of sexploitation and pink films became popular in the underground picture shows of the 1960s, the softcore world seemed a little too hardcore for some Canadians audiences.
Prior to Cannibal Girls, Reitman and Goldberg made a student film entitled The Columbus of Sex in 1969. Instead of breaking ground, the pair found themselves in court trying to prove they weren’t breaking obscenity laws, Lenny Bruce style. The charges were eventually dropped.
After the duo failed to gain traction once again with 1971’s Foxy Lady, Reitman and Goldberg decided to go a little bit more fleshly with their skin flicks. Horror cinema was hot. The early 1970s saw a market of theatres and drive-ins that catered to the flocking teenage demos who would pay a buck for a scare. Especially if the scares were accompanied by softcore sex. And well, that was Reitman and Goldberg’s wheelhouse.
Cannibal Girls was a lampooning jab at traditional horror films, but with a lecherous, sex-crazed treatment. In retrospect, the porniest thing about the film is probably Eugene Levy’s moustache. He did go on to fictitiously father a guy who fornicated with a pastry in American Pie, after all.
It may be just another urban legend-esque set up, but the seductive threesome of Cannibal Girls is merely one memorable blip in a film that is oddly, unapologetically Canadian. The fictitious town of Farnhamville, Ontario is actually Richmond, but unlike most cinematic CanCon of the 1970s, the setting never masquerades as America. Cannibal Girls looks and feels Canadian.
Cannibal Girls is not a good movie, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it for what it is. From beginning to end, the film is pretty messy. I don’t mean guts and gore messy, but more like a sloppy crash course of the filmmaking process. Honestly, if you’re looking for continuity and cleanliness, why the hell are you watching a 70s grindhouse film anyways?
Like most good, classic, campy horror cinema, Cannibal Girls had a theatrical gimmick. A warning bell! Yes, a bell would ring in the theatre to warn the squeamish members of the audience to divert their eyes when something gruesome was going to take place. William Castle may have dropped skeletons into theatres for House on Haunted Hill, and actually gave audience members electric shocks during The Tingler, but Cannibal Girls had A BELL…
“In order not to offend or horrify those in the audience of a squeamish or prudish disposition, the sound of a bell in the theatre will warn you when to close your eyes or turn away so that you may avoid witnessing certain scenes of an especially erotic or gruesome nature.”
In actuality, there isn’t much gore to shield your eyes from. Cannibal Girls had a very small budget, and the extent of the grisly effects is limited to a couple of mild feasting scenes that aren’t quite graphic by today’s standards.
Aside from the fearsome threesome, did we mention there is a Reverend? Yeah, like most gaggles of flesh-eaters, there is typically a manipulator pulling the strings. The Reverend conducts the cannibalistic trio, and Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin just happen to be a another clueless couple that fall into their gnarly trap.
It’s the bed and breakfast where you become the breakfast in bed…
When is someone going to remake this film at a secluded Airbnb in Southern Ontario? I’d consider donating to that IndieGoGo campaign.