A man documents his girlfriend’s 35th birthday on his phone. What he captures throughout the night are the most disturbing human acts imaginable.
Out of the myriad sub-genres that make up the wonderful world of horror that we all love, perhaps one of the most maligned is the good old cannibal movie. Much like the ubiquitous Westerns of old Hollywood, a glut of flesh-eating films (mostly in the late 70s and early 80s in this instance) eventually led to them falling out of favour and becoming almost obsolete. Some of these movies have a much-deserved notoriety; the brutal assaults on the senses of Cannibal Ferox and Cannibal Holocaust being perhaps the most infamous. Cannibal movies as a whole were mainly low-budget, Italian-made exploitation efforts, chiefly concerned with shock value and splattering as much offal towards the screen as possible; that isn’t to say however that they were without merit.
Cannibal Holocaust in particular has a legitimate claim to being the first found-footage film (I’ll leave that up to you as to whether that’s a good thing or not), and even viewed today has an unsettling quality that makes you want to double-check that it is just a fictional movie and not documented real events. Adding to Holocaust’s notoriety is the unfortunate real footage of animals being killed on screen, and the fact that director Ruggero Deodato was famously called upon to testify that he hadn’t actually filmed the deaths of a bunch of people – and that the killings portrayed on screen were indeed staged for the camera.
An occasional attempt to boost the genre’s popularity with new audiences has surfaced over the intervening years, including Ravenous from 1999, Eli Roth’s Green Inferno from 2013, and underrated comedic efforts Parents from 1989 and Trey Parker’s mental Cannibal! The Musical from 1993. None of these exactly set the box office alight though, and cannibal movies have remained pretty much on the shelf since.
Which brings us to 2021 and writer/director/editor Mario Cerrito III; who hopes to restock the bloody buffet once again with Human Hibachi. The movie opens with Nancy Williams speaking with a police detective in an interview room about the brutal murder of her daughter Katie. The detective has gruesome footage to show Nancy – a real-life snuff movie featuring her daughter’s horrific murder, supposedly filmed, edited and scored to titillate the tastes of foreign audiences. As Nancy steels herself to watch the footage, we of course get front row seats.
The first-person footage (which will make up the majority of the rest of the movie) kicks off with a lone woman being filmed in a Asian restaurant booth by the unseen sleazebag of an owner, asking if he can take a customary picture of her (or more accurately of her cleavage) for his wall; the screen cuts to black and then, two hours later, we see the same woman being chased into a closed courtyard before being unceremoniously battered to death by a 2×4-wielding hooded figure.
Another cut and we join couple Reo (Sopheaktra Theng) and the soon-to-be deceased Katie (Elizabeth Gaynor). Reo has decided to document Katie’s birthday by filming it from start to finish (as you do); this obviously involves us mostly looking at Katie through Reo’s eyes and unsurprisingly starts to grate very quickly. We join her for being treated to breakfast by the romantic Reo, buying a new dress and eventually meeting friends Meghan (Carley Harper) and Brian (Carmine Giordano) for drinks and then a meal at a suspiciously familiar-looking Asian restaurant.
So far events have been conspicuously mundane, but with a decidedly off-kilter edge; we know something is going to go badly wrong for Katie already, but Cerrito intentionally weaves in subtle signs between the others in the party that suggest more than one of the others is party to what’s going down. It’s a well-done conceit which puts the viewer on edge for what’s to come; and that, when it does arrive, is a copious splatter-fest! It turns out the restaurant is a front for a modern-day cabal of cannibals, who delight not only in torturing, butchering and consuming their male and female victims, but also filming the proceedings before selling the footage to fellow longpig enthusiasts in Asia.
While the concept is clever, it’s largely undone by a couple of factors; firstly, some of the acting is truly diabolical, not least from the members of a party of businessmen who turn up late on, sharing congratulations on sales figures over a human liver or two. Secondly, even in its ninety-minute run time there is a massive amount of padding; there is a solid ten minutes of footage of chefs preparing and cooking meat and organs on the titular Hibachi grill! Of course this is intended to be human flesh, but in reality is clearly animal parts being graphically sliced, diced and seared (vegans can probably skip this movie). While it’s initially quite shocking it soon gets old, and certainly doesn’t warrant the amount of time spent on screen.
To be fair there are good elements too, notably the skilful ratcheting of tension in the first half and some very good practical gore; but overall Human Hibachi just comes across as too silly and disposable to join the big hitters in the pantheon of cannibal gore movies. One for genre completists only perhaps.