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Cannibal! The Musical Review

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In Colorado in the 1880s, Alferd Packer, sole survivor of a party of miners, stands trial for murder and alleged cannibalism.

★★★★★

The first feature from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, later the auteurs of South Park and Team America: World Police. Made on a minimal budget under the title Alferd Packer: The Musical but retitled for release by the tasteful folks at Troma Pictures, it's a period Western horror musical comedy based on a true story (prefiguring Ravenous) about Alferd Packer (whose spellcheck-defying name is printed wrongly in many, many sources), the only man ever convicted of cannibalism in the United States.

It opens with a quite impressive gore sequence in bleached-out snowy wastes, which turns out to be the version of the story told by the prosecutor. In jail, Packerd (Parker, acting as ‘Juan Sanchez’) tells his story to reporter Polly Pry, placing the blame on another member (Ian Hardin) of the party of miners he was guiding through Colorado in the 1880s. There's a witty subplot about Packerd's relationship with his unfaithful horse Liane, and winds up with a whole town singing 'Hang the Bastard, Hang Him High'.

It has its longeurs but there's an air of genial enthusiasm, tempered by sick humour, that is surprisingly engaging. Incidentals include a tribe of Japanese Indians, a pus-squirting Confederate cyclops, a deliberately pathetic dream ballet in the style of Oklahoma!, a cameo from avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage (who was the filmmakers’ professor at Colorado University) and the inevitable 'fudge, Packer?' joke. The score offers very clever Rodgers and Hammerstein pastiches (‘It’s a Schpedoinkel Day’), prefiguring the surprisingly sophisticated if crass musical parodies of South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut and Team America). The US DVD also has one of the most entertaining, if drunken filmmaker commentary tracks ever recorded.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone's sick and funny first feature should definitely interest enthusiasts.