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Cannibal! The Musical

Troma Home Video

Starring Trey Parker and Matt Stone

Written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone
Directed by Trey Parker

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Trey Parker and Matt Stone rose to fame in 1997 with the television show South Park, the animated antics of four ill-mannered kids in a Colorado mountain town. However, before they made it big on the small screen, Matt and Trey made several attempts to score on the big screen.

Their first attempt, Cannibal! The Musical, barely made a dent in the film world, but not for lack of trying. When they submitted their film to the Sundance Festival, it was neither rejected or accepted. Not to be done in by this total show of indifference, the duo showed the film to whoever was willing to see it, and in the process got it screened at the Slamdance festival (the Park City, Utah competitor to the behemoth that is Sundance).

One of the people that took notice of Cannibal! The Musical was Lloyd Kaufman, founder of Troma Films, the indie film company that specializes in the bizarre and tasteless. He immediately signed Parker and Stone and distributed their film on video. The only problem was that, despite the catchy title and concept, no one was buying it. The film sat on video shelves untouched until, a few years later, South Park became a phenomenon. After that, word got out of their earlier work, and the movie couldn't stay on the rental shelves. But since many video stores had since given up on it, the movie was out-of-print. Now Troma has heeded the call of fans demanding Cannibal! The Musical and released a special edition of the film on DVD.

Cannibal! The Musical is the story of Alfred Packer, a cult figure in Colorado history who was accused of murdering five of his companions and eating their remains during a disastrous trek through the Rockies in the mid to late 19th century. While awaiting his trial, Alfred befriends Polly Fry, a Denver reporter who believes that he is innocent and asks him to tell his side of the story. The whole film is told through a series of flashbacks, as Packer relates his journey from Utah, leading a five men through rugged, dangerous domain, where he ends up getting them lost and eventually killed. Along the way, the band encounters trappers, "Indians", and other obstacles that prevent them from reaching their goal of panning for gold in the Colorado Territory. Initially, this might appear to be the type of material that Parker and Stone could easily turn into comic gold, but as the title implies, the film is a musical full of insane song-and-dance numbers reminiscent of old Rodgers and Hammerstein films of the 1950s. Parker — who wrote and directed Cannibal! — has taken the tragedy of Alfred Packer and turned it into a sick and twisted tale, complete with memorable songs like "Shpadoinkle," "Let's Build a Snowman," and "Hang the Bastard."

While amusing, Cannibal! The Musical is by no means a comic masterpiece (whereas South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut certainly is). But the film succeeds at being an entertaining, if disturbing, flick full of cheap laughs and hummable tunes. It's a low-budget affair, but it has more originality than a lot of films of its kind (although there really aren't a whole lot of musicals about flesh-eaters out there to choose from). One can definitely see flaws in the picture, but considering that the film only cost $150,000 to make, it more than makes up for its low budget. Parker and Stone shot the film with friends during a spring vacation with limited resources, but they used what they could muster to great effect. The acting in the film is what one would expect when, with the exception of one or two of the cast members, all of the actors are amateurs. Trey Parker plays Alfred Parker, while Matt Stone plays one of Packer's doomed men. Both are basically playing themselves, albeit exaggerated and with cannibalistic tendencies. The direction by Parker is no better or worse than any of Troma's other releases. Considering what the duo had to work with, it's an accomplishment that the project turned out as good as it did.

As a "special edition" DVD, one would expect at least some features on Cannibal! The Musical, and Troma delivers. The disc itself is a full-screen transfer with a Dolby 2.0 track. The picture suffers a bit from slight pixelation, which seems to be a problem with many of Troma's releases, but it's nothing too distracting (most of it occurs during the extra features and not in the film itself). The special features in Cannibal! The Musical are plentiful indeed. Some of the features can be seen on most of Troma's DVD releases, such as the interactive tour of their New York City studios, the "Troma Intelligence Test," the "Radiation March," and others. Nothing wrong with that, especially if you only own one disc from Troma. But the real treat is all of the goodies relating to the movie itself. The best feature is the commentary with Parker, Stone, and several of the actors, who discuss all of the insanity that went into making the movie, while at the same time getting wasted on cheap booze. It's hilarious to listen to at times, and one gets a sense that these two didn't have to look far to get inspiration for their South Park characters. Other notable features are two trailers for the film (one for each of the titles the film had), behind-the-scenes footage, direct access to the songs in the film, and musical numbers performed live onstage in a theatrical production of the movie. There's even a public service announcement by Matt and Trey for the Troma flick Terror Firmer that really needs to be seen to be believed.

At $24.95, this disc is a bargain for Parker and Stone aficionados. It would've been worth it just for the film itself, but considering all of the extras that are included on Cannibal! The Musical, it's solid value-for-money. It might not be for everyone — especially film snobs and the faint of heart — but for fans of Troma, South Park, or just plain twisted humor, this one's a good bet.

— Steven Firstenburg

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