Cannibal! The Musical (1993)
Cannibal! The Musical
Cannibal! The Musical (originally known as Alferd Packer: The Musical) is a 1993 American independent musical black comedy film directed, written, produced, co-scored by and starring Trey Parker while studying at the University of Colorado at Boulder, before reaching fame with South Park alongside his friend Matt Stone who also stars in and produced the film. It is loosely based on the true story of Alferd Packer and the sordid details of the trip from Utah to Colorado that left his five fellow travelers dead and partially eaten. Trey Parker (credited as Juan Schwartz) stars as Alferd Packer, with frequent collaborators Stone, Dian Bachar, and others playing the supporting roles.
A live staged version was performed at Sierra College, in Rocklin, California, in May 1998. It was followed by Dad's Garage Theater, Atlanta Georgia, in the fall of 1998. The Dad's Garage version is highlighted in the special features of Troma's DVD release of the movie. The show has continued to find small theaters and audiences across America and beyond for many years. In 2001, a production was staged Off-Broadway at the Kraine Theater on East 4th Street in New York.
A large-scale stage production was produced by The Rival Theatre Company at the 2008 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It featured West End performers. It was executive produced by Jason McHugh and directed by Frazer Brown.
In 2011, producer Jason McHugh released a book titled Shpadoinkle: The Making of Cannibal! The Musical which chronicles all aspects of the creation and continuation of the Cannibal! The Musical cult phenomenon.
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The film begins with a reenactment of the gruesome act of cannibalism described by the prosecuting attorney during Alferd Packer's 1883 trial. During this sensationalized account, a haggard Packer (played by Trey Parker) repeatedly insists that was not how it happened. During a break in the trial, Packer is enticed by journalist Polly Pry to tell his side of the story, which he proceeds to do, via flashback. He opens his tale with better times, galloping freely over green fields on his trusty horse Liane, singing to her ("Shpadoinkle").
In 1873, Packer was part of a group of miners in Bingham Canyon, Utah who hear of new prospects in Breckenridge. Together, the small group decide to travel together into Colorado Territory to stake a claim. The journey gets off on the wrong foot the original guide, Lucky Larry, dies from a lightning strike, Packer is nominated as the replacement since he claimed knowledge of the area ("Shpadoinkle"). He and Liane set off on what Packer estimates will be a three-week journey with a party of five miners: Shannon Wilson Bell, an aspiring Mormon priest; James Humphrey, who was forced by his father to join the party; Frank Miller, a cynical butcher who reluctantly joins their party at the mine; George Noon, a teenager hoping to meet women in Breckenridge; and Israel Swan, an optimist.
Four weeks later, while attempting to visit Provo for supplies they become convinced they are lost. An attempt to ask a local for directions to Provo proves unsuccessful, with the local warning them of impending doom awaiting them in the mountains. Finally arriving at a frontier post in Provo, they run into a group of three fur trappers bound for Saguache; O.D. Loutzenheiser, Preston Nutter, and their diminutive leader, Jean "Frenchy" Cabazon. The trappers despise the miners, whom they contemptuously call "diggers", yet seem to like Packer’s Arabian horse, telling Packer that she's a "trapper horse". Making camp, Packer and company reveal their goals for traveling to each other in song ("That's All I'm Asking For"). The next day, Packer wakes up to discover his horse and friend, Liane, is missing. After Bell wounds his leg in a bear trap, the men attempt to cross the Green River near the Utah border. The group asks Packer if there are any other big rivers that they will have to cross to which he replies, “No, just the Colorado.” They camp out for the night after their crossing, with Packer singing a heartfelt song about Liane ("When I was on Top of You"). Eventually, after a disastrous crossing of the Colorado River the Packer party is spotted by two “Nihonjin” Indians (obviously played by Japanese actors and speaking Japanese). They are taken back to the tribe's encampment near Delta where the chief warns them of a winter storm, allowing them to wait it out with the tribe. Packer's party also find the trappers camping out with the tribe, who proceed to brag about their lives in song and argue over the key of said song before a small altercation breaks out over Liane, whose feedbag Packer finds in their possession ("Trapper Song").
The story returns to the present time, where Packer is sentenced to death by hanging, with his execution to occur in Lake City. That night, alone, Polly muses over the case and Packer's testimony, and she reveals her growing affection for him through song ("This Side of Me"). The next day, Polly visits Packer once again in prison, where he continues his story.
The men set out in the wilderness after Packer learns the trappers have already left, persuading them to leave under the guise of there being a break in the storm. The group begins to suspect that Packer is really only interested in following the trappers to find his horse, and Bell's temper begins to shorten as his wound from the bear trap becomes infected and develops gangrene. They soldier on until they encounter a foreboding "Cyclops", a tall mountain man with a wounded, pus-spurting eye, while unwittingly trying to steal one of his sheep for sustenance. The Cyclops recalls how a Union soldier shot out his eye in the Civil War, and becomes enraged when he realizes Packer's men are not “Southern boys” after they can not finish the lyrics to "Dixie", causing them to flee. They escape and the badly frostbitten Swan tries to cheer everybody up with a song about building a snowman, only for Miller to destroy Swan's snowman with a pickaxe ("Let's Build a Snowman"). They soon run out of food, resorting to eating their shoes as they become lost in the snow-covered Rocky Mountains. Out of frustration, Bell shoots Swan in the head because he does not appreciate his (Swan's) Pollyanna-esque perspective on their predicament ("Let's Build a Snowman"). The men discuss their dire situation that night over the fire, speaking of the cannibalism that the Donner Party had to resort to in California. They decide to consume the body of their dead companion (but “not the butt”) as Miller cuts up Swan's body, and only Bell refuses to partake in the cannibalism. Packer then has a ballet-inspired nightmare involving himself, Liane, and Cabazon. After a few more days, the party loses hope, which leads to talk of sacrificing one of their own ("That's All I'm Asking For"). Packer convinces them for one more chance for a scouting trip, but when he returns, Bell has killed the others, claiming they planned to kill and eat him after Packer left. Packer is forced to kill Bell after threatening to turn him in, realizing he has gone insane. He is then forced to cannibalize the others to wait out the rest of the winter.
Arriving in Saguache sometime later, Packer finds Liane, who has taken to Cabazon, upsetting Packer. The sheriff of Saguache, suspicious of Packer arriving without the rest of his party, eventually finds out the fate of the other members and attempts to arrest Packer for cannibalism at a saloon. A bar-fight between Packer and the trappers (and some of the bar patrons, including the Cyclops from earlier) occurs, which Packer wins after brutally attacking Cabazon's groin using fighting techniques he learned from the Nihonjin chief, leaving Cabazon incapacitated with a high-pitched voice. Following this, Packer attempts to flee to Wyoming, only to later be arrested there and brought back to Colorado to await judgment. On the day of Packer's execution in Lake City, the town breaks into song, celebrating Packer's impending death ("Hang the Bastard"). However, he is saved at the last minute by Polly, who arrives on the scene with Liane. Polly reveals that Packer had gotten a stay of execution from the governor stating that he could not be convicted of a state crime since Colorado was not a state at the time of the incident. Meanwhile Cabazon, who wants revenge against Packer for their fight in Saguache, states the townsfolk came to see bloodshed and tries to trigger the gallows. The Nihonjin chief saves Packer by cutting his rope with a katana before beheading Cabazon, satisfying the crowd's blood-lust. Packer, seeing that Polly brought back Liane, realizes he doesn't need her anymore and chooses Polly (much to the excitement of the chief, who takes off after Liane with his katana), and the two kiss, only to be frightened by a still-alive but badly maimed Bell ("Shpadoinkle").
- Trey Parker as Alferd Packer (credited as Juan Schwartz)
- Toddy Walters as Polly Pry Moira Kelly was to be cast as the above role, but it was decided not to use her as it might damage serious Hollywood aspirations. Various screenings credit "M.K." as "The Dropout".
- Moira Kelly was to be cast as the above role, but it was decided not to use her as it might damage serious Hollywood aspirations. Various screenings credit "M.K." as "The Dropout".
- Matt Stone as James Humphrey / "Hang the Bastard" woman
- Dian Bachar as George "California" Noon
- Jason McHugh as Frank Miller
- John Hegel as Israel Swan
- Ian Hardin as Shannon Wilson Bell
- Stan Brakhage as Noon Sr.
- Robert Muratore as Jean "Frenchy" Cabazon Trey Parker as Frenchy's singing voice
- Trey Parker as Frenchy's singing voice
- Edward Henwood as O.D. Loutzenheiser / The Cyclops
- Andrew Kemler as Preston Nutter
- Masao Maki as Indian chief (as Maseo Maki)
- Japanese foreign exchange students as Nihonjin Indians Trey Parker as the voice of two Indian braves
- Trey Parker as the voice of two Indian braves
- Audrey Stafferd as The Voice of Doom Trey Parker as the voice of The Voice of Doom
- Trey Parker as the voice of The Voice of Doom
- Randy Parker as Judge
- Jessica James Kelly as Tiny Tim / Baby Packer
- Martin Leeper as Sheriff of Saguache (credited as Marty Leeper)
Contrasting with the musical's generally dark and morbid humor are its cheerful songs, all composed by Parker, including "Let's Build a Snowman", "When I Was on Top of You", "Hang the Bastard", and "Shpadoinkle" (pronounced shpah-doink-ul). The last of these is a transparent parody of the song "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!.
Two songs that were originally going to be in the film, but later taken out, were "Shatterproof", a rap song to be sung by Packer during the bar fight scene, and "Don't Be Stupid", a song to be sung by some of the Bingham Canyon miners after the reprise of "Shpadoinkle". An interview with Ian Keldin revealed that Trey thought "Shatterproof" made Packer seem too tough.
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The film began as a 3-minute trailer made for a film class, having been an idea Parker and his friends had for a while but also inspired in part by Parker's resentment towards his ex-fiancee Lianne Adamo after discovering her cheating on him not long before their wedding, with Packer's disloyal horse "Liane" in the final film being based on her. After the trailer drew much attention, Parker and Stone raised around $125,000 and began shooting the full-length film. The film was shot during weekends and on spring break in 1993, and according to Ian Hardin, most of the crew failed their film history class as a result. Filming was done on location throughout Colorado in Denver, Colorado National Monument, Black Canyon, and Ouray, with the courtroom scenes being shot in the actual courthouse that Alferd Packer was tried in, in Lake City, and the town scenes taking place in Provo, Saguache, and the hanging scene being shot in different parts of the Buckskin Joe Old West theme park in Canyon City.
A few incidents happened during filming, such as Parker getting a hairline hip fracture after being thrown from one of the horses playing "Liane", fights occasionally breaking out among the crew, some of the main cast experiencing cold shock and almost being swept away by strong currents from crossing the icy Gunnison River that doubled for the Green River, as well as inclement weather and even an avalanche complicating shooting.
This film was originally titled Alferd Packer: The Musical in 1993. The film premiered on October 31, 1993, in Boulder, Colorado, at a cinema near the University of Colorado campus. A fake protest organized by friends of Parker and Stone, organized along the lines of an animal rights demonstration, took place in front of the theater. The film then played at Raindance Film Festival in October 2004. Parker and Stone attended.
Parker was credited onscreen as Juan Schwartz, a reference to Alferd Packer's alias "John Schwartze", which he was living under when discovered in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
It was not released generally until 1996, however, when Troma Entertainment picked it up and renamed it Cannibal! The Musical out of concern that not enough people outside of Colorado knew who Packer was. Few people outside of Colorado ever saw the film since Troma did not distribute it widely. Parker and Stone's animated satire South Park debuted the following year.
Several live productions of the show have been mounted, with excerpts from one live version available on the DVD.
Following Matt and Trey's success with South Park, Troma re-released the film on VHS and DVD and it enjoyed a decent cult following. The DVD contains a "Drunken Director's Commentary" where Parker and Stone along with most of the cast get drunk as they watch the film, although there are a few times when the commentary cuts out (either because the recorder was turned off or they spoke of things they later decided nobody should hear).
The film has since been released on UMD for the Sony PSP. A special edition 13th anniversary DVD was released by Troma with added features, including all-new interviews with the cast and crew.
The film was re-released on November 2008 as the first of the "Tromasterpiece Collection," as Troma considers Cannibal! to be one of its best films. Included in the new two-disc version, with over three hours of special features, never-before-seen deleted material and stage shows. Songs such as "Shatter Proof" and the early short films of Parker and Stone were considered to be a part of the new DVD, but these additions were ultimately rejected.
There have been several amateur productions of Cannibal! The Musical since 1996. The first was at the Sierra College in Northern California and then at Dad's Garage Theater where it won accolades by fans and the press.
In 2001, Saturday Players launched a six-month off-off-Broadway run of the show that earned critical acclaim and returning audience members.
In 2004, Cannibal made its European debut in Rome at the Teatro di Servi.
In 2005, the first High School group attempted the show at The Ironwood Ridge High School in Tucson, Arizona, but the show was censored by the school and performed off campus as a benefit. Later that year the show made its German debut at the University of Regensburg and played many small colleges and community houses in the US.
In 2006, the show debuted at its first Fringe Festivals in Minneapolis and Victoria, Canada and continued to find adoption by small colleges and community theaters.
In 2008, The Insurgo Theater Movement launched the show in Las Vegas for the first of several runs by their company. Unexpected Productions launched the first of four October runs of Cannibal in Seattle.
Also in 2008, The Rival Theatre Company produced the first large-scale professional production. The show ran from July 31 to August 25 at the George Square Theatre, Edinburgh for a total of 26 performances. It starred Aimie Atkinson as Polly Pry and James Topping as Alferd Packer. Original film cast member Jason McHugh made a guest appearance as Mr. Mills. Other guest stars included Jim Bowen and The Q Brothers.
This production was planned a six-week run to the West End from July 27, 2010, at the Leicester Square Theatre. However, after copyright holder Jason McHugh withdrew the rights in May 2010, the show was canceled.
In 2011, M.P.M.M. Productions, performed the musical in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada during the 2011 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. It won "The Best of Fest" for its venue (meaning it outsold other shows in the venue and was awarded an additional show). The show also debuted in St Louis and Denver with great reviews and enthusiastic casts and audience members.
In May 2012, Logan Donahoo Presents performed a version of the musical in Orlando, Florida during the 2012 Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, in the Yellow venue. The show was successful, receiving positive reviews, and winning Patron's Pick for its venue, meaning that it had outsold all of the other shows and was awarded an additional performance.
Trey Parker’s Cannibal! The Musical played in Toronto at David Mirvish's Panasonic Theatre for a four-week run (February 10 to March 8, 2015). Additional book, lyrics, and music by Christopher Bond, Aaron Eyre, and Trevor Martin.
It was announced in early 2014 that a production of the show is being produced at the Waterfront Theatre in Vancouver, B.C. by independent traveling theatre troupe Last Chance Productions. The show ran from June 12, 2014, until 8 March 2015, with two separate seating areas (a "Gore Zone" where audience members are subject to splash-zone-esque involvement, and a less messy "Gore-Free Zone".)
In 2019, Cannibal the Musical had its Bay Area premiere. It was performed by The Other Other Theatre Company in San Francisco. The show ran from July 21–29 at MoonSpace.
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Cannibal! currently holds a 63% "Fresh" approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 19 reviews, with a weighted average of 5.38/10. The site's critical consensus says: "If you're only going to watch one black comedy about a real-life explorer whose fellow travelers ended up eaten, make it Cannibal! The Musical."