Did watching Julie & Julia make you want to kill yourself? Or someone else? Or perhaps you've heard that your preoccupation with eating, your appetite for amuse-bouche, your thirst for terroir–the sort of things that would drive you to see such a film in the first place–might be symptomatic of a neurological disorder called Gourmand Syndrome. Swiss researchers have frequently observed brain lesions in those who exhibit this so-called “eating disorder,” and these lesions are similar to those found in other, graver, impulse control disorders. We mention this to pose a possible (however improbable) explanation as to the disproportionately large number of food films that involve murder, though perhaps this is just a happy coincidence. In any case, here is our list of Top 10 Killer Food Films, in no particular order.
Were it not for director Peter Greenaway's long tracking shots sweeping back and forth across the kitchen, the overtly color coded dining room, a very young Tim Roth smearing dog excrement all over the face of naked debtor in the restaurant parking lot, or the surprisingly casual frequency of Helen Mirren's full frontal shots, The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover would still be among the top food films ever. Well, it might be anyway.
Two women, two apartments. Both living alone, each with a different, very extreme relationship to food. 301 cooks enormous, lavish meals, which she eats, alone, in place of sex. 302 is unable to stomach food because it stirs up memories of a childhood trauma. They meet, they share their stories and their plates, providing each other a kind of comfort and therapy. With such a seemingly healthy friendship, it's odd that some people should have to be killed. And that some of them should be eaten.
If you were to pick a movie by this French master of suspense at random, you could count on three ingredients: perversions, fine dining, and murder. Take Merci por la Chocolat, in which flagging chocolate baroness Isabelle Huppert poisons her kin with spiked cups of cocoa. If you're looking for a more, ahem, meaty story, try Le Boucher with Stephane Audran as unsuspecting school teacher to Jean Yanne's murderous butcher. Or maybe it was tantalized, desirous school teacher to his unsuspecting butcher. Who knows. It has often been noted that you can tell what Chabrol thinks about his characters by their relationship to food. Watching Audran gobble up Yanne's entire jar of brandied cherries, one by one, as she figures out his secrets must mean something about her psyche, then, right?
It is the best and worst of times for Max, the brilliantly lyrical, “callamitously fat” publisher of London's top gourmet magazine. His latest issue details “the world's most fabulous meal,” a triumphant menu he's personally curated for the Queen's upcoming state dinner, featuring a course from each of his favorite chefs. Unfortunately, the chieftain of chins has been ordered to go on a severe diet, a prescription to which his addiction to food makes it impossible for him to adhere, and his favorite chefs are being offed, one by one, in the style of their signature dishes. Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? is as if the “Glutton in a Restaurant” scene from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life was adapted into a feature-length, whodunit type film starring Jacqueline Bisset as directed by Ted Kotcheff (Wake in Fright, Weekend at Bernie's).
At its core, Sweeney Todd is about a woman who'll do just about anything to make a good meat pie. Isn't it? People are killed not for purely utilitarian purposes of sustenance and survival; they're killed for better cuisine. Ask Alice Waters: better food is made with better, fresher, local ingredients, be they human or otherwise. Like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, we think the filmed version of original stage production with Angela Lansbury is better than the Johnny Depp version.
“Head chick” Ginger cannot sit around and wait for any more of her brood to be axed for any more of Mr. and Mrs. Tweety pot pies, so she begins planning their escape–and it's not a moment too soon. The Tweetys have just bought a veritable “Death by Chicken Pie” machine to streamline their new chicken pie business. Directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park, the Academy Award-winning creator of Wallace and Gromit, this stop-motion animated Killer Food Film won't emotionally damage the kiddies.
“I scream, you scream, we all scream for The Ice Cream Man,” or so says the tagline. Though you should expect more laughs than screams, this classic story of young boy, left psychologically damaged after witnessing a freak drive by shooting involving the much beloved ice cream man will certainly move you. Maybe even to change the channel. When Gregory emerges from the Wishing Well Sanitorium as an adult, he is ready to fill the void left by his fallen childhood hero. And business is booming, though it becomes increasingly apparent that he has more than a few loose screws left: the town's children are disappearing, and people have begun to inquire about the secret to Gregory's butter brickle. It's worth it to see the double entendres, which practically drip from the pages this script, come to life on the lips of former-child thespian Clint Howard, who is acting at the top of his game in this one.
Neither a good film, nor even a good bad film. The Gingerdead Man made it on to the list as the representative from the Food that Bites Back sub-genre of killer food film, beating out Attack of the Killer Tomatoes by virtue of Gary Busey, who lends his vocal stylings to the anthropomorphic killer gingerbread man, and the title of its sequel–The Gingerdead Man II: The Passion of the Crust.
A group of wealthy Italian men meet at a walled villa for a “gastronomic seminar.” They invite prostitutes, accept enormous orders of food, and slowly it becomes apparent that they have planned to eat themselves to death. In this film by Italian director Marco Ferrari, the archetypal pairing of food and sex rejects any prescribed romantic connotations. Here, it is strictly corporeal, bloated, obsessive, and gassy. Take caution if viewing this one with a meal; it made Ingmar Bergman vomit at Cannes.
When the Tromahawk Indian burial ground is bulldozed to make way for military-themed fast-food joint, American Chicken Bunker, it triggers a lethal combination of angry spirits and post concentration-coop chickens — ready to punish the perpetrators to the fullest extent of ancient tribal law: via cursed, zombifying fried chicken, of course. Sure, Poultrygeist also falls into the Food that Bites Back category, but did we mention that it's also a musical and a soft-core porno? You're welcome.