The hunger dames: Cannibal women subvert the patriarchy, says film critic

Eat up: Cannibalism often becomes a metaphor for sexual desire and power, as in the 2016 movie “Raw.”

Look out boy, she’ll chew you up!

An upcoming talk about female cannibals in film will show that devouring people is one way for oppressed women to strike out against stifling society expectations. “Man Eater: Cannibal Women on Film,” at Greenpoint’s Film Noir Cinema on Feb. 12, will survey films from the last 50 years where female characters take control by eating human flesh, according to the presenter.

“It offers a resistance to society’s demands that we keep women and their appetite in control,” said Kate Robertson. “Women are told they’re not supposed to want things, they’re these empty vessels… Most of these films are about power.”

Robertson will feature more than a dozen flicks that feature women who can really rip your world apart, including the 1981 slasher flick “Frightmare,” the 1989 horror comedy “Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death,” or stylish 2016 film “Neon Demon.” The talk will be accompanied with several blood-soaked images and clips from the films. 

The appetite for food also often acts as a metaphor for sexual desire, with female characters obeying society’s demands that they control this hunger — until they don’t, according to Robertson. One particularly clear example comes in the 2016 movie “Raw,” about a vegetarian veterinary student who discovers her lust for flesh after eating raw meat.

Robertson, who has studied the subject for about a decade, says that stories of women cannibals go back centuries, including the Greek myths of the Bacchae and fairy tales such as “Hansel and Gretel.” The stories change to suit the moment, but the transgressive elements remain the same.

“They respond to the social situation, but it’s quite surprising how consistent they are in time,” she said.

Robertson’s talk kicks off the spring season of monthly lectures from the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies. Highlights of the season include a look at indigenous cultures in horror, on March 26; and the final talk on May 21, about the links between horror and the goth subculture.

“Man Eater: Cannibal Women on Film” at Film Noir Cinema [122 Meserole Ave., at Leonard Street in Greenpoint, (718) 389–5773, www.miskatonicinstitute.com]. Feb. 12 at 7 pm. $15 ($12 in advance).