Book Review: Cannibal Metropolis
It’s always worth re-iterating that one should judge a work of fiction, in this case Saurav Dutt’s book Cannibal Metropolis, by what it intends to be. Cannibal Metropolis wants to be a literary equivalent of one of the films of ‘77 - ‘81 cannibal boom, which probably brought horror into disrepute more than any other filmic cycle.
Reading the book begins in a slightly unusual manner. It starts with something more akin to a manifesto than a preface which contextualises what you’re about to read. There’s an issue here, as it asserts that the films of the cannibal boom like Cannibal Holocaust and (the superior yet less renowned) Cannibal Ferox, were important social commentaries on then modern society. It’s something that’s put to the reader as fact, but in my case this set me up to disagree with the book’s sentiment from the outset. I personally can only see hypocrisy and short-sightedness when a work condemns society for barbarism, but goes about using barbaric means to do this. Dutt openly says he wishes for the book to convey the social/political messages about today in a way that those films of yore reflected theirs. Odd thing to aspire to, since for the most part those films were particularly cack-handed in their attempts.
Luckily however Dutt’s work quickly transforms into a very different beast. Cannibal Metropolis reads like a parody, a spoof even, of not only cannibal boom films, but also gung-ho eighties action movies and the hamfisted attempts these films make at social commentary. And it’s a very successful one at that. The plot borrows liberally from modern day “occupy” movements and the corruption of the banking system, and for the most part all the elements operate in exactly the way you’d expect. Somehow, Dutt satirises satire itself, but while doing so also takes legitimate pot-shots at the institutions in the frame.
Enabling this satire of satire are characters which are well crafted stereotypes, from the ultra-violent career-military men chomping cigars with foul mouths, to the very slimy, smooth and corrupt bankers and the irresponsible and negligent politicians. “Stereotypes” is often a term used to express negative sentiment, but not here. Altogether they’re a very potent cocktail of characters that would alone be the crazy standout in a film. It’s a very, very rich sauce, and it’s unapologetic in it’s appeal to readers who are well versed in OTT characters like this. If you’ve developed the palate for it however, this much nuttiness is an irresistible combination.
The special ingredient in making this work is that you already know these characters before you turn a single page. That’s because these characters are, unabashedly, the likes of “Biehn”, “Englund” and “Henricksen”. Cannibal Metropolis is a horror story for the horror faithful and the book skillfully acknowledges the shared cultural consciousness that its readership will bring to it, using that to do the heavy lifting. This works twofold: firstly it allows the plot to rattle along without much need to take a breather. This is, after all, aiming to emulate vintage schlock. We’re not in this for a considered character portrait. We want to get to the lunacy and violence, and the book does not muck about trying to fulfill entirely unwanted aspirations. Secondly there’s a real joy to be had in finding out which horror icon is going to pop up next and what role they’re going to be in. When a Dr. Lee shows up we’re made certain through a description of a deep, booming English voice and imposing height that this is without a shadow of a doubt the Sir Christopher Lee. Likewise it leaves one with a warm and fuzzy feeling when a certain Mr. Lugosi appears, complete with widow’s peak and devilish eyebrows. Not only do we get to have all these horror icons of different eras appear alongside each other, but the likes of Lugosi are convincingly allowed to live briefly once again, if only in our minds.
Away from characters, the book manages to impress on the visceral, carnal level. The creatures in the book are somewhere in between zombies and primitive cannibals and they’re an effective menace. Their decomposing forms are lovingly described and their behaviour and descriptions of their psychological makeup make them unusual and therefore unpredictable for the reader. Due to this you are in for some pretty rough passages. There is the requisite bloodletting on show, and it’s relentlessly gory. It’s the sexual content however that’s genuinely shocking. Some parts of the book are not for the easily offended, so if the thought of rape by rotting genitals offends you, this is a book to definitely be avoided. For someone who’s hardened to horror however, the content isn’t utterly reprehensible but is strong enough to give a good shock.
Technically Cannibal Metropolis is a little rough around the edges. There’s more than its fair share of grammatical errors and overuse of specific words like “vomit” in quick succession. The corporate banking scenes do tend to drag a little as well, with important people doing lots of talking in grand rooms for quite some time, which slams the brakes on the story’s momentum every so often.
Overall Cannibal Metropolis is a genuinely fierce book that sets out to make you laugh and choke, successfully doing both. The content can be genuinely shocking, but then if you think there’s something wrong with a good shock for shock’s sake, I think it’s best you stick to the works of Enid Blyton.
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