When Troma plucked Sundance reject Cannibal: The Musical from the fringes of the 1994 film festival, it didn’t quite know what it had. For a company used to spicing up its homegrown horror with sophomoric humor and T&A, Cannibal was strangely wholesome — there’s no nudity and just a few bits of comic violence in this sincere but bizarre tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein.
But in the 16 months since Troma made the film available on video, the not-ready-for-Broadway biography of 19th-century mountain man Alferd Packer, a scout who confessed to devouring five gold miners, has done something Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town never did: It’s become a cult phenom.
South Park helped. Cannibal is Park cocreator Trey Parker’s directorial lark, filmed in 1993 when he was still an undergrad at the University of Colorado in Boulder. And yet it’s no one-joke pony. Parker gave his film all of the trappings of a real musical, filming in rousing alpine scenery and casting a chaste, cute leading man — himself — even if his most heartfelt number is an ode to his unfaithful horse, ”When I Was on Top of You.”
The cult of Cannibal has now spread from its Colorado stronghold — where sales of the $69.98 tape are steady and “Alferd Packer is huge,” says producer Jason McHugh, noting that local festivals and pubs are named in the man-eater’s honor — to the flatlands. Theater companies in Atlanta and Illinois are discussing stage versions of the musical with McHugh, and when a troupe of San Jose, Calif., fans returns to the Utah Rockies this week to perform Cannibal live at Slamdance, the counter-Sundance, it’ll be a fitting tribute to the up-from-nowhere hit. When Cannibal was looking for its big break at 1994’s festival, “We didn’t even get a rejection letter,” McHugh says. “So we booked a conference room at The Yarrow Hotel, rented a video projector, and started papering the town.”
This year is different; Parker and Co.’s Orgazmo is showing in the midnight slot. But Slamdance chief Peter Baxter says that McHugh and Parker’s decision to crash Sundance was “definitely a forerunner for Slamdance. We’re supporting their film this year, in honor of what they’ve done.” — Richard Von Busack