Film Reviews:

Alferd Packer: The Musical

aka Cannibal: The Musical

(Trey Parker, US, 1993)

Originally released as Alferd Packer: The Musical, this was subsequently reissued in the UK under the more immediately descriptive title of Cannibal: The Musical, following director Parker's massive global success  as co-creator of the animated TV series South Park. Unfortunately, re-titling this labour of love production doesn't help improve it any. 'Based on a true story', this horror/comedy/musical interprets the story of pioneer Alferd Packer who, in the winter of 1874, lead a group of prospectors into the Colorado rockies. But only Packer appeared after their trek - the bodies of his companions were later found mutilated and partially-eaten. Packer was the only man in American history to have been convicted of cannibalism.

While I agree that the subject is ripe for an irreverant treatment - and a musical was certainly inspired thinking - the finished film is just too dull to succeed. Yes, it does have everything you'd hope it would: blood and guts, gooey special effects, comedy, cheesy acting and dialogue. But it simply doesn't work. Parker made a trailer for the film as part of a film production class at university and joked about making it into a full-length feature. Constantly asked when the actual film would appear, Parker set about extending this initial idea to fill out 90 minutes. And that was his error. One can image a trailer for this would look great. Problem is we have to sit through dull direction of cliched characters between the juicy gore bits or comedy. But the juicy bits are too few and the comedy largely falls flat. It is all too realistic - almost quasi-documentary like at times - and simply not goofy enough.

The film's best attribute is the songs. Parker was a music student and attended the prestigious Berklee School of Music. As well as writing, directing, producing and starring in Alferd Packer, Parker wrote the songs and collaborated on the score. The songs, both music and lyrics, are clever and easily as good as some that Mel Brooks has produced during his career. The problem for me though is I generally hate musicals and 'comedy songs' just leave me cold. Whilst I can appreciate the songs in this musical as being clever I didn't enjoy listening to them. Since the majority of the rest of it didn't work for me either there wasn't much left for me to hold onto. Apparently it recieved great receptions when it played the international festival circuit and some of my friends loved it - so maybe it is just me. But I quite like South Park.

Rob Dyer

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