Cannibalism cultures are both terrifying and fascinating. The idea of eating someone else's flesh is so disturbing yet creepily intimate that it's taken a big role in literature and movies. In fact, some of the weirdest and scariest flesh-eaters are the ones in books. Cannibalism is explored in texts from centuries ago. The descriptions will churn your stomach and possibly make you a vegan in less than five minutes.
While there are lots of cryptozoological creatures that eat humans, such as vampires, werewolves, and zombies, there's something about killers who eat their victims that sends chills down your spine. In literature, you get the description, the thought process, the motives, and the emotional insight into a cannibal that makes it all the more vivid. It forces you to imagine other contexts for cannibalism, ones that may feel too close to home, and puts you in a place you never wanted to imagine yourself. Below are examples of disturbing cannibals in books that'll likely stop you from ordering your steak rare ever again.
Arguably the most famous cannibal from literature or film is Hannibal Lecter from Thomas Harris's Red Dragon. Lecter is a forensic psychiatrist and serial killer. He is considered especially dangerous because he defies categorization as a refined and tasteful gentleman who is also a horrific sociopath. The closest explanation? “He’s a monster," the fictional detective Graham says in the book. "I think of him as one of those pitiful things that are born in hospitals from time to time. They feed it, and keep it warm, but they don’t put it on the machines and it dies. Lecter is the same way in his head, but he looks normal and nobody could tell.”
Lecter's enjoyment during horrific crimes is perfectly counterbalanced with his ability to interact with people normally: “He did it because he liked it. Still does. Dr. Lecter is not crazy, in any common way we think of being crazy. He did some hideous things because he enjoyed them. But he can function perfectly when he wants to.”
The idea of just doing these things because he likes them is much spookier than the hackneyed image of a deranged cannibal. Later in the series, you learn that when he was younger, Lecter was traumatized by watching his own sister be eaten, an insight into the monster he grows to become.
Played by Elijah Wood in the movie version Sin City, Kevin appears in the graphic novel series of the same name. He's a seemingly innocent man, with the added creepiness of never speaking, though he is described as being mute by choice. His cannibalism has a sadistic element, including making a woman watch as he eats her hand. Despite being subjected to huge amounts of torture, he eventually dies with a smile on his face and never makes a sound.
Just to make it more sinister, his friend and accomplice, Cardinal Roark, says that when he initially confessed his crimes, he had “the voice of an angel.”
Dead River Clan
Off Season by Jack Ketchum is the ultimate holiday gone wrong. As a group friends head to New England for a weekend away, it quickly becomes clear that Dead River, Maine, has something else going on. There are cannibals nearby, who not only make the group their prey, but hold them hostage and make them join in:
"He was keeping her alive as long as he could, and she participated in her torture by her body's blind attempts to survive it. Didn't she know that it was better to be dead now? What awful fraud animated her? Her will to live was as cruel as he was."
The book's descriptions and violence were so intense that there was a huge backlash to the novel, which is enough to make it worthy of the creepiest cannibals list.
Titus And Tamora
Shakespeare's famous cannibalism scene deserves a place on the list for the almost surreal amount of bloodshed that surrounds it. Directly after murdering his daughter, Titus reveals to Tamora he has baked her two sons into the pie she is eating:
“Why, there they are both, baked in that pie / Whereof their mother daintily hath fed, / Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred. / 'Tis true, 'tis true; witness my knife's sharp point.”
What does he do then? He immediately kills Tamora. Then he's killed by Saturninus. It's all blood, all the time, and cannibalism in the name of revenge.