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.”
Before becoming a musical and a film, Sweeney Todd first appeared in a weekly story published in Edward Lloyd's The People's Periodical and Family Library called, "The String of Pearls: A Romance," starting in November 1846.
The demon barber of Fleet Street, London, had a shop advertised with the haunting lines, “Easy shaving for a penny/As good as you will find any," but no one understood what the rest of his large building was used for. Described as a “long, low-jointed, ill-put-together sort of fellow, with an immense mouth, and such huge hands and feet," he leaves a creepy impression.
What's worse, after slitting the throats of his victims, the bodies were ground up, baked into pies, and sold to the public. He's presented as threatening right from the beginning, saying to his apprentice:
"'I'll cut your throat from ear to ear, if you repeat one word of what passes in this shop, or dare to make any supposition, or draw any conclusion from anything you may see, or hear, or fancy you see or hear. Now you understand me - I'll cut your throat from ear to ear - do you understand me?'"
Definitely not the dream employer.
The killer in Bret Easton Ellis's American Pyscho is a sadist and all-around cruel dude who is a rare example of modern cannibalism in literature. An affluent New Yorker obsessed with luxury, he may seem like an unlikely cannibal, but there are no limits to his violence. Juxtaposed with banal details of brand names and day-to-day objects, cannibal Bateman is all the more horrific. He describes his crimes with a detachment and depersonalization:
“A Richard Marx CD plays on the stereo, a bag from Zabar's loaded with sourdough onion bagels and spices sits on the kitchen table while I grind bone and fat and flesh into patties, and though it does sporadically penetrate how unacceptable some of what I'm doing actually is, I just remind myself that this thing, this girl, this meat, is nothing, is sh*t, and along with a Xanax (which I am now taking half-hourly) this thought momentarily calms me and then I'm humming, humming the theme to a show I watched often as a child - The Jetsons? The Banana Splits? Scooby Doo? Sigmund and the Sea Monsters?
[...] Maggots already writhe across the human sausage, the drool pouring from my lips dribbles over them, and still I can't tell if I'm cooking any of this correctly, because I'm crying too hard and I have never really cooked anything before.”
Listening to his mind wander during the terrible acts, combined with the idea that there could be a cannibal working next to you on Wall Street, is more than enough to earn Bateman a place on the list.