TV, movies, comics, and novels are full of scary fictional cannibals. Some have a refined palate, like iconic man-eater Dr. Hannibal Lecter, while others may have only just begun their culinary journey into the consumption of human flesh thanks to an apocalyptic event that's rendered other food sources obsolete.
Most cannibals in fiction tend to be fairly extreme, possessed by a bizarre hunger that cannot be satisfied by ordinary means. Lucky for us, they're just characters; don't expect Leatherface to drop by your house anytime soon asking to borrow a pound of flesh. Of course, some of these famous, creepy fictional cannibals are based on real cannibals in history, so don't get too comfy.
This list touches upon cannibal characters who enjoy making elaborate meals, and others who prefer chomping right off the bone. Some are families who have been digging on man flesh for decades, others are loners who recently developed a taste for their own kind.
Hannibal Lecter is arguably the most famous fictional cannibal. Hell, his name even rhymes with what he is. Hannibal originally appeared in the 1981 novel Red Dragon, by Thomas Harris, the first in a series of books about Lecter and FBI agents Will Graham and Clarice Starling.
As a young boy in Lithuania, Lecter lived through the murder of his sister, which set him on a dark path. He later became a well-respected forensic psychiatrist, and a cannibalistic serial killer who cooked elaborate, gourmet meals with his victims. Unlike most serial killers, Lecter does not choose victims based on gender or race. Instead, he eats those who are rude, or offend his intellectual sensibilities.
Lecter is quite sophisticated and refined, and very intelligent, which only makes him scarier. He has been portrayed in several film and TV adaptations of Harris' novels, most notably by Anthony Hopkins in the Academy Award winning film Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen in NBC's Hannibal.
Oh, and Harris based Lecter on a real person, a surgeon he met at a prison in Mexico.
Leatherface is the iconic villain of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its assorted sequels and remakes. He likes to chase victims around with a chainsaw (which you probably guessed) and, once he catches them, skins them and makes masks out of their flesh. Not one to waste materials, Leatherface (and his creepy family) eat the meat of those they kill, and use their skin and bones to make furniture and other pieces of home decor.
Leatherface isn't real, but he is, in part, based on Ed Gein. Gein murdered at least two women and also dug up the corpses of women he believed were similar to his deceased mother, in the interest of making a skin suit he could wear while acting like her. Like the fictional Leatherface, Gein made objects out of his victims and the corpses he stole. Gein was also the inspiration for Norman Bates, the villain of Psycho, and Silence of the Lambs serial killer Buffalo Bill.
If you want to feel really uncomfortable, check out this partial list of items found at Gein's house when he was arrested for decapitating a local store owner:
- Whole human bones and fragments
- Wastebasket made of human skin
- Human skin covering several chair seats
- Skulls on his bedposts
- Female skulls, some with the tops sawn off
- Bowls made from human skulls
- A corset made from a female torso skinned from shoulders to waist
- Leggings made from human leg skin
- Masks made from the skin from female heads
- Bernice Worden's entire head in a burlap sack
- Nine vulvae in a shoe box
- A belt made from female human nipples
- Four noses
- A lampshade made from the skin of a human face
Portrayed by Elijah Wood in the 2005 film adaptation, Kevin is a Sin City serial killer with a taste for human flesh. He never speaks and, despite being a slight, bespectacled figure in a Charlie Brown-style sweater, is a nimble and excellent fighter. Kevin finds an ally in Cardinal Roark, and makes his home on the abandoned Roark farm. He uses the basement to imprison his victims, most of them sex workers from Old Town.
Kevin tortures his victims and, after killing them, eats the meat off their bones and mounts their heads to the wall, the way a hunter would a deer. He gives scraps and bones to his pet wolf. Kevin finds a nemesis in antihero Marv, who is on Kevin's trail after he is framed for the murder of a young woman, who told him that Kevin made her watch as he ate her hand.
In Bret Easton Ellis' 1991 novel American Psycho, Patrick Bateman is an affluent Wall Street banker in the '80s. He is narcissistic, misogynistic, and heinously shallow, and the book largely uses his character to caustically satirize '80s yuppie culture.
Bateman is also a depraved serial killer who relishes torturing and murdering victims (most of them women) in a variety of ways. He also occasionally cooks and eats them. The novel is written in the first person, and Bateman frequently describes his daily routines, the clothing his colleagues have on, and his murderous rampages in excessive, vacuous, detail. In one scene, he talks about chewing a victim's skin and using various parts of her to make sausage.
Bateman is a heavy drug user, and the book makes it unclear whether he commits the crimes he describes or if they're extended fantasies played out in his head. In the 2000 film adaptation, directed by Mary Harron, Bateman is portrayed by Christian Bale.