The unnatural world is teaming with cannibals, but few flesh eaters exhibit such enthusiastic devotion to their ravenous ways as the murderous Klaus Wortmann in Joe D'Amato's "Antropophagus" -- brought to life by Itallian B-Movie legend George Eastman (who also wrote the screenplay).
Klaus goes all out in his assault on doomed vacationers to his lonely Greek island -- and two scenes in particular earned the film its "video nasty" certification. In the first stomach-turning scene, Klaus kills the character Maggie, rips out her unborn child and bites into the unborn meat. The fact that Eastman actually chomped down on a skinned rabbit for the scene somehow doesn't sanitize things all that much. Finally, in the film's closing moments, the protagonists turn the tide by stabbing Klaus in the abdomen with a pick axe, but this cannibal king proceeds to pull out his own intestines and eat them. Yes, it's one of cinema's finest moments.*
But what can science tell us about Klaus Wortman? Let's look to the natural world...
Way of the Cannibal
The human condition really complicates the subject of cannibalism, but for non-human animals, the act almost always comes down to simple economics. A mother may eat infertile eggs, postpartum mass, deceased or even viable young. Reproduction is a costly exercise and it makes sense to reabsorb as much of that energy expenditure as possible. Likewise, many cases of sexual cannibalism boil down to a female making the best use of a male's nutritious body after copulation.
Klaus actually acts in a similar manner. In a flashback, we see that Klaus descended into cannibalistic madness whilst stranded in a lifeboat with his wife and son. After the son died of exposure, he argued with his wife over whether they should turn to cannibalism to survive. He accidentally killed her in the ensuing argument, ate them both and became a creature of madness and hunger. Human complications aside, his original argument was perfectly in keeping with the natural world energy economy.
Autocannibalism (or self-canniblaism) is equally reasonable in most of the animal kingdom. Even humans sometimes eat their own placenta, and mother cats frequently consume their own afterbirth. Again, it comes down the simple energy economics.
The Man's Got Guts
Ah, but what about those guts? Eastman's Klaus pulls out his own intestines just moments before he dies of his wounds. Like Ahab (or Khan), he stabs one last time at their psyche with an act of pure obscenity. Plus, there's a sort of grisly poetry to the whole thing.
But what parallels do we find in the natural world? Certain sharks and frogs may vomit up their entire stomachs to regurgitate (essentially turning it inside-out like an out-turned pants pocket) and still other creatures may externalize their guts for feeding purposes. But for the sort of violent self-evisceration we see with Klaus, we have to turn to the sea cucumber.
Sea cucumbers essentially vomit their entire insides -- organs and all -- to escape predators. Afterwards, their insides regenerate within a few months. It's a form of autotomy, though a far ghastlier ordeal than a lizard shedding its tail. The creatures can also atrophy their guts during periods of prolonged fast, then grow them back when feeding conditions improve.
As far as "Antropophagus" goes, the evisceration/regeneration angle is rather notable as well. Amato and Eastman's 1981 spiritual sequel "Absurd" features a similar Greek cannibal named Mikos (also played by Eastman) -- only this time the killer benefits from a mutant healing factor that enables him to bounce back from his own disembowelment, as well as a blinding. Perhaps Mikos and Klaus simply utilize the same defensive strategy as the sea cucumber. It certainly makes you think twice about fighting back...
* This scene is rivaled only by the moment in 1991's "Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky" when the character Oscar pulls out his own seppuku-spilled intestines and uses them to strangle the hero.
Monster of the Week is a - you guessed it - regular look at the denizens is of our monster-haunted world. Sometimes we'll focus on the cultural aspects, but mostly we'll look at the possible science behind a creature of myth, movie or legend. Be sure to explore the Monster Gallery as well as the Monster Science video series.