Cannibal! The Musical (originally known as Alferd Packer: The Musical) is a 1993 American independent black comedy musical film directed, written, produced, co-scored by and starring Trey Parker while studying at the University of Colorado at Boulder, before reaching fame with South Park alongside his friend Matt Stone who also stars in and produced the film. It is loosely based on the true story of Alferd Packer and the sordid details of the trip from Utah to Colorado that left his five fellow travelers dead and partially eaten. Trey Parker (credited as Juan Schwartz) stars as Alferd Packer, with frequent collaborators Stone, Dian Bachar, and others playing the supporting roles.
In 2001, a stage production was staged Off-Broadway at the Kraine Theater on East 4th Street in New York. The show continued to find small theaters and audiences across America and beyond for many years.
A large-scale stage production was produced by The Rival Theatre Company at the 2008 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It featured West End performers. It was executive produced by Jason McHugh and directed by Frazer Brown.
In 2011, producer Jason McHugh released a book titled, "Shpadoinkle: The Making of Cannibal! The Musical," which chronicles all aspects of the creation and continuation of the Cannibal! The Musical cult phenomenon.
The film begins with a reenactment of the gruesome events of cannibalism as described by the prosecuting attorney during Alferd Packer's trial in 1883. Packer insists that things happened differently than what has been recounted, and begins to tell his story to journalist Polly Pry through flashback.
In 1873, a group of miners in Provo, Utah hear of new gold discoveries in Breckenridge and decide to travel to Colorado Territory to stake a claim. After the original guide, Lucky Larry, dies from a lightning strike, Packer is nominated as the replacement since he claimed knowledge of the area. He and his trusty horse, Liane, set off with five miners, Shannon Wilson Bell, James Humphrey, Frank Miller, George Noon, and Israel Swan, on what Packer estimates will be a three-week journey.
Four weeks later, they become convinced they are lost. At a nearby frontier post, they run into a group of three fur trappers, Loutzenheiser, Nutter, and their diminutive leader, Frenchy Cabazon. The trappers despise the miners, "diggers" as they call them, yet seem to like Packer’s horse. They tell the group they are heading towards Saguache. The next day, Packer wakes up to discover his horse and friend, Liane, is missing. The men press on and cross the Green River near the Utah border. The group asks Packer if there are any other big rivers that they will have to cross to which he replies, “Oh no, just the Colorado River.” Eventually, the Packer party is spotted by two “Nihonjin” Indians (obviously played by Japanese actors and speaking Japanese). They are taken back to the tribe where they learn the trappers are waiting for the winter storm to pass as recommended by the chief.
The story returns to the present time, where Polly continues her research of Packer’s story by herself. The next day, Packer is sentenced to death by hanging. Polly visits Packer once again in prison, where he continues his story, and she reveals her growing affection for him through song.
The men set out in the wilderness after Packer learns the trappers have already left. The group begins to suspect that Packer is really only interested in following the trappers to find his horse. They soldier on until they encounter the foreboding Cyclops (Henwood) who recalls how a Union soldier shot out his eye in the Civil War. He realizes Packer's men are not “Southern boys” after they can not finish the lyrics to "Dixie". They escape and the badly frostbitten Swan tries to cheer everybody up with a song about building a snowman. They soon run out of food, resorting to eating their shoes as they become lost in the snow covered Rocky Mountains. Out of frustration, Bell shoots Swan in the head because he does not appreciate his (Swan's) Pollyanna-esque perspective on their predicament. The men discuss their dire situation that night over the fire, speaking of the cannibalism that the Donner Party had to resort to in California. They decide to consume the body of their dead companion, but “not the butt”. Only Bell refuses. A few more days leads to talk of sacrificing one of their own. Packer convinces them for one more chance for a scouting trip, but when he returns, Bell has killed the others, claiming they planned to kill and eat him after Packer left. Packer is forced to kill Bell after threatening to turn him in, realizing he has gone insane.
Arriving in Saguache sometime later, Packer finds Liane, who has taken to Frenchy Cabazon. The sheriff of Saguache eventually finds and arrests Packer for cannibalism during a bar-fight between him and the trappers. On the day of Packer's execution he is saved at the gallows by Polly. They had gotten a stay of execution from the governor which states that Packer could not be convicted of a state crime since Colorado was not a state at the time of the incident. Cabazon tries to trigger the gallows, since the townsfolk came to see bloodshed. The Indian chief saves Packer by cutting his rope with a katana before beheading Cabazon, satisfying the crowd's blood-lust. Polly and Packer kiss only to be frightened by a still-alive Bell.
- Trey Parker as Alferd Packer (credited as Juan Schwartz)
- Matt Stone as James Humphrey / "Hang the Bastard" woman
- Dian Bachar as George "California" Noon
- Toddy Walters as Polly Pry
- Jason McHugh as Frank Miller
- John Hegel as Israel Swan
- Ian Hardin as Shannon Wilson Bell
- Stan Brakhage as Noon Sr.
- Robert Muratore as Frenchy Cabazon
- Juan Schwartz as Frenchy's singing voice
- Edward Henwood as Loutzenheiser / Cyclops
- Andrew Kemler as Nutter
- Maseo Maki as Indian chief
- Audrey Stafferd as The Voice of Doom
- Trey Parker as voice of The Voice of Doom
- Randy Parker as Judge
- Japanese foreign exchange students as Indians
- "Shpadoinkle" - Alferd
- "Shpadoinkle (reprise)" - George, Alferd, Shannon, Frank, Swan, and Humphrey
- "That's All I'm Asking For" - George, Alferd, Shannon, Frank, Swan, and Humphrey.
- "When I Was on Top of You" - Alferd
- "Trapper Song" - Frenchy (voice of Parker), Loutzenheiser, and Nutter
- "This Side of Me" - Polly
- "When I Was on Top of You" - Alferd
- "Let's Build a Snowman" - Swan
- "Let's Build a Snowman (reprise) - Swan
- "That´s All I'm Asking For (reprise)" - George, Alferd, Shannon, Frank, Humphrey, and Miller
- "Hang the Bastard" - Company
- "Shpadoinkle (finale)" - Polly, Alferd, and Company
Contrasting with the musical's generally dark and morbid humor are its cheerful songs, all composed by Parker, including "Let's Build a Snowman", "On Top of You", "Hang the Bastard", and "Shpadoinkle" (pronounced Shpah-doink-ul). The last of these is a transparent parody of the song "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!.
Two songs that were originally going to be in the film, but later taken out, were "Shatterproof" and "Don't Be Stupid". An interview with Ian Keldin said that Trey thought "Shatterproof" (which was going to be a rap song) made Packer seem too tough.
The film began as a 3-minute trailer made for a film class. After the trailer drew much attention, Parker and Stone raised around $125,000 and began shooting the full-length film. The film was shot during weekends and on spring break in 1993, and according to Ian Hardin, most of the crew failed their film history class as a result. Early in shooting, Parker was thrown from one of the horses playing "Liane", fracturing his hip.
This film was originally titled Alferd Packer: The Musical in 1993. The film premiered on October 31, 1993, in Boulder, Colorado, at a cinema near the University of Colorado campus. A fake protest organized by friends of Parker and Stone, organized along the lines of an animal rights demonstration, took place in front of the theater. The film then played at Raindance Film Festival in October 2004. Parker and Stone attended.
Parker was credited onscreen as Juan Schwartz, a reference to Alferd Packer's alias "John Schwartze", which he was living under when discovered in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
It was not released generally until 1996, however, when Troma Entertainment picked it up and renamed it Cannibal! The Musical out of concern that not enough people outside of Colorado knew who Packer was. Few people outside of Colorado ever saw the film since Troma did not distribute it widely. Parker and Stone's animated satire South Park debuted the following year.
Following Matt and Trey's success with South Park, Troma re-released the film on VHS and DVD and it enjoyed a decent cult following. The DVD contains a "Drunken Director's Commentary" where Parker and Stone along with most of the cast get drunk as they watch the film, although there are a few times when the commentary cuts out (either because the recorder was turned off or they spoke of things they later decided nobody should hear).
Several live productions of the show have been mounted, with excerpts from one live version available on the DVD.
The film was re-released on November 2008 as the first of the "Tromasterpiece Collection," as Troma considers Cannibal! to be one of its best films. Included in the new two-disc version were over three hours of special features, with never-before-seen deleted material and stage shows. Songs such as "Shatter Proof" and the early short films of Parker and Stone were considered to be a part of the new DVD, but these additions were ultimately rejected.
There have been several amateur productions of Cannibal! The Musical since 1996. The first was at the Sierra College in Northern California and then at Dad's Garage Theater where it won accolades by fans and the press.
In 2001, Saturday Players launched a six-month off-off-Broadway run of the show that earned critical acclaim and returning audience members.
In 2004, Cannibal made its European debut in Rome at the Teatro di Servi.
In 2005, the first High School group attempted the show at The Ironwoodridge High School in Tucson Arizona, but the show was censored by the school and performed off campus as a benefit. Later that year the show made its German debut at the University of Regensburg and played many small colleges and community houses in the US.
In 2006, the show debuted at its first Fringe Festivals in Minneapolis and Victoria, Canada and continued to find adoption by small colleges and community theaters.
In 2008, The Insurgo Theater Movement launched the show in Las Vegas for the first of several runs by their company. Unexpected Productions launched the first of four October runs of Cannibal in Seattle. Also in 2008, The Rival Theatre Company produced the first large-scale professional production. The show ran from July 31 to August 25 at the George Square Theatre, Edinburgh for a total of 26 performances. It starred Aimie Atkinson as Polly Pry and James Topping as Alferd Packer. Original film cast member Jason McHugh made a guest appearance as Mr. Mills. Other guest stars included Jim Bowen and The Q Brothers.
This production was planned a six-week run to the West End from July 27, 2010, at the Leicester Square Theatre. However, after copyright holder Jason McHughes withdrew the rights in May 2010, the show was canceled.
In 2011, M.P.M.M. Productions, performed the musical in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada during the 2011 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. It won "The best of Fest" for its venue (meaning it outsold other shows in the venue and was awarded an additional show). The show also debuted in St Louis and Denver with great reviews and enthusiastic casts and audience members.
In May 2012, Logan Donahoo Presents performed a version of the musical in Orlando, FL during the 2012 Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, in the Yellow venue. The show was successful, receiving positive reviews, and winning Patron's Pick for its venue, meaning that it had outsold all of the other shows and was awarded an additional performance.
It was announced in early 2014 that a production of the show is being produced at the Waterfront Theatre in Vancouver, B.C. by independent traveling theatre troupe Last Chance Productions. The show will run between June 12-14, 2014, with two separate seating areas (a "Gore Zone" where audience members are subject to splash-zone-esque involvement, and a less messy "Gore-Free Zone".)
- Alferd Packer
- Ravenous, a similar film about Packer and the Donner Party
- Helen Keller! The Musical, an episode of South Park
- The Book of Mormon, a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical about The Book of Mormon by Stone, Parker, and Robert Lopez