The Unexpected Harbinger of Despair
While it might be difficult to see how food plays an important role in certain horror classics and modern horror films, when analyzing what foods are being eaten, when these foods are being eaten, and what message the filmmakers are trying to give to the audience it can become very clear that it does in fact have an influence on the emotions of the viewers. Horror tries to make everyday life horrific, that is essentially what makes horror films, books, and games so scary. Food is an essential aspect of human survival and in many cultures, food brings comfort to a community. Strategically using food in horror can therefore create feelings of disgust, wretchedness, and terror, all important to set a tone in certain films. This article will discuss the importance of food in horror and how it creates these emotions within the viewers while providing specific references from horror films with the exception of cannibalism as the reaction to it is quite obvious.
For most avid horror film viewers, it takes a lot of visual representation on screen to invoke more horrifying feelings or emotions. For this reason, filmmakers might try to create these emotions through symbolism, sound, and other camera techniques. However, just the simplest change in everyday life can cause massive disgust in even the most experienced horror film viewer. Using food as symbolism or foreshadowing can be seen in various classic horror films from Poltergeist (1982) to Silence of the Lambs (1991), however, it is not discussed much in film analysis leaving more room for interpretation from the audience, allowing the viewers to consist of multiple backgrounds, culturally to relate to the images on screen. In other horror films, food is used not as symbolism or foreshadowing, but a simple method of terror and disgust. This can be seen in films such as It (1990) and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988).
In Poltergeist, food is used as direct foreshadowing to the strange occurrences happening throughout the film and the unsettling reality of what lies in the basement of the home. The types of food being eaten in the film highlight this directly, and it is important to analyze who is eating what throughout the film to grasp the full concept. In the film, Marty, the paranormal investigator, is the only character who consumes meat throughout the entire story. While the audience is shown other characters eating throughout the film, they only consume vegetarian foods. One specific scene that shows this is the scene where Dana is snacking on everything in the fridge, later at night. When taking a closer look at what exactly she is consuming, it is all vegetarian and a rather strange combination of items, from pickles to potato salad and finishing it off with a swig of orange juice. Not many viewers would notice this immediately, but those who do would most likely be disgusted with the combination that she consumes in under five minutes.
The most famous food scene in the film is the scene where Marty has a midnight snack consisting of Cheetos, a chicken wing, and a Fred Flinstone sized steak that most people would find ridiculous. This is also the only time that meat is consumed at all during the film, and it is quickly interrupted by a bizarre and horrifying hallucination of Marty ripping his own skin off his face. This hallucination is brought on by Marty discovering that the seemingly beautiful steak he was consuming was actually old, rotten, and had maggots crawling all over it. The importance of this scene from a film analysis perspective is that it alludes to Marty viewing himself as a corpse, though the food he consumes as meat is quite literally dead flesh, and directly foreshadows the discovery of corpses underneath the home. What is more interesting about this, is that food brings doom, so to speak, as it foreshadows the reality of what lies beneath the home.
This concept of food foreshadowing or “bringing” doom can be seen in various horror films besides Poltergeist. Another film where food really highlights this idea is Silence of the Lambs. Without going into the allusion to cannibalism throughout the story, Silence of the Lambs directly uses food to bring bad occurrences to various characters throughout the story. One of the most famous scenes that can show this is the scene where Hannibal murders the prison guards while being transported from the temporary prison cell. Prior to this terrible and terrorizing event occurring onscreen, Hannibal is fed dinner. Directly using food as a harbinger of doom throughout the film is one of the aspects that makes this film so unsettling for viewers.
In other films, food is used as a simple means of visually disgusting the audience. One of the most famous films for this use of food is the film adaptation of Stephen King’s It. One of the most famous scenes that this concept can be visualized in is the fortune cookie scene. All the characters have come together after years of being apart, everything seems calm and relaxing, and very nostalgic. However, once the meal has been finished, the crew is given fortune cookies containing various disgusting items that completely terrorize them. The audience is shown directly what these cookies contain, and they are not uplifting fortunes. Viewers see blood, a cockroach, an eyeball, a bird fetus, crab legs, and one single tarantula leg. This is visually upsetting as it completely changes audiences perception of the comfort of food, and erases the nostalgic tone being set, basically setting the terrorizing tone for the remainder of the story. Of course, this film also uses food as a foreshadowing method, as all the bad events happen after this scene.
Again, this concept can be seen in other films as well, one of the most famous being any of the Nightmare on Elm Street films. One of the most famous scenes that directly shows this is from the Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, where the pizza meatballs have faces, mouths, and are screaming as Freddy digs into them and devours them. While some might view this as cannibalism, for the sake of this article, it represents the fact that all meat once was alive, and to some, might even have had a consciousness stripped away from them. It makes meat disgusting, and invokes terror in anyone watching.
So what is it that makes food in these films so dangerous and deadly? As previously mentioned, food is a necessity to human survival, and perverting the concept of eating throughout these films leads to a perversion of humanity itself. If more filmmakers used food in their horror films as either a foreshadowing for terrible events or a means of visually disgusting the audience, it could enhance the horror being shown on screen and portray the message much better. Next time you’re watching a horror film with food scenes, pay attention and see if it follows this analysis, it might enhance your viewing experience.
Silence of the Lambs (1991) Movie Clip