Watching the Weird: ‘Big Meat Eater’
Radioactivity was all the rage in the 1950s. In Burquitlam (a fictionalized version of the small town between Burnaby and Coquitlam, British Columbia), it’s all about the chemicals. Here, the local butcher’s cast-offs mix with the sludge in the septic tank to create Balonium, a chemical that is apparently highly sought after by aliens.
It’s also desired by teen scientist Jan Wczinski (Andrew Gillies) who is building a cyclotron, a contraption he describes as a power source for common household appliances: “Can openers, space ships, knife sharpeners. That sort of thing.” Wczinski and his Moldavian family live above the butcher shop, and when he discovers the radioactive green chemical he vies for the prize against the aliens who have reanimated the town’s mayor in an effort to obtain it themselves.
Made by a small group of young filmmakers in British Columbia near the end of Canada’s tax shelter era, Big Meat Eater is a weird blend of musical, sci-fi, horror and comedy, and the result feels like something a bunch of friends put together to compile their strangest ideas. Ideas like a city hall run by people named Alderman Sonny the Weasel, a reanimated corpse singing about its rebirth and a mother recommending her daughter stuff pierogies down her top before going on a date. But for a film that reads like a random mash, it all blends together really, really well.
The people of Burquitlam believe in free enterprise and progress. Playing up the 1950s dream of the future, Jan’s high school civics lesson includes repeating capitalist mantras — “the future lies in the future” — and performing their daily gum massage. The mayor (pre-death and undeath) takes collection at town hall meetings and Jan’s father believes in household appliances above all else.
Mixed in with the futurist visions all around the town, a Turkish giant named Abdullah (Clarence “Big” Miller) quietly murders a number of townspeople (plus one dalmatian) nearly unnoticed. When he gets a job at Butcher Bob’s butcher shop, he takes great pleasure in handling the meat, and hiding one of his victims (the mayor) in the freezer.
On Abdullah’s first day at the butcher’s shop he starts by grossing out the housewives who are looking for their daily meats, but when he sings about being a big meat eater (the title song!) while throwing meat around the room the women are seduced and start provocatively taking off their coats.
Along with the brilliant absurdity of the plot, it’s the characters that make this film so enjoyable. When we first meet Butcher Bob (George Dawson) he’s tap dancing happily down the street. He has so much faith in people (including Abdullah, the murderer) it’s endearing. Jan is creative and crafty (and has an inexplicable British accent) and Abdullah kicks out majestic musical numbers and manages to be loveable despite all that killing.
If anything can convince you to watch this film it’s the musical numbers, and Jan and Bob’s Devo-inspired chemistry ditty, Mondo Chemico, is the best of the bunch.
This film was made just before The Young Ones hit the screen in England, but the two have similarities, with their over-the-top Eastern European caricatures and use of puppets (the aliens in Big Meat Eater are wind-up robot toys and their spaceship is a puppet on a string). However, The Young Ones, with all its explosions and constant destruction of personal property, would probably rank higher on my chaos metre. Where does Big Meat Eater land? It’s weird but not particularly chaotic. However Jan being sucked up by aliens and shot back to earth with a temporary martian head, the reanimated mayor developing an eggbeater hand, Jan’s grandmother fighting off a zombie Bob with powdered meat tenderizer and Jan flying the mayor’s car through the alien’s spaceship should add up to a six.
Come back for more chaos….