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One way to build family togetherness is to dine together on a routine basis. This is especially true when non-family are likely to end up as the main course for dinner. It becomes very important that everyone understands you are part of the family.
There is an old saying: A family that plays together stays together. The cannibal clan does both. They play with their food.
This horror trope can be traced back in Western storytelling at least to the 16th century. There are widespread stories, perhaps only myths, of the cannibal Sawney Bean clan in Scotland. Whether or not they existed doesn't matter much to us here. What's interesting about the stories is that all the elements of modern horror tales about families of cannibals are present in Sawney Bean Clan stories.
Inbreeding, pickled people-parts on shelves in the home, hunting forays where the hunters toy with the prey mercilessly, stranded travelers being lured in by offers of wayside assistance, all taking place in remote, desolate locations. All are used in modern horror.
Compare: The Family That Slays Together
- In the Wolverine Bad Future storyline "Old Man Logan", the west coast is ruled by a Face Heel Turned Bruce Banner and the Banner Gang, the offspring of Bruce and Jennifer Walters. They routinely eat their foes, which backfires in the end, when Bruce eats Logan and later gets ripped apart from the inside.
- In Preacher (Comic Book), Herr Starr loses a leg to a family of cannibals.
- The Strontium Dog spin-off Young Middenface has the story "Brigadoom," a parody of the musical Brigadoon but with a twist: The mystical village of Brigadoom is made up entirely of cannibals led by Sawney Bean, who happen to break into song for no reason.
- An all-female, all-obese cannibal clan called the Blimps appeared in Judge Dredd on one occasion.
- French comic series Les Crannibales plays it for funny. Target audience is 8-15.
- The Scottish comic Electric Soup plays up the Sawney Bean legend for laughs.
- Wrong Turn: Heavy emphasis here on the cannibalism, with inbreeding just sort of being acknowledged by the fact that the clan folk are severely disfigured. "Fugly" might be a good adjective.
- Rob Zombie's House Of A Thousand Corpses—The clan looks more human. The inbreeding shows up in the utter dementia.
- Donna Dixon's character in Lucky Stiffs is a member of a Cannibal Clan. She invites a man home for Christmas dinner, for which he will be the main course.
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—One of the fun things about the Sawney Bean clan was their rumored practice of wearing the skins of their victims. A little update here, to making masks from their faces.
- The cannibal Reavers from Firefly and Serenity drew a heavy amount of inspiration from the Sawney Bean clan in general, and engaged in much the same practice of wearing the skins of their victims. They probably didn't engage in much inbreeding as it's been only twelve years since they were first created by the Pax on Miranda.
- The Hills Have Eyes—Inbreeding and nuclear radiation exposure. You can see why they don't eat each other. Nobody is going to eat something that looks like that. In the original film the radioactive aspect was only subtly hinted at; of course, when you cast Michael Berryman as one of them, it goes a bit past implications.
- These kinds of people are quite common to the inhabitants of the world of the The Book of Eli, even to the extent of people being able to tell that they are cannibals due to a quivering in their hands.
- Parents, while it subverts most of the elements of this trope by making its Cannibal Clan outwardly civilized and normal, gets bonus points for creepiness because it's told from the POV of a little kid. Who's just starting to figure out there's something strange about those leftovers his folks have been serving him for his entire life...
- The Mexican film We Are What We Are is all about a working-class family in Mexico City dealing with the death of their patriarch... which is a problem, as they're a cannibal cult and not only was Daddy the high priest, he "brought home the bacon." So it falls to the eldest son to learn the rituals and obtain a good source of food.
- The feral children in Beware! Children at Play.
- The 1973 movie Death Line (US title: Raw Meat) features a cannibal clan hiding in the London subway system, the result of an 19th-century dig accident trapping a bunch of male and female workers in the tunnel system. By the time of the events in the film, there are only two exceedingly sickly, barely-human descendants remaining.
- The Angel Family in Judge Dredd. In addition to being pirates, murderers, scavengers and, of course, scumbags.
Herman: I'm free, and you're toast!
- Australian horror Dying Breed concerns itself with the fictional descendants of the historical cannibal convict Alexander 'The Pieman' Pearce.
- In And The Ass Saw The Angel, the protagonist's father is a defector from such a clan. Rather than killing and eating people, he now simply tortures animals, and eventually stabs his wife to death.
- Sawney Bean is discussed in Neil Gaiman's short story "Monarch of the Glen".
- The Jack Ketchum novels Off Season and Offspring have an inbred cannibal family stalking and killing people that they think are trespassing on "their territory".
- Happens in some of HP Lovecraft's stories. In "The Rats in the Walls" the protagonist's family had not only practiced cannibalism in the past but also raised people like cattle. This caused their ancestral home to be cursed. In "The Lurking Fear" the monsters terrorizing the town turn out to be descendants of a cannibalistic family, who have been turned into subhuman creatures by generations of inbreeding and living underground.
- Robert Louis Stevenson's gothic story Olalla, about a dying family of nobility who it is implied have suffered from bad breeding, causing them to develop some odd habits.
- In one of the new Judge Dee stories, the judge faces such a clan terrorizing the region.
- The X-Files:
- "Home"—The emphasis here was on the inbreeding, with the cannibalism just sort of a side-note.
- It was a major focus in "Our Town" (no, not that Our Town).
- Torchwood, "Countrycide"—Unusually gruesome treatment of the concept for British TV.
- In the Angel episode called The Bachelor Party, Doyle finds himself on the menu for a family of demons (quite Affably Evil) whose traditions state that it's proper to eat the bride's ex-husband for dinner at the bachelor party.
- Lexx, "White Trash."
- Supernatural, "The Benders"
- In the Farscape episode "Eat Me," the Mad Scientist Kaarvok has managed to create a cannibal clan out of the Peacekeepers assigned to guard him through judicious use of his handheld cloning machine: after twenty or thirty clonings each, all of them are incurably insane and all too happy to accept Kaarvok as the de facto head of the "family." Unlike most clans, though, these ones are quite happy to feed on each other if the need arises; even Kaarvok can't quite tell the difference between food and family.
- The Mage: The Awakening Sourcebook Boston Unveiled features the Red Word cult, a cult of cannibals made up largely of families dotted across rural New England (including an entire coastal town where all of the people are cannibals and members of the Red Word, which is also home to their temple) who believe that eating people causes that person to become erased from reality (which literally happens in the aforementioned temple) so that an Eldritch Abomination embodying a horrific alternate timeline can overtake existence. Many of the members suffer from the Hunger, a degenerative curse/disease that causes those affected to become increasingly feral and uncontrollably devour human flesh. It's also noted that many members of the Red Word (especially in the town of Howard's Rock) are forced to join out of fear of what their family will do to them if they don't.
- The Call of Cthulhu supplement Blood Brothers had a series of one-shot adventures designed to simulate various genres of horror movie. One scenario featured a normal suburban family running afoul of a Cannibal Clan similar to The Hills Have Eyes.
- The Ghouls from the Vampire Counts army in Warhammer Fantasy are like an entire race of Cannibal Clan: Twisted, inbred, swamp dwelling cannibals. In earlier versions of the army, they were actually alive (in contrast to EVERYTHING else in the army, which is undead) and served the Vampires by choice, with rules to reflect this. While the backstory in newer versions of the army still refers to them as being alive, they function the same as any other unit, with a Hand Wave for why they act like undead.
- Fallout 3 has several: The trope is played straight by the residents of Andale, but a less conventional example is the Family, a group of people suffering from some form of cannibalism-inducing psychological disorder who started acting like vampires in order to keep their hunger in check. The "Point Lookout" DLC also introduces the "Swampfolk"; several new enemy classes (Scrapper, Creeper, Brawler, Tracker, Bruiser) made up of grotesquely deformed cannibal hillbillies, the result of two hundred plus years of inbreeding and radiation contamination.
- In Fallout: New Vegas, The White Glove Society used to be this before Mr. House reformed them. A few members have "regressed" back to the old ways though. The Courier then has the option of either stopping them or let the entire Society return to their ways.
- In Digital Devil Saga, you arguably play as one of these. The Embryon is very close. The game cleverly dresses up the issue through its primary mechanic: the protagonists (and everyone else) are given the power of Atma, allowing them to transform into powerful incarnations of mythological figures (hence the full Japanese title Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner), with the cost being that they must regularly devour others in order to stay sane (or else transform into a mindless monster). In-story, it's played for tragedy and pathos. In-game, devouring enemies (always in monster form) as an inevitable result of battle actually rewards you with Atma points that allow you purchase new abilities - some of which allow you to instantly devour foes during battle for bonus Atma points.
- The Tarkatans from Mortal Kombat. According to Jade's ending in Deception, Tarkatans will viciously attack and devour any Tarkatan from foreign tribes. Tanya, being smeared with Tarkatan essence by Jade while standing with Baraka and his horde, learns this the hard way. It's also heavily hinted through the series that Tarkatans aren't afraid of eating regular people as well, and it's definitely confirmed in 11 where one of Baraka's Fatalities has him literally eating his opponent's brain onscreen.