Vegetarian Horror


The subject of meat is fertile ground for the horror genre. Here’s a brief rundown on 2 horror movies and a novella for those Reasoned Vegan readers feeling brave this Halloween season.

Raw (2017)

Raw follows the story of Justine, a vegetarian college student forced to eat raw rabbit liver during a hazing ritual—an incident which awakens cravings deep within her…

The film has been the subject of a fair amount of controversy, as a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) resulted in paramedics coming to rescue a few overwhelmed cinema goers. You couldn’t ask for better press from the perspective of many horror fans. Contrary to the impression that story may leave, the film is not a gorefest. There are sequences that may be considered disturbing, but I wouldn’t call any aspect of it gratuitous. There’s no trace of campy over-the-top gore here.

The technical aspects of this film are fantastic. Right from the first frame, an impressionistic shot of a foggy tree lined street, the cinematography is beautiful. The camera work is effective, notably in the intense party sequences. The original score by Jim Williams lends effective atmosphere throughout the film.

The story is intriguing and it takes its subject surprisingly seriously. Cannibals are not usually such well fleshed-out characters (pardon the pun). The film is more interested in the hardships of being a freshman in college, family dynamics and sexuality, than it is in grossing you out with dismembered body parts. The plot is engaging, although it falters at the end, with some sudden plot developments that feel artificial and rushed to me. Nevertheless, this is still a more than admirable debut for writer/director Julia Ducournau.

What does it say about vegetarianism or veganism?

That’s open to interpretation. This is not a preachy film. Are vegetarians denying an inherent part of human nature by depriving themselves of meat, thereby giving rise to something even darker? Or, is Raw implicitly criticizing of meat-eating in making the comparison between human and animal flesh? Is the lesson a more general one about following your principles in spite of your urges?


The Vegetarian (2/2/16) by Han Kang

The Vegetarian (2016)

Han Kang’s vivid novella chronicling the unraveling of a young housewife won the Man Booker Prize in 2016. Yeong-hye, a woman who seems “unremarkable in every way” to her husband at the novel’s outset, is at the center of this three part novella. Each part is narrated from a different perspective, from her emotionally absent husband, to her love-struck artist brother-in-law, to her long-suffering sister.

Yeong-hye’s abrupt transition to vegetarianism is the first major sign of a series of changes that leave her wasting away in a nearly catatonic state. She is continually plagued by visions of violence, predation and blood. By the third part, Yeong-hye desires nothing more than to give up eating altogether and become a tree. She may be considered an inspiration to breathatarians everywhere.

All joking aside, this is a haunting, beguiling novella. The reader is left with some startling indelible images, some beautiful, some violent, some absurd. Without spoiling the details, my favorite involves a bizarre art project created by her brother-in-law, who has visions of his own that he has become quite obsessed with. After reading through once I feel I’ve only scratched the surface of what it has to say about madness, violence and trauma. Kang has crafted an affecting, potent novella that deserves to be read and re-read.

What does it say about vegetarianism or veganism?

You’ll notice a pattern here because most good art is not overly explicit about its ideology. The plot sounds like a terrible advertisement for vegetarianism. Fortunately, I think most people will recognize that Yeong-hye is not intended to be representative of vegetarianism. It’s a metaphor. If you read this book hoping to find a vegetarian role models, or even normal people, then you may be upset by this novel, but I think that this misses the point. Certainly, Yeong-hye’s insight, that her own trauma is in some way linked to the trauma of animals, is a laudable and thoughtful one.


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

There’s an ice cream shop in Princeton, New Jersey with idyllic images of tranquil, grazing cows plastering the walls. I went there once as a vegan and once before I even began to think about animal rights issues. Although the shop was the same, the experiences could not have been more different. The place had transformed from a perfectly normal ice cream shop to a live advertisement for dairy, promoting an outdated (and inaccurate) image of how milk is acquired. Watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a teenager and again now was much the same way, but in reverse. The film’s pro-vegetarian message went completely over my head years ago. This is strange because much is made of the way cattle are slaughtered—there’s even dialogue comparing the modern method of bolt stunning versus the old way of simple bashing cows over the head with a hammer. Not only this, but the characters are killed in much the same way that animals are slaughtered, with one girl even getting hung from meat hooks. The most iconic scene involves a hallway that recalls the chutes of a slaughterhouse, leading to the “knocking box,” where animals are stunned. The final 20 minutes of the film are so filled with screaming, that I could not help but imagine that this is how slaughterhouses for hogs must sound.

This is a quick, dirty and intense film. It’s by no means a technically perfect, but Tobe Hooper was obviously a talent even at this young age. I marvelled at the creepy canted angles, set pieces and shot framing. It’s not a pleasant film—in fact, its unrelenting in its morbidity—but it is a classic of the horror genre for good reason.

What does it say about vegetarianism or veganism?

Much has been made about the way Leatherface is modeled on notorious serial killer Ed Gein. Like Gein, Leatherface has made furnishings, and even a mask(!), out of human flesh. Often, what we consider so frightening about serial killers is how hard it is to explain the source of their evil. Unprovoked, unexplainable evil is truly terrifying. However, to make too much of that angle is to ignore the film’s message about what environment could breed this sort of evil. The grandpa character is revered as “the best killer there ever was,” and each member of the family has a connection to the meat industry. There is no doubt that this demented family has been warped, at least in part, by the slaughterhouse.


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