I recently read a fascinating book titled Confessions of a Prison Cook: A Fusion of Food & Crime, and not only do I think it would make for a terrific series, be it scripted or reality, but I invited its authors, Erika Somerfeld and Philip Longo, to submit a list of their favorite food-based scenes in horror movies and thrillers — timed to Spooky Season, of course.
Somerfeld is a veteran Hollywood publicist who launched her own boutique PR agency, The Beauty Channel, after working for Universal Pictures. She teamed with Longo to write the book, which is based on the latter’s real-life experiences behind bars. He was the vice president of a New York bank before being arrested in the ’90s and sentenced to jail time at Otisville Federal Prison in upstate New York, where he subsequently became the cook.
Confessions of a Prison Cook is a tale of incarceration and redemption that asks readers to imagine being sentenced to 10 years in jail. How would you survive? As a proud Italian man, Phil Longo knew how. He became the cook. He used food as an olive branch to mobsters who liked to grease their black hair with mayonnaise from the commissary, or a Mexican cartel member’s teenage cousin who was jonesing not for drugs, but for some chocolate. He also used food to get revenge, like the time he was forced to drug twin felons with nutmeg.
During his decade behind bars, Phil experienced everything from drunks and monks to a one-legged inmate who filled his prosthetic leg with stolen vegetables. And don’t forget the guards and their unique requests, not to mention Phil’s fellow cooks, each of whom had their own agenda and plenty of knives at their disposal — though all they really needed were the razor-sharp tops of tuna cans.
Through food — much of it smuggled in right under the nose of a police dog named Fury — Phil gains rich insight into his fellow man and realizes two things — that no one is rotten to the core, and that truth is stranger than fiction.
The book also features an assortment of prison recipes and culinary crimes, while the text is peppered with famous food & crime quotes, from The Sopranos to Shakespeare, all of which whet the reader’s appetite and add flavor to the saucy narrative of this dark and delicious drama.
Somerfeld spent 10 years developing, researching, and writing the book, which is now available on Amazon from Waterside Publishing. She also launched FoodAndCrime.com, which is a tongue-in-cheek search engine of sorts. The way it works is, you enter a food, and the site will dig up a crime story for almost every food. Pretty neat, huh?
Whether it be Count Orlok (Max Schreck) snacking on human blood in 1922’s Nosferatu or Frankenstein’s Monster (Boris Karloff) dining with The Blind Man (O.P. Heggie) while on the run in 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein, it’s clear that food and horror pair nicely together.
Somerfeld and Longo recommended some great food-related scenes from horror movies over the years, so check out their list of culinary genre classics below:
1. Alien (1979)
During a final crew meal before everyone returns to stasis, executive officer Kane (John Hurt) suddenly chokes and convulsed. At first, his crew mates think he’s suffering from bad indigestion — that is, until a small alien creature known as a Xenomorph bursts from Kane’s chest, killing him and escaping into the bowels of the ship. So began a seven-film franchise (counting those Predator crossovers) that is still going strong.
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The family dinner scene is iconic, as the hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) from earlier in the film recognizes Sally (Marilyn Burns) and kidnaps her, bringing her bound and gagged to a family dinner, which his brother Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) serves while dressed as a woman. The two men then bring down their decrepit Grandpa (John Dugan), who sucks blood from a cut on Sally’s finger. When Grandpa tries to kill her with a hammer, she breaks free and escapes through a window, though she’s far from safe on the open road.
3. Poltergeist (1982)
In the middle of the night, one of the paranormal investigators gets hungry and raids the fridge, throwing a raw steak onto the kitchen counter for some reason and sticking a chicken drumstick in his mouth. As he chows down on the chicken, the steak begins to crawl across the counter, before bubbling and turning itself inside out as the investigator watches. He drops the chicken in surprise and finds that it’s covered in maggots.
We thought about including the scene in Rosemary’s Baby in which a pregnant Rosemary (Mia Farrow) eats a raw steak for lunch, but this steak scene is just so much more fun.
4. It (1990)
The Losers Club reconvenes as adults at a Chinese restaurant, where they open fortune cookies for dessert, only to be sprayed with blood and find all kinds of nasty surprises inside, from a cockroach to an eyeball and a dead baby bird. Check, please!
5. Hannibal (2001)
You all remember this sequel, which finds Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) gallivanting in Italy. Murderous inspiration strikes when he once again crosses paths with Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta), as Hannibal removes the man’s skull to feed him pieces of his own brain, which he cooks in Paul’s head while he’s still alive. It’s really quite astonishing. Never mess with a chef, I guess!
And don’t forget that in The Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins’ first film as Hannibal, the cannibal escaped during meal time. Chianti, anyone?
6. Get Out (2017)
White hypnotherapist Missy (Catherine Keener) stirs her cup of tea to send her daughter Rose’s Black boyfriend, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), into the “Sunken Place,” which will allow a white man to take over his entire body. Meanwhile, a (seemingly) throwaway moment at the end of Jordan Peele’s satirically potent film finds Rose (Allison Williams) conducting an online search for her next victim while snacking on a dry, colorful cereal — Fruit Loops, I believe — that never make contact with the pure white milk she’s sipping on. Talk about a powerful metaphor that sticks with you.
7. Seven (1995)
Detectives David Mills (Brad Pitt) and William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) are called to a crime scene where a morbidly obese man has been found face-down in a plate of spaghetti. As they investigate, it becomes apparent that the man was force-fed until his stomach burst. The “Gluttony” scene is gruesome, featuring the man’s esophagus still stuffed with spaghetti and his bloated corpse covered with cockroaches. You might lose your appetite watching this movie…
8. Ice Cream Man (1995)
This B-movie isn’t as well known as others on here, but how could we ignore it? The killer, played by a deranged Clint Howard, uses the body parts of his victims as ice cream toppings. One scene finds the titular psycho holding his latest creation, a Decapitation Sundae — a novelty-sized waffle cone stuffed with a man’s head. It’s an image you won’t forget anytime soon.
9. Thinner (1996)
Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) is a formerly obese lawyer who has been cursed to lose weight forever. To lift the curse, he spills his blood atop a demonic strawberry pie that slurps it down, destined to kill whoever dares to eat a slice. Only the warped mind of Stephen King could make us think twice about ordering pie at the next diner we visit.
10. The Invisible Man (2020)
Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) believes that her abusive ex (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) faked his own death and is not only still alive, but possibly invisible. Naturally, her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer), thinks she’s crazy. But is she? When the two sit down to dinner at a fancy restaurant, we find out the answer to that question when a knife hovers in mid-air and slices Emily’s throat before jumping into Cecilia’s hand, making it look like she killed her own sister. It’s a shocking moment in a terrific film, even if food is only loosely related to the scene.
We could only have so many Stephen King adaptations on this list, so we gave this movie the edge over The Mist, which takes place inside a grocery store. Get it?
11. Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
Mike (Grant Cramer) grabs a handful of pink sugary cotton candy fuzz thinking nothing of it… until he reveals a bloody face confirming that each pink sack holds a dead body that’s slowly dissolving into goop. Why? So the clowns can use their Krazy Straws to slurp down liquefied humans from their confectionary cocoons. Far out, indeed!
12. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Johnny Depp‘s enemies are into meat pies in this twisted musical from director Tim Burton, which finds the crazed barber going on a delicious killing spree with the help of the similarly deranged Nellie Lovett (Helena Bonham-Carter). You might want to double-check your order!
And yeah, we put this one on the list over 1973’s similarly-themed Soylent Green, which is also made of people, in case you were wondering.
13. The Stuff (1985)
This cult classic from director Larry Cohen concerns a mysterious, gooey white dessert that sweeps the nation before it begins attacking people and turning them into zombies. The film stars SNL alum Garrett Morris as “Chocolate Chip” and includes cameos from tough guys Paul Sorvino and Danny Aiello, though neither man proves much of a match for… The Stuff.
14. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962)
Baby Jane (Bette Davis) lifts a silver platter and serves her wheelchair-bound older sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) a rat for dinner. Bon appétit!
15. Eraserhead (1977)
In David Lynch‘s surrealist horror movie Eraserhead, the hot new food on the market is man-made chickens, which are just like the real thing. Henry (Jack Nance) is urged to simply cut up the chicken as though it were a regular bird, but as he does, it begins to bleed profusely, spoiling everyone’s appetite, including that of the audience.
Click here to order Confessions of a Prison Cook on Amazon.