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The Making of Cannibal! The Musical, by Jason McHugh


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Chapter 1 - Beginnings

I had just rolled back into Boulder, Colorado after a warm summer getaway at my buddy Glasgow's Tennessee lake house, when I got the call from Trey. Trey was pulling himself out of a deep depression, and was finally ready to shoot a trailer for a project called "Alferd Packer: The Musical."

The circumstances were a bit odd. In the months prior, Trey had talked about making a feature film about the only convicted cannibal in US history, Alferd Packer.

Alferd was the legendary "Colorado Cannibal," a cult figure among students on many college campuses in that state. Our school boasted a grill named after Packer, and celebrated Alferd Packer Day on the third Friday of every April.

Trey, a native of Colorado, had grown up with the story of Alferd Packer, and believed it had the makings to become a perfect musical.

Six months earlier, Trey had been certain his idea could be executed for about ten thousand dollars, and he was ready to shoot in his back yard during Christmas vacation.

However, it was an oddly un-white Christmas that year, and we were far from ready to shoot a feature in any case. Months passed, and talk of the Alferd Packer feature had faded. By May of 1992 most of us had focused on our semester's 16mm projects, and Trey was in pre-production for his big wedding day.

Lianne, his high school sweet-heart, was to be the lucky lady. They had set a date, purchased a dress, and made Hawaiian honeymoon plans. Everything was going great guns until Trey accidentally interrupted Lianne and another man (another man than he -- Lianne, of course, was female) all sweaty and naked in her bedroom. The wedding plans were canceled quite soon afterward, and Trey dropped into the major depression mentioned above.

Trey could neither eat nor sleep for days on end. He lived on nothing but Slimfast shakes for weeks; he just couldn't eat, and he was all pale and fucked-up looking. Unbeknownst to the rest of us, Trey was conjuring a comeback.

Trey came out of it in June, and that's when he called me to let me know that he was ready to shoot a trailer for "Alferd Packer: The Musical." I was amazed that it was finally going to happen. I wondered how and why we were going to shoot our winter snow story in the middle of June.

I soon learned that this was a story that urgently needed to be told. The entire trailer was built around songs Trey had written about his ex-fiancee, Lianne. Trey was to play the title role of Al Packer, who happened, in the trailer, to have a beloved horse named Lianne. Packer has a love obsession with his frisky horse, who lets every man in town ride her. Trey claims the only reason he wanted to shoot the thing was to get the line "Hi, my name is Alferd Packer, and this is my horse, Lianne," on film. In doing so he launched himself, by inadvertently showing off his talents for composing, singing, dancing, writing, directing, and acting.

The actual shoot for the trailer was tons of fun. It was film geeks in the mountains. We shot in Breckenridge for two days, filming through daylight and talking shit around the campfire at night.

Summer passed. It was August when I wandered back into our film department at CU and bumped into Trey. He had just finished a fine cut of the trailer, so we quickly hit an edit bay upstairs and rolled the tape. It was excellent. I immediately watched it again. And then again. (Little did I know that I'd be watching it several hundred more times over the following year.) The trailer both dissed Lianne and prepared the viewer for a raunchy comic-musical-horror-love-story-must-see movie. We thought it clearly had all the elements of a great film. And somewhat surprisingly, we were not they only ones who thought so.

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