I’ve watched enough Western movies to understand that executions used to be public spectacles. However, Hang the Bastard from Cannibal! The Musical shows just how enthusiastic and excited people can become when a hanging is planned. As the movie was directed, produced and written by Trey Parker (who also did South Park and The Book of Mormon), you can expect that the more serious the topic, the more silly it is likely to be. Hang The Bastard from Cannibal! The Musical is no exception to this.
Despite some of the lyrics showing a clear disdain for the condemned, the entire village maintains a positive and excited tone through the whole of Hang the Bastard from Cannibal! The Musical. When Alfred Packer (the man who is about to be hung) first comes out of the sheriff’s cabin, it isn’t to thrown rotten fruit and jeers. Instead, the crowd starts jovially cheering and breaks out into a seemingly pleasant and bright song. I thought the choreography at the beginning was hilarious, with the exuberant town enthusiastically whirling and twirling while they sing about killing Packer. The residents of this town seem more like families planning to take their kids to see some fireworks or a parade rather than a hanging. This really comes through in the following lines:
“It’s as nice as a day can be.
Won’t you come to the hanging with me . . . .
. . . . So hang the bastard, hang him with cheer.
We’ll make some hot dogs
And drink a few beers”
At first glance lyrics like these might make you think that rather than being full of blood lust, the town is simply confused about what a hanging entails. For example, maybe they think it’s a joke or all part of an act. However, the lyrics that come shortly after quickly clear this up.
“Hang the bastard, hang him well.
Send his sorry soul to hell.
When his neck bone snaps we’ll know.”
Yep, this town definitely knows what they are in for, and boy are they feeling dandy about it.
As the song progresses, it quickly becomes apparent that the hanging isn’t all that they are looking forward to. They also seem extremely excited for the show to end, so they can all go home. While it is left a little ambiguous if the show refers to the movie or the execution, considering how excited they are for the hanging, it seems like the meaning is fairly clear. The characters are probably singing about how the movie will finally end and everyone, themselves and the audience included can get on with their life.
While I thought the song as a whole was funny and loved the delight that the town took in a public execution, I also thought that there were a few parts where some fat could have been trimmed from the number. For example, the cowbell solo at 1:19 is a bit humorous, but really, 13 seconds of a man banging a cowbell? By the end of that I wanted the show to end so I can go home too.
Even though I found the cowbell part a little tedious and drawn out, I loved the section with the puppets that comes soon after it. I’ve taken a few first aid classes and never knew that tickling armpits was part of diagnosing someone as dead, but I suppose it could work. What I did know, from Team America: World Police, is that Matt Parker and Trey Stone could do a great job mixing morbid themes, comedy, and profane puppetry; I just didn’t know that they were doing it all the way back in 1993 when they made the movie.
While I enjoyed almost the whole of Hang the Bastard from Cannibal! The Musical, the final part from about 2:00 on is definitely my favorite part. Seeing how the whole town became whipped up into an ecstatic frenzy was hilarious. And watching people sing about capital punishment while doing the can can was a first for me. Plus, I loved their dance moves when they sing about how “When his body stops jerking we’ll know / it’s the end of him.”
Hang the Bastard from Cannibal! The Musical is great in that the choreography and melodies are in sharp contrast to the lyrics and subject matter of the song. It can always be interesting to see what your favorite artists were doing before the work you know them for. In this case, I’ve been watching South Park for over a decade, so the chance to see what Trey Parker was doing while he was a student in the early 90’s was great.
Hang the Bastard from Cannibal! The Musical, has all of the funny, ironic, and irreverent qualities that I’ve come to expect from Trey Parker. With that said, if someone ever asks me, “won’t you come to the hanging with me?” I think I’ll have to decline no matter how excited they are.