In thousands of years of storytelling, food has either disguised dangers or, if appealing enough, led people to ignore their own safety for the chance of a taste. A bite of an apple or pomegranate expels two people from paradise; a Roman general invites his enemies to a banquet where he feeds them pies filled with the flesh of their sons; a brother and sister abandoned by their parents in the Bavarian forest discover an edible house, in actuality a witch’s bait. What’s scared us has changed over the centuries, but food has remained an effective mechanism in horror: Lo mein turns into worms in a California town terrorized by vampires; a babysitter awaits a pizza delivery, unaware that she is prey; a grieving tourist in a remote community in Sweden hallucinates that the feast in front of her is still breathing.
Food, in other words, is full of death and violence — fruit, once off the vine, will rot; animals don’t march happily to their slaughter. Ultimately, food horror is body horror, a reminder that we too are animals that consume and will ultimately be consumed, one way or another.
On November 17, A24 released Horror Caviar, a cookbook that exploits and embraces our conflicting repulsion and craving for food as horror. Recipes are inspired by iconic, beloved horror films, like Takashi Miike’s Audition (bone and pork dumplings with black angel hair pasta), Dario Argento’s Suspiria (an aspic tower studded with insect candy), and Kasi Lemmons’ Eve’s Bayou (red palm fruit shepherd’s pie). Expectedly, a handful of A24 films, like Ari Aster’s Midsommar and Robert Eggers’ The Witch, have dedicated recipes in the book. Devoted horror cinephiles will also be pleased by the inclusion of international, historic, and more obscure horror films, as well, such as Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House, Mario Bava’s Blood and Lace, and the fungi fear fest Matango by Ishirō Honda (the co-creator of Godzilla).
Horror Caviar — like most of A24 products — is built to appeal to a certain type of millennial, i.e. the type who can afford a $65 cookbook-cum-coffee table book that isn’t remotely practical. (In other words, me.) A recipe for an herbal sipping broth, inspired by 1922’s Häxan (a.k.a Witchcraft Through the Ages) by Benjamin Christensen, requires pig feet, chicken feet, burdock root, several types of mushrooms, and pine needles, hardly things you’ll have on hand all at once. The Midsommar recipe (lamb chops in marigold jelly) lists “silicon river rock molds” among the required cooking tools.
But again, a practical cookbook is hardly the point. A24 — now synonymous with atmospheric horror — is furthering the vibe they’ve practically trademarked with films such as Hereditary and The Green Knight. Unsettling, highly-stylized images are splattered throughout the book; among the most disturbing is a series in which a woman grasps at a destroyed dessert (specifically a white chocolate mousse with walnut dacquoise torte) as if it were viscera from her own body in an homage to 1981’s Possession. In another, a trippy-beautiful pastel arrangement of jelly molds is disturbed by clumps of long black hair. (Fortunately, the book includes a cocktail section that — assuming you can get ingredients like pickled allium bulbs or grass jelly — will help dull your senses enough to get past the photo of the Raw-inspired meat pithivier, a savory pie, that closes the book.)
The cookbook, ironically, is not for the weak of stomach. But what does whet the appetite is the broad set of recipe developers — ranging from visual artist Phyllis Ma to chef DeVonn Francis to the co-founders of Online Ceramics, a (mostly) Grateful Dead-inspired t-shirt brand deeply coveted by the streetwear set — who’ve each written a brief essay about the horror film that inspired their dish. Breaking up the edible gore are slightly longer, stand-alone pieces from writers like Carmen Maria Machado and chef/cooking personality Sohla El-Waylly.
Fitting that Horror Caviar ends on a recipe inspired by Julia Ducournau’s film about cannibalism, which captivated the festival circuit when it was released in 2016. From the undead eating the living (natural order reversing itself) in zombie movies to a teenage girl with the sudden insatiable craving for human flesh (natural order turned inside itself) in Raw, people consuming people is food horror and body horror both pushed to their extremes. (Cannibals, by the way, are having a big moment right now.)
Note that the Horror Caviar pithivier recipe recommends pork, not people. Again, though, the ingredients don’t exactly matter when the cookbook is unlikely to inspire many home-cooked meals. That many of the pages are made from thin and flimsy paper like that of a pocket thesaurus (not ideal for resisting kitchen oil splashes) is further proof of this, but honestly that’s fine. Horror Caviar isn’t for horror fans who enjoy cooking, but for horror fans, full stop.