Although the idea of talking pigs in children’s media is not at all uncommon, Babe 2: Pig in the City is distinctive from its verbal swine brethren at the very least in its eagerness to terrify its pintsized audience. The only live-action talking-pig children’s movie that even comes close to Pig in the City on the terror scale is the 1999 made-for-TV adaptation of Animal Farm & even that horror show is softened a bit by the kindly wise voice of Kelsey Grammar. For more true pig-themed terror you have to look beyond Pig in the City‘s kids’ movie genre & venture into the seedy world of adult horror cinema. Horror flicks like Razorback & Chaw typically look for menace in the wild boar instead of the domesticated pig, which is a little besides the point here. 1972’s Pigs (alternately titled Daddy’s Deadly Darling) is about as literal you can get in the quest for pig-themed horror, delivering exactly what you’d expect, for better or worse, from a grindhouse exploitation film about flesh-eating pigs distributed on home video by infamous schlock-peddlers Troma.
There are of course innumerable, immediate differences in what you’ll find in these two wildly different features. The pigs in Pigs don’t talk (or think much for that matter). They’re also the main source of the movie’s terror, whereas in Pig in the City Babe is a unifying force that helps a hodgepodge gang of animals buck against the terrors of the outside world. Also, while Babe 2 is an adventurous film that explores expansive, otherworldly landscapes, Pigs rarely leaves the disgusting slop of its sty. That’s not to say, however, that they’re entirely separate form one another, at the very least thematically speaking.
Pigs is entirely faithful to its 70s schlock format, perhaps even painfully so. In its opening minutes, for instance, it powers through the rape-revenge plot of typical 70s exploitation fare in a (thankfully) breezy bout of exposition that does little more than get the requirement out of the way early. The Horror Movie Victim, Lynn, stabs her father to death after an attempted rape and is committed to a mental institution when she fails to cope with what happened. Thus completes her brisk transformation into an Escaped Horror Movie Crazy. Once on the lam, Lynn finds herself vulnerably alone in a seedy small town (much like how Babe is abandoned among reprobates in The Big City) where she quickly takes up a waitressing job at a bar owned by a fellow Horror Movie Crazy, who happens to have the curious hobby of murdering people & feeding their corpses to his pigs. There is an occasional subversion of schlock tropes here in that his flesh-eating pig farm is treated like no mystery & that instead of sizing Lynn up as a potential victim, he forms a makeshift family with her, essentially becoming her new father figure. Other than that, Pigs plays out almost exactly as you’d expect based on its genre & date of release.
Reading between the lines, there’s a surprising amount of connective tissue here. Both Pig in the City & Pigs have a strangely psychedelic quality to them that disorients their audiences. Pig in the City is, of course, more graceful in this effect, using a wide-angle lens POV of a child’s eye to overwhelm the screen with clowns, fires, confetti, and Nazi-esque dogcatchers. Pigs is much cruder in its psychedelia, assembling bizarre montages of pigs squealing while the heroine-murderess Lynn loses her mind. As the pigs feed on human corpses, their mouths soaked in blood, quick jump cuts & strange sound collages throw the viewer off-balance in unexpected ways, especially considering how cheap (in every meaning of the word) the film can be.
What’s even more surprising is the two films’ shared narrative focus on how familial bonds can be formed from the unlikeliest of sources, whether they be a roving gang of starving animals or a pair of mentally unhinged sociopaths who feed anyone they consider a threat to their pet pigs. The focus on familial bonds may be a result of the pig’s historical role as a farm animal & the farm’s domestic tradition (it’s a theme that’s certainly echoed in all of the non-Babe, pig-themed children’s media I’ve seen as well) or it could just be a simple coincidence. Either way it’s a theme that connects seemingly unreconcilable films otherwise related only through their live action pig subjects & the fact that they’re terrifying. If there’s ever a remake of Pigs (and anything’s possible in today’s remake market, mind you) it could up that terror factor even more by giving its flesh-eating pigs the power of speech. Especially if it keeps the squeal-laden freakout montages. There’s a lot a film like Pigs could learn from Babe 2, but a talking pig that also eats human flesh really sounds over the top in a way that I can get behind.
For more on August’s Movie of the Month, George Miller’s Babe 2: Pig in the City, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film & last week’s exploration of how it serves as a key to understanding Miller’s strange oeuvre.