Yes, that Room 104 episode is based on a bonkers true story about cannibals

Room 104 episode ‘Hungry’ proves that truth really is stranger than fiction.

Every episode of Room 104 practically guarantees your brain a wild ride through a rollercoaster of logic and feels. With an increasingly experimental slate of narratives, and a commitment to telling intense, one-act stories in a short time frame, it’s a thrill to check in to the series week after week with delighted anticipation over what secrets might lie behind door 104.

‘Hungry’, written by Mark Duplass and directed by Patrick Brice, is the first installment of the series that is based in reality. There’s a brief screen at the top of the episode stating that it’s ‘inspired by a true story’, but you’d be forgiven for blanking on that tidbit by the end credits because the tale is so startling.

As the curtain opens, two men, Gene (Mark Proksch) and Sam (Kent Osborne), meet for the first time. Gene has set up a lovely dining area with candles and everything, and immediately hands Sam a fistful of pills. One is specifically for blood clotting. Hmm. Gene performs some sort of surgery on Sam’s nether regions and then slaps a diaper on him. He tosses a piece of something into a skillet and fries it up as Sam rests. The two men sit down at the table, and happily take bites of the item, clearly excited to finally be doing whatever it is that they’re doing. This tale just gets curiouser and curiouser.

Just then, on a tip from Sam’s (rightfully) concerned wife, a cop busts in and scans the scene. The camera pans over to the sausage-like piece of meat lingering on the plates, and then to Sam’s blood soaked diaper, which looks like the Japanese flag, blazing red dot in the middle. OMG. They just chopped Sam’s dick off AND THEN ATE IT. WHAT. Obviously, the cop is freaked the eff out by what she sees, and she immediately calls for backup.

Kent Osborne, Mark Proksch.
photo: Tyler Golden. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site.

This is where the story gets wild. Both men firmly – and repeatedly – assert that cannibalism isn’t illegal. How could this be? Haven’t we always been taught that cannibals are… well… psychopaths? The psycho part is still up for debate, but – according to Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute – the actual act of consuming human flesh isn’t illegal. Okaaaaaay…

The story that this episode is (loosely) based upon depends on this quirk of the law, and it’s certainly stranger than this Room 104 fiction. In early 2001, a German man named Armin Meiwes advertised for a willing participant in his cannibalistic ritual online. And he found one. Apparently there’s a corner for the internet for literally everyone.

At the time, the Guardian reported the following:

On the evening of March 9, the two men went up to the bedroom in Meiwes’ rambling timbered farmhouse. Mr Brandes swallowed 20 sleeping tablets and half a bottle of schnapps before Meiwes cut off Brandes’ penis, with his agreement, and fried it for both of them to eat.

Brandes – by this stage bleeding heavily – then took a bath, while Meiwes read a Star Trek novel.

In the early hours of the morning, he finished off his victim by stabbing him in the neck with a large kitchen knife, kissing him first.

The cannibal then chopped Mr Brandes into pieces and put several bits of him in his freezer, next to a takeaway pizza, and buried the skull in his garden.

Woah. Much like with Sam and Gene, these two men also had a recording to demonstrate that Brandes’ was consenting to everything that was happening to him. However, unlike the episode, Meiwes had the entire body of his victim at his culinary disposal after the event. In total, he was able to consume over 40 pounds of Brandes’ flesh before the cops showed up at his door. He prepared it simply, seasoning it with only garlic and olive oil.

Even though cannibalism isn’t technically illegal in Germany, and his victim consented to the event, Meiwes was charged and subsequently convicted. But, it turns out that people can – and have – gotten away with cannibalism and autocannibalism in the United States.

Earlier this year, a Reddit user posted an AMA titled ‘Hi all, I’m a man who ate a portion of his own amputated leg. Ask me anything.’ Quick recap – this man had a portion of his leg amputated after a motorcycle accident, asked to keep his leftovers, and then prepped his own foot meat for a taco dinner with some buddies. Too bad Sam and Gene weren’t invited. Those guys know how to throw a party.

‘Room 104’ airs Friday nights at 11:30/10:30c on HBO.