ByKarly Rayner, writer at
Movie Pilot's celebrity savant
Karly Rayner

In movies, vampires are often somewhat eroticized as smooth-skinned ageless beings with even smoother ways, but this real life example from the 1700s is far too grotesque to even be considered for the silver screen.

Today I was introduced to the toddler-canibalising, whole-cat-swallowing, insatiable beast that was Tarrare, a French showman and soldier famed for his ability to devour just about everything, whether it be pints of human blood or an unfortunate whole, live puppy.

So, prepare to be suitably nauseated as I guide you though the unbelievable ins and outs of Tarrare's digestive crimes and paint a bloody picture of one of the foulest figures in history.

Constant Hunger Leads To A Life Of Crime

A drawing of Tarrare
A drawing of Tarrare

It seems that Tarrare was born hungry, but not in the positive way we often hear young entrepreneurs described. Instead, as a child, he was able to munch his way through a quarter of a bullock a day while still remaining ravenous, and miraculously, a normal weight. He reportedly only weighed 100lbs at 17 years of age.

After eating his impoverished parents out of house and home (quite literally), a young Tarrare was forced onto the streets where he joined a travelling band of prostitutes and conmen to ply his unusual trade on the street.

Tarrare ate corks, rocks, whole basketfuls of apples and live animals to earn tips from awe-struck punters, but they probably wouldn't have been too eager to part with their money if they knew where Tarrare's unholy hunger would take him.

Grotesque Gluttony

The original medical journal describing Tarrare's condition
The original medical journal describing Tarrare's condition

After joining the Revolutionary Army and being discharged due to his inability to survive on regulation rations, the true extent of Tarrare's grotesque gluttony was revealed.

After attempting to survive on refuge, offal and whatever else he could find to subsidise his rations, Tarrare was admitted to hospital. After being examined for potential illnesses, baffled medical practitioners subjected Tarrare to a barrage of bizarre eating challenges to test the seemingly bottomless depths of his appetite. During this time he devoured:

  • A meal intended for 15 people in a single sitting
  • Plates of grease
  • Four gallons of milk
  • Live cats - Tarrare reportedly ripped the cat's belly open with his teeth and drank its blood before devouring everything apart from the bones. He later vomited up the feline's fur and skin.
  • Live snakes and lizards
  • Live puppies, presumably suffering the same fate as the poor cats
  • A whole eel, swallowed with no chewing after crushing it's head with his teeth

Although these feats are obviously abnormal (not to mention inhumane and revolting), Tarrare was reportedly of a normal height and weight and showed no signs of mental illness apart form an "apathetic temperament."

A Vile Visage

Tarrare in puppet form by :
Tarrare in puppet form by :

Tarrare might of been of average height and weight, but not much else about the French curiosity seems average in any sense of the word.

There are extensive descriptions of Tarrare from medical journals of the time that prove he would have been a totally fearsome sight. Let's start from the head downward: The infamous glutton was described as having soft fair hair with an abnormally large thin lipped mouth crammed full of heavily stained teeth.

How "abnormally large" was his mouth, I hear you ask? Well, reportedly Tarrare could cram an astonishing twelve eggs or apples into his oral cavity which meant that his cheeks were wrinkled and hung loosely in flaps when not distended.

An example of a severely distended stomach
An example of a severely distended stomach

Moving downward, Tarrare's repeated binges had left him with loose billowing skin folds that could be wrapped around his waist entirely when he hadn't eaten. After gorging himself, his stomach would engorge "like a huge balloon."

Tarrare's appearance wasn't the only repellant thing about him though, he also constantly sweated profusely and he was described as reeking "to such a degree that he could not be endured within the distance of twenty paces." After he had eaten, Tarrare's smell would intensify to the point where "visible vapor would rise from his body." Oh, and he also had chronic diarrhoea.

A Shit Job

Tarrare became part of the Army of the Rhine
Tarrare became part of the Army of the Rhine

Speaking of fecal matter, when Tarrare was in the hospital his unusual eating abilities led to him being recruited in what must be one of the most bizarre military jobs in history.

After being tempted with wheelbarrows full of bull lungs and livers as reward, Tarrare was tasked with swallowing a small wooden box containing military instructions which could be retrieved from his excrement after passing through enemy lines. The logic being that no matter how hard they searched Tarrare, no strategic material would be discovered.

Unfortunately, Tarrare's first mission to carry a message to a French colonel imprisoned by the Prussians near Neustadt failed because, despite being disguised as a German peasant, he couldn't speak German. I'm sure the fact that he looked demented and stunk to high heaven couldn't have helped.

After being captured and whipped into confessing what he was carrying in his bowels, Tarrare crapped out the message (which turned out to be a dummy tester letter) and faced a terrifying mock execution before being sent on his way.

Appetite For Destruction

Despite seeking multiple cures in the wake of his traumatising fake execution at the hands of the Prussian forces, Tarrare's appetite plummeted into new, even more depraved territory.

After treatments of laudanum, tobacco pills and various vinegar drinks failed, Tarrare's appetite reached fever pitch resulting in a variety of unsavory incidents including:

  • Scavenging for offal in the gutters outside butchers shops, sometimes being caught fighting with stray dogs for scraps
  • Drinking hospital patients blood after bloodletting treatments
  • Attempting to devour corpses from the hospital mortuary
Tarrare drank blood from patients
Tarrare drank blood from patients

Most horrifically, a 14-month-old toddler dissapeared without trace from the hospital and Tarrare was suspected of cannibalizing the helpless infant. Although there was no concrete proof he committed the crime, Tarrare was barred from the hospital and chased out by disgusted hospital staff.

Four years later, he was dead. An autopsy after his death showed that Tarrare had an abnormally large gullet and an enormous, ulcerated stomach that took up the majority of his abdomen.

An artists impression of Tarrare eating an infant
An artists impression of Tarrare eating an infant

What Was Wrong With Him?

The cause of Tarrare's behavior is still a mystery and there are no modern medical cases that have mirrored his bizarre symptoms and actions. Some hypothesize that he might have had some form of hyperthyroidism which can cause extreme appetite, rapid weight loss and profuse sweating. Others think he may have had a damaged amygdala in his brain. Brain injuries of this type in animals can also cause polyphagia — an excessive hunger that leads to abnormally large intake of solid food.


Would you watch a Tarrare movie?


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