Several brutal crimes allegedly involving face biting, dismemberment and cannibalism have recently offered a chilling reminder that real life can be as bizarre as fiction -- even a horror film.
Trying to explain the psychology behind cannibalism can be even scarier.
Karen Hylen, the primary therapist at Summit Malibu Treatment Center in California, said that, while people have historically resorted to cannibalism for survival or religious reasons, modern interpretations of cannibalism focus on questions of addiction or mental illness.
"People who have engaged in this act report feelings of euphoria or get a 'high' by performing the action to completion," she told The Huffington Post. "These individuals have psychopathic tendencies and are generally not psychotic. They know exactly what they are doing."
Hylen said cannibalism often begins as a fantasy, which the person plays out in his or her head. But when that person gets a taste for real, "the pleasure center of the brain becomes activated and large amounts of dopamine are released –- similar to what happens when someone ingests a drug like cocaine."
Once that happens, Hylen said, the burgeoning cannibal's brain becomes conditioned to seek out the activity in order to obtain the feeling again, which leads to a cycle of cannibalism that can only be stopped through outside intervention.
Cannibals grow addicted not only to the eating aspect, according to Hylen, but to the ritual of hunting the prey as well, "just as a cocaine addict becomes addicted to the process of cutting up lines before they ingest the drug itself."
Unlike other addictions, the chances of the average person becoming addicted to cannibalism are exceptionally low.
"It takes a complete lack of empathy and ability to experience normal human emotions to reach this state," Hylen said. "Generally, less than 1 percent of the population is classified as [a psychopath], although more may possess the tendencies associated with psychopathic disorder."
Even then, Hylen noted, not every psychopath will have a cannibalistic mind-set.
"Only the sickest of individuals would entertain such a notion, let alone act on it," she said. "Just because you or your therapist believes you have psychopathic tendencies does not mean that cannibalism is in the realm of possibility for you. If you are this type of person, you most likely already know it to be true and don't need an outside source to tell you."
As cannibalism is quite rare and, according to Hylen, on the far end of the spectrum of addictive behaviors, getting treatment is difficult.
"To date, there is no effective cure or treatment for these individuals, as no amount of medication or psychotherapy can instill empathy in someone," she said.
But there are success stories, such as the case of a self-proclaimed cannibal in Indonesia named Sumanto, who was sentenced to five years in prison in 2003 for stealing and eating a woman's corpse, an act he believed would give him supernatural powers, according to the Jakarta Globe.
Sumanto was freed in 2006 after receiving several sentence remissions and has lived at a private mental institution since then. So far, he hasn't fallen off the wagon and credits that to a conversion to Islam.
Still, he admits to being lonely and is hoping to find a wife who will accept him for who he is.
"The important thing is, my wife has to be a woman and she has to be religious," Sumanto told the paper.
While on drugs, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/21/charles-baker-got-naked-ate-flesh-of-jeffery-blake_n_1615800.html?utm_hp_ref=cannibalism" target="_hplink">Charles Baker, 26, of Palmetto, Florida,</a> allegedly got naked, barged into his girlfriend's house, bit a chunk out of a man's arm and ate it, then powered through several cop-deployed Taser probes before getting tackled and arrested.
After trying to steal a wig from the Sassy Beauty Supply Shop in New Haven, Conn., <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/08/lowpel-davis-bit-arm-wig-store-owner-spat-flesh-connecticut_n_1581176.html?utm_hp_ref=cannibalism" target="_hplink">Lowpel Davis bit the store owner's arm</a> so hard she took off a piece of his flesh, which she then spat in the man's face, according to cops.
Carl Jacquneaux (left) allegedly bit off a chunk of his victim's face while on the synthetic drug known on the street as "bath salts."
This undated booking photo, made available by the Miami-Dade Police Department, shows Rudy Eugene, 31, who was shot and killed by Miami-Dade police after he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/30/new-face-eating-attack-video-miami-rudy-eugene-18-minutes_n_1555653.html" target="_hplink">refused to stop eating another man's face in Miami</a> on May 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Miami-Dade Police Dept.)
Luka Rocco Magnotta
This undated photo, provided by the City of Montreal Police Service's media relations, shows Luka Rocco Magnotta, 29, who is <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/luka-rocco-magnotta-jun-lin-killed-dismembered-by-porn-actor_n_1562423.html?ref=crime" target="_hplink">suspected of homicide</a>. Montreal police said on May 30, 2012, that they had identified Magnotta as a suspect in a gruesome crime involving severed body parts discovered in packages mailed to Ottawa, Ontario, and in a garbage heap in Montreal.
Alexander Kinyua, a 21-year-old Morgan State University student, allegedly <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/31/alexander-kinyua-kujoe-agyei-kodie-ate-brain-heart-roommate-maryland_n_1560149.html?ref=zombie-apocalypse" target="_hplink">admitted to killing his roommate</a>, Kujoe Bonsafo Agyei-Kodie, and then eating his heart and portions of his brain. Kinyua has been charged with first-degree murder.
It's not necessarily a crime to eat human flesh. Mao Sugiyama, a self-described "asexual" from Tokyo, had surgery to remove his genitals and then <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/24/asexual-mao-sugiyama-cooks-serves-own-genitals_n_1543307.html" target="_hplink">cooked and served them</a> to five lucky dinner guests at a swanky banquet in Japan.
Man Accused Of Eating Wife's Lips
A former employee of a Swedish medical university is accused of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/man-eats-wifes-lips-karolinska-institutet-sweden_n_1562776.html?ref=zombie-apocalypse" target="_hplink">cutting off his wife's lips and eating them</a>. The unnamed man allegedly flew into a rage after he became suspicious that his much younger wife was having an affair. A source said the man ate the lips because "he didn't want the lips to be able to be sewn back on."
Vigil is accused of murdering an unidentified person and <a href="http://www.krqe.com/dpp/news/crime/murder-suspect-ate-part-of-mans-face" target="_hplink">eating part of their face.</a> He was arrested in November, 2012 and charged with an open count of murder.