South Philly director cooks up another horror film

South Philly native Mario Cerrito produced the horror movie Human Hibachi and has a sequel in the works. Contributed photo.
South Philly native Mario Cerrito produced the horror movie Human Hibachi and has a sequel in the works. Contributed photo.

The entree was so appetizing that Mario Cerrito decided to come back for seconds.

Cerrito, an independent filmmaker who was born in South Philly, hit worldwide cult following movie fame with his offering of Human Hibachi in 2019. 

The independent horror flick grabbed eyeballs and awards for its over-the-top gore and unique storytelling, which was filmed in found footage style. Horror fans around the globe wanted more of the cannibal thriller, so Cerrito is in the process of making a sequel.

“The first movie was known for its gore and shock,” Cerrito said during the filming of Human Hibachi 2 last month. “That was the main element. The goal for this movie is to outdo that, which I think we will do. You don’t know until the movie is done but I’ve been told by the people involved in both that this is over the top.”

The first movie was filmed in Delaware with other brief scenes in Riverside, New Jersey. Part 2 goes back to Burlington County, as the majority was filmed at a house in the woods in Mount Holly. The movie is going through editing and production and is hoping for an early 2022 release.

The first Human Hibachi was picked up by Troma Entertainment, which provided a big boost for a low-budget film. Soon after, Cerrito was receiving messages from the far corners of the world about his movie. Fans from Australia, Japan and the Philippines as well as European nations Germany, England and Italy were just some of the places that found a taste for the movie.

Actors prepare for a scene in Human Hibachi 2, which was filmed in Mount Holly, New Jersey. Contributed photo.

“That’s when it really took off to the point where it had an international cult following,” Cerrito said. “The DVD sold in about 15 countries. It’s something you wouldn’t imagine when you’re making a low-budget film. You dream of that scenario.”

Both movies were filmed on iPhones, which brings a Blair Witch Project feel to the story telling. The plot of the first movie follows a couple celebrating a woman’s birthday at a Japanese restaurant. Rich cannibals pay the establishment’s owner to capture and cook victims. Cerrito got the idea while dining one night in a restaurant with friends. To be clear, the restaurant did not serve humans.

“I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nuts if afterhours, they close this place down and started serving up humans?’ ” said Cerrito, who now lives in Mantua, New Jersey. “I was joking around. And then we thought it might actually be a cool idea for a cult kind of movie. Two or three years later, I wrote it and the rest is history.”

Cerrito had previously produced movies Deadly Gamble (2015) and The Listing (2017), which were filmed in the more traditional style. Cerrito said filming Human Hibachi on an iPhone also helped keep costs down, which helped spread funding for other areas. It also is an intriguing way of telling a story.

“It gives that element that draws in a viewer because you feel like you’re there,” Cerrito said. “I was always a fan of the Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. It’s also super affordable. You have to figure out a way to make something entertaining and affordable. I can shoot it on my cell phone and not have to pay camera crews and you can get away with errors because it’s supposed to look really raw. It’s the perfect little genre and opportunity for an independent filmmaker to create a buzz.”

And that certainly happened. 

Human Hibachi was selected by the New Jersey Horror Con and Film Festival and Philadelphia Independent Film Festival. It was recently nominated for two awards categories at New Jersey Horror Con and won for Best Feature Film.

Cerrito is hoping Part 2 goes even further.

He wouldn’t give away much of the plot, but said it will be different in the sense that this movie surrounds a few survivors from the first movie who are being tracked down by a cannibal family who found footage of them from the previous film.

Backed by the buzz from the first movie, Cerrito is ready to make even more noise with Part 2.

“I had always known that the title alone was going to make it blow up,” Cerrito said. “I wrote Part 2 this year and filmed over the summer. It moved pretty quick. And I know it’s going to explode because the sequels always do.”