The main inspiration for Custom of the Sea was the 1939 Laurel and Hardy film, Flying Deuces. Aside from including a truly charming and memorable rendition of Shine On, Harvest Moon, the duo's comedy takes some particularly dark turns in this film. In one early scene, a great deal of comedy is wrung from Ollie's elaborate attempts at suicide (provoked by -- what else? -- a broken heart). In an ironic parallel, the film ends with a plane crash in which Ollie is actually killed and reincarnated as a horse. This is pretty dark stuff for Laurel and Hardy. Not that Laurel and Hardy were necessarily alone: the films of Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd were all peppered with dark asides and sub-texts.
Custom of the Sea was born by asking the question: How dark can we go? If suicide and plane crashes are fodder for comedy, why not go whole hog and embrace truly horrific taboos? There is, indeed, and in fact, an unwritten code which determines the conduct of groups of sailors lost at sea. Among the more gruesome of these customs are those concerning the consumption of human flesh as a means of survival. One well-know instance, which occurred in the 1880s, involved the sailing yacht Mignonette, and strongly suggests that there is a significant difference between filet mignon and Mignonette filet. Carpe dentem, caveat empty, squid pro screw, and all that good stuff.