Monday, 25 June 2012

Anthropophagus (1980)

Country: ITALY

Anthropophagus: The Beast
Anthropophagus: The Grim Reaper
The Grim Reaper
The Savage Island

This excruciatingly dull exercise in cinematic mediocrity achieved an unlikely prominence in the United Kingdom when it found itself a part of the ‘Video Nasty’ hysteria. An uncut video of this film was released in 1980 by VFP in the days before certification, and this grubby item can now fetch very large sums amongst idiots who have too much money and too much time on their hands. It should be remembered that thirty-nine videos were successfully prosecuted by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and Anthropophagus was one of them, so this is definitely one of the big boys that rubs shoulders with the likes of Cannibal Holocaust (1980), I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and Faces of Death (1978). The vast majority of the titles on this final list of thirty-nine have been released in the UK uncut (some of them on blu-ray!), but Anthropophagus has remained a persistently troubling title for the BBFC. This is almost entirely due to a ridiculous scene towards the end of the film when George Eastman’s cannibalistic psychopath removes a foetus from a heavily pregnant woman and proceeds to eat it. It would seem that the BBFC do not have a healthy appetite for this type of material, even armed with the knowledge that the foetus is merely a skinned rabbit. The upshot of this controversy of course is that when small distributors put films like this forward for certification they take the decision to pre-cut the film and Anthropophagus exists in this form (shorn of two minutes) and is available on DVD under the title The Grim Reaper.

The director of this tedious trash travesty was noted cinematographer Aristide Massaccesi who was clearly so proud of his hardcore porn, horror, and gore movies that he directed the vast majority of them under the pseudonym of Joe D’Amato. D’Amato was tremendously prolific, and tremendously slip shod, his films are most notable for an alarming and almost unbelievable degree of incompetence. In some ways he bears a comparison to that other multi-named and plentiful director of sleaze and trash Jess Franco, inasmuch as they have become figures of cult appreciation amongst the brainless. Anthropophagus finds D’Amato continuing to take baby steps into the horror genre, perhaps he was sick of porn, and strove for legitimacy as a director with foetus eating? The previous years Buio Omega (aka Beyond the Darkness, 1979) showed that for all of D’Amato’s ineptitude and his fetishistic submission to all things base and revolting, he was still capable of producing fairly impressive results. Unfortunately it would seem that a year is a very long time in the field of filmmaking, the difference between Buio Omega and Anthropophagus is so marked, that they could both have easily been made by different people. For Anthropophagus D’Amato chose to write the screenplay himself in collaboration with George Eastman, and perhaps this is where the great difference lay. In fact D’Amato and Eastman also co-produced the picture, so it’s not entirely right to lay the blame exclusively on the shoulders of D’Amato, somewhere along the line Mr. Eastman has to take his share of the culpability. Though it does have to be noted that Eastman’s character, and his crazed wide-eyed performance, does provide what few highlights there are in Anthropophagus.

The major weakness of the narrative is that it never really gets going. It remains in first gear for far too long, saving up the majority of its surprises for the last ten minutes. It’s clear from the structure of this movie that D’Amato was not at all familiar with the growing commercial momentum of the American slasher film, because he chooses to punctuate the dull expository moments with more dull expository moments. The problem is compounded further by the fact that the story being told is not particularly interesting. The film opens promisingly enough though with the murder of a young holidaying couple, one is dragged beneath the water, and the other is unwittingly introduced to a meat cleaver. We are soon introduced to a group of tourists, and they are convinced by tagalong Julie (Tisa Farrow) to visit a remote and obscure Greek island. But before we get there we are hammered into catatonia by incessantly dull sight-seeing trips through the streets of what I assume to be Athens, and an endlessly monotonous boat journey. It is only when the group land on the island that the writers decide to include subplots, so prior to that we are stuck with these incredibly boring actors as they go about their shoddy work. There are one or two half-hearted and tacit attempts to create division within the camp; questions of jealousy arise, one character has the gift of second sight (yawn!), and most absurdly of all a heavily pregnant women is invited along for the ride. Of course this character exists entirely for the purpose of the films putrid and disgusting gore centre piece. The other characters are equally purposeless, and the dreary dozy atmosphere of the whole production is not helped by some of the most somnambulistic performances in horror history. Bug eyed Tisa Farrow is beyond belief here, perhaps she brought along a little something to get herself through the long days of fleeing a poorly made up George Eastman?

On two occasions D’Amato offers a tantalising hint of genuine filmmaking aptitude. The first is when a hysterical girl leaps out of a wine barrel brandishing a knife, and the second is a night time sequence in which the crazed killer is briefly illuminated in a superbly timed flash of lightning. Aside from these brief moments of tension Anthropophagus is slack and sluggish, though it has to be noted that reasonable mileage is made out of the isolated and inescapable island setting, and throughout D’Amato maintains a sense of doom, though at times it is merely a faint echo. This perhaps reaches its apex in the minutes leading up to the infamous foetus scene; here D’Amato makes impressive use of labyrinthine catacombs replete with mouldering corpses. Less effective are the pointless flashbacks which attempt to explain away how Eastman’s crazed killer came to appreciate the taste of human flesh. The unprofessional sloppiness of the film is extended to the tired synth score provided by Marcello Giombini, which is not only repetitious and uninspired, but at times incredibly clumsy. Anthropophagus is ultimately a very frustrating viewing experience, not only because it is dreadfully boring, but because somewhere within the layers of tedium there is something half decent trying to get out.

© Shaun Anderson 2012


  1. Well, you didn't tear it apart quite as much as I thought you would, Shaun! Excellent and spot on review. I pretty much agree on all counts here. Personally, this is one of those movies that doesn't quite hold up today. It definitely has potential to be something special. I did like the lighting in some shots, particularly the hidden room and the creepy woman, the found diary and the blind girl who "smells him coming" were integral to what little tension was built here.

    The pregnant woman was Serena Grandi, by the way, who later did some sex movies also with Eastman.

    If I remember correctly, the trailer for the film shows an alternate shot of the fetus scene. I will have to check.

    The pseudo sequel takes lots of liberties with HALLOWEEN, and maybe one or two other movies.

  2. I think on balance I probably prefer the pseudo sequel ABSURD. It does open with a very arresting and unusual chase involving a priest and his immortal prey. It is also extremely dull in places, but it doesn't quite sink to the lamentable depths of dullness ANTHROPOPHAGUS does. I will eventually review ABSURD because I aim to one day complete The Video Nasties archive which you can see above. I'm not quite sure why I've chosen to undertake this task!!

  3. I understand everyone who hates ANTHROPOPHAGUS because of its obvious silliness - but dreadfully boring? monotous? really? IMO it's incredibly tense and highly atmospheric from beginning to end. The scenes with the hanging woman and the blind woman, or the whole cave sequence totally kept me on the edge of my seat.

    Did you see the pseudo-sequel ABSURD too? Would love to know what you think of this. I enjoyed it about as much as ANTHROPOPHAGUS.

  4. Is George Eastman the dude who spends half of "Erotic Nights" with his WARTY TAINT front and center? How does someone write a part for themselves like that?

    "Alright Joe, next is the scene where I'll be banging that girl... make sure to get really close to my taint on this one. I can't stress that enough."
    "Sure thing George, I wouldn't have it any other way."

    No wonder Kodak went bankrupt... or wait... is that a different George Eastman... ?

    Anyways, this sounds terrible, but still infinitely more watchable than some of the other D'Amato gold/caca.

  5. @ Maynard - Well I certainly don't hate ANTHROPOPHAGUS, few films would ilicit such a strong emotion in me. But I certainly stand by the fact that it's dreadfully boring, montonous, and tedious. In my review I mention the blind woman leaping out of the barrel, and I mention the sequence in the catacombs, as aspects of the film that succeed. But what about all the stuff in between? Did you find the 15+ minutes of pointless strolling around streets, followed by 20+ minutes in the company of dreadful actors on a boat journey tense and atmospheric? I personally didn't! But despite this I do actually find positive things to say about the film, despite a poorly written screenplay that is very light on incident. I think I marginally prefer ABSURD, but both suffer from the similar weaknesses...thanks for stopping by buddy :-)

    @ Kev - I haven't seen EROTIC NIGHTS, but presumably Eastman wrote the part of the cannibalistic killer in ANTHROPOPHAGUS for himself as well. On the strength of this I don't think I'll be dipping too deeply into the world D'Amato/Eastman!

  6. I own Erotic Nights, purely to be able to say I own a film with that title. I have not watched it yet and am slightly scared to do so.

  7. Italian directors liked changing their names that way a lot when they directed horror films because they didnt want to be labeled as such, but probably also because they were ashamed in some ways of the films they made. I've never seen these films, but have held back because they look too damn gross...I might give them a chance someday though.

  8. "An uncut video of this film was released in 1980 by VFP in the days before certification, and this grubby item can now fetch very large sums amongst idiots who have too much money and too much time on their hands."

    Likely the best line in any review you've written thus far, Shaun! :)

    It is indeed hilarious that the 'Nasties' furore elevated such unmitigated drivel like 'Anthropophagous' to cult status, thereby ensuring the perpetual appeal of such titles among collectors (i.e. "idiots"). I think there's certainly a great essay to be written about the 'Nasties' drama - one that characterizes the debate in terms of the gullibility of horror/Eurocult cinephiles, rather than the usual narrative of state suppression of 'objectionable' material. In some cases, Mary Whitehouse was actually doing us a favour! ;)

    But anyway, it's (almost) a shame that Eastman fell in with D'Amato, because in the right role - or, perhaps, under a decent director - he's quite good (i.e. 'Rabid Dogs', 'Bronx Warriors').

  9. @ James - Oh you should watch it, then tell me how awful it is, and I won't have to waste 90 minutes of my life then!

    @ Franco - Yeah D'Amato had a reasonably successful and at times acclaimed career as cinematographer existing in tandem with his work as a director exploitation material. He undoubtedly used the nom de plume so it wouldn't affect his chances of securing work as a DOP. But that in itself illustrates what little pride the man had in the films he directed. He was doing it purely for the money, but I'd wager that there are people out of there who'd make the case that D'Amato was an auteur!!

    @ Johnny - Cheers...I'm glad you liked it! I can understand the bug of collecting, I've given in to it numerous times myself...but these people who spend hundreds on ropey old pre-cert video cassettes are just weird!! I just don't get it...I'd be happy for someone to explain the appeal. I wouldn't even pay £1 for a film I didn't like or thought was boring. This film I downloaded for free, and have since deleted.

    The common factor that binds the Video Nasty films is how poor most of them are. There are exceptions of course, but the vast majority are absolutely dreadful. The greatest crime committed by the British government, the DPP and then the BBFC was making them scandalous and mythical, and thus a target for immature minds. I think the ultimate expression of horror/eurocult cinephiles (and I use the last word with tongue firmly in cheek) gullibility is in their willingness to double dip, triple dip, and in some cases quadruple dip on DVD or blu-ray releases. I know someone who has 7 copies of Fulci's ZOMBI 2!!!!, and will no doubt make it an 8th when Arrow put out their blu-ray later this year.


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