Anthropophagus~ Joe D’Amato, 1980, Italy
Anthropophagus is totally awesome… But, oddly enough, this opinion is not a universally acknowledged.
LIke it’s director Joe D’Amato, Anthropophagus is quite well known, but not necessarily well liked. In his time, D’Amato would have been overjoyed come in third in any race, but the truth is, he was never anyone’s favorite Italian genre director, he was always just sort of around. He churned out plenty of pictures, however, and while his body of work has it’s share of stinkers, there are a few real goodies, as well. Take this one, for instance; Here, in Anthropophagus, we have a film maker with very little at his disposal, but who looked at the tools he had, identified which ones were truly valuable, and then stretched the shit out of these resources until they were damn near maxed out to hell and back. These efforts are not wasted; Anthropophagus shakes what it’s momma gave it, and its milkshake truly does brings all the boys to the yard. Get ready for a gross, gross movie.
THE PLOT~ A quaint, sparsely populated Greek Island is transformed into a gore strewn hell on Earth when a shipwrecked family man turned blood thirsty cannibal washes up on it’s shores, only to then slaughter and gobble down every man woman and child in sight (except for two, who are apparently really good at hiding.) Inconveniently, our group of happy-go-lucky travelers have chosen the worst possible time to visit this scenic, Mediterranean locale for their vacation getaway, and by the time they discover that something it’s truly, terrible wrong, it’s too late, and they find themselves stuck on the island with no way to communicate with the outside world, and no choice but to square off in a violent struggle not to be some swarthy Greek dude’s lunch. It doesn’t say anywhere that this is based on a true story, but damn, I really want it to be.
Regardless, It’s a great idea for a story, and from the very beginning of the film, it’s clear that D’Amato wants to build mood and atmosphere, even if his threadbare production feels woefully outmatched by the more sophisticated operations his peers were conducting at the time. When people think of Italian horror films in the 1980’s, one of the stylistic traits that all of these movies seem to have are their sophisticated, jazzy lighting setups, and that’s one thing you’ll notice is absent from Anthropophagus immediately. D’Amato appears to be relying on natural light whenever possible, and when that option isn’t available to him, his fallbacks seem to range from the shitty, to a fucking flashlight. His exterior landscape shots are fantastic, but much of the film feels woefully flat, even if the flashlight gags are fairly endearing. Still, in true Anthropophagus tradition, he milks what is working for him as furiously as possible, and we are treated to some great photography of coastal villages, stately manors, and rad ass Greek tombs, so the visuals here do occasionally deliver, they just don’t “Argento-Deliver.”
Almost certainly the greatest asset Anthropophagus has at its disposal, however, is reliable old George Eastman, who both co-wrote the film along with D’Amato, and stars as the titular cannibal. Eastman will be a familiar face to fans of 80’s Euro-shlock, but he’s never been better utilized in a film than he is here. This movie goes the extra mile to make its monster scary, and part of that is taking full advantage of Eastman’s tall, imposing physique. Another part of it is making him look fucking gross and including plenty of sequences where he tears people apart and eats them on camera, both of which are wise choices for a low budget horror film. This is a slasher where the killer doesn’t just kill you, he damn eats you, on the spot, raw. Not even Leatherface is that hardcore! Even with the film’s many shortcomings, the handling of Eastman as the monster is done so well that I would call Anthropophagus a reasonable creepy film, every bit as scary as anything Fulci ever shot, even with it’s clumsy production and irritatingly lame soundtrack. The reveal of Eastman in all his gross glory is a particular highlight that was executed fantastically well, for example.
VIDEO NASTY BREAKDOWN
Since this is one of the better known Video Nasties, one would be well within their rights to wonder just where Anthropophagus lands of the “obscene piece of filth” scale. Well, the answer is that it fits in quite well, but it doesn’t exactly lead the pack. There’s no onscreen nudity or sex to speak of, an oddity indeed in those days, and there are actually plenty of long, drawn out sequences throughout the film which are fairly slow. These calm, quiet moments, however, are often punctuated with over the top sequences of graphic murder and/or cannibalism, because Anthropophagus is still plenty gross when it wants to be. It’s not at all surprising that this film pissed off the British so much, while it doesn’t match other cannibal nasties, such as Cannibal Holocaust or Cannibal Ferox, it does boast a few of the most memorable moments in the entire Video Nasty cycle. (OFFENSIVE CONTENT WARNING! Are you sensitive? Skip the rest of this paragraph. We’ll both be happier.) One particularly notorious gag has the killer forcibly removing the fetus from a dead pregnant woman, and then eating it in front of the father. Another features a defeated Anthropophagus eating its own intestines as one last defiant gesture of disdain for humanity, before finally collapsing, dead as dubstep. This is strong shit to be sure.
Overall, this has been one of my favorite Video Nasties from a very early point. If you’re exploring this collection of cinematic malcontents, don’t skip this one. It’s almost certainly among D’Amato’s best efforts, and for all its clunkiness, absolutely worth a watch.
NOTE: I’m not the only dude who loved this movie, Anthropophagus also got an unofficial remake some years back, in the form of Anthropophagous 2000, a shot on video splatter flick helmed by none other than Andreas Schnaas, the German turd merchant responsible for such brutal shitshows as Nikos the Impaler and the Violent Shit trilogy. Knowing anything about Schnass or his work should clue you in immediately to just what sort of a film Anthropophagous 2000 is, but if you need me to fill you in a little, I’m happy to do so: It’s production values are infinitely more meager than anything a ordinary human would ever want to endure, the onscreen violence is cranked up as hard as it could possibly be cranked, and the end result isn’t very pleasant. BUT…. Those sorts of films have an audience, and if that’s what you’re into, go check it out. Despite it’s unlicensed origins, it can be had legally on DVD in the United States, courtesy of Massacre Video… So… Thanks, guys.