Joe D’Amato’s sickening classic ANTHROPOPHAGUS turns 35.
Even if you’re only a casual fan of vintage Italian terror, chances are you’ve at the very least heard of exploitation director Joe D’Amato’s sickening and sloppy paean to Mediterranean cannibal madness, the dire, dreaded and atmospheric Video Nasty, ANTHROPOPHAGUS.
Although this notorious slab of sleaze has been corrupting both the innocent and not-so innocent under a myriad titles since its release in 1981, this writers introduction to its considerable charms came via a wallow in the stained pages of GOREZONE magazine. For those few lucky lads and ladies who may recall, GOREZONE is the sister magazine to FANGORIA (the periodical I recently walked away from as Editor-in-Chief) and one that I brought back 3 years ago after a 20 year hiatus (heres hoping it continues in my absence). In that sweet, original Tony Timpone-curated run, there was a now-mythical column penned by a journalist who pretty much paved the path for this current generation of professional horror fan, of which I count myself as one. The mans name was Chas. Balun, the brain behind his own zine Deep Red and the incredible column he wrote was called Piece O Mind.
Every month, without fail, Balun, an unapologetic hippie, artist and gory horror enthusiast, would write the most disarmingly alive gonzo words about whatever splatter flick (usually hailing from Europe) that was lighting his fire at that particular time. In one typically entertaining entry, he opted to prattle about a low-end sleaze auteur named Joe DAmato (real name: Aristide Massaccesi), specifically a naughty little number he made called THE GRIM REAPER. Now, Balun had the very special gift of making even the lowliest of genre offering seem like so much red-stained gold and his words about THE GRIM REAPER both sold me and scared me. Apparently this was one picture that bit back; a greasy pill that was ugly, cheap and sickening.
So I searched and I searched and eventually, I managed to secure a deplorable looking UK bootleg print of the picture titled ANTHROPOPHAGUS: THE BEAST. Slightly cut and borderline watchable, the battered and mangled version I saw still managed to mess me up proper and it stuck to my ribs like Wilford Brimley-endorsed oatmeal.
Since then, Ive long-ago purchased a pristine and uncut copy of the film (its not hard to find anymore, thankfully) and I’m happy to report that ANTHROPOPHAGUS – which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year- is as cheerfully putrid now as it was then. And interestingly, when you peel back its scummy shock-tactics, theres a very skillfully made movie hiding underneath.
The film stars Tisa Farrow (sister of Mia and starlet of Lucio Fulcis ZOMBIE) as a wide-eyed American tourist who, while on vacation with her pals in prettier-than-humanly-possible Greece, decides on a whim to visit a nearby island that’s been cut off from the rest of the country. Seems said isle is completely deserted, save for a shell-shocked lass in a nearby abandoned mansion, who keeps babbling on about a beast that’s prowling about the place looking for victims. She’s right of course. A beefy, putty faced man-eating monstrosity played by George Eastman (real name: Luigi Motifiore, from many a D’Amato joint, including the legendary porn-horror EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD and who also co-produced this creeper), a Frankenstein monster like lunatic, has apparently killed and eaten every living thing on the island and is now tracking our intrepid, invasive heroes with lethal intent to snack.
If you’ve ever seen a non-porn D’Amato picture, then you probably have an idea what to expect from ANTHROPOPHAGUS: economical production values, leering cinematography, brutish, cruel, humorless narrative sensibilities and buckets of outrageous, sloppy violence. Outside of his ultra-disturbing necro-romance BUIO OMEGA (arguably his finest work) ANTHROPOPHAGUS is perhaps DAmatos queasiest, slimiest and, ultimately, scariest film. This is a relentlessly dark, mean and nihilistic picture, one whose outlook on the world is far from pleasant and whose sole purpose it seems, is to make you sick. And it works.
The chief reason this movie ran into so much international censorial difficulties are two unbelievably, almost supernaturally sickening sequences that turned tummies and caused more conservative countries to shave them down and, in some cases (as in England, during that infamous video nasty craze), cut them from the prints entirely. In one of them, Eastman’s brutish titular menace (Anthropophagus means, literally, cannibal) corners one of the put-upon tourists, who just happens to be with child, and, in a Tate/Manson murders twist, rips the squirming fetus from her living womb as she shrieks away in horror.
Eastman then proceeds to scarf down the unborn child, umbilical cord and all. It’s a cheap, nauseating effect that pushes the boundaries of, um, good taste and is guaranteed to send expectant mothers howling for the exits (or smashing down the remote) in outrage.
The other less offensive, but far stranger, stretch occurs at the climax, where the now dying, almost defeated monster collapses, and with nary a victim in site, rips out his own guts and valiantly tries to eat himself! It’s an insane set-piece to be sure, but it also serves to illustrate how dedicated D’Amato is in his quest to shock.
Outside of these incredible sequences, ANTHROPOPHAGUS is padded out with all manner of madness that fans of these films devour like so many of Eastman’s human hors d’ouvres. There’s loads of excess blood and gore, including a scalp-ripping effect whose shoddiness only adds to the yuck factor; there’s the gleefully inept, zombified performances by the terminally confused international cast; there’s a fantastic, completely inappropriate electronic music score by D’Amato regular Marcello Giombini (though the US cut has a very TV movie pop-oriented replacement library-cue score that is equally as weird!); there’s exquisite location footage and eerie illustrations of the natural world inhabited by something horrifically unnatural.
Is ANTHROPOPHAGUS a good movie? Depends on your definition. I think D’Amato (who passed away in 1999) was too base a filmmaker to concern himself with something as bourgeoisie as, y’know, sophisticated cinema. He approached horror the same way he approached pornography: simply pointing the camera and honing in on various squirting fluids, penetrations and gynecology. But he also had an almost animalistic instinct to show the un-showable with a bleak, primal power. ANTHROPOPHAGUS is slow, severe, sickening and truly upsetting (its semi-sequel, the following year’s ABSURD is even gorier but nowhere near as weird). It stays with you long after the last of Eastman’s spleen falls from his blood crusted lips.