Monday, 6 June 2011

Video Nasty #2 - Anthropophagous

What did you do during the great Italian Exploitation era, Mr Montefiori ?
- I ate a human foetus. What did you do ?



Joe D'Amato's 1980 horror opus Anthropophagous, has earned itself a certain notoriety that extends far beyond anything contained in the film - there's some splatter for sure, and of course this is the film where George Eastman (screenwriter and star Luigi Montefiore) grabs a bite to eat straight from the womb of a pregnant woman, but at the heart of it, Anthropophagous is a very classical, old fashioned horror film. The plot is slim to the point of looking like one of the skeletons seen in the latter part of the film - a small group of friends journey to a remote Greek island where they are stalked by a large, leprous, hulking man with a taste for human flesh...

By the time Anthropophagous went into production Luigi Montefiore and Joe D'Amato had formed quite an effective writer-director unit, going on to produce some of the most memorable Italian exploitation films of this era. Anthropophagous doesn't quite scale the heights of Absurd or the delirious excesses of Porno Holocaust but if you're in a receptive mood, the film is often quite enjoyable. One of the things D'Amato does well is atmosphere - the film scores big with its gloomy off-season island setting, and there's some wonderful, eerie electronic music by Marcello Giombiniand. D'Amato began his career as a camera operator and some of the camerawork here is particularly striking, mimicking the monster's point-of-view.


I wonder did D'Amato and Montefiori have Gary Sherman's subterranean horror Death Line in mind during the production of the film - not only does George Eastman's monster share a certain resemblance to the cannibal in Death Line, there's a sequence in Anthropophagous, set in a catacomb littered with chewed up, rotting corpses, which looks like it was inspired by the marvellous tracking shot inside the cannibal's lair in the Sherman film. D'Amato accomplishes some decent scares as well - George Eastman's arrival in the film, appearing momentarily with a flash of lightning is genuinely unexpected, and there's a neat bit of misdirection in the fabulous last 15 minutes of the film.


Parts of the film are unashamedly sloppy - there's some mismatching day-for-night photography which can be easily shrugged off, but look out for a scene early on in the film where a little girl wanders into a shot looking momentarily confused then startled, like someone behind the camera waved her off in a frenzy. It's the kind of accident that would call for a another take but perhaps D'Amato was in a hurry to get his cast to the island. By comparison with the tightly wrapped Absurd, Anthropophagous is far more leisurely affair, with plenty of travelogue shots of Grecian scenery; and one gets the impression it must have been a physically arduous shoot for the cast as they seem to spend an eternity wandering around the island.

Tisa Farrow (left) and Zora Kerova. Legend has it that Farrow quit acting and drove a taxi in New York. In fact she became a nurse in Vermont
Among the cast is the gorgeous Zora Kerova (who starred in the Montefiore-penned Terror Express the previous year), and Tisa Farrow in her third and final Italian film, turning in something approaching a decent performance. George Eastman is effortlessly great as usual, his mountainous frame and grotesque make-up transforming his cannibal killer into a thoroughly frightening monster. And yes, he really does chow down on an unborn foetus, a defining moment in the lexicon of Video Nastiness. D'Amato's depiction of this transgressive bit of carnage is rather restrained, yet this fleeting moment in the film was identified by a hysterical BBC news item in the 80's as a piece of found snuff footage (?).

A blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo by director Joe D'Amato, seen exiting a cable car early on in the film.
Anthropophagous was released in the US in 2005 courtesy of Shriek Show is a generous 2-disc edition. The transfer, framed at 1.66 is generally very strong - there are some inconsistencies with the print used but these were more likely a result of bad lab work. Sound is adequate, the English dubbing still sounds canned and the dialogue a little blurry but Shriekshow have provided the Italian track with English subtitles as an alternative. Incidentally, some short German dialogue in the opening sequence is not translated. On disc 2 you can find the second part of the very worthwhile Joe D’Amato: Totally Uncut documentary, (part 1 on Shriek Show’s Images in a Convent), plus various trailers and ephemera to round off this very solid release.

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Notes
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Absurd has often been cited as the sequel to Anthropophagous, an erroneous fact considering the two films have little in common besides both monsters being of Greek origin.

Anthropophagous is known under quite a few titles, but the title used by VFP for their 1983 UK video release has caused some confusion. It's hard to tell from the sleeve design if the film is known as The Anthropophagous Beast, or Anthropophagous the Beast. The title appearing on the print used for the DVD is simply Anthropophagous.

The final word goes to Joe D'Amato. Interviewed in 1996 for Flesh & Blood magazine, D'Amato cited Anthropophagous as a favourite among his films. When asked about the banning of his films in the UK, the director was defiant - "I am very proud of this...somebody saw my movies and it had this effect...it's something that makes me proud" (Flesh & Blood Compendium, p370)

8 comments:

  1. Great stuff Wes, this is another I haven't seen. That must have been some news bulletin to show that clip. I remember seeing news footage when the homes of tape traders were raided, I had a visit myself at one point!

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  2. Thanks Mart... C'mon ! You must tell us your story !

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  3. A Joe D'Amato I haven't seen! I thought the nun's head exploding in2020 Texas Gladiators was extreme, but womb biting is pretty high up there. Anyways, there's always a classic movie feel to D'Amato's films, it's just the intense violence and sex seems to distract from that.

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  4. Given this movie's reputation throughout the pre-dvd 90's, I know I wasn't the only one to see it expecting to be shocked, only to end up wondering what all the fuss was about. Nowhere near as intense as Buio Omega, but it's still an enjoyable flick nonetheless.

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  5. It's great to read such a good review of the movie. Even on Cult Labs, where viewing tastes can be quite extreme, I thought I was the only contributor who liked this movie. It was the atmosphere of the movie that attracted me to it; a gloomy, desolate feeling. I first saw it as the £1 bargain release titled "The Grim Reaper". The transfer was terrible and it was cut, but I liked what I saw enough the get the Shriek Show release.
    Despite it's faults, it does have a kind of old fashioned haunted house/frankenstein's monster vibe about it.

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  6. Many thanks for the comment Wayfarer. Yeah, I was surprised how good this one was considering it's routinely dumped on. I think Joe D'Amato's film go down quite well, I always enjoy them...

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  7. I saw this on a friends HBO one night in the 80's. It was called (I think) Humongous. It was so dark we could barely see what was going on. I also think this print must have had the foetus feast edited out or down as I have no memory of it. Are you saying they procured a REAL foetus that Eastman chewed on? It wasn't a special effects prosthetic? Because if so, WOW. Nasty.

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  8. If I have my facts right, this was eventually released in the UK in a completely worthless edition entitled The Grim Reaper completely devoid of all contentious material, and needless to say the foetus-eating was completely absent. Reading back my post (which I hate to do I must say!), my wording might imply that the foetus was real but fortunately it was fake - I think I was saying, badly, that the film was outrageous enough to show such an act. The prop George Eastman tucks into is suitably gooey...

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