Where else to start with an exploration into Video Nasties than with the first in alphabetical order?
Anthropophagous (literally meaning cannibal) was a very notorious film created by a very notorious director: Joe D’Amato. It’s a film best known for being a video nasty, and for starring Tisa Farrow: Mia Farrow’s sister who, after starring in a handful of terrible horror movies, retired from acting and became a nurse.
Firstly, a bit of backstory: during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Joe D’Amato (of which Joe D’Amato was pseudonym. His real name was Aristide Massaccesi) was the brain behind many low-budget shlock horror and softcore pornography films. Like many Italian film-makers during the Italian exploitation boom of the 1980s, Joe D’Amato’s career consisted of incredibly violent horror films, exploitation action films, and a lot of pornography films such as the Black Emmanuelle series and the hilariously titled Porno Holocaust.
To sum it all up, to watch a Joe D’Amato movie (not an Aristide Massaccesi movie) is to expect gratuitous amounts of either blood or sex, and Anthropophagous is no exception when it comes to the blood. So violent and notorious was it in fact, that as per the recommendation from the DPP, Anthropophagous was one of the films that were actually prosecuted under Section 1 of the Video Recordings Act of 1984. Its notoriety meant that it was to be released under numerous titles such as The Grim Reaper, The Savage Island, Man-Eater and The Beast in order to try and re-release the movie multiples times by different cheap distribution companies during the 1980s vhs boom. In fact, only in a few recent years was Anthropophagous actually released uncut in England, however, this was not due to the film’s content and notoriety, but mainly because when it was sent to the BBFC for a re-release on DVD some blithering idiot decided to send in a heavily cut R-rated copy of the film instead of the uncut version. Thus, if an English horror fan out there wants to see Anthropophagous in its true form, they should avoid the DVD titled The Grim Reaper.
As for the movie itself, the story of Anthropophagous is an incredibly simple affair. It’s the story of a group of tourists who travel to a secluded Greek island only to find everyone missing and a flesh-eating cannibal man on the loose. Nothing about the story of this film switches up the narrative or diverts from the most basic path possible, everything that happens is the most basic set-up for scenes of violent carnage. If a character is left alone, then of course that character is going to die. There’s a mysterious character on an abandoned island, so of course they’re going to have something to do with the killer. There’s a pregnant character, so of course the film’s going to have no taste at all when it comes to that character’s death. There’s a female American protagonist who knows about the island, so of course that character is branded the final girl and survives the entire movie. No twists, no turns, even the backstory of the killer is unsurprisingly tragic yet utterly silly at the same time. It follows the paint-by-numbers slasher formula to an absolute tee with no variation of plot or characters.
The characters themselves are quite bland as well, even by slasher movie standards. In contrast to the slasher movie’s enforcement of bad stereotypes and archetypes, the characters of Anthropophagous have little to no personality whatsoever and can be summed up not by their stereotypes, but rather by one note descriptions: Pregnant, Husband, Clairvoyant, Brother, Leader, Tourist. As one can probably expect, these descriptions don’t make a character, but rather it makes very effective villain-fodder as there is no way in hell that a viewer is ever going to relate to these characters, and the whole reason that they exist is to be horribly murdered in increasingly violent ways.
The villain, however, is the main draw of the movie. See, the film was written by both Joe D’Amato (under his real name) and the actor who plays the anthropophagous in question: George Eastman (written under his real name as well: Luigi Montefiori). Before this movie, George Eastman was best known for serious, down to earth Italian roles in B-movie Mafia and Spaghetti Western films. As such, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Anthropophagous was a vanity project by George Eastman in order to show the fact that he can play quite monstrous villains. In practice, however, despite the poor make-up job that George Eastman was subjected to, his performance as the film’s villain is surprisingly quite effective and intimidating. It’s hard to explain, but I don’t think that anyone else but George Eastman could have fit the role of Klaus Vortmann (the cannibal) as well as he did. It’s equal parts silly, yet frightening. Eastman’s charisma, size, stiff movement and frankly intimidating stare does the villain complete justice, and proves without a doubt that Eastman can pull off the role of a threatening villain. Even just by looking at the film’s numerous posters, it’s very easy to tell that George Eastman’s villain was the main reason behind this movie’s creation. Screw the plot, screw the characters, screw the final girl, it’s all about Eastman’s monster and the blood and carnage that said monster can cause.
As for the film’s technical aspects, Anthropophagous is incredibly bland. Despite some incredibly scenic shots (which I chalk down the film’s incredibly scenic setting rather than good cinematography), the whole movie is a cavalcade of blandness with just enough technicality and variation to keep it from becoming too boring, but there’s no real experimentation, creation or variety that stands out. I can’t even pick out an example of the poor technicality on offer in Anthropophagous because every technical aspect is bland and unexciting. The worst element, however, is the music. From poorly mixed, incredibly clipped takes on traditional Greek music to synths that sound like a cat just walked over the keyboard, the music of Anthropophagous is definitely some of the worst I’ve heard in quite a while.
However, let’s be honest here, if one wishes to watch a film whereupon the poster is a man ripping out and eating his own guts, one isn’t watching a film for its quality, they’re watching a film for it’s gore…and this this is definitely where Anthropophagous shines. Whilst the effects themselves are quite cheap, there’s a definite rough and nasty feeling that comes with the gore that adds a sense of voyeurism to the film’s more violent scenes. Whilst the gore never feels ‘real’, it feels so cheap and nasty that Anthropophagous is a very grotesque film to watch, yet entertaining in its silliness and exploitative depravity.
Upon watching this movie, I perfectly understand the historical relevance of this film’s relation to the 1984 Video Recordings Act. Anthropophagous was a film that was made just to titillate an audience who love cheap gore with no frills attached, and as such, controversy was bound to happen during such times of cinematic turbulence, what with scenes of cleaver impalements, flesh chomping and even an incredibly tasteless ‘abortion’ death scene.
However, one could also argue that it was a film way ahead of its time. To see a film made for a cheap gore thrill is almost commonplace these days with films such as Terrifier, Saw reboots and the numerous films created by the De Santi brothers all gaining cult status because of their gore thrill factor and nothing else, so of course Anthropophagous would become a cult classic alongside and even carved the way for these films to have a dedicated audience. Some may argue that that may have been a misstep rather than a step forward, but the horror industry is so varied, yet so fickle, that it was bound to happen anyway.
As for the film itself, Anthropophagous flatlines at bland and only during certain sections does it manage to deliver something appealing. Whilst not a dreadful watch, there are certainly elements that make Anthropophagous watchable such as George Eastman’s performance and the nastiness of the gore on display. For me, the film is so-so. I’ve definitely witnessed worse from an 80s slasher, but there are also better movies that exist out there if one is looking for a memorable experience. I would recommend the film to thrill-seeking gore hounds, but there’s nothing here that will satisfy the appetite of those looking for competent and memorable horror films. One for the cult fans, not the mainstream audience, and definitely not for the faint of heart.