Dir. Joe D’Amato
John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) was a milestone in modern horror. It was both an essay on suspense and a work of shadowy beauty, to note but two of its strengths. Perhaps just as importantly, HALLOWEEN spawned a plethora of slasher films. Some were good, some were bad, but there’s no debate that the majority of HALLOWEEN’s descendants abandoned the measured, artful approach to fear (and relative restraint) seen in Carpenter’s seminal work and went straight for the blood and guts.
ANTHROPOPHAGUS is one such offspring, grown from the nightsoil imagination of Euro sleaze maestro Joe D’Amato.
It’s clear during the opening scene that something rotten’s on a small Greek isle, when a young couple relaxes on a beach. The woman goes for a dip, is pulled under water and disappears in a cloud of blood, while her boyfriend, caught unawares as he grooves to electronic music with his eyes closed, is dispatched with a meat cleaver. Cut to a group of tourists who’ve just arrived in Greece, and want to sightsee the various islands. One of them is Julie (Tisa Farrow) who plans to visit a particular island which curiously has no ferry service, but which she describes as “paradise”.
The group rents a sailboat, and during the voyage the three women, including one who is pregnant, partake in a Tarot card reading. The cards, much to the dismay of the sensitive of the bunch, indicate that their future is uncertain. “If you ask the cards about the future and don’t get any answers, that means there is no future,” she laments. They arrive at the island, where Julie intends to rendezvous with an English couple and serve as nanny to their blind daughter. Instead, they find the village is empty save for a glimpsed woman in black and a warning marked on a dirty windowpane: “Go away.”They soon discover they are not alone, however when a towering, cannibalistic murderer (George Eastman) begins to stalk and kill them.
ANTHROPOPHAGUS is a low-budget affair made by a director more well known for his erotica than his horror flicks. So it should come as no surprise we have to settle for passable special effects presented as “money shots,” a serviceable script, and adequate acting which is never helped by dubbing.
The production seems a little rushed and at times, the camera work and editing is just plain clumsy, especially in the first act. There’s a time and place for a good jump scare, but D’Amato, perhaps in a porno mindset, seems to believe more is better. Within minutes he tries to scare us with a hand wielding a cleaver emerging from behind a character only for it to turn out to be her friend, and immediately thereafter tries to scare us with … a kitten landing on piano keys? And let’s not get started with the day for night shooting.
But ANTHROPOPHAGUS proves it has the guts to rise above these handicaps. To D’Amato’s credit, Eastman does not appear on screen until more than halfway through the film, and he’s frightening when he finally does. Yes, he looks a bit like he’s wearing his morning porridge on his face, but he also looks like he doesn’t care that he’s wearing his morning porridge on his face and that my friends is the definition of madness.
Eastman is a tall, imposing actor with the eyes of a madman and the frizzled hair to match. He portrays a silent killer who’ll tear out your throat with his teeth as soon as he’ll decapitate you. He’s also mysterious, his origin only slowly revealed as Julie uncovers clues while he continues to kill her fellow tourists.Make no mistake—this film has its share of gore, including multiple stabbings, flesh tearing, gut munching, and most controversially, an unborn child being ripped from its mother’s womb and then eaten.
But to my surprise ANTHROPOPHAGUS also provided tasty helpings of eerie atmosphere and striking imagery the likes of which one might expect from Lucio Fulci. A knife-wielding girl emerging from a wine cask and dripping red, her wide eyes a telltale sign of sanity shattered, is a unique and effective visual. Equally impressive is a scene where a woman methodically ties a rope to a bannister as an unconscious victim lies nearby. Who’s the rope for? It’s a surprise.
And the entire third act has a pervasive sense of death and doom to it. One character searches through catacombs, torchlight revealing it to be well-stocked with skulls, bones, bodies in various stages of decay and red-eyed black rats who feed on them.
In a secret room behind a broken mirror, a circle of shrouded corpses sit. And the final game of hide and seek in a vast mansion—up, up, to the attic—is ultimately horrifying. And the movie doesn’t quite end there …
While maybe not prime rib, ANTHROPOPHAGUS did not leave a bad taste in my mouth and is definitely worth a watch. I’d recommend serving it with vino rosso, preferably a Sangiovese.