Featured, Video Nasties: The Anthropophagus Beast (1980)
Don't Eat That!8.5
For those in the know, the name Joe D’Amato will bring to mind certain things. Mostly impure and terrifying things. Some involving horses, cannibals and Tom Selleck look-alikes with genital warts (see Erotic Nights of the Living Dead if you wish to learn more). The voyeuristic director had an illustrious and evocative career, directing Spaghetti Westerns, Barbarian Movies, Swashbucklers and Giallos, but he is arguably best known for his collaborations with the captivating Laura Gemser.
The aforementioned collaborations largely consisted of D’Amato’s vision of the Emmanuelle movies (a soft-core French series of ‘Erotic Thrillers’), in which he pushed the envelopes of taste, decency and in some cases legality. He used these films as a springboard for some seriously disturbing imagery, in particular Emmanuelle in America, Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals and Emmanuelle and the White Slave Trade. The forays into horror territory led almost sequentially into Anthropophagus: The Beast, his first straight up horror movie.
Anthropophagy is the act of eating human flesh, which may give some indication to the motivations of the monster which the title refers to. The beast (played by George Eastman) is, in fact, very human. A man driven to madness after being stranded at sea and forced to eat his wife and child, he now preys on the inhabitants of a lonely Greek island, which now lies practically deserted; that is until a few wayward visitors become unwittingly stranded upon it.
One of the most refreshing things about Anthropophagus is the use of adults as opposed to teenagers for the main roles. The dubbing is so horrendous that it is difficult to decipher if their acting skills are any good, but very few people watch this type of movie for impressive displays of thespian ability. The actual premise takes a long time to set up, with the beast not actually gracing the screen for approximately 50 minutes, we are left to familiarize ourselves with the (rather dislikeable) collection of holidaymakers.
As with all Italian horrors of a certain age, the soundtrack is fantastic. There is an electronic, synthesizer heavy barrage at every possible moment, and it only adds to the charm of the overall feature. The prolonged build up only serves to add extra tension and atmosphere to later scenes in which people begin to get picked off. There are some fantastic moments of comedy relief (one with a kitten on a piano which proceeds to play spooky music is particularly brilliant) but once the blood begins to flow, I imagine that only the sickest amongst you will get any chuckles.
The scene which undoubtedly caused the most furore, earning this movie a place on the DPP Video Nasties list, was one in which Eastman strangles a woman who is very heavily pregnant, removes the foetus with his bare hands and proceeds to eat is while it is still attached by the umbilical cord to the, now deceased, mother. All in plain view of her fatally injured but agonizingly aware husband. D’Amato used a skinned rabbit as the foetus but the effect is startlingly real and if played on a second or third generation VHS, would have made it appear to be the snuff film which the censors believed it to be.
The climactic finale which includes a brutal evisceration and self-cannibalism also raised a few eyebrows, but the previous grisly moment plays endlessly over and over in the mind, long after the final credits roll. It is interesting that in his somewhat sequel to Anthropophagus, ‘Absurd’, Eastman reprises his role as Nikos, whose guts fall out of him at the beginning of that movie as he gets impaled on a railing.
It’s a movie with flaws and positives in almost equal merit, whilst being far from a classic, it certainly holds an important place within the Video Nasties cannon and is most deserving of at least one viewing for any discerning horror fan. The effects lose some of their impact on a crystal clear DVD version however, even though the scenes which once evoked terror and shock may now inspire little more than a cynical, altogether knowing sneer, there are remnants of a dingier, grottier movie. D’Amato tread similar ground when he made Porno Holocaust, but you don’t want to go down that road, trust me, I’ve been there.
(1:31:23) (original title: Antropophagus; AKA Anthropophagous; Antropofago; Gomia, Terror en el Mar Egeo; Man Beast: Man-Eater; The Savage Island — released with approximately 3m of pre-cuts as “The Grim Reaper” in 2002. Has a release in the United States uncut under the title Antropophagus: The Grim Reaper)
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