• Gabe Powers

Anthropophagous Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)

Click here to read my full, multi-part Joe D’Amato horror retrospective, including overlap with this review.


Beyond the Darkness (Italian: Buio Omega; aka: Buried Alive,1979) is undoubtedly Joe D’Amato’s (real name: Aristide Massaccesi) horror masterpiece and a key film in the Italian genre canon (even if it wasn’t particularly influential), but he is almost certainly best known for his controversial Euro-slashers Anthropophagous (aka: Anthropophagous: The Beast and The Grim Reaper) and it’s pseudo-sequel, Absurd. Anthropophagous was co-written by D’Amato and star George Eastman (real name: Luigi Montefiori). It begins with a group of tourists arriving for holiday on a remote Greek island. When they arrive, they find the island abandoned and eventually discover that a lone cannibalistic madman (Eastman) has killed and eaten everyone in town. Soon after, the sun-baked madman begins to hunt them down, eventually chasing them into a dusty mansion, where survivors Julie (Tisa Farrow in the second of three roles in violent Italian B-movies, following Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 [aka: Zombie and Zombie Flesh Eaters, 1979] and followed by Antonio Margheriti’s The Last Hunter [Italian: L'Ultimo Cacciatore, 1980]), Carol (Zora Kerova), and Andy (Saverio Vallone) make their last stand.



As is often the case, Anthropophagous’ popularity isn’t tied to its quality, but the controversy it courted soon after release. Like many Italian-made horrors of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, D’Amato’s movie found itself prosecuted and banned on home video in the UK as part of the British Board of Film Classification’s so-called ‘Video Nasties’ scare. But Anthropophagous wasn’t merely a random B-movie that found itself arbitrarily added to the DPP’s (Director of Public Prosecutions) banned list – it was a centerpiece of the moral outrage campaign. Specifically, a sequence in which Eastman tears a fetus from a pregnant victim’s womb and takes a bite was falsely categorized as authentic snuff, despite the ridiculous notion that a pregnant actress (who appeared in other movies) agreed to have her unborn child eaten or the fact that the fetus in question was clearly a skinned rabbit. Ultimately, baby-eating and a few other particularly juicy kills aside, Anthropophagous is a typical vacation slasher with a refreshing rural Greek setting. Detached from its reputation, it doesn’t come anywhere near the level of genuine, stomach-churning dread of oppressively relentless gore movies, such as Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) or even Beyond the Darkness.


As opposed to the vast majority of the Video Nasties, which are so shoddily made that they’re nearly unwatchable, Anthropophagous can be quite fun and is a good example of D’Amato actually exerting some creative effort. Its obvious problems aren’t the tastelessness of his shocks or its lack of budget, but its excess of listless filler. While the censors and moral guardians focus on its extreme gore, many Italian horror fans actually remember it for its long boring streaks. I’m not going to downplay the problem D’Amato’s needless time-stretches cause (he could’ve easily trimmed 11 minutes and still had a feature-friendly 80-minute runtime), but I do hope that the film’s bad reputation in this regard has faded a bit, because, if you can make it through the spotty first hour, the final act is a relentlessly entertaining stalk & slash that actually outperforms the majority of North American slashers in terms of suspense and imaginative violence. Then, it ends with perhaps the greatest villain death in slasher movie history (it’s a toss-up between this and Jeff Lieberman’s Just Before Dawn, 1981). D’Amato even finds a perfect spot to stick a flashback to the killer’s tragic backstory, leading me to assume that the final 30 minutes represent the bulk of his and Eastman’s script.



Anthropophagus’ popularity helped propel D’Amato’s career for nearly two more decades. It was a truly independent production, largely financed by of two of D’Amato’s own companies – Produzioni Cinematografiche Massaccesi International, created in order to distribute 1980’s dark hardcore porno, Sesso nero, and the freshly-minted Filmirage, which was co-founded with frequently collaborator Donatella Donati. During interviews for Spaghetti Nightmares and Roger A. Fratter’s two-part documentary, Joe D'Amato Totally Uncut (1999), the director theorized that, between the many hats he (and others) wore on the production, the location shooting, and use of 16mm film, it was his cheapest non-porno to shoot. This led to substantial profit – a great deal of which went back into Filmirage’s pockets to fund more of of D’Amato’s own films, as well as a number of other directors’ mid-’80s horror work. In short, even Anthropophagus’ detractors should probably appreciate it for part in financing Michele Soavi’s 1987 solo directorial debut, Stage Fright (Italian: Deliria; aka: StageFright, Aquarius, and Bloody Bird).



Video

Heavily censored versions were released on VHS in America, where the film was retitled [i]The Grim Reaper[/i] and cut to 81 minutes. Even when the DPP’s ban was lifted, UK DVDs (from Hollywood DVD) were missing some gore. Similarly, Astro’s German DVD was still censored and a budget label, non-anamorphic US disc from a company calling themselves DVD Video sported the heavily truncated Grim Reaper cut. The first readily available uncensored versions came from Shriek Show in the US, followed by a number of European and Asian releases. The first Blu-ray was released by 88 Films, who managed to get the previous BBFC edits waived.


Based on previous transfers, I tend to assume that Severin uses the same scans as 88 Films, though the releases tend to look different due to the two companies taking different approaches to digital restoration. I initially wasted hours of my life collecting screen caps from my 88 Films disc and writing up a lengthy comparison, in which I noted a litany of differences in the framing, print artifacts, grain, runtime length, and general quality between it and this new, remastered Severin release. Then I realized that 88 Films had released their own remaster in 2017 that corrected a lot of their 2015 version’s issues and, apparently, more or less matches Severin’s disc. Indeed, both are struck from a 2K restoration of the original 16mm negative. So then, I’m stuck comparing this very nice 1.66:1, 1080p image to memories of distinctly inferior SD and BD versions, rather than its nearest competition. C'est la vie.



Overall, this is a fantastic transfer that accurately portrays the film in all of its gritty, grain-caked glory, but not at the risk of well-separated visual elements. Previous editions attempted to downplay the grain with DNR, which robbed the transfers of basically all texture, so, even if this image skews noisy, it is worth the difference. I really do think this is the most detail anyone could rend from the source, given its age and, again, the fact that it is 16mm. Colors appear accurate, though contrast levels have been pushed a bit too far, leaving some hues too dark, at least compared to earlier releases. These levels also cause minor hotspots throughout the highlights, though there are no major issues with edge haloes and the key color problems occur towards the very end of the film, where the lush outdoor greens and red glistening guts are dulled in the dusky darkness. Still, nothing of note, outside some of the color, is lost in the gloom.


Audio

This disc includes the original Italian and English dubs of the film, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Again, as I always mention in these situations, Italian films – especially cheaply made exploitation films – were shot without synced sound, so all audio versions are technically dubbed tracks. The choice between tracks comes down largely to personal taste. Given Anthropophagous’ goofball qualities, I find that the off-set lip-sync of the English track adds to the whole experience. Star Tisa Farrow also dubs her own performance (and does a fine job) and more than half the cast was clearly speaking English on-set. In all, you’d be hard-pressed to note any differences in sound quality between the audio options. Marcello Giombini’s quirky keyboard score, which blends traditional Greek-sounding tunes and spooky horror stings, and the bulk of the sound effects are practically identical. Perhaps the Italian dub features slightly more reverb and slightly louder dialogue. Do note that the couple killed at the beginning of the movie is meant to be speaking German without subtitles and do so on each track.



Extras

  • Don’t Fear the Man-Eater (13:03, HD) – Writer/Star George Eastman discusses his career as writer/actor, his long working relationship with D’Amato, and offers up some amusing stories from behind-the-scenes of Anthropophagous.

  • The Man Who Killed the Anthropophagus (13:50, HD) – Actor Saverio Vallone (with his dog by his side) also chats a bit about his larger career and shares fond memories from the sets and locations.

  • Cannibal Frenzy (5:58, HD) – FX artist Pietro Tenoglio quickly talks about the production in general and breaks down some of his gory tricks.

  • Brother and Sister in Editing (12:56, HD) – Assistant editor Bruno Micheli talks about his familial and working relationship with D’Amato and the director’s usual editor (and Bruno’s sister), Ornella Micheli.

  • Inside Zora’s Mouth (9:59, HD) – The interviews wrap-up with actress Zora Kerova, which seems to have been shot at some kind of press event or festival. This particular chat seems to have initially covered her larger career and was edited down to focus on Anthropophagous.

  • International, Italian, and American trailers


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