My 12 year old son asked to check out my new blog, so I let him read the post on 80s cop show Hunter. I asked him what he thought, knowing he would be blunt because he lives to tell me I am wrong, and he did not disappoint when he said he hated it because it has too many words. To show me how it is done, he started his own blog where he intends to post “simple reviews.” Never one to ignore useful criticism from my loved ones, I resolved to see if I could keep this post concise.
I knew nothing about Anthropophagus going in other than that writer/star George Eastman plays an unstoppable cannibal who eats a baby, and that Anthropophagus was on the infamous “Video Nasties” list. I knew the movie would therefore be shocking, but I thought it would also have that Italian horror “Script? What script?” slapdash quality. The most shocking thing, though, is how well-made this is. Director Joe D’Amato, not really known for his quality films (although there are much, much, much worse Italian directors such as Bruno Mattei), has outdone himself here. I haven’t seen all D’Amato’s work, but I’ve seen enough that if you had asked me before I watched Anthropophagus what his best film was, I would have voted for Beyond the Darkness. It helps that Beyond the Darkness was my intro to Italian horror, since I rented it the minute I turned 18 after staring at that big warning on the old Thriller Video box for 10 years. But now I’m sure it’s Anthropophagus, with its sequel, Absurd, in second place. (Of course, quality aside, my favorite piece of his work is a film that he produced called Ghosthouse, but I may like that one for all the wrong reasons.)
D’Amato manages to build some tension and loads of atmosphere here in this classic slasher that also falls under what I like to call the “let’s all die on a tropical island” subgenre of horror. The obligatory opening murder takes its time, as we see every bit of the first two victims’ walk through the narrow streets of the island town, followed by them setting up their blankets on the beach before one of them unwisely decides to swim out to a capsized rowboat where there has to be something nasty lurking. After the second tourist is dispatched, we don’t see Eastman in action again until about halfway through the movie. There’s a warning of death via tarot card reading, a long sequence of terror and confusion as the main group of travelers discover the once booming tourist town is completely empty, and a fabulous jump scare when lead actress Tisa Farrow finally finds the girl she came to the island to visit. I don’t even like jump scares, but I had to back that one up and watch it again.
I’ve come to expect Italian horror post-Mario Bava to be derivative, but if this movie rips off another movie I haven’t figured out what it would be. The last 30 minutes spent being chased by the killer are standard for the genre, but there’s the distinction that we find out why he is killing during this portion of the film rather than it being laid out at the beginning as in most slashers. The only disappointment I experienced was the freeze frame ending. I know many people like to see the credits roll as soon as the monster is dead but first of all we know he’s not because there is a sequel, and secondly I’d like to know what happened to Farrow’s character next; her love interest has gone missing for the last 30 minutes and simply reappears to save the day, but the way the film ends I believe it is implied that one or both of them is now insane from the ordeal and they might have a go at one another!
I was saddened to realize when doing my research that this was one of Tisa Farrow’s last films, because she really impresses here. I knew she had retired, and has arguably been doing more for the world as a trauma nurse, but it just felt like she was around longer because her role in Zombie has had such an impact on the world of cult film. Actually, she carries the movie Anthropophagus rather than being relegated to the secondary role as in Zombie, and it’s unfortunate that the bleakness of Anthropophagus doesn’t give it the goofy rewatchability of Zombie. Here she plays her character as strong, kind, and self actualized. It shows that she had some range, but her performance was also no doubt bolstered by the fact that D’Amato was reportedly easier to work for than Fulci. A giant spider might have been easier to work for than Lucio Fulci, by all reports, but regardless I’m sure I’m not the only fan who wishes Tisa Farrow would return to cult film for one last scream.
I’d advise against eating while watching Anthropophagus, though. I had slightly less than two drinks during the film and was looking forward to tipsily enjoying some donuts I’d bought earlier in the day but had to keep putting off my snack because the gross parts of the film were really over the top. It doesn’t top D’Amato’s most disgusting scene, that of Iris the housekeeper slurping down stew in Beyond the Darkness, but it comes damn close.
If you were lucky enough to catch Anthropophagus during its original theatrical run, please leave me a comment to let me know what that was like!