Eat your heart (ETC) out: ANTROPOPHAGUS (Joe D’Amato, 1980)

Joe D’Amato was a prolific director of around 200 films in a wide range of genres, but is best known for his horror and erotic ones. Antropophagus is not one of his ‘best’ (if that word even means anything in these genres) but has developed a cult following in the forty years since its release. D’Amato did not make many cannibal films for some reason – we have previously reviewed his Black Emanuelle film Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, and we still need to look at (eventually) a few more including Emanuelle’s Revenge, Papaya Love Goddess of the Cannibals, Beyond the Darkness, Orgasmo Nero and the sequel to this one, directed under the pseudonym Peter Newton, Antropophagus II. Looks like we’re going to be here for a while, folks!

Joe D’Amato’s cameo appearance in the Athens cable-car scene

The lost travellers encountering savage or insane cannibals is one of the favourite tropes of cannibal stories. Odysseus and his men getting gobbled up by the Cyclops would be an early version (assuming a guy with only one eye in the middle of his head and a god-father is “human” which is pretty important for the definition of cannibalism). But ancient tales loved to dwell on the semi-human monsters outside civilisation eating unwary travellers, as did the lurid tales told by explorers and missionaries in colonial times. Robinson Crusoe is part of the tradition, although he was on his own until he met Friday (whom he saved from, yep, cannibals).

In films, the defining moment for sexed up teens in faulty cars getting slaughtered and eaten by crazed cannibals was Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974, where the cannibals were rust-belt hillbillies killing tourists to replace the closure of the slaughterhouses and loss of their usual victims, and The Hills Have Eyes where the cannibals were mutants created by atomic testing in the desert. The killers got progressively weirder with such offerings as Wrong Turn which was sort of Deliverance with a meat department, but the prize for weirdest demented cannibal probably goes to this one: Antropophagus.

Instead of driving around or breaking down in dodgy areas of derelict states to run into cannibal tribes, this lot are touring the Greek Islands on a yacht. Well, if you’re going to get killed and eaten, do it in style. We start off with a couple of German tourists relaxing on probably the most uncomfortable beach you’ve ever seen, the girl going for a swim because apparently Jaws hadn’t been released in Germany five years before this movie was made?

Her boyfriend, relaxing on some sharp lava, has a rude awakening involving a meat cleaver through his head.

We immediately switch to our jetsetting tourists on a cable car in Athens. One of the tourists is heavily pregnant, so sailing around the islands is an even weirder choice when you think about it, and leads to the most famous cannibal scene involving a fetus in any movie (not many directors other than D’Amato have dreamed of getting away with anything like that).

Antropophagus was written by D’Amato and George Eastman (born Luigi Montefiori), the incredibly tall villain of heaps of Italian B-movies and Spaghetti Westerns as well as several of D’Amato’s other movies. In this one, Eastman plays the slasher, who (it turns out from a journal he left lying around on the island) was driven mad when he and his family were shipwrecked and he ended up eating the wife and child to survive. So now he kills and eats people who come to his island. Everyone needs a hobby. And the role of the cannibal has always been to explore the limits of humanity, and the extremes of inhumanity.

Look, it’s a slasher, and they are not to everyone’s taste, in fact a version of the film without most of the gore was released in the US and UK under the title The Grim Reaper. The acting is pretty awful, ranging from wooden to way over the top. But D’Amato was a talented director (as well as prolific) and the scenes of Athens including the changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Greek Islands, are glorious, and accompanied by suitably cheerful bouzouki music.

The team head for an island which turns out to be ‘almost’ deserted (because everyone’s dead of course). They can’t understand it and ask, forty years too early:

Well, they’ll laugh about that one when they tell the story to their grandkids in 2020 or so. The “final girl” (there’s usually a final girl who survives the slasher) is played by Tisa Farrow, little sister of Mia Farrow, and daughter of Maureen O’Sullivan. Quite a lineage. She’s supposed to be there to look after a blind girl, who doesn’t know where her parents are, but can still tell when the antropophagus is lurking.

The middle section of the film follows the mystified tourists as they explore an apparently deserted town on a remote island, but it’s not really dull, more atmospheric, establishing the existence of evil, a malevolent presence that smells of blood.

Besides the blind girl with the supernose who can smell blood (but can’t apparently smell a room full of corpses), there is Carol (Zora Kerova from Cannibal Ferox) who can read Tarot cards and sense evil vibes.

There’s an electrical storm worthy of King Lear. A scene in a cemetery (of course). A mysterious woman who leaves threatening messages. A blind girl who attacks them with a knife. A whole lot of rooms full of bodies, which surprisingly are discovered by pulling off their shrouds rather than by smelling their decomposition. A seemingly inexhaustible packet of Marlboro (product placement maybe?) A lot of pointless relationship arguments. But, if you’ve bought a ticket to see the gore, then as one critic wrote on IMDB,

“The movie starts with a brutal meat cleaver scene then becomes very slow n downright tedious. The last twenty mins contains the two nasty scenes coz of which this film earned the video nasty label.”

I liked the way the violence is mostly presented from the point of view of the cannibal, rather than the victim. At the beginning we see forward movement, drops of blood, a meat cleaver. Later there is a view of the boat through metal palings and some guttural breathing. When one of the men has his throat torn out, we see the throat, before we finally see the antropophagus with his bloody mouth, bad haircut and poor dental hygiene, but that’s already fifty minutes into the film.

So the scenes of the “normal” people are intentionally dull – there’s pretty scenery, with the occasional interruption for carnage and slaughter. Something for everyone. Makes a nice contrast with the depraved cannibal, who we eventually find out (by flashback!) was a shipwreck survivor and accidentally killed his wife when she wouldn’t let him eat their dead son. Domestic cannibal in domestic dispute.

So – the famous last twenty minutes. Pregnant lady is found by her pretty useless husband in a crypt where rats with red eyes (hungover? Late flight?) are eating corpses.

The antropophagus stabs the guy, who dies slowly enough to watch him pull the fetus from her body and, yep, eat it (turns out it was a skinned rabbit, as if that makes us feel better).

Then in the climax, he gets disembowelled with a pickaxe, and in the last moments of the film, starts to chew on his own intestines.

Yep, both of those scenes were left out of The Grim Reaper. The full film is still banned in England according to The Horror Geek, because they thought it was a real fetus. Read Wikipedia before making censorship decisions, guys!

Antropophagus is available in Blu-ray from Amazon, or the full movie is (or was when I checked) on YouTube – but has Czech subtitles, which some may find distracting. Or you might learn some Czech, and you never know when that may prove useful.

If you can’t / don’t want to watch the whole movie, you can get a comprehensive and extremely funny summary together with some priceless Gilligan’s Island references on the YouTube site of the Horror Geek. Highly recommended.