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.

Young Leatherface: THE SAWYER MASSACRE (Steve Merlo, 2022)

Whether you loved or hated (or anything in-between) Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it is widely acknowledged to be a seminal work in the history of slasher movies generally, and specifically of cannibal films. Total Film made it number one of the fifty greatest horror movies of all time (Psycho was number 6!) and Richard Zoglin of Time said that it set “a new standard for slasher films”. Ben Woodard called it “unambiguously the greatest horror film ever made.” That makes creating a sequel (or actually a prequel) all the more fraught!

Chainsaw was based partly on the real-life (real-death?) exploits of Ed Gein, the “Butcher of Plainfield”, who decorated his house with all sorts of furniture made of human bones and skin, but Gein had dug most of them up from graveyards. The man-monster from TCSM was Leatherface who wore a mask (well before the rest of us) and even made it himself (far more sustainable than the rest of us). It was, however, made of human skin, which you can’t get readily even on Etsy, and he sourced his raw materials from those travelling through his little corner of Texas, cutting them up with a large and noisy chainsaw, often bashing them on the head with a mallet first, as the more primitive slaughterhouses used to do to the cattle in their yards.

But why did he do that? We get some hints in the movie from his brother, the Hitchhiker, who makes it clear that the family had been “in meat” and worked in the local slaughterhouses, which had closed as industry fled the “fly-over” states. But a lot of people lost their jobs in the seventies, and most of them did not go out and buy chainsaws with murderous intent. So how did Leatherface get started? And whose idea was it to eat the victims?

Such questions have clearly been on the mind of TCSM fan Steve Merlo, who recently sat down for an interview with Bloody Disgusting about his intended feature film THE SAWYER MASSACRE, intended as a prequel to the 1974 classic.

The film has been crowdfunded through Indegogo (now closed unfortunately) but should have raised enough to see it released in about August 2022.

Here’s the plot from the Director:

While recovering from the loss of someone close, Jimmy’s friends bring him to the Texas countryside to escape city life. In need of supplies for their cabin, they head to a gas station where they are directed to an isolated farmhouse. The property is not as it seems. They find themselves hunted by the cannibalistic psychopath known as Leatherface.

Clearly, it follows the formula that was also seen in The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn, The Farm and loads of other slasher movies where humans are on the table instead of sitting around it. But, as Merlo says,

“It is our intent not to copy what the original did, but use it as influence in a stylistic way. Our film will have more blood and kills, but will still be very subtle in its delivery.”

The film is due for release in 2022, the date that appears in IMDB. The film also has a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram page if you wish to follow its progress.

Cannibal News: “Acts of decapitation and cannibalism” – JESSICA CAMILLERI jailed for 21 years for murder of her mother in Sydney

Rita Camilleri and her daughter Jessica, who killed her in July 2019

WARNING: EXTREMELY GRAPHIC CRIME SCENE REPORTS

A Sydney woman who cut her 57-year-old mother’s head off with kitchen knives in July 2019 was found guilty of manslaughter in the NSW Supreme Court, after pleading not guilty to murder due to mental impairment. The court was told that Jessica Camilleri – who had a history of refusing to take psychiatric medications – had only stopped the attack when her mother’s head fell off and her eyeballs came out of their sockets.

A judge said Camilleri had practised “grave and mutilating depravity”, had squeezed and prodded her mother’s eyeball after removing it, and engaged in “acts of decapitation and cannibalism”.

Camilleri was sentenced, in March 2021, to serve 21 years and 7 months in prison, but may be eligible for parole when she’s 41, in 2035.

Mother and daughter had been at home in the mother’s St Clair house where they had dined on Red Rooster (chicken) before Jessica demanded a second delivery from the food outlet, then turned on Rita, who had threatened to have her daughter taken into mental health care. Jessica dragged her mother into the kitchen by the hair and attacked her with steak knives, beheading her and removing her tongue, eyeballs and nose.

The week-long trial saw graphic police evidence, crime scene bodycam video and a police interview with Ms Camilleri, her face still coated with her mother’s blood and her hands bagged.

Senior Constable Jodie Bennett, who examined the living room and a bedroom in the Camilleri house, found blood-soaked hair, human tissue, pools of vomit, overlapping blood-soaked footprints, plus a Crocodile Dundee figurine, the head of which had been detached.

The court heard Ms Camilleri was obsessed with figurines and violent horror movies featuring decapitation such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Detective Sergeant Brett Griffin, who examined the crime scene between 12.42am and 7am on Sunday July 21, told the court that out on the footpath in front of the neighbour’s house he found Rita Camilleri’s mutilated head.

“I saw an area of apparent bloodstaining and human tissue,” he said. “A short distance away I saw a human head with numerous injuries including a severed nose, removed eyes and numerous groupings of apparent lacerations and incised stab wounds.”

In her judgement, Justice Helen Wilson SC said:

“I’m satisfied the offender knocked her mother to the floor and then dragged her by her hair into the kitchen… The focus of the onslaught was upon her mother’s head and face, with over 100 individual blows landed, many on Mrs Camilleri’s right cheek. Mrs Camilleri was conscious and trying to defend herself for long enough to have sustained over 90 defensive injuries and a knife wound to a vein in her neck.”

Camilleri had previously been diagnosed with a range of conditions, including an intellectual disability, an autism disorder and ADHD. However, she didn’t like to take her medication and Mrs Camilleri had no recourse when she failed to do so, the trial heard.

A four-year-old, known as Child A, whom Jessica referred to as “the little bastard”, was in the house at the time and tried to jump on her to stop the attack. She fought off and wounded the child.

A forensic psychiatrist, Professor David Greenberg, told the NSW Supreme Court last year that in addition to her mild intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder, Ms Camilleri suffers from a rage disorder that causes her to lose control and “explode like a bomb” when provoked or triggered by stressors.

Justice Wilson said Camilleri fully understood the wrongful nature of her actions and had squeezed one of her mother’s eyeballs after the decapitation. “The removal of Mrs Camilleri’s eyes does not appear to have been an act of deep and uncontrolled rage, rather, at this stage, the offender was indulging a sort of macabre curiosity sparked by her obsessive viewing of horror movies.”

Asked how Ms Camilleri’s decision to remove her mother’s eyeballs sits with the intermittent explosive disorder diagnosis, Professor Greenberg replied:

“it could also be more consistent with her autism spectrum disorder, her fascination for horror movies and body parts, decapitation, cannibalism, in her interest in these horror movies that she collected and views all the time.”

Camilleri later told a forensic psychiatrist she bit off her mother’s nose and that she got the idea to cut off her head from horror movies. She had a fixation on horror films, and owned eight copies of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and five of Jeepers Creepers, the court was told. The Crown Prosecutor added “A feature of these movies was killing people violently and dismembering their bodies”. Cannibalism featured prominently in both films.

After the attack, Camilleri dropped her mother’s head in the street and called the police emergency number, telling them that:

“I was just so caught up in the anger I kept stabbing and stabbing her and I took off her head. I ran to my neighbour and I had my mum’s head in my hand and I was taking it as evidence to show that in the struggle, I didn’t know what I was doing so I cut her head off. I chopped her head off with a knife.”

Jessica Camilleri – from police video

She said that she used “about seven knives” to murder Rita, breaking four of them, before adding there is “blood everywhere” in the kitchen. The recording of the call is at this site.

Camilleri told police when they arrived: “My mum’s head is on the concrete over there. Can you bring someone back to life if they don’t have a head? There’s nothing you can do, she’s a goner? They can’t restart her heart? ‘Cos I know doctors can do miracles they can’t resew her head?”

Police officer: “That’s a bit of a stretch.”

Neighbours hold a vigil outside Rita Camilleri’s house

Her older sister Kristi Torrisi Rita’s testified at the trial about her sister’s troubled childhood and how, once in desperation, her mother had paid a medium $2,500 to get “the demon out of Jessica”. She said the mum was “killed and butchered like she was nothing, all because of a fit of rage”.

The case raises a lot of definitional issues. The judge stated that Camilleri had engaged in “acts of decapitation and cannibalism” yet none of the news stories mention any swallowing of human flesh (although biting off a nose might count). But cannibalism is a slippery concept, hard to define. We assume the cannibal to be the person who eats the flesh or organs of other humans. However, Robert Myers, who wrote a careful study of the allegations of Carib cannibalism, pointed out that this is too narrow:

There is an absence of a clear definition of cannibalism, a practice encompassing an extremely broad and sometimes ambiguous range of behaviours. Cannibalism can include drinking water-diluted ashes of a cremated relative, licking blood off a sword in warfare, masticating and subsequently vomiting a snippet of flesh, celebrating Christian communion, or gnawing on entire barbecued limbs as De Bry depicts Caribs doing.

Then we have Camilleri’s sister accusing her of butchering their mother “like she was nothing”. Butchery is a term used in warfare for massacres, but most commonly it is a business term. A butcher used to be someone who killed farmed animals and sold their parts, but now it usually involves no killing, which is done elsewhere behind high walls, and is a retail profession – selling bits of the dead animals to customers. The animals are not “nothing” in butchery but the raw material, valuable commodities to be sold, their ‘nothingness’ restricted to the moral value of which they are deprived by the logic of capitalism. Butchery, in other words, is normally done for profit. But the lessons we draw from its ubiquity in our societies can be taken to heart in many different ways.

“For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”
– Pythagoras c. 500BC (attributed by Ovid)

Next month we’ll take a look at the ever-evolving Armie Hammer story. Spoiler: he’s not a cannibal, he’s a very naughty boy!
You can read more “cannibalism news” at this link.

Short cuts: WRONG TURN (Rob Schmidt, 2003)

How to make a slasher: take a group of young and pretty people, travelling and (gasp) sleeping together and therefore sinning against Gud and the Hays Code. There’s usually a gas station run by a creepy dude whose advice it might be wise to ignore (but they never do). Then there’s a freaky villain or group of villains: outsiders, possibly mutant, and always psychopathic killers. The killers slaughter all the pretty people, using sudden montage cuts and loud music, except (usually) one, known as a “last girl” who will scream a lot but ultimately survive, and probably wreak revenge.

In that sense, Wrong Turn is a fairly formulaic slasher movie and, like The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and many others, it went on to generate a slew of sequels and prequels, many of which were treated less than generously by the critics and fans. There are six so far, and 2021 promises a reboot which will no doubt be widely called number 7, so you’d have to say that this indicates a successful franchise, even if a reboot won’t add anything very new to the formula.

Slashers don’t always eat their victims, which is essential if their stories are to grace this blog, but Wrong Turn does not let us down in that area. These movies, what are sometimes called hillbilly horror, depict a clash of cultures, and attempt to show both sides through the eyes of the other. For the hillbillies, the effete city slickers are weak, spoiled and elitist, their wealth and privilege giving them an infuriating sense of entitlement. To the pretty city kids, lost in an alien land (in this case West Virginia), the locals in the flyover backwoods are inbred, amoral subhumans.

Three cannibalistic inbred mountain men are the antagonists, and their names are Three Finger, Saw Tooth and One Eye, names presumably earned by their current physical state rather than bestowed at birth. The film’s opening sequence shows examples of genetic mutants, with implications that this is due to inbreeding (although there are no females in the clan). This lot are so degenerate that they do not even speak, except for some Paleolithic grunting. And these guys definitely follow the paleo diet. Their enormous strength and ability to shrug off apparently mortal wounds may come from their diet of flesh, but seems more likely to be an unexpected benefit of their genetic reinforcement.

Not much information is given (until Wrong Turn 4, which I suppose we’ll get to sometime), as to how they got that way, or as Clarice said to Hannibal Lecter “what happened to you”. In this one, behaviourism really doesn’t matter – these are quintessential bad guys, monsters, inhumans, existing only to frighten, to kill (and eat) and then to get their comeuppance, with of course an unexpected survivor to point toward (yawn) the inevitable sequel.

There are six beautiful people, two couples, who quickly come to sticky ends, and their friend Jessie (Eliza Dushku) whom they had invited to a getaway after her messy relationship breakup. She is the only one not currently living in sin (although one of the other couples are planning their wedding as they are slaughtered) so she seems destined by the morality of slashers to be the “last girl”. They are lost on a dirt road with a flat tyre, caused by the mutants laying barbed wire across the road, when the square-jawed hero Chris (Desmond Harrington) crashes into their car, taking a wrong turn to get to a business appointment which we all know is going to seem pretty irrelevant. Four of them head off into the woods looking for a phone (they have mobile phones, but hey, it’s out in the middle of nowhere – no cell towers?) The couple who stay with the cars are slaughtered almost immediately. Now there’s a turnaround, Chris show himself to be a leader, he is going to be last boy! The intersection of the two groups, heroes and mutants, comes when the lost city folks find the house of the mutants, and have to hide under the furniture, where they have to watch the killers chop up their friends for dinner.

This is extreme slasher binary conflict: human vs inhuman, normal vs freak, civilised vs wild, prey vs predator. We follow Jessie and Chris as they watch their friends die and flee into the woods, and we barely see the ghastly faces of the antagonists, until toward the climax.

Most victims in slashers are despatched quickly, but the last girl is traditionally captured, tied up in what looks like a rape scene but usually isn’t, because the bad guys are interested in gustatory rather than sexual carnality.

Jessie is tied to a bed, about to be slaughtered – no particular reason why she has not been killed instantly like the others, but we need time for a rescue. The freaks are predators, but Chris and Jessie are warriors. Like The Hills Have Eyes, the victims have to adopt the savagery of the killers to survive, and there is plenty of gore and explosions if that’s your thang. Unlike THHE, where the victims arguably become the savages, Chris and Jessie look to have grown through their ordeal, so that’s a novel approach.

Wrong Turn earned a measly 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, with one critic writing,

“the gore is so ridiculously overdone and the script so lame, that it undermines all sense of suspense.”

But I didn’t think so. The cast is great, the plot is fast moving and certainly never dull, and the suspense is well done. There is no reason given for the murders, except that humans are their preferred quarry. But that is the question that cannibalism, as a concept, poses in every film – why eat humans? Because they’re made of meat?

Cannibal movies for your Halloween enjoyment (or any time, really)

Remember when the scariest thing on the screen was cannibalism? Ah, the good old days…

The link above covers some of the many cannibal movies I have reviewed. All of them have in common that they ask the most important question of 21st century ethics (IMHO):

Also, how do cannibals maintain social distancing?