"It's not fear that tears you apart... it's him"
A group of tourists take a trip to a remote Greek island where they find that the local townspeople have all disappeared. After their boat drifts away, and with no phone service or electricity, the group takes refuge in one of the abandoned houses. It isn’t long before they discover why there is no one left on the island – a crazed cannibal with a taste for human flesh is prowling the streets.
An ultra-notorious Italian shocker, Anthroprophagus was one of the infamous ‘Video Nasty’ titles that the UK banned in the early 80s. So shocking was one particular scene in this film that Anthroprophagus was successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act in 1984 and banned from publication for over eighteen years. It joined an elite list of films to be given the boot from the video store shelves including Gestapo's Last Orgy, Cannibal Ferox and The Last House on the Left. It’s laughable to realise that the film was passed totally uncut in the UK in 2015, just showing how times have changed and how much more de-sensitized to horror films we are nowadays. Like a lot of the titles that were successfully prosecuted, Anthroprophagus became something of a Holy Grail for horror, where a dodgy black market of rough, grainy VHS copies were traded behind closed doors. If you wanted to see it, you’d know an uncle or the best mate of a mate who had a pre-certification copy stashed away in a loft somewhere. But this the 2010s and what was shocking in 1980 is nowhere near as bad today – not exactly saintly however! Anthroprophagus’ reputation precedes it, overshadowing it somewhat much like the reputations for the likes of Cannibal Holocaust or even The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. When a film comes with a hefty reputation, nine of out ten times it usually ends up being a let-down.
Anthroprophagus is one of those nine out of ten times. What a complete dud of a horror film! Being branded a Video Nasty, you’d expect something, well, nasty or even remotely graphic and disturbing. The only reason I can see Anthroprophagus being banned was for the infamous scene in which the cannibal eats a foetus. Yes, it’s pretty gross to see though this is more to do with the thought and implications of what he’s doing rather than actually watching him tuck into a piece of butcher’s meat doubling as a baby. It’s understandable why this caused so much of a stir here in the UK. The rest of the kills are tame and fairly weak given the nature of other Italian horror films from around the same time period and what they were doing in regards to gore – axes in heads, severed heads in buckets, etc. Ironically the best kill is saved for the end of the film and features a pick axe and a load of intestines. It’s scant pay-off for the previous eighty or so minutes.
Talky and with a plodding pace, Anthroprophagus will try and test the patience of hardened genre fans. Those weaned on giallo or late 70s/early 80s Italian horror flicks may be able to cope with the tedious speed of the narrative but anyone dipping in to this type of film for the first time will find it immensely hard going. With little plot, the uninteresting characters mope around the desolate Greek village with little purpose for the good part of forty minutes. They just go through the motions, in particular the men who show no distinguishing features from each other and I’d even forgotten their names by the end. Whilst this is annoying as far as the film goes, its impact on the viewer will be more so – total disengagement from the proceedings. At least the shots of the empty village look eerie and, coupled with the suitably atmospheric synth score, add up to some decent atmosphere. It’s a shame that nothing actually happens, and when it eventually does, you're somewhat detached from the narrative.
Anthroprophagus's best asset is its imposing killer. This cannibal monster of a man looks intimidating and has a powerful physical presence but he’s hardly used - it’s a good fifty minutes into the film before we first see him. On a number of occasions, the film teases us with appearances, where something has happened or we see a point-of-view shot. But then nothing. This can be effectively managed and we know that the killer is lurking around somewhere close. But to be scared, we need something for us to be scared of and not just thunder and lightning or cheap scares with cats jumping out from nowhere. His eventual reveal, hiding behind a closing door, is good and director Joe D’Amato, famous for his skin flicks and cheap horror efforts, uses natural lighting to slowly reveal his disfigured facial features. George Eastman, who also co-wrote, stars as the cannibal and brings the film to life in the final fifteen minutes. There is a chilling sequence inside some catacombs (where the aforementioned foetus is eaten) and there’s a great stalking sequence where he climbs up a ladder after Tisa Farrow – but this is literally the final ten minutes of the film. Far too little, too late to save it.
Anthroprophagus has clearly relied upon one or two shock moments of infamy to become the cult classic that it is today but don’t be fooled by the reputation. You can do a whole lot worse when it comes to Italian horror but this is nowhere near as deserving of its status as a sick flick. There is something memorable about Eastman’s cannibal though and he’ll stick in your mind long after watching. I guess that counts for something.
Also Known As: The Grim Reaper
Director(s): Joe D'Amato
Writer(s): George Eastman (story), Joe D'Amato (story)
Actor(s): Tisa Farrow, Saverio Vallone, Serena Grandi, Margaret Mazzantini, Mark Bodin, Bob Larson
Duration: 92 mins