In 1980, director Joe D’Amato was known for doing cheaply made porn and horror crossovers like The Erotic Nights of the Living Dead and some of the lesser known (but more sleazy) versions of the Emmanuelle series. Many of his flicks were a strange mix of hardcore sex scenes and horror-centered plots, but rarely did the two genres meld cohesively on screen. It was always a case of “oh, we must run from zombies” and then awkward sex happens. Anthropophagus (which I still cannot pronounce or spell correctly) was intended to be D’Amato’s first true horror film, and it is surprisingly good. OK, it’s not a bastion of skilled filmmaking by any means, but it’s enjoyable and gorehounds will go nuts for it, which is why it is this week’s inclusion in The Unseen.
Like many of the Italian cannibal films, this one has multiple names including The Grim Reaper, Zombie 7, Man-Eater, The Beast, and Savage Island. But the most commonly used title is Antropophagus (no “h”) and Anthopophaugus (added a “u”). For the best definition, you need a Latin/Greek dictionary. “Anthro” is “man” and “phagus” means “to eat”. So the title means “people eater”. I knew the five years of Latin I took would eventually be good for something. Actually, historically the “Anthropophage” were a mystical race of cannibals that were first discussed in Greek mythology, but they make appearances throughout literature, even getting mentions in some of Shakespeare’s works.
In this sick little flick, a group of tourists travel to a remote island and discover a deranged cannibal has eaten all the island’s former residents. This connoisseur of the flesh is still hanging around, growing ever hungrier. Anthropophagus was shot on a number of islands around Greece and Italy. The setting is the same place the epic tale of The Odyssey is set, so once again the world learns that some bat-shit crazy misadventures take place on seemingly deserted Mediterranean islands.
The opening is a bit of a turn-off, directly ripping from JAWS (apparently our cannibal can swim great depths and eat people underwater), but stay with me here. The film then transitions briefly into a Mediterranean island travelogue. The scenic landscapes are really quite breath-taking and serene. The plot is bit rambling and dry in some parts at the beginning until the title character shows up. Then comes the gore! Some moments in Anthropophagus are so shocking and grotesque that the film landed on Britain’s dreaded Video Nasty list. However, just like hearing that the book Catcher in the Rye had been banned made a 15-year-old me want to read it all the more, being told this video was “too extreme” for human consumption made a generation of horror fans flock to see it in any form.
D’Amato has long said this film was made for foreign markets. Though Anthropophagus preformed miserably in Italy, in other countries it did fairly well. With foreign markets in mind, several versions of the film were created. Some were highly edited to get the film a clean release in the US. Some versions have a trippy synch score that sounds like eerie carnival music. On some cuts, the musical soundtrack is lifted from the 1976 film, Kingdom of the Spider. The version sold today can largely depend on the country in which it’s being purchased, and if you happen to pick up an old VHS format, who knows what cut will be housed on the tape. In the States, the most common version is the 2006 release from Shriek Show. This one comes with a snazzy 2nd disc featuring interviews and docs on the film.
Various rumors still surround this production, making it into something of a horror film legend. Supposedly many of the bones used are real. The fetus is a skinned rabbit. I even had a fan try to tell me once that the intestines were from a pig that was slaughtered and eaten by some of the crew (though I’m highly doubting this one). Regardless of the source material used, the gore is very effective and still cringe-worthy twenty two years after its creation. Devoted horror fans know this title well, but much of the general population never saw the flick because of bannings, extreme gore, language barriers, and the film’s low-budget production values. So pop “the Phagus” into your DVD player and prepare for a gory ride. He is still alive, well, and ready to chomp down on his own intestines.