Anthropophagus:
The Grim Reaper
Italy | 1980
Directed by Joe D'Amato
Starring
Tisa Farrow
George Eastman
Zora Kerova
Color
| 90 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC
| 2-disc set)
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Guest Review by Troy Howarth
An idyllic island cruise turns nightmarish thanks to a deranged cannibal (George Eastman)...
    Thanks to two set-pieces of audacious tastelessness, Anthropophagus (AKA The Grim Reaper) has developed into a cult classic among EuroCultists. It's a good thing director Joe D'Amato (AKA Aristide Massaccessi, formerly a talented cinematographer) opted to go for full-out nasty during those two sequences, because otherwise Anthropophagus is a rather tepid affair.
    The screenplay by Massaccessi and actor George Eastman (AKA Luigi Montefiori, The New Barbarians) offers a pretty basic setup: tourists find themselves at the mercy of a deranged cannibal, who proceeds to pick off the cast one by bloody one. It's a decent, if somewhat uninspired setup, but nevertheless one that one could imagine one of the stronger Italian horror directors making something memorable from say, Lucio Fulci or Sergio Martino. In Massaccessi's hands, however, it takes forever for the film to get going. The first two thirds are basically comprised of tedious footage of the characters wandering around being bitchy to one another. With its flat characterizations and slack pacing, the film doesn't begin to make any kind of an impression until the final section. Here Massaccessi's direction finally feels engaged and lively he manages to create some palpable tension as the mutated cannibal stalks his victims through an abandoned villa, culminating in two explicitly gory sequences that see Massaccessi thumbing his nose at the very notion of 'good taste'. The enthusiastic carnage almost makes the film worthwhile, but on the whole it remains flat and functional, lacking the sheer style of the best Italian horrors of the period.
    The cast doesn't help matters. Tisa Farrow, the lesser-known sister of Mia Farrow, managed to give a competent performance for Lucio Fulci in the preceding year's Zombie, but here she walks about as if in a chemically-induced haze. The final section suffers in part due to her dire attempts to convey panic and fear, and her interactions with the other actors don't exactly set the screen on fire, either. The imposing character actor George Eastman had previously given impressive performances for Federico Fellini and Mario Bava, in Fellini Satyricon (1969) and Rabid Dogs (1974) respectively, but the fact that this is known as his signature performance is somewhat baffling. Eastman is a naturally imposing presence tall and powerfully built but he has very little to do here, apart from skulking around in a sub-par makeup job. He performs capably enough, especially when compared to the rest of the cast, but don't look for any subtlety or character shading. A young Serena Grandi later an impressively buxom beauty who toplined such films as Lamberto Bava's Photos of Delirium (1986) makes an early appearance, and Fulci fans will recognize Zora Kerova as the live sex performer who has a grisly meeting with a broken bottle in The New York Ripper (1982).
    Technical credits are on the same level of mediocrity. Despite Massaccessi's good track record as a cinematographer, the film looks cheap and rushed in its execution. The lighting and camerawork are competent, nothing more. The music score by Marcello Giombini (who contributed a lively Morricone-esque soundtrack for Mario Bava's Savage Gringo, 1965) is repetitious synth fodder. Makeup effects range from the amateurish to the appropriately shocking the 'celebrated' highlights work very well indeed, though some other effects look more than a little phony.
    Two-thirds of a bad film coupled with one-third of a decent one, Anthropophagus isn't entirely deserving of its cult popularity but neither is it among the worst of the Italian horrors of the early '80s.

Media Blasters' edition of Anthropophagus, through their Shriek Show label, is one of their best releases to date; there are no technical bugs or flubs to report. The 1.66/16x9 transfer looks as good as one could hope for Massaccessi reportedly shot the film in 16mm, blowing the image up to 35mm for theatrical exhibition, and the rough look of the film validates this claim. Grain is apparent, but this is due to the 35mm conversion, not the transfer. Colors look accurately rendered, and print damage is limited to some minor speckling and scratching understandable in a low budget film of this period. Audio options include Italian and English tracks, both in mono. Neither track sounds all that great, and though limitations are to be expected in post-synched movies, Shriek Show could likely have done a better job in this one area . The English dubbing is passable, though none of the performers provide their own voices, but both tracks sound a bit soft and muffled. The removable English subtitles for the Italian track are clear and easy to read. Extras, spread across the two discs, include a number of trailers (for the film and other MB/SS releases), a poster/still gallery, an alternate U.S. title sequence, and part two of a lengthy documentary on Massaccessi produced by Nocturna. (The first part of this was previously issued as a bonus feature with Shriek Show's Images in a Convent DVD.) The doc is somewhat disappointing, containing some good interview segments with Massaccessi and collaborators like Eastman and Pier Luigi Conti, but burdened by way too many lengthy film clips. More satisfying is a brief 2005 Q&A session with Eastman and Zora Kerova, talking to a festival crowd about the film and its notorious director; Kerova takes some time to talk, with surprising affection, about Lucio Fulci, while Eastman confesses that he's never been very fond of Anthropophagus.
    You can also look for a couple of hidden Easter Eggs; there's at least one on each disc.
2/21/06

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