Anthropophagus is one of those films that's had a rather scattered release history in North America. DVD Ltd. put it out a few years back but that version was severely cut by a good ten minutes or so, as was the North American theatrical presentation. Shriek Show now allows Region One fans to catch up with Europe by restoring the movie to its full strength uncut version and fans of the film, for the most part, should be pleased by their efforts.
Alongside Emmanuelle And The Last Cannibals and Beyond The Darkness, Anthropophagus is probably D'Amato's best known horror movie. The movie begins when two vacation bound couples, Arnold and the very pregnant Maggie along with Daniel and Carol, meet up with a pretty tourist named Julie (Tisa Farrow of Zombie) on a cable car in Greece. She needs to hitch a ride to an island just off the shore where she hopes to meet up with some friends, and seeing as the four of them have already chartered a boat for their tip to the same destination, they figure, hey, why not let the girl come along and help her out.
When the five people get to the island they discover it to be completely vacant save for one lone woman who appears and then disappears in various windows at strange times who seems to be watching them. There's no power, no phone service, and no one to help them when a crazed man (George Eastman of Porno Holocaust) who had to eat his own wife and child to survive shows up in cannibal zombie form and starts chowing down on them. That's more or less it. They show up on the island, it's creepy and weird, and then George Eastman eats people.
Anthropophagus succeeds more on atmosphere than anything else. To be blunt, not a whole lot happens for the first two thirds of the movie. There are some soap opera style interchanges between some of the couples and with Julie throwing a monkey wrench or two into the works just by being there and looking good, but a lot of time is spent with them just wandering around the creepy island village. Thankfully, for the most part, it's enough. The setting is the perfect venue for a horror movie and it somehow manages to build suspense in spit of itself. The violent opening scene in which an unseen force slaughters a couple on the beach alludes to the fact that bad things are to come for our gang of vacationers, but we don't really know why or what until it comes at you out of left field.
Of course, this wouldn't be much of a D'Amato horror movie if it didn't have a couple of nasty gore set pieces and Anthropophagus delivers a couple of really good ones that are truly repulsive in nature and in execution. Eastman handles bad guy duties with ease here, and while his make up appliances might look a little phony in some spots, when he's shadowed (which is most of the time) and in dark corners he does look positively eerie and quite threatening. He's a big guy and he's able to use his size to his advantage in the film, coming across as a hulking and intimidating cannibalistic monster.
The rest of the cast are fairly disposable but they serve their purpose as fodder for Eastman's madman. Farrow is fine as Julie, the cute tag along who finds herself causing problems that she never meant to get involved with and Zora Kerova is interesting as the slightly snooty wife Carol. The real reason to watch the film, however, is for the excellent cinematography, atmospheric sets, and nasty gore set pieces that are ultimately thrown in the viewers face. It's a slow moving film but one that manages to remain an interesting and unusual horror movie that makes use of some excellent locations and a great lead performance from Eastman.
D'Amato shot this one on 16mm stock and had it blown up for 35mm presentations and with that in mind, Anthropophagus doesn't look to bad in this 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. Some of the brighter colors look just a little bit washed out but not so much as to be really distracting. Grain and print damage are present but they're kept in check and don't overpower the image. Black levels remain pretty stable and although there is some mild edge enhancement and some mild aliasing present there aren't any problems to report in terms of mpeg compression artifacts. This transfer isn't going to blow anyone's mind but it looks as good if not slightly better than any of the other home video releases the film has seen in its rather scattered history.
You've got your choice of watching the film in either Italian or English, both languages in Dolby Digital Mono mixes with optional English subtitles provided. The weakest part of this presentation, the audio is flat and muffled sounding making it difficult to understand some of the dialogue at times. While the movie has sounded like this in the past and it's not surprising to hear it sound as poor as it does on this presentation, it's definitely a disappointment to find that there wasn't much of, if any, improvement in this area. That being said, once you adjust your volume you should be able to make out what everyone is saying easily enough, and the score sounds pretty decent here.
Shriek Show has delivered Anthropophagus to DVD in a feature packed two disc set. Unfortunately, quantity doesn't always equal quality and this is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of how the supplements have been delivered and prepared. The first disc includes three different theatrical trailers for the feature and one home video promo spot for the film, as well as trailers for four other Shriek Show DVD releases.
Moving onto the second disc we start off with Joe D'Amato – Totally Uncut Part Two (in Italian with English subtitles) which is the second part of the documentary that began as an extra feature on the two disc Images In A Convent release that came out in 2005. Here's where the mixed bag portion of the extras comes into play – while this is an excellent piece that gives us an in depth look at D'Amato and his work, splitting up what was a feature length piece and spreading it out over two different releases kind of shafts those who don't necessarily want to own both releases. Having seen the documentary in its full form, it's a little jarring to see it split up like this and a lot of the context that was provided in the first part presented on the other release is missing here which makes it less effective than it would have been otherwise. That being said, there is some great interview footage and some interesting clips involving D'Amato that should please fans of his work regardless. D'Amato talks about his horror movie output and some of his exploitation and action movies, and also includes interview clips with George Eastman, Al Cliver, even Ivan Rassimov who shows up for a minute or two.
George Eastman also shows up alongside Zora Kerova to talk about Anthropophagus for a little bit in front of the camera. They reminisce about the shoot, talk about some of their co-stars, and discuss working with the late D'Amato quite fondly. It's interesting to hear in Eastman's own words how much and why he really doesn't like Anthropophagus, despite it being one of his most popular roles.
Rounding out the extra features on the second disc are the alternate US Grim Reaper opening scene, alternate opening title screen and credits as The Savage Island, a decent sized still gallery of promotional material and photographs, trailers for a few other Fangoria International/Shriek Show DVD releases, and an easy to find Easter Egg that delivers a brief clip of Sergio Garrone talking about working with D'Amato. A second Easter Egg reveals a few other trailers for various Joe D'Amato films, most of which are available on DVD from Shriek Show.
Audio problems aside, Shriek Show has given Anthropophagus a pretty nice and long overdue uncut release in North America with decent video and some interesting extra features. The feature itself moves slowly but drips with atmosphere and should please Eurocult fans who appreciate slow, languid horror. Recommended, despite the noted problems.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.