Former camera operator Joe D'Amato (real name: Aristide Massacessi) became a full-fledged director in the early 1970s, concentrating mostly on sleaze, softcore and eventually hardcore efforts under an assortment of pseudonyms. Never an acclaimed filmmaker by any means, a small percentage of his film credits are horror, and probably his most familiar work in this genre is ANTHROPOPHAGUS. Originally released to U.S. theaters in 1981 as THE GRIM REAPER in a heavily truncated version, Shriek Show/Media Blasters (the company who has done more for D’Amato on Region 1 DVD than any other) has now finally unleashed what has been one of the most highly anticipated releases of its kind. Formerly available in a bad quality cut edition from DVD Ltd., as well as several overseas digital versions, Shriek Show has done the film justice in a 2-disc special edition which can now be deemed the first definitive release for stateside horror buffs.
On a cable car in Greece, tourist Julie (Tisa Farrow) meets up with a friendly group of vacationers around her age: Arnold (Bob Larsen), his pregnant wife Maggie (Serena Grandi), Daniel (Mark Bodin), Carol (Zora Kerova) and Carol’s brother Alan (Saverio Vallone). Since the group has rented a boat to cruise to a nearby island, Julie asks to tag along to catch up with some friends. Reaching the island, they find it completely deserted, all but a strange woman who wonders around in a mysterious manner, keeping her distance. With no working electricity, they take refuge in a cozy house where oddball things begin to occur. Eventually, a zombie-like madman (George Eastman, real name: Luigi Montefiori) with a back-story appears and not surprisingly, has an insatiable appetite for human flesh.
Notorious as one of the prime titles on the “Video Nasty” list in Great Britain, ANTHROPOPHAGUS is basically an old fashioned, predictable horror story with a handful of outlandish gore scenes, and the Greek locations inject it with decent amount of atmosphere. D'Amato steers straight away from any notions of sex, and concentrates on mounting a clichéd monster movie of the graphic “body count” kind. The film commences with a German bikini-clad babe being assaulted JAWS-like from underwater, while her beau receives a hatchet to the head in a gratuitous money shot. What follows is a lot of boredom and ordinariness as the tourists settle into the secluded old dark house, dodging a number of cheat shocks and a dagger-happy blind girl before they encounter the central lurking ghoul. As the cannibalistic nutcase Niko, George Eastman (who wrote this baby, as well as produced it) portrays a predator who was once a normal family man, but now he’s a bloodthirsty being with rotted pasty skin and a frizzed out mop affixed to a hairline worst than Larry Fine’s. Eastman is actually quite intimidating and gruesome, and his graphic slayings are the definite highlight of the film and no doubt the grounds for its undeniable appeal. Tisa Farrow (Mia’s much lesser known sister) already did Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE, so her presence is no surprise here, and she’s actually not too bad a heroine/scream queen. Much of the rest of the cast is pretty disposable, though you might recognize Zora Kerova from several Fulci films (NEW YORK RIPPER, TOUCH OF DEATH), as well as an unforgettable stint as a torture casualty in CANNIBAL FEROX. In one of her first movies, Serena Grandi is given the most unglamorous female role (and is instrumental to the film’s most infamous sequence), but would go on to become a glamour queen in Italy.
ANTHROPOPHAGUS is presented here in an anamorphic transfer, framed at about 1.78:1. For a film that was originally shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm, the transfer looks quite good. Colors are accurate and stable, and the image has excellent detail, especially in nighttime scenes which were always hard to make out in previous video transfers. The frequent fine grain stems from the original shooting process, and the transfer is very clean and blemish free for the most part. The mono English track for this film always sounded very hollow, so you’ll probably have to pump up the volume to hear the dialogue better. Marcello Giombini's electronic score (originally removed from the U.S. theatrical version and replaced with stock music) can be heard on both the English and Italian tracks. Optional English subtitles are also included. Note that this version runs approximately 91 minutes, nearly ten minutes longer that what played in U.S. theaters!
Extras on the first disc include three trailers for the film, all under different titles and basically the same in content. A fourth trailer is a short promo from Monterey Home Video when they released it as THE GRIM REAPER on VHS back in the 1980s. Trailers for four other Shriek Show releases round out the extras on the first disc. Moving on to Disc 2 is a lengthy Italian-made documentary called JOE D'AMATO: TOTALLY UNCUT 2, and this is an extension of the first part, which appears on Media Blasters’ release of IMAGES IN A CONVENT. It features in-depth interview footage with D’Amato shortly before his untimely death in 1999. Always with a cigarette in hand, the well-spoken and unpretentious D’Amato discusses such films as DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER, BUIO OMEGA (BEYOND THE DARKNESS), ABSURD (the sort of sequel to ANTHROPOPHAGUS), RED COAT, and has great words to say about Pam Grier when he worked with her on THE ARENA (aka NAKED WARRIORS). As for the shooting of ANTHROPOPHAGUS, he tells a great anecdote about the authentic human bones and the rented plastic bones used during a memorable catacomb scene. The documentary also includes interviews with George Eastman (who had a long-time close working relationship/friendship with the man, and is always good for some funny stories), Al Cliver and (briefly) the late Ivan Rassimov. The entire special is in Italian with English subtitles. George Eastman and fellow ANTHROPOPHAGUS co-star Zora Kerova are reunited for a live discussion about the film, taped in 2005. Eastman shares further insight to working with D’Amato, and is openly not fond of ANTHROPOPHAGUS despite having a lot of fun while making it. Kerova (a cult figure in her own right) doesn’t have much to say about D’Amato since she never really got to know him on the set, but explains how she learned phonetic English by listening to The Beatles, and talks a bit about Lucio Fulci. Also on Disc 2 is the alternate rescored GRIM REAPER U.S. opening credits, as well as different opening credits under the title, “The Savage Island.” A still gallery is also included, and a hidden feature on the extras menu will unveil a video clip of director Sergio Garrone giving his fond impressions of D’Amato, who worked for him as a camera operator in the 1960s. A section of trailers for “Fangoria International” DVD releases will lead you to another hidden feature: a cluster of D’Amato trailers which include DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER (as “Death Smiles at Murder”), EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS (as “Trap Them and Kill Them”) and others. (George R. Reis)
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