Directed by: Joe D’Amato
First released: 1983
Current status: UK release is heavily cut, available uncut in the US
Having never really heard of Joe D’Amato until now (shame on me I know!) I can only presume the poor fella lived in the shadows of the great Italian horror director’s Argento, Fulci and Bava. Make no mistake, their influences are all over this film, in a good way, and having just reviewed the sequel to this (Absurd) I can honestly say that this film was much more satisfying and a better film all round than its simple slasher follow up. Otherwise known as The Grim Reaper (it’s name for the uncut release in the US), Anthropophagous Beast suffered at the hands of the Video Nasty list and became a rarity and a collectable item for those who could get their hands on it. It was released in February 1983 and was removed from shelves and added to the List in November 1983. Video Shack released a heavily cut version years later to exploit the Video Nasty history of the film, but it wasn’t popular. In 2002 there was a heavily cut US version available which the BBFC also passed for a UK release, however since then it has become available uncut in the US.
While the sequel Absurd felt like a proper 80’s style horror, Anthropophagous Beast feels much more like a classic Giallo both in style and in content. Again, there is little story but intense build up and characterisation which invites you in and becomes quite unsettling very quickly. The mood of the film is very bleak right the way through, and the wonderfully shot Italian setting adds some superb authenticity and, strangely enough believability! The film opens with a nasty scene which sets up the film nicely. A couple looking petrified of the camera filming them wonder onto a deserted beach with their dog and the woman proceeds to undress (good start!) while the man nervously takes off his top and decides to stop there (good move). The fine looking woman head into a bitterly cold looking sea while the man puts on head phones and listens to dance music, bobbing his head around like his life depended on it. Numerous close up shots of the dog somehow help build up the impending doom and suddenly the woman see’s an empty small rowing boat and investigates, only to be dragged under by an unseen being and killed. Cleverly, nothing is revealed and the earlier over the top cheesy happy music all of a sudden becomes a vicious, thundering distorted bass as we become the eyes of the killer as he creeps up the beach toward the strange little man listening to dance music in a world of his own. Blood drips on the sand; the man see’s the killer, screams and gets a lovely axe in the head! Well done D’Amato, you have my attention!
The film grips from the start, and then nicely calms down to tell a proper story, something that was sadly lacking in the sequel. A group of friends are heading on a boat trip, and a young attractive woman who has missed her lift tags along with the promise of a boat trip to the island she is heading for. For such an old film, the characters are an enjoyable bunch to watch and you do quickly start to care for them, an added bonus in any horror as you know some of them are gonna meet horrible deaths. To be fair, the mood is quite jolly on the way to the island, there’s some nice tension created between one woman’s jealousy of her boyfriend flirting with the new stranger, but everyone’s happy enough to enjoy the sites and drink out of cans of coke that look the size of barrels! The jealous woman is a card reader, and the mood becomes slightly awkward as she reads the cards of her pregnant friend and it says she has no future. Oh dear, maybe heading to the island is not such a good idea!
The island itself looks gorgeous and threatening at the same time. Things aren’t right from the minute they arrive, but you can’t help but be amazed at the incredible architecture, the landscape, the surrounding sea and its views. It looks like a nice place to visit, honestly, but as our group of friends investigate the fact that hardly anyone is around, it becomes apparent this island is not safe! The pregnant woman goes missing, as does the boat, but strangely enough the friends are more interested in drinking and eating and announce “we’ll look for her in the morning!” Come on, on a strange island where things look a bit out of place, why wait till morning! Anyway, D’Amato shows some excellent restraint as we get a few glimpses of the killer, and after almost an hour we finally see him properly as he makes his second kill. It’s brief, but for its time, the killer looks pretty darned horrible and what atmosphere had already been set up is now even more frightening as we have seen that this killer is damned ugly and clearly not right in the head!
Thankfully, this film does give a very brief back story to the killer, played again with expert nastiness by George Eastman. His story is a sad one, but he has clearly flipped and just wants to kill kill kill. The group search the island for clues and for lost friends with one of the guys happily brandishing a kitchen knife almost as big as him! He waves it around, and runs with it in clear view for all to see. Maybe this was the actor’s first chance at holding a knife, I don’t know but he’s clearly loving every minute. “Look at me and my knife!” I can hear him saying! As with all good Giallo’s, the film is more a mystery than all out horror, and more leads and clues are found along the way which I won’t go into. The story is involving and very well told and the actors convincing. The score, although a bit cheesy at times, does work brilliantly alongside the great atmosphere and location. The film leads to a superb finale which contains the scenes which got it added to The List! Considering the sort of violence I have witnessed in films over the years, even I found the ripping out of an unborn baby slightly disturbing, and the delight in the killer’s eyes as he does it made the whole scene even more horrible. It’s impressively done considering what was available effects wise, but it doesn’t stop there. The killer then bites a huge chunk out of the foetus, still with wide eyed ecstasy. The violent finale never quite reaches the heights of this glorious scene, but it still delivers some nasty stuff. The blind girl does become a bit irritating, but she is mighty fine to look at! Oh, and there is a classic chase scene up the longest stair case in the history of films!
The Anthropophagous Beast is an excellent example of classic Italian horror that hits all the right buttons. A film that may be hard to get hold of, but will most certainly be gracing my collection very soon!
So, did this film deserve to be added to the Video Nasty’ List: For that one scene involving an unborn baby, yes!
Does it deserve to still be cut today: No, there’s far more disturbing stuff around now. Not a pleasant watch at times, but perfectly ok to release uncut.