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Anthropophagous & Absurd

Anthropophagous


A group of tourists head to a remote Greek island, only to discover the town has been ransacked by a cannibalistic madman (George Eastman). One by one, they are attacked, murdered, and eaten.

As his contemporaries enjoyed posthumous career reevaluations, the late sleazelord king of Euro-exploitation, Joe D’Amato (née Aristide Massaccesi), remains a nadir in the Italian horror community nearly 20 years after his untimely passing. This sour reputation is, in part, well-earned due to his largely lacklustre output. From the beginning, he typically treated cinema as a job, not a creative outlet. This attitude led him to make movies as quickly and cheaply as possible; often using recycled scripts, casts, sets, FX shots, and pre-completed footage. He’s also the uncredited co-director/producer of Claudio Fragasso’s Troll 2 (1990), which is remembered ‘fondly’ as the Best Worst Film ever (it’s not even close to his worst movie, by the way). But D’Amato had almost accidentally fallen into his role as a director/producer following a lucrative career as a cinematographer – a vocation in which he actually excelled and (reportedly) enjoyed. He was so skilled in this regard that it can be used as a metric to measure how much he cared about a given project, since he ended up photographing most of his own work, usually under a pseudonym.

Though Beyond the Darkness (Italian: Buio Omega, 1979) and Death Smiles on a Murderer (Italian: La morte ha sorriso all'assassino; working title Seven Strange Corpses, 1973) are his best films as a purveyor of lustful, lovingly photographed horror, D’Amato is probably best known for his Euro-slasher Anthropophagous (aka: Anthropaphagus, Anthropophagous: The Beast, and The Grim Reaper, 1980). As is often the case, Anthropophagous’ popularity isn’t tied to its quality, but the controversy it courted soon after release. Like many Italian-made horrors of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, D’Amato’s movie found itself prosecuted and banned on home video in the UK as part of the British Board of Film Classification’s so-called “Video Nasties” scare. But Anthropophagous wasn’t merely a random B-movie that found itself arbitrarily added to the DPP’s (Director of Public Prosecutions) banned list – it was a centerpiece of the moral outrage campaign. Specifically, a sequence in which the cannibal murderer pulls a fetus from a pregnant victim’s womb and takes a bite was falsely categorized as authentic snuff, despite the ridiculous notion of a pregnant actress (who appeared in other movies) agreeing to have her unborn child eaten or the fact that the fetus in question was clearly a skinned rabbit. Ultimately, baby-eating and a few other particularly juicy kills aside, Anthropophagous is a typical vacation slasher with a refreshing rural Greek setting. Detached from its reputation, it doesn’t come anywhere near the level of genuine, stomach-churning dread of oppressively relentless gore movies, such as Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) or even Beyond the Darkness (1979).

As opposed to the vast majority of the Video Nasties, most of which are so shoddily made that they’re nearly unwatchable, Anthropophagous can be quite fun and is a good example of D’Amato actually exerting some creative effort. Its obvious problems aren’t the tastelessness of his shocks or its lack of budget (even for an Italian exploitation film, the budget was very low, because D’Amato produced via his own, newly-minted company, Filmirage), but its excess of listless filler. While the censors and moral guardians focus on its extreme gore, many Italian horror fans actually remember it for its long boring streaks. I’m not going to downplay the problem D’Amato’s needless time-stretches cause (he could’ve easily trimmed 11 minutes and still had a feature-friendly 80-minute runtime), but I do hope that the film’s bad reputation in this regard has faded a bit, because, if you can make it through the spotty first hour, the final act is a relentlessly entertaining stalk & slash that actually outperforms the majority of North American slashers in terms of suspense and imaginative violence. Then, it ends with perhaps the greatest villain death in slasher movie history (it’s a toss-up between this and Jeff Lieberman’s Just Before Dawn, 1981). D’Amato even finds a perfect spot to stick a flashback to the killer’s tragic backstory, leading me to assume that the final 30 minutes represent the bulk of his and star/co-writer George Eastman’s (real name: Luigi Montefiori) script.

Heavily censored versions were released on VHS in America, where the film was retitled The Grim Reaper and cut to 81 minutes. Even when the DPP’s ban was lifted, UK DVDs (from Hollywood DVD) were missing some gore. Similarly, Astro’s German DVD was still censored and a budget label, non-anamorphic US disc from a company calling themselves DVD Video sported the heavily truncated Grim Reaper cut. The first readily available uncensored versions came from Shriek Show in the US, followed by a number of European and Asian releases. The first Blu-ray was released by 88 Films, who managed to get the previous BBFC edits waived.

Based on previous transfers, I tend to assume that Severin uses the same scans as 88 Films, though the releases tend to look different due to the two companies taking different approaches to digital restoration. I initially wasted hours of my life collecting screen caps from my 88 Films disc and writing up a lengthy comparison, in which I noted a litany of differences in the framing, print artefacts, grain, runtime length, and general quality between it and this new, remastered Severin release. Then I realized that 88 Films had released their own remaster in 2017 that corrected a lot of their 2015 version’s issues and, apparently, more or less matches Severin’s disc. Indeed, both are struck from a 2K restoration of the original 16mm negative. So then, I’m stuck comparing this very nice 1.66:1, 1080p image to memories of distinctly inferior SD and BD versions, rather than its nearest competition. C'est la vie.

Overall, this is a fantastic transfer that accurately portrays the film in all of its gritty, grain-caked glory, but not at the risk of well-separated visual elements. Previous editions attempted to downplay the grain with DNR, which robbed the transfers of basically all texture, so, even if this image skews noisy, it is worth the difference. I really do think this is the most detail anyone could rend from the source, given its age and, again, the fact that it is 16mm. Colours appear accurate, though contrast levels have been pushed a bit too far, leaving some hues too dark, at least compared to earlier releases. These levels also cause minor hotspots throughout the highlights, though there are no major issues with edge haloes and the key colour problems occur towards the very end of the film, where the lush outdoor greens and red glistening guts are dulled in the dusky darkness. Still, nothing of note, outside some of the colour, is lost in the gloom.

This disc includes the original Italian and English dubs of the film, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Again, as I always mention in these situations, Italian films – especially cheaply made exploitation films – were shot without synced sound, so all audio versions are technically dubbed tracks. The choice between tracks comes down largely to personal taste. Given Anthropophagous’ goofball qualities, I find that the off-set lip-sync of the English track adds to the whole experience. Star Tisa Farrow also dubs her own performance (and does a fine job) and more than half the cast was clearly speaking English on-set. In all, you’d be hard-pressed to note any differences in sound quality between the audio options. Marcello Giombini’s quirky keyboard score, which blends traditional Greek-sounding tunes and spooky horror stings, and the bulk of the sound effects are practically identical. Perhaps the Italian dub features slightly more reverb and slightly louder dialogue. Do note that the couple killed at the beginning of the movie is meant to be speaking German without subtitles and do so on each track.

Extras include:
  • Don’t Fear the Man-Eater (13:03, HD) – Writer/Star George Eastman discusses his career as writer/actor, his long working relationship with D’Amato, and offers up some amusing stories from behind-the-scenes of Anthropophagous.
  • The Man Who Killed the Anthropophagus (13:50, HD) – Actor Saverio Vallone (with his dog by his side) also chats a bit about his larger career and shares fond memories from the sets and locations.
  • Cannibal Frenzy (5:58, HD) – FX artist Pietro Tenoglio quickly talks about the production in general and breaks down some of his gory tricks.
  • Brother and Sister in Editing (12:56, HD) – Assistant editor Bruno Micheli talks about his familial and working relationship with D’Amato and the director’s usual editor (and Bruno’s sister), Ornella Micheli.
  • Inside Zora’s Mouth (9:59, HD) – The interviews wrap-up with actress Zora Kerova, which seems to have been shot at some kind of press event or festival. This particular chat seems to have initially covered her larger career and was edited down to focus on Anthropophagous.
  • International, Italian, and American trailers


 Anthropophagous & Absurd

 Anthropophagous & Absurd

 Anthropophagous & Absurd

 Anthropophagous & Absurd

 Anthropophagous & Absurd

 Anthropophagous & Absurd

 Anthropophagous & Absurd


Anthropophagous & Absurd

Absurd


A brutish, unstoppable killing machine (George Eastman) escapes from imprisonment as a scientific experiment in superhuman healing and is unleashed on a suburban town. One of the priests behind the experiments (Edmund Purdom) chases after him, in an effort to warn the authorities. Meanwhile, a young woman with a spinal injury (Annie Belle) tries to calm her younger brother, who is convinced that the Bogeyman is on his way to kill them and their family.

Anthropophagous was a surprise hit, so D’Amato, who had been continuing his short, but surprisingly prolific stint as a gore movie maker with a pair of gore/porn hybrids, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (Italian: Le notti erotiche dei morti viventi, 1980) and Porno Holocaust (1981), jumped back on the slasher bandwagon with Eastman once again in tow as writer and star. Their follow-up, Absurd (Italian: Rosso Sangue; aka: Horrible, 1981), theoretically began as a direct sequel, as clear from alternate titles Anthropophagous 2 and The Grim Reaper 2 (it was also resold as a bogus fifth sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, 1978, at one point under the title Zombi 6: Monster Hunter) and the fact that the killer is played by the same guy. He also begins this film disemboweled and clutching his intestines, but this is clearly an homage to the last movie, since the cause of injury is completely different. Eastman (who has the only story and screenplay credits this time around, despite claiming in interviews that he didn’t have enough time to actually write a complete treatment) and D’Amato quickly abandoned the idea of another distinctly European variation on the slasher for a more straightforward aping of the basic traditions and clichés developed by John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980), and the largely Canadian-made mad killer movies that were squeezed out in between. However, being Italian boys at heart, the duo still managed to infuse Absurd with a multitude of European eccentricities.

Halloween is the key template, beginning with the dynamic relationship between a silent, unstoppable killer and the man burdened by the knowledge of his madness. In Carpenter’s film, the killer was a troubled boy who grew into an even more troubled man and his nemesis was his one-time psychiatrist. D’Amato and Eastman add Catholic and sci-fi twists, by making the good-guy nemesis a guilty Vatican priest who helped to create the killer during a botched, church-sanctioned scientific experiment (?!). Unlike Michael Myers, who, until later films, was a mysterious, pseudo-supernatural force that didn’t need to be explained, Mikos is impervious to impalement, disemboweling, and gunshots specifically because the Church’s biochemistry division (?!?) designed him that way. Absurd then recycles the disabled victim gimmick from Anthropophagous, replacing a blind woman with a paralyzed girl who miraculously isn’t all that paralyzed when it’s convenient. However, Absurd’s disabled victim becomes a more distinctive stand-in for the North American brand of “final girl,” who survives the killer’s attacks via emotional fortitude, precocity, and surprising physical strength. It’s possible that D’Amato and Eastman were attempting to do something similar with Anthropophagous’ blind heroine, but opted to make sure their star actress survived the ordeal, instead. One other Halloween-ism Absurd borrows is the big event occupying everyone’s attention. They trade the largely American holiday (Halloween, naturally) for an all-American sporting event, namely the Super Bowl. Despite the authenticity of including footage from the actual 1980 game, they do little to disguise the laughable Italian stereotypes – for instance, the people who watch the game in their white plastered villas while shoving piles of spaghetti into their gobs.

Absurd is less grotesquely creative than its counterpart and its vague, pseudo-American setting is a step down from Anthropophagous’ more compelling Greek island backdrop, but it makes up for this ambiguous nature with a much larger body count and cruel streak that, despite all of his notoriety as an exploitation machine, D’Amato rarely revisited. During his mostly head-based rampage, Eastman drives a surgical drill through a nurse’s temple, rams a slaughterhouse janitor’s skull into a jigsaw, strangles a biker (future Cemetery Man director Michele Soavi), pickaxes a babysitter from scalp to jaw, and shoves a physical therapist/secondary babysitter headfirst into an oven, then stabs her with scissors when she survives and almost gets the drop on him. Other gore delights include Mikos’ aforementioned exposed guts, which are surgically shoved back into his body. There’s less filler this time around, as well, though D’Amato once again ends the film on its strongest point, when the still injured heroine stabs Mikos’ eyes out and has to silently sneak around as he blindly and angrily gropes the air trying to find her. She eventually rectifies the situation by brutally hacking his head off.

Absurd was more of a home video rarity than Anthropophagous, especially in English-speaking countries. Stateside, Wizard Video released a very hard to find, (mostly?) uncut version on big box VHS under the title Monster Hunter, complete with cover art that promised a graveyard full of zombies that most definitely do not appear at any point in the film. In the UK, Medusa’s VHS was quickly banned and pulled from shelves, making it a valuable collector’s item. The film didn’t fare much better on DVD, where fans had a choice between a pair of non-anamorphic German language discs from Astro and Laser Pacific, or a grey market, uncut, non-anamorphic and misframed disc from Mya (under the French title Horrible), which went OOP almost immediately. For the film’s stateside BD debut, Severin has included two versions of the film: the international Absurd cut, which runs 1:33:55, and the Italian cut, which runs a shorter 1:28:33. The differences are a collection of slightly longer shots of mostly mundane activities. No gore is censored between each version. Again, the film was temporarily banned in the UK, though it suffered only about 2 minutes and 23 seconds of trims, until 88 Films released a completely uncut Blu-ray in 2017. I don’t have that disc at my disposal for comparison sake, but, assuming that, once again, the two companies were working from similar 2K restorations (there are some brief clips from the 88 Films BD included on the shared extras and it appears much yellower/oranger than this disc).

Perhaps it’s just years of bootlegs and Mya’s borderline VHS-quality DVD fogging my mind, but I think this 1.85:1, 1080p remaster looks pretty fantastic. It helps that Absurd was filmed on 35mm, rather than 16mm, making it a less gritty experience, though D’Amato seems to have been less invested in his cinematography than he was when he shot Athropophagous. To that effect, the transfer is basically as strong as the photography – when D’Amato steals a quick, dimly-lit shot, it looks dull and flat, but, when he takes the time to paint with the light a tad, the image is dynamic, nicely detailed, and the natural colours are rich. Machine noise is minimized in favour of relatively accurate film grain and the posterisation effects tend to blend with the softness of better photography. In comparison, the not-so-good photography has slight problems with bleeding and mosquito-y grain, but it’s still a really solid presentation.

This disc includes the Italian and English dubs, again, in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono, but only on separate versions of the film. Since I prefer the longer cut and extra silliness of the English language cut, I spent most of my time reviewing the that dub. I like this version, probably because it features so many familiar English language dub artists and that perfect blend of sincere performance, silly dialogue, and weird pauses to compensate for Italian-speaking actors. The Italian version has slightly louder sound effects and slightly tinnier dialogue, but the general mixes are the same. Composer Carlo Maria Cordio was an underrated member of the Italian movie community during the ‘80s and this was one of his first soundtracks and went on to more or less define his entire career – in part because parts of it were re-used by other films, including Juan Piquer Simón’s Pieces (1982). There are a few choppy, keyboard-based scare cues, but, for the most part, this is a rock score, à la Goblin and Keith Emerson, with full guitar, drum, and bass tracks supporting the organ, synth, and piano motifs. The music is clean, but the rhythm section is occasionally lost in the single channel mix.

Extras include:
  • The Return of the Grim Reaper (30:53, HD) – A second and more substantial interview with Eastman/Montefiore. This was recorded separately from the interview on the Anthropophagous disc, so there is some overlap in subject matter, especially towards the beginning, when the star/writer describes his early career and friendship with D’Amato. Eventually, the discussion skews more towards Absurd, where Eastman praises the professionalism of his castmates.
  • D’Amato on Video (19:43, HD/SD) – This archival, English language interview with D’Amato was taken from a VHS-quality source and suped-up with some poster images and clips from his movies. It’s not enormously informative in terms of unknown details about the man’s career, but it is valuable as a personable and honest portrait of a long career. Besides, D’Amato died before most of his movies ever hit DVD, so there’s little footage of him available, outside of Roger A. Fratter’s Joe D’Amato: Totally Uncut (1999) bio-doc double-feature.
  • A Biker (Uncredited) (17:47, HD) – In this interview produced for 88 Films’ release, director Michele Soavi recalls his brief cameo in Absurd and the two’s ongoing professional relationship, which included Soavi’s directorial debut, Stagefright (aka: Aquarius and Bloody Bird, 1987).
  • Trailer
  • CD soundtrack (limited to the first 2500 copies)


 Anthropophagous & Absurd

 Anthropophagous & Absurd

 Anthropophagous & Absurd

 Anthropophagous & Absurd

 Anthropophagous & Absurd

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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