Anthropophagus [Blu-ray 4K]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - 88 Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (14th June 2024).
The Film

Medical student Andy (The Dark Side of Love's Saverio Vallone), his sister Carol (Touch of Death's Zora Kerowa), friend Danny (Alien 2: On Earth's Mark Bodin), pregnant Maggie (Miranda's Serena Grandi), and her husband Arnold (Angelfist's Bob Larson) decide to make a tour of the Greek islands. After missing her boat, American student Julie (Zombie's Tisa Farrow) begs passage to one of the islands where she is the yearly summer companion to the blind daughter of a vacationing family. Carol's Tarot cards bode ill for the journey, but that may just be because she is jealous of the attention Danny shows Julie; that is, until they land on the island and discover the village deserted but for a mutilated corpse and an elusive woman who warns them to "go away." Their means of escape is lost when the boat is carried away by the current of the coming storm, apparently with ailing Maggie aboard. They find the cottage of Julie's friends similarly deserted apart from the couple's daughter Rita (future novelist Margaret Mazzantini) who tells them about a series of murders on the island and her ability to sense the killer by the smell of blood. As the storm rages on, the group falls victim to a hulking throwback (Baba Yaga's Luigi Montefiori AKA George Eastman) that was once the son of the island's wealthiest family.

Seemingly more an outgrowth of a cannibal-tinged Italian body count horror and giallo subgenre than a slasher cash-in – especially in contrast to the film's sequel Absurd – Anthropophagus marked a turn in the production scheme of cinematographer-turned-producer/director Aristide Massaccesi AKA Joe D'Amato away from softcore and hardcore exotic erotica like the Black Emanuelle films and the Santo Domingo cycle Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, Porno Holocaust, Sesso Nero, and Hard Sensation to the type of low-budget horror that would form the cornerstone of his Filmirage company established later in the decade. Scripted by actor Montefiori, a character actor of spaghetti westerns who turned towards screenwriting in the mid-seventies while also diversifying his output as an actor in collaboration with D'Amato, the film is actually rather draggy and dull despite its reputation as an ultra-gory film based largely on descriptions in reference books of the film's two set-pieces involving the monster munching on a foetus and later his own intestines when the film was hard to track down uncut. D'Amato's photography – with Massaccesi taking operator credit while his usual operator Enrico Biribicchi (Shoot First, Die Later) gets the cinematographer credit – ekes out atmosphere from dark corridors and stormy forests but, apart from some early footage in Athens, the Greek island setting is rather unconvincing and the synthesizer score of Marcello Giombini (Knife of Ice) is so grating on the ears as to drive viewers to throw dishes at the screen. The climax is reasonably suspenseful – and a bit set in a cramped attic would be reused later in the D'Amato-produced Killing Birds – but the film is incapable of living up to its Video Nasty reputation.
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Video

American theater goers got Anthropophagus in an R-rated edit titled 'The Grim Reaper" (reissued as "The Zombie's Rage" – which wiped Giombini's score in favor of library tracks from Kingdom of the Spiders – while gorier variations of the full-strength edit popped up theatrically and on home video around the world, being most popular as an uncut pre-cert in the U.K. as "Anthropophagus the Beast" – which still commands high prices on the collector's circuit – and cut in Germany as "Man-Eater". "The Grim Reaper" edit showed up on VHS in the U.S. from Monterey Home Video, and this cut also turned up on DVD at the dawn of the format in both the U.S. and the U.K. in putrid condition. The uncut version could be found on the gray market as a boots of an English-language, Spanish-subtitled Venezuelan cassette or Midnight Video's reconstruction using multiple video sources. Germany's Astro Film attempted the first DVD reconstruction utilizing "The Grim Reaper" edit and poorer video sources, but the result was often too murky to appreciate the additional gore, and the English and German soundtracks still did not feature the original score. An anamorphic reconstruction from better materials followed in Austria as a two-disc set with "The Grim Reaper" cut in full on the second disc; however, the English track on the European version cut back and forth between the American soundtrack and the Italian source with the original score anywhere from a few frames to a few seconds. A two-disc set finally popped up in Italy from soundtrack label Beat Records with the Italian track and the English export track with the original score (as well as English subtitles), the transfer of which Shriek Show ported over stateside for their own two-disc edition which also carried over an interview with Eastman and Kerowa while adding the sixty-seven minute Joe D'amato: Totally Uncut 2 documentary and alternate credits sequences.

88 Films produced the first Blu-ray release as part of a Kickstarter batch of Italian horror films that launched their Italian Collection featuring a new transfer that was somewhat pale and desaturated as if the scan had not been graded or very conservatively so, and it was also roughly two minutes shorter than other uncut versions (possibly cut or a framerate issue). This edition was available for retail a few months later; however, they reissued the film two years later with a nicer remastered transfer. An Austrian two-disc set followed with separate Italian and German theatrical versions and Super 8 abridgements; however, the pressing had issues that were apparently not rectified. In 2018, Severin Films issued their own Blu-ray edition stateside which came from another 2K scan of the original 16mm camera negative with slightly different framing and another color grade that was darker and less saturated than the 88 Films remastered transfer but better defined in terms of its textures and contrasts overall.
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88 Films' new 2160p24 HEVC 1.66:1 widescreen HDR10 4K UltraHD and 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen Blu-ray – also available separately – both come from a new 4K restoration that wrings out as much detail as seemingly possible from the original 16mm camera negatives. Textures are well-defined in close-ups but less so in wider shots, some darker shots may have been flashed in-camera or brightened in the lab as they are noisier than some other low-lit sequences that sport deeper blacks. The grading seems to have taken a page from Severin's look with a touch more saturation so reds and some rare greens pop more than that transfer. While some streaking water on the underwater camera housing is visible for the first time when the killer's POV rises from the surf, even with HDR the 4K scan can only capture so much as the horizon is indistinguishable from the sky in the water scenes even when the sky is overcast. The main menu allows selections of the English or Italian versions which are identical apart from the English or Italian opening credits and end card via seamless branching. The English version sports the export title "The Savage Island".

Audio

Audio options include English and Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono options – the English version being the export version with the original Giombini score – both featuring post-dubbed voice acting with Farrow dubbed by Carolyn de Fonseca (a prolific voice artist who Bertolucci fans may only have seen onscreen at the end of The Sheltering Sky). The audio tracks are clean but do not expect much. Effects fail to jolt even during intended scares and the score is more grating than eerie. English subtitles are available for the Italian dub along with English SDH subtitles for the Italian track.
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Extras

Besides the feature, the 4K disc includes the Italian theatrical trailer (3:06) and an audio commentary by film historians Eugenio Ercolani and Nanni Cobretti in which they note that D'Amato did not create Filmirage but bought fifty-percent of the existing company from producer Ermanno Donati (The Horrible Dr. Hichcock) while the other half was owned by Donati's daughter Donatella (Emanuelle in Bangkok) who served as uncredited producer and as production manager or assistant director on this and other Filmirage productions, and that the film marked a change in the way D'Amato made films, functioning as his own producer and funding the film with pre-sales to distributors. The pair concede that the film is slow and there is a lot of filler, but also try to convey the aura of the film when it was difficult to see uncut and the seedy thrill of getting one's hands on a copy – with mention of the SOV gore boom of the nineties in Germany where the D'Amato film was very popular and even spawned a video "remake" in Anthropophagous 2000 – compared to more modern examples of extreme horror filmmaking including the relatively "mainstream" Terrifier films. They also provide information on the cast including the recollections of Montefiori about D'Amato and the cast – noting that while Grandi stayed clothed for the film compared to her other works, Montefiori described her as being "annoyingly enthusiastic" – including Kerowa who is aptly compared in terms of onscreen grisly fates in other films to Giovanni Lombardo Radice (City of the Living Dead) and Mazzantini who went on to become an esteemed novelist. The pair also discuss how the grotesque often contaminated other genres in D'Amato's filmography including the erotic, but that his rare examples of straight horror were often comparatively sexless.

The Blu-ray disc includes the film, the commentary, the Italian trailer, and the remainder of the set's extras starting with "Resurrecting the Monster" (12:36), an interview with filmmaker Dario Germani who recently directed Anthropophagus II for Giovanni Paolucci who started out as production manager on some of Bruno Mattei's eighties films for producer Franco Gaudenzi (Robowar) and later produced Mattei's boom of DTV films in the early 2000s and more recently Dario Argento's Dracula 3D. It is less an appreciation of D'Amato's film than a promotion for his film as he cites inspiration from the likes of Rob Zombie, Lucio Fulci, and Pupi Avati as well as – being a cinematographer himself – what he has learned in shooting practical special effects including gore scenes for the film.

"The Sacrificial Lamb" (23:53) is an interview with actress Kerowa who recalls the completely different lifestyle she encountered leaving Czechoslovakia for Italy and her early work, as well as warnings from the Czech consulate about how her work reflected on them. Although she had no issues about doing nudity, she recalls preferring to be the victim in violent scenes to shooting sex scenes, even noting on the Montefiori-scripted Terror Express that director Ferdinando Baldi filmed what should have been a violent rape scene like a kinky sex scene instead, and also compares the experiences of shooting sex scenes in The New York Ripper and Cannibal Ferox to the her death scenes in both of them.
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"The Grim Reaper" (16:38) is a new interview with actor Montefiori does not have fond memories of the film but he does dish some dirt on his co-stars, noting that Farrow was driving a cab in between and was in lust with D'Amato's brother while Kerowa had been the girlfriend of distributor Cinedaf's Dante Fava – Montefiori also takes credit for finding a distributor to provide the budget – agreeing to rewrite the bad script if he could star in it, and also discusses some of his other screenwriting works like Dog Lay Afternoon.

Montefiori also appears in an older interview titled "Joe, The Monster and Me" (15:16) in which he discusses his working relationship with D'Amato and working on the Santo Domingo trilogy as writer and actor for the holiday, and also mentions cribbing ideas from the Greek sexploitation film The Wild Pussycat for Emanuelle's Revenge in which he also starred. He also offers up a frank opinion of D'Amato's abilities as a filmmaker and director of actors as well as experiencing the financial limitations of Filmirage when he got to direct Metamorphosis.

Also included is a deleted scene with introduction by film historian Eugenio Ercolani (3:21) which was not censored from the film or intended to be included. The short scene on the boat in which Andy is fishing and pulls up a severed human foot in a shoe was created to get around censorship by submitting the film to the censor board with the scene which corresponded in length to two gore shots from the film which were then re-inserted before theatrical release.

"The Guts of It All" (25:57) is a visual essay by Ercolani who describes the ways in which Anthropophagus was a pivotal film for D'Amato and even if it seems tame now it should be appreciated as a time capsule of the genre and Italian filmmaking. He also discusses Montefiori's role as the "deus ex machina" of the production, securing a distributor and rewriting the script (although Ercolani does point out the film's debts to the British horror film Tower of Evil which also influenced the more conventional American slasher Hell Night). Interestingly, he also draws from interviewing cinematographer Gianlorenzo Battaglia (Demons) that D'Amato merely regarded credited director of photography Biribicchi as competent but not inventive, usually entrusting him to his hardcore films.

Besides the Italian trailer, the Blu-ray also includes "The Savage Island" export trailer (3:07), the "Anthropophagous The Beast" U.K. video trailer (3:00), and the "The Grim Reaper" U.S. VHS trailer (0:31) but no sign of the U.S. theatrical trailer which is available online.
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Packaging

The standard retail edition comes with a reversible sleeve featuring new art by Graham Humphreys and original Italian poster while the 88 Films website exclusive includes a rigid slipcase with original VHS artwork, doublesided A3 poster, and a 40-page perfectbound book featuring the essays "Islands Of Death: Horrors Of The Greek Archipelago" by John Llewellyn Probert, "Devouring the Innocent: Women and Children as Cannibalistic Prey in Anthropophagous" by Zoë Rose Smith, "So Horrific It Must Be Real: The Trials and Tribulations of Anthropophagous the Beast" by David Flint, and "The Savage Island" by Daniel Burnett (not supplied for review).

Overall

Whether as a mere "time capsule" of Italian horror filmmaking in transition or the thus-far ultimate edition of a pivotal Video Nasty, Anthropophagus spills its guns onscreen and off in 4K courtesy of 88 Films.

 


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