Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Nasties Review: Anthropophagus the Beast

The first offering I have for you is this 1981 Italian nasty called Anthropophagous the beast...or anthropophagous, or grim reaper, or savage island or man eater or one of several other titles. Directed by Joe D'Amato and released in 1981 this unpleasant little tale of cannibalism was banned as part of the 1984 video nasties scare due to a number of outrageous scenes of gore that stand as some of the great examples of low taste in Italian horror. No mean feat by any measure. At a time when even the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was banned despite its singular lack of on screen gore this movie along with its mostly Italian brothers pushed the boundaries of acceptability. The story is simple, in fact its almost non existent. Tisa Farrow plays Julie who is heading towards her holiday home and after a chance meeting with a group of tourists she takes a ride on their boat with them to the island. On arrival however they find the island apparently deserted. One by one they are killed off in a variety of gory ways while they try to work out how to get back to the boat that has been set adrift, in the mean time they try to find out what has been happening on the island. Turns out
that a sailor and his family were shipwrecked and stranded in a dingy, he eventually was forced to eat his dead son and his wife was accidentally killed when she went to stop him, this drove him insane and after being washed up on the island he took to eating the entire island populace with the exception of two people. Now that new meat is on the island, the beast is on the prowl and the visitors are on the menu. As with many films of this genre the action takes place mostly as set pieces of gore and violence preceded by travelogue footage and linked by seemingly long periods of largely inane dialogue and action that serves as exposition and to deliver us to the next scene of carnage. Also, not unusually, there are scenes that echo other films, imitation and plain ripping off was not outside the norm in this area of Italian cinema, but the opening scene is particularly amusing in its almost parody of Jaws. In this scene the girl goes swimming and the is attacked from below the water by the beast in shots and cuts that echo the Spielberg classic. This time however the oblivious boyfriend on the beach also gets it in the neck for his complacency, or rather the head with a cleaver, their dog however in true Hollywood style gets away safely. Characterisation is often an
issue with exploitation movies, often due to poor dubbing and also due to the nature of exploitation films, you really don't want to care too much for the characters as that would make the whole process quite unpleasant. This film is no exception to the rule in most respects although it does spend a fair amount of time getting to know the characters before they they are put in peril. Unfortunately poor overacting in the dubbing sessions as it often does, makes each line of dialogue stilted and awkward. Add to that a clunky and cliché ridden script and you can only sit back and enjoy the ham on display in front of you.
The mad psychic, main stay of exploitation films makes her appearance here and one of my favourite moments from this film after we hear of her lifelong attachment to the Tarot cards she uses, she sees no future for herself in the cards and drops them in the sea, this is a bleak moment as she effectively gives up any hope at this point.
The beast himself (played by George Eastman) is sadly neglected in the narrative. There is a distinct lack of effort to give him character and we learn the bare minimum about how he came to be this way. He is not at all redeemed by the flashback to the shipwreck aftermath and I thought that this was wasted opportunity to garner at least some understanding of who he was and why he became this evil character. Instead he comes across as being nasty and brutish from the beginning and certainly I felt no sympathy for the him. I am sure that we are supposed to feel some sort of sorrow at least for the 'man' behind the monster but sadly this was not how it worked out. There is insufficient background to the character and we don't really know him before the point we see him kill his wife. Its all too sudden and the way its filmed makes it look like this all happened with out much reason. The throwaway back story of the beast takes away from the character and as such a lot is lost about why he would be the way he is, if for a bit of time spent on his character then he would be more interesting than the two dimensional creature he appears to be. In most respects this is a well put together film, although the pacing feels a bit laboured, almost like it gets exhausted when something happens and has it to take a rest. There are fair share of good shocks and one or two that are totally blown and don't seem worth the effort. The old trick of the fake scare real scare is employed quite effectively on a couple of occasions particularly when the blind girl jumps out of a wine barrel and slashes at one of our protagonists. The special effects are of varying quality but mostly are OK to gloriously gory. The head in a bucket however is laughable in the extreme but the finale is suitably tense and amusing in a very bloody way. For certain there is enough here to keep the gore fans happy and its worth the wait for the most part. This film is still not available in its full cut in the UK, despite what the BBFC site may say. The Grim Reaper, as the UK release is now known, is the pre cut version and the full version is not on general release. It would probably get a release now despite one of the most infamous scenes in horror history in which the beast pulls the unborn child out of the mother and eats it. The censorship of such images are related to the obscene publications act which states (and I paraphrase here) that obscenity is when the image or material has such an effect as to deprave or corrupt, this is the test that is applied to questionable film images. While these images are somewhat unpleasant I do struggle to see how it would actually deprave or corrupt someone and I remember seeing the still images in books that were not censored and they went by without so much as a murmur.
Also I have no knowledge of crimes of this nature being inspired by such movies and indeed such crimes (I.e. cannibalism) are extremely rare so how valid the argument is I'm not entirely sure. This said the BBFC have improved in leaps and bounds over the last few years since the departure of James Ferman and more movies are being allowed a second chance now, including some that have never previously stood a chance of release in any form. As most people prefer a rating I shall offer this as five zombie fingers out of ten, in my ratings system the worse a film is the more zombie fingers have been rotted off and the lower the score. So in conclusion this film is not a bad effort, it lacks certain coherence and completeness to warrant a high score but its heart is in the right place and it makes an effort to live up to the exploitation audience expectations and on many counts it does that with gusto, possibly too much for some tastes.....

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