Review Date: November 11, 2005
Released by: Beat Records
Release date: 7/1/2005
MSRP: 32.00 Euros (approximately $38.00)
Region 2, PAL
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: Yes
Watching the Joe D’Amato documentary that is included on this release, I was struck by a very weird feeling while watching video footage of the man at work. Via the magic of DVD, I have seen numerous interviews and listened to a number of commentaries with the likes of Dario Argento, Jess Franco and Umberto Lenzi, enough so that I have a definite feel of their personalities and who they are, even if they are not always accurate (or truthful) in their reminiscences. However, Joe D’Amato (real name, Aristide Massaccesi) is much more of an enigma. Part of this no doubt has to do with the fact that he died in 1999 - a few years short of the Eurocult DVD craze – and no doubt had he lived longer he would have found himself being tracked down by an army of videographers trying to interview him for special editions. But I suspect another part of the reason is that I have no particular desire to delve more into the world of him and his movies. I do not enjoy watching “adult” entertainment (no, seriously, I don’t!), and of the over one hundred films he made as a director a good chunk of them are sex romps that have little appeal to me. Though he has his defenders much like every Eurocult director, frankly it’s hard not to call him a pornographer when there are scores of adult credits – and seemingly as many pseudonyms – to his record. Nonetheless, he did make some genuine contributions to the Italian horror cycle, which brings us to Anthropophagus
, a film that is arguably the most famous of his horror efforts. The Italian label Beat Records has released this two-disc special edition that has had fans drooling with anticipation...
We open on a beautiful, isolated island somewhere in the Greek Archipelago. A young German couple (Mark Logan and Simone Baker
) make their way to the beach, where the man starts sunbathing and the girl dives into the surf. Swimming out to where a nearby boat is drifting, she is watched by something under the surface and is then pulled under amidst a cloud of bloody water. Then whatever “thing” it was that attacked her walks up on the beach and slaughters the man with a meat clever, leaving it embedded in his head.
Elsewhere in Greece another group of tourists is introduced. There’s Arnold (Bob Larsen
) and his very pregnant wife Maggie (Serena Grandi
) and their friends Carol (Zora Kerowa
) and Daniel (Mark Bodin
). While traveling in a cable car they are befriended by Julie (Tisa Farrow
), another tourist who, upon learning that Carol’s brother Alan (Saverio Vallone
) has rented a sailboat so they can all go on a cruise of the islands, asks if she can come along since she needs to go to one of them to visit friends of hers. The group agrees to take her along.
They arrive at the island in question and decide to explore, with Maggie and the ship’s captain remaining onboard. They are puzzled to discover that the island seems completely deserted, save for one mysterious woman who refuses to speak with them. They do find one dead body, a person who appears to have been partially devoured, and they search the local telegraph office where they discover a log saying that the last communication with the mainland was over a month earlier. They try and go back to the boat but discover it adrift, with no sign of Maggie or the captain. They are forced to take refuge in a nearby house for the night, and there they discover Henriette (Margaret Mazzantini
), the blind daughter of the couple Julie was on her way to see. She is in a state of shock – in fact, out of fear she wounds Daniel with a knife - and talks about something that is coming to get them. They don’t know whether to believe her or not...that is, until later that evening when Daniel is killed by a grotesque creature (George Eastman
) that sneaks into his house and rips his throat out with his teeth! What is this beast and where did it come from? Their only hope is to either escape from the island or find out what the thing is and kill it.
Had it not been for its inclusion on the original list of British “Video Nasties” – and it’s subsequent status as one of the most infamous of the seventy-four titles which were banned – it is hard to believe that Anthropophagus
would enjoy anywhere near the reputation and fame that it does today, and would likely be looked at as just another of the many reasonably competent Italian horror films of the day. There simply isn’t anything about it which is very special. The locales are scenic, but to anyone familiar with European geography it is obvious that many of them are not actually in Greece (the text notes on this release reveal just how much of the film was actually shot in Italy). The violence is brutal, but aside from the ending and the deaths of Maggie and her baby – the latter of which is ripped out of her stomach and devoured – it is unexceptional. There are several good scares, but overall this is not one of the more suspenseful Italian horror films. There are also some atmospheric and creepy scenes, such as a confrontation in an ancient crypt full of skeletons and Tisa Farrow’s discovery of a secret room full of half-eaten bodies. But then there are also a fair number scenes which are badly staged and badly shot. The movie does do so some things well, but it does nothing well enough to make it a classic, cult or otherwise.
A frequent complaint against the film is that it is “boring” and that “nothing ever happens”. But this is not completely true. Yes, the film often has a lethargic feeling to it, but it is not because of a lack of action. While the story begins with the obligatory character introductions and travelogue shots of Athens (which appears to be the extent of location shooting in Greece), once the protagonists are actually on the island there is a clear and steady progression of events leading up to the discovery that there’s a flesh-eating monster stalking them. “Nothing ever happens” seems to be a euphemism for “not enough killing and mayhem”. That’s not the problem. The problem is that Joe D’Amato largely botches the build-up to the third act where most of the carnage happens. There is no feeling of impending doom and little suspense, and once things do start getting bloody it’s too late. Too many people in the audience have already tuned out by that point. Even the tense climax doesn’t seem worth waiting for.
Still, the horror in the film does work in one respect – the monster. Granted, the role probably required little effort, but George Eastman (a.k.a. Luigi Montefiori) plays the cannibal in such an effective way that even jaded viewers might get the willies once or twice. The moment when we catch the first glimpse of the beast is genuinely chilling: searching the house for a disturbance, Daniel locks Henriette in her room for her protection, only to have the camera pan over to a dark corner where the creature is watching her, licking his chops in anticipation. Though the monster make-up is not always applied in a convincing manner, the design works in and of itself. It is elaborate enough to be grotesque, but it still lets Eastman’s distinct facial features show through. His tall, gaunt physique is also well suited for the part. It’s unfortunate that D’Amato mostly botches the death scenes prior to the big reveal. There are two scenes where the creature stalks people from under the water, the opening and a scene where the captain of the sailboat is pulled overboard. The opening is an ill-conceived homage to Jaws
, and all it does is pointlessly mislead the audience into thinking it’s a sea monster. But there’s no reason for the cannibal to be lurking underwater. It’s just a gimmick meant to prompt a couple minor scares.
Unfortunately for them, both Eastman and D’Amato have to take the blame for the way Anthropophagus
turned out because both men had a hand in writing it. It’s a disappointment that belongs solely to the two of them. But this should not be taken to mean that they failed completely. It’s no worse than a lot of the other Italian horror films which were coming out of that country during the early 1980’s. It’s not an awful movie. It’s just not a great one, either.
is a film with a history of problematic releases, but from the looks of it this is the one that finally got it right. Presented in a 16x9 enhanced 1.66:1 transfer, the film probably looks better than most fans have ever seen it look. A frequent complaint I have heard from people who have watched VHS dubs or the older DVD releases is that the night scenes are too dark, that it is impossible to see what is going on. Well, not this time. With the exception of one or two (badly lit) shots there was never a moment when I couldn’t tell what was going on in a dark scene. Critics who said that D’Amato’s incompetence and rush filming resulted in poor, underexposed cinematography got it wrong. The photography looks fine. It was poor film elements and badly done video transfers that were the problem.
Though the transfer isn’t perfect, it does have other strengths as well. Colors are generally quite strong, though flesh tones have a very pale look to them, and the color scheme in general looks slightly undersaturated. There are some spots which look rather beat up (at what appear to be reel change points), though most of the film is unusually clear of specks, blemishes or scratches. But those generally are not big quibbles, rarely distracting and usually understandable when you take into consideration the age and origins of this title.
The language options on this release are Italian, English and Spanish, each presented in Dolby 2.0 Mono. The English soundtrack is tolerable, but not without problems. The dialogue has a slightly muffled quality to it, and intermittent popping and hissing can be heard. Dialogue is mostly understandable, but there were times when I found myself straining my ears and turning up the volume in order to make out certain lines. The Italian track is somewhat better, with a less shrill texture to it and not as much noise and distortion.
English subtitles are also available. They are properly translated and easy to read. Interestingly enough, on all three tracks the tourists at the beginning speak in German, but the English subtitles do translate that dialogue as well.
Despite having an entire second disc devoted to extras, there really isn't that much of any significance here. The two biggest extras are a short documentary on Joe D'Amato and an interview with George Eastman, both of which run approximately twelve minutes. The D'Amato documentary is provided without any formal narration, and mostly consists of video footage showing him at work on some of his later features. He is shown interacting with the casts and crews, as well as goofing around, and the piece is often more revealing about who he was as a man than who he was as a filmmaker. The Eastman interview, in comparison, is a little bit more about both sides of D’Amato, personal and professional. Eastman admits that he has never been happy with the way Anthropophagus
turned out and how he was even less eager to participate in its sequel, Absurd
. He also speaks at length about other projects he and D'Amato did together. Both features are in Italian but have English subtitles. On the interview they are removable, but on the documentary they are burned in.
The next big extra is a preview of “The Best of Joe D’Amato”, a soundtrack album that will be released by Beat Records at the end of this year. It contains seven tracks, two from Emanuelle in America
, two from Emanuelle Around the World
, one from Blue Angel Café
, one from Top Model
, one from Forbidden Diary of the Two Princesses
and none from Anthropophagus
(apparently the written score for the film is lost, so any attempt to recreate it would mean a laborious analysis of the film itself).
A D’Amato filmography is also included, and it is without a doubt the most unusual filmography I have ever seen on a DVD. While almost every other release of every other film simply features menu screens listing a person’s credits, the filmography here is fully animated. In the form of a clapperboard, each title and D’Amato’s role in it is listed chronologically, starting from the early 1950’s. It appears that every single film D’Amato worked on during the entirety of his career is included, and herein lies the problem. As a director alone D’Amato made around a hundred and twenty movies, and his other credits inflate that number much further. The feature lasts thirty full minutes, and that’s with each title appearing onscreen for no more than a few seconds! I appreciate the effort that went into it creating this extra, but really, I think I’ll just stick to the Internet Movie Database.
Lastly, this release is rounded out by a useless still gallery consisting of nothing but screenshots from the movie, some text notes (which are presented in both English and Italian) and an English-language trailer under the title The Savage Island
may not be a masterpiece, but it has its fans, just as Joe D’Amato has his many admirers. All things considered this release gets a hearty recommendation, but with one caveat attached – in just a month there will be a Region 1 release coming from Shriek Show/Media Blasters. Hopefully they give this title the treatment that its fans have hoped for, but if not there will always be this edition as a safe alternative.
Movie – C
Image Quality – B+
Sound – C
Supplements – B
- Running Time – 1 hour 27 minutes
- Rated 18 (Italian rating system)
- 2 Discs
- Chapter Stops
- Italian 2.0 Mono
- English 2.0 Mono
- Spanish 2.0 Mono
- English subtitles
- Joe D’Amato documentary
- George Eastman interview
- D’Amato soundtrack album preview
- Animated D’Amato filmography
- Still gallery
- Text notes
- Theatrical trailer