Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Joe D'Amato's Anthropophagus (1980)

On a small Greek island, one day something rises from the water. A group of friends, bound for a pleasure cruise, meet a young woman who requests to go along. Her destination is the small island. The group arrives to find the island seemingly uninhabited. They pass the night in mostly solitude until the island mystery is revealed. As members of the group begin dying, the survivors search for answers to the mystery and a way to escape.
Aristide Massaccesi (aka Joe D'Amato), prior to directing, cut his cinematic teeth on many an Italian Western, as a cinematographer. Quite talented lensing others' productions, D'Amato eventually would helm myriad productions in a vast amount of genres. Later in his career, he would become one of the most popular and successful adult-film directors in the world, only occasionally directing the low-budget genre film. His photographic talent never waned over his career. Any D'Amato film shows a brilliant eye for imagery, the use of light, framing, and movement. D'Amato was also very conscious of atmosphere--he was very adept at using film composition to create a definite sense of feeling. His excellent ability in the most cosmetic aspects of film is probably why he was so successful in adult movies.

Anthropophagus (1980) has a notorious history and reputation, which is quite merited. It was banned as a "video nasty" in the UK for its depictions of gore. One scene is infamous. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of this film is aware of the scene. The film's infamy and notoriety gave it longevity in genre fans' wish lists, and it was eventually released uncut on DVD in the US in 2005. High expectations and lukewarm reception.

Ironically, the beauty and power of Anthropophagus lies nowhere near its gore scenes. They are the weakest aspect of the film. The desire to shock the viewers into the cinema would become a serious misstep. In fact, the film's screenplay, penned by D'Amato and star, George Eastman, seems so contrived that it appears that they envisioned the shocking gore scene originally and worked backwards to create a film around it. For either commercial reasons or a lack of confidence in their ability, the script stands as it is.

I attempted to describe the film at the outset of this blog entry as I see the film. It's a wonderful atmospheric, non-supernatural horror film with some beautiful imagery. One scene, in particular, stands out. Tisa Farrow observes a large mirror covering an even larger door. She tosses a candlestick at the mirror and it breaks and falls away. Shot in slow motion, her image remains in the final piece--a haunting scene. The film's opening with the German tourists and while the credits play serves as a very quiet exposition. The town is revealed, through its cobblestone-lined streets, as filled with people. When the young group arrives at the island, the same scenes are shown, minus the life once in the street. The sense of isolation is all the more reinforced. The slow pacing of the film increases the dread, so the few "jump" scares actually work.

The notorious gore scene holds up today. At least, I find it very offensive and off-putting. The special effects ain't the greatest. The acting is pretty wooden all around, save Tisa Farrow (possibly her last film?) and George Eastman. Those two performances are only moderately better than the rest. I can understand someone thinking this one an over-hyped and slow gore film. However, I see it as an underrated old-school atmospheric horror film. An all-time favorite.

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