Antropophagus – Joe D’Amato (1980) | Movie Review

Antropophagus - Movie poster, from IMDB
Movie poster, from IMDB

Originally published on this site here, in Italian.

Year: 1980

Produced by: P.C.M. InternationalFilmirage

Directed by: Joe D’Amato (aka Aristide Massaccesi)

Written by: George Eastman (aka Luigi Montefiori)

Cinematography: Enrico Biribicchi (or Aristide Massaccesi himself)

Editing by: Ornella Micheli

Special effects and Make-up by: Pietro Tenoglio

Music by: Marcello Giombini

Running time: approximately 87 minutes

Budget: N/A

Receipt: N/A

Trailer

WARNING – THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS



Writing a review of Antropophagus may not be too dissimilar from writing a review of Nosferatu: in both cases, with the necessary distances, we are faced with immortal but also underground, cursed movies.

For example, while Nosferatu is a masterpiece of expressionist cinema, with a miraculous production history, Antropophagus, movie by Joe D’Amato (aka Aristide Massaccesi) of 1980, is a perfect example of independent horror. And if Nosferatu has launched a basically unique vampire into the collective imagination, even Antropophagus, in its own small way, launched its iconic character, Klaus Wortmann1, played by the great Luigi Montefiori.

Famous throughout the world, highly censored2, honored by various remakes/tributes3 and a thousand quotes, Antropophagus is the emblem of a maybe poor but certainly industrious cinema4, patchy but capable of taking care of details, perhaps forced to a certain banality but capable of unexpected flashes.

Joe D’Amato produces this movie after a long, successful career: he begins as assistant director, then becomes camera operator, and eventually a well-known director of cinematography.

But that’s not enough: D’Amato wants to direct his own movies. And since they say “if you want something done, it is best to do it yourself”, he decides to produce his own movies and to found his own production company, Filmirage. Admirable.

And Antropophagus is the first example of this self-production, in which he’s flanked by his friend George Eastman (aka Luigi Montefiori), who simultaneously plays the roles of iconic villain and screenwriter. And it’s an example of how a low-budget film can achieve a reputation that is perhaps exactly linked to this budget, and to the ability to exploit its strengths and weaknesses.

The plot. Four friends meet for a trip to Greece: another friend has rented a pleasure boat, with which they intend to take a cruise. They will take a girl with them in search of a passage to an island, but on that island they will come across their worst nightmare.

In short, that’s the usual plot of what would have been called a slasher movie5. But not even that much.

First of all, the characters are not exactly the usual teenagers out on the usual spring break: they are university students one step away from graduation (Alan, played by Saverio Vallone, son of Raf Vallone), married women in pregnancy (Maggie, here played by Serena Grandi, credited as Vanessa Steiger), people in their thirties.

Of course, there is a girl who is apparently younger, or who gives the idea of a greater naivety (Tisa Farrow, Mia Farrow’s sister) and a teenager (the future writer Margaret Mazzantini), but the company is a bit different from those of the usual slasher movies imported in Italy, and is closer to the middle or upper middle class often portrayed in Italian giallos.

Even the setting is quite sui generis. We’re not in a forest, we’re not in the mountains, we’re not in a college. We are instead on a small island lost in the Aegean, in Greece6.

Not exactly the same old soup, then7.

And Antropophagus is, or could be, a slasher movie. But what happens in this slasher movie, apart from a fair slaughter?

Well, for example, as usual, there are minutes and minutes of prologue and introduction of the characters. And what is more surprising is that, all things considered, they do not weigh at all.

How many times have we been bored in attending the canonical twenty minute journey to the cursed campsite, to the haunted house, to the abandoned mental hospital?!

Here, one of the characteristics of Antropophagus is that it manages to hold up its first act without boring: the presentation of the characters is well managed, the changes of setting add rhythm, the prologue gives a taste of what will be seen later. It may be the somewhat unusual landscape, or the stock images with the characteristic Greek soldiers, but we pass from the prologue to the first act and to the first scene of interest, precisely that of the tarot, without realizing it.

There the movie really starts, and there is no limit: mummified corpses, girls who come out of barrels full of wine that looks like blood, hangings, bowels eaten by their rightful owners, fetuses pulled out by pregnant women and eaten like goats8.

That would be enough for horror and bizarre enthusiasts to watch this movie, which in fact is still known throughout the world.

And yet there is more.

First, it must be said that the whole movie is shot very well.

And several scenes still retain a such evocative power that this movie is a cult object even today: leaving out the most famous scenes, an example could be the appearance of Margaret Mazzantini from the barrel, a very violent scene and with stabs in the air of slight hitchcockian influence. Even the rest of the movie, though perhaps shoot in an ordinary way, is still up to the standards of the time: the discovery of the corpses, for example; or the cleaver blow inflicted to the German tourist (with a nice reflection on the blade that could have ruined many shots, moreover).

Once again, in short, it’s the details that make a movie emerge from that oblivion from which not even the Internet seems able to resurrect certain other works.

Also cinematography is well-kept: the night scenes are decorous; in the cave, thanks to the torches, the light is not missing and, above all, it’s explainable9.

Still talking about the cave, it would actually be an ancient catacomb near Nepi (VT): many of the human bones seen in this scene are not special effects. Indeed, it seems that, yes, some special effects have been added to the real bones, but that, in the confusion of the end of filming, Massaccesi had found himself with a pile of ancient bones in his house, mixed with the fake ones10!

Wortmann, then, is really well-groomed, and it is no coincidence that he has become a small icon of horror: the hallucinated gaze, the crazy grimace with which he fixes his victims and the bursting physicality of George Eastman, combined with the grandguignolesque scenes of which he is protagonist, made him rightly unforgettable.

As for the various corpses and special effects, they do not disfigure compared to other contemporary productions.

And even on the special effects and the make-up it has been said, at least in broad terms.

All that remains is to conclude.

Luigi Montefiori had the chance to jokingly (and perhaps fondly, in the end) define Antropophagusuna cretinata11. For heaven’s sake, it can be true.

But it’s also true that, if you watch carefully, Antropophagus presents a professional care of the whole film, as well as a marked awareness of the available means and a consequent good management of reduced spaces, long times to be filled, a fairly basic plot, characters that must be pushed out of their canons to stand out in some way.

In short, Antropophagus is not be a masterpiece, it may not even have been produced to have some kind of success, but it’s a movie to learn from, both as insiders and as mere viewers or enthusiasts.

To learn how to come up with a horror icon basically from nothing, to manage a low-budget horror movie for an hour and a half, to find an exotic setting without being on site for more than a few shots, watch Antropophagus.

Trailer



Sitography

BFI – https://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2bab7e70cd (last visit 17/09/2018)

Cinematografo.it – https://www.cinematografo.it/cinedatabase/cast/fausto-zuccoli/134324/ (last visit 17/09/2018)

Cinemorphin – http://cinemorphin.blogspot.com/2012/03/man-eater-antropophagus-1980.html (last visit 11/08/2018)

English Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antropophagus (last visit 15/09/2018)

FilmDOC – https://www.filmdoc.it/2014/03/lo-chiamavano-george-eastman/ (last visit 18/09/2018)

German Wikipedia – https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man-Eater_%E2%80%93_Der_Menschenfresser (last visit 19/09/2018)

IMDB – https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0958350/ (last visit 17/09/2018)

IMDB – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082479/ (last visit 19/09/2018)

Italian Wikipedia – https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antropophagus (last visit 12/09/2018)

Italian Wikipedia – https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novelle_licenziose_di_vergini_vogliose (last visit 14/09/2018)

La Zona Morta – http://www.lazonamorta.it/lazonamorta2/?p=30782 (last visit 15/09/2018)

Nocturno.it – http://www.nocturno.it/intervista-a-serena-grandi/ (last visit 15/09/2018)

The Young Ones Adults – https://theyoungonesadults.wordpress.com/2018/08/31/cicle-ven-y-mira-3-gomia-terror-en-el-mar-egeo-antropophagus-aka-man-beast-aka-the-savage-island-aka-the-grim-ripper-aka-the-zombies-rage-joe-damato-1980/ (last visit 18/09/2018)

Treccani.it – http://www.treccani.it/vocabolario/slasher_%28Neologismi%29/ (last visit 12/09/2018)



  1. Called Nikos Karamanlis in some editions.
  2. See here, here and here for example.
  3. Antropophagus 2000 by Andreas Schnaas; an episode of Sick-O-Pathics by Massimo Lavagnini and Brigida Costa.
  4. Joe D’Amato, like other Italian directors, was not above “stealing” scenes and shots from reality, as explained by actress Serena Grandi to Nocturno. And besides, there’s a reason if that was the golden age of the so-called “exploitation films”.
  5. A term which, according to the Enciclopedia Treccani, however, would have been attested in Italy only since 1988.
  6. Although the movie was shot primarily in Italy.
  7. And we should also pay attention to this: we are still in 1980. Although a slasher sub-genre is already more or less consolidated, we are four years before Nightmare, just two years after Halloween, a few months after the release of Friday The 13th in the USA.
    Consequently, the same old soup is perhaps older for us than for the viewers of those years.

    Furthermore, someone links Antropophagus to the cannibal sub-genre, at least at a level of influences (as reported here): personally, I consider this a quite enough weak link.

  8. Indeed, to be precise, like rabbits.
  9. That Massaccesi managed to get around in caves or similar places, after all, you could already see, years before, in Novelle Licenziose Di Vergini Vogliose (of which Italian Wikipedia attributes the cinematography to Fausto Zuccoli, which is not credited; it must be said that not even IMDB, BFI and Cinematografo mention Novelle in Zuccoli’s filmography).
    It must also be said that, despite the cinematography of Antropophagus being credited to Biribicchi, Massaccesi later claimed to have cured him (see English Wikipedia).
  10. As Wikipedia and Gordiano Lupi on La Zona Morta say.
  11. a small thing“, in an ironic sense. He said this in an unspecified episode of the RAI tv show Stracult, to which perhaps this interview on FilmDOC refers, and as it’s also reported here.

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