In Britain in the 1980s, horror movies got taken to court. Films that needed to be cut down for theatrical release could be put out on video totally unedited, but still emblazoned with the rating issued for the edited version. This led to a huge public debate on whether these films were obscene and could cause harm to the minds of children. As a result, 72 films were labeled “Video Nasties,” and 39 were successfully prosecuted in criminal court and banned. I don’t think any film should be censored or banned outright, and certainly things like The Evil Dead don’t belong on any such list; however, when it comes to today’s Awesomely Bad Movie, the 1980 Italian film Anthropophagus: The Grim Reaper, I feel like a decent case could be made, and was.
The problem I have with the Video Nasties list, aside from its existing at all (if you don’t want your kid seeing a movie, be a more attentive parent), is that most of the movies it singles out as being grotesque and obscene are very low-budget exploitation horror films that are maybe more mean-spirited than some, but certainly nothing to be too bent out of shape about. What makes Joe D’Amato’s film Anthropophagus at least a contender is that when it picks up the gore, it really goes for it. Like REALLY goes for it. But that’s really the only thing it has going for it at all; the story is, like most Italian gore flicks, boring and nonsensical. Edited versions of this movie exist, but without the hype and the excessive viscera, why would anyone watch it? That’s pretty much why it was made.
At any rate, the basic story of this ridiculously-named film follows Julie (played by Tisa Farrow, sister of Mia), an American vacationing alone in Greece. She takes up with a group of well-to-do people heading for an island. Once on the island, they find it to be entirely deserted, save a creepy deaf woman who lives in a house on the hill. One by one, members of the party are killed in increasingly horrible and bloody ways, usually involving a meat cleaver wielded by an ugly balding man who looks, and is, insane. Eventually, it is learned that this man used to be Nikos Karamanlis (co-writer George Eastman), a husband and father who had been shipwrecked with his family and stranded in the middle of the sea in a life raft. Having had no food for days, Nikos goes crazy and attempts to murder and eat his young son, though his wife intervenes and is herself killed. Nikos does end up eating both of them before being rescued, but he so lost his mind from this ordeal that he slaughters the entire population of his home island.
As far as terrifying bad guys in horror movies, Nikos is a pretty good one. He’s huge, ugly, imposing, doesn’t speak, has a meat cleaver, and eats human beings. That’s a pretty good resume. Apparently, though, eating your family makes your hair start to fall out, because the flashbacks to the raft definitely show Nikos with a full head of hair compared to when he’s a monster and his hairline has receded to a seven-head. It’s never explained how and why his appearance changed so drastically, though I can imagine eating humans isn’t the best for your skin. Hannibal Lecter didn’t seem to develop pocks, though.
The very first scene of the movie has two people, a guy and a girl, on the beach of the island. The guy lies down with headphones on and the girl goes swimming. The camera then gives us a POV shot from deep in the ocean looking up at the girl, not unlike Jaws or Piranha. The camera comes up at her until something attacks her. The girl yells and struggles, but the guy can’t hear her because of the headphones. A few moments later, the man is killed via a butcher knife to the face. My question is this: if Nikos is the bad guy (which he is) and he’s just an insane cannibal, why was he at the bottom of the ocean? From this, I thought it was going to be revealed that he was a supernatural monster, but he’s just a dude. Soo… why was he that far in the ocean? Could it be that D’Amato just wanted that shot and didn’t bother trying to make it make sense? Also, he’s not “the Grim Reaper,” either, which is what I stupidly expected him to be, given the title.
The bulk of the film is just a generically gory slasher flick and this wouldn’t probably have led to very much controversy, but at about 20 minutes to the end, we get a few scenes which are pretty damn rough. The first, and perhaps most shocking, comes when a male character goes to find his pregnant wife, missing since very early in the film. He finds her in a cavern full of corpses and attempts to get her out of there. Nikos catches up to them and slices the husband with the knife, knocking him over, alive but unable to get up. Nikos then begins to claw at the woman’s pregnant belly until he eventually… get ready… tears out the unborn fetus and eats it. Yeah, that happened. Apparently the effect was done with a skinned rabbit covered in fake blood, but it was so convincing that D’Amato had to go to court to prove he didn’t, in fact, film a real de-fetusing.
At the end of the movie, Julie and the near-catatonic Rita run to try to escape from Nikos after basically everyone else has gotten killed. They hide in the attic (never a good place to hide) and then, suddenly, Nikos’ hand breaks through the roof and pulls Rita up by her head, essentially decapitating her on the roof slats. After more chase, it looks as though Julie’s number is up until, out of nowhere, the husband of the eviscerated woman shows up and pick-axes Nikos. Just to prove how insane he is, as he’s dying, Nikos begins to pull out his own intestines and eat them. Not really sure where he thinks they’re going to go once they pass his gullet, but hey, insane and dying people don’t need to make sense. Also, gross.
So, Anthropophagus was a Video Nasty and that’s kind of its only claim to fame. It’s not well-acted (though, with the crappy dubbing it’s hard to tell), the story is boring, the music is literally the library track they used during the “Spanish Inquisition” sketches on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and the whole thing is rather artlessly constructed. So, if a movie has nothing notable about it besides the insanely violent scenes which cause it to be banned for a number of years, is it worth having been made in the first place? Is the controversy it caused alone reason for it to exist? Perhaps.