In the lower right-hand quadrant of the cover of Famous Monsters of Filmland #180 (cover date January 1982) appeared a close-up picture of a zombie-like man with a mustache, blood coming out of his mouth, and a distant stare in his eyes. The caption read, “The Grim Reaper, You’re on His Menu!” It provided a stark contrast to the painting of Boris Karloff from The Bride of Frankenstein that occupied the remaining three-quarters of real estate.
Most people credit (blame) Star Wars for a change of content in Famous Monsters. Indeed, beginning with #137, classic horror surrendered its home to space fantasy for a run of covers featuring the likes of R2D2, C3PO, and Darth Vader. Frankenstein’s monster appeared on the cover of #140, but atop the magazine’s logo, in a font as big as the FM logo itself, read “Star Wars Rare Pix.”
This “phase” continued intermittently through the releases of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Battlestar Galactica, Superman the Movie, Star Trek the Motion Picture, and The Black Hole. When Fangoria launched in 1979, Famous Monsters occasionally attempted to compete. For example, the cover of #163 (April 1980) featured a disturbing close-up of Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th.
I provide this history to say that calling attention to a gory Italian horror film on its cover was unusual for Famous Monsters. Whatever its intentions, this image stuck with me for years, especially since this was a movie that I was never able to locate. Then, when, in the last couple of years, Severin Films announced a Blu-ray release of a movie called, Anthropophagus, and I learned that was another name for The Grim Reaper, I ordered it as a blind buy.
When I recently unwrapped it and popped it in my player, the opening credits announced a movie called, The Savage Island. I quickly checked IMDb to ensure I hadn’t received a mislabeled disc. I hadn’t. I also learned that the movie’s been called The Zombie’s Rage. By whatever moniker it carries, I at first wasn’t sure I was going to like Anthropophagus. By the end, though, it had cast a spell on me.
What I like about Eurohorror is that its movies don’t always play by the rules. There’s usually something delightfully different about them. However, my biggest observation about Anthropophagus is that it follows the American slasher playbook closely. A deranged cannibal stalks a group of people when they are stranded on a Greek island. He’s got an origin story that we learn during the film and he picks off the trespassers one by one.
What’s perhaps unique is that he’s either also picked off the entire village, or its population has fled. There are bodies everywhere, but no living people. That is, except for the woman who appears in windows above, then disappears by the time our heroes get there to try to learn who she is. This ambiguity shines a potentially supernatural light on the proceedings, elevating the threat of the deranged cannibal.
If you’ve heard anything about Anthropophagus, it’s probably “that” scene. I was warned about it. However, it didn’t happen quite as I was led to believe it would… it was more shocking than I could have imagined. The climax packs a similar punch. With some over-the-top gore, there are also some legitimate jump scares. On the other hand, director Joe D’Amato, who made over 100 Italian hard core porn films in the 1980s and 1990s, keeps the sex to a minimum here.
George Eastman, who plays the deranged cannibal, also wrote the screenplay. He includes an ongoing subplot that reveals character backstories, advances their relationships, and gives them a journey other than one simply to survive. It’s not deep, but any means, but maybe it’s what distinguishes it from the American slashers I accused it of imitating. If not, maybe it’s the location… isolated, gothic, and creepy.
Written by George Eastman
Directed by Joe D’Amato
Starring Tisa Farrow, Saverio Vallone, Serena Grandi, Margaret Mazzantini, Mark Bodin, Bob Larson, George Eastman, Zora Kerova
RT 92 min.
Released Aug. 9, 1980 (Italy), October 9, 1981 (US)
Home Video Blu-ray (Severin)
Rating 7 slashers (out of 10)