Italian sleaze director Joe D’Amato’s 1980 gore extravaganza Antropophagus (released theatrically in the US in 1981 under its more famous title The Grim Reaper ) has, like the director himself (who was born as Aristide Massaccesi), been known under other various names including Man Beast , Man Eater , The Beast , The Zombie’s Revenge , and The Savage Island to name a few. It was labeled a notorious so-called ” Video Nasty ” in England upon its PAL and VHS release despite being the same already heavily edited 81-minute version that was released in the States, and I imagine anyone previously unfamiliar with the film and watching the R-rated cut would wonder what all the fuss was about. In its uncut format, it runs approximately 91 minutes and along with some trimmed dialogue features two infamous gore scenes that didn’t make it into the R-rated cut: A gruesome scene where a pregnant woman’s fetus is ripped from her womb by the title beast, and another at the end when the killer is gutted with a pick-axe by heroine Julie (Tisa Farrow of Zombie fame) and chews on his own intestines.
Filmed in 16mm and blown up to 35mm for its theatrical release, Antropophagus has a grainy, washed-out look and was shot between Italy and picturesque Athens in Greece. D’Amato’s direction is typically uneven, as is the film as a whole, but there’s one thing that’s hard to deny about Antropophagus : It’s unsettling. The overall tone of the film is grim and oppressive, dark and brooding, and full of that great, inexplicably creepy early ’80s Italian atmosphere.
The film begins somewhat hastily, with a gory double murder on the beach of a small Greek island of a young couple by an unseen killer armed with a meat cleaver. We then skip over to a boat of seven tourists, which includes our college heroine Julie, who are on their way to the same island, not realizing that by now the entire place has been rid of all human life by the savage murderer. When they arrive on shore of the desolate isle, everyone but pregnant Maggie (Vanessa Steiger) and the boat captain hops off the boat and begins to explore a little. After finding only one living person in town — an elusive woman in black who runs away when they try to approach her — and a dessicated corpse in one building, the doomed travelers return to the shore to find that their boat has gone adrift and is now miles out in the ocean, with Maggie and the captain nowhere in sight.
The weary, nervous tourists settle into an empty cottage for the night while they devise a plan, with no electricity and only the light of oil lamp. They discover terrified blind girl Rita (Margaret Mazzantini) drenched in blood and babbling a mad tale about an evil presence, which she can smell when its near, that has killed everyone on the island but her … and is still lurking in the shadows. After the bloodthirsty cannibal picks off her friends one after the other, Julie discovers that the beast was once an average Greek family man named Nikos Karamanlis, who was stranded at sea on a rowboat with his wife and child and resorted to cannibalism to survive after killing his family to spare their suffering. With a newly awakened bloodlust and now shattered mind, Nikos apparently made it to shore and began his gruesome killing and eating spree … and now it’s up to Julie to save her own precious skin from the demented beast.
After the brutal double murder at the beginning, Antropophagus becomes a “slow burner” and builds tension and atmosphere without much violence or gore until a little after the midpoint, making good use of horror elements like heavy shadows and a raging thunderstorm that our tourists find themselves in the middle of. The film was popular enough in Italy to inspire a 1982 “follow-up” titled Absurd (aka Rosse Sangue and Horrible ), also directed by D’Amato and starring George Eastman as a psychopathic killer, which has much of the same style and atmosphere of Antropophagus .
Antropophagus (or The Grim Reaper ) is not a classic in any true sense, but fans of director Joe D’Amato, who also helmed the incredibly gruesome Buried Alive (aka Beyond the Darkness ) and Erotic Nights of the Living Dead among other sleazefests, will not disappointed. The film is indeed chilling in spite of its flaws, and followers of Italian horror films from this period should also enjoy it. I rate Antropophagus a 6.5 of 10 (in its uncut format, which is really the only way to go IMO).