The Grim EastMan-Eater
Six tourists find themselves stranded on a seemingly uninhabited Greek Island. While they try to figure out what to do next, someone is watching them. Someone, some being, with a craving for human flesh… and the will to kill, kill, KILL!!!
(Possible mild spoilers may follow…)
I tend to shy away from Joe D’Amato‘s more sleaze & sex orientated efforts. But I don’t mind giving his horror outings a watch. Up until now, I thought Antropophagus, it still is the only one. Plain and simple, Antropophagus was a mild disappointment of the boring kind. It couldn’t fascinate me the way Buio Omega did, mainly because it drags in so many places, it becomes tedious very quick. So, a bunch of characters (both family & friends) on a holiday – all good folks, as they don’t drink alcohol, they don’t smoke pot, do hard drugs or have sex either – get stranded on a Greek island. Not ship wrecked, just stranded as they lose their boat. They find an abandoned village, decide to spend the night there, and rather later than sooner, some mysterious killer starts abducting and killing them off one by one. It takes even longer for them to figure out exactly what’s going on behind their backs. One of the women is pregnant, by the way. And I for one have seen one too many films of this kind, to not know what’s in store for her. Given the film’s title and reputation, you don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict this.(aka Beyond The Darkness) was about the only film I found to really live up to its notorious reputation, while still being a reasonably good film. And as far as I’m concerned, after just having watched
Now, D’Amato sure knows how to present us grisly images, creepy settings and at times inject his film with a bit of atmosphere. He also knows how to make gore look good on screen. But building up tension, clearly isn’t his strongest skill (he does try, but doesn’t really succeed). Also, the man has absolutely no clue how to make a decent film (with an interesting plot or how to construct a proper mystery) nor does he know how to get on with the story. The acting is awful, the dialogues are close to moronic (and horrendously dubbed, naturally) and the movie suffers too often from scenes in which nothing is going on, really, and even senseless & illogical things occur. Like for instance, those two guys deciding to leave the village to go down to the beach to try and look for someone who was still left on the boat. Now, instead of walking down the hill, to the sea, one of them is suddenly seen walking up the mountain for no apparent reason, only to find some ruins of a castle. Him finding them by coincidence, is very convenient to the plot, of course, as it proves to be one of the hideouts of George Eastman, our demented Cannibal Man from the title of this film. And when it comes to his character, Nikos Karamanlis, I’ll admit I was thankful they gave him some sort of background story, as to why he became what he is. Though it was a very thin explanation, with little info and no elaborations, at least there was one. That did put my fear for this being merely a film about an unknown cannibalistic lunatic (of whom we learn nothing) on some island to rest.
On the other hand, the subplot about the mysterious woman in black was severely – shamefully, even – underused. Of course, you suspect from the get-go that she has certain ties with Eastman‘s character, but all she ever does, is stand behind a couple of windows. Well, actually, she does something else too (later on in the film), her act making up for a fine, short-lived scene of terror (one that even is of the same grandeur like something Lucio Fulci could have concocted on one of his better days). But what she does, doesn’t add anything to her character, nor the story. The other mystery, as to why the entire island seems to be deserted, is one you just forget about all too easily. There’s a simple reason for our company to be stranded in what appears to be a ghost town. But you just don’t bother to think about it anymore, because D’Amato is too busy filming several pages of the script containing unsubstantial nothingness. To switch to a positive note again, Eastman‘s make-up was good. It really succeeds in making him look gruesome and menacing. And to make things even better: The ugly booger doesn’t speak. He just has this “crazy look in the eyes”-thing going. I’ve always found a villain or killer who doesn’t speak, much more menacing than one who does.
Then there was that one scene, earlier in the film, when a couple was investigating a basement. Another highlight, that’s at the same time also a low-point. So they’re in this cellar. Suddenly and very obviously, some set assistant (out of frame, thankfully), just throws a kitten on a piano. A fantastic fake jump scare, completely by the book. Well done, D’Amato! But then, the real shock-scare comes on, and that one really is priceless. Behind our couple, is a barrel. Suddenly, a woman covered in blood from head to toe, jumps out, screaming in a state of shock, waving a knife. Great shock-moment, I agree. But only if you don’t think about it. If you do, for a second, then explain this to me: The barrel was filled to the top with blood – I presume, or was it wine? Inside, was a woman (waiting to jump out). Now all that time our couple was searching the basement, that woman was holding her breath in that barrel of blood? Or was she drinking the wine? This is typically D’Amato throwing logic and plausibility out the window, only to favor presenting us his precious shock-moment. It turns a cool moment, into sheer stupidity. Right after this terrifying moment of intense shock and laughter, the bload-soaked girl is revealed to be blind. Aside from the obvious reason for that – her posing a problem later on, when the surviving few are being chased by monstrous Eastman – it also never hurts to have a blind girl in an Italian horror movie.
Another thing about the first scene, right after the opening credits, I just couldn’t wrap my head around… It involves the slaying of a couple at the beach. It looks like if D’Amato was trying to be clever, hoping to set the audience off on the wrong foot. When the girl enters the water for a swim, we are presented underwater cinematography, with subjective camera angles from below of what looks like something watching her swim, right before she gets killed and the water turns bloodred. It’s like you just started watching an Italian rip-off (a subgenre quite popular around that time in Italy, I can assure you). Then, we are presented POV-shots of someone or some thing crawling out of the water, onto the beach, heading for her unsuspecting lover dozing off. Immediately, images from (a Roger Corman production made and released a few months before Antropophagus was finished) came to my mind. Like if I just entered that type of creature feature, about a humanoid monstrosity emerging from the ocean depths. Was D’Amato deliberately going for that kind of vibe? It could have even been D’Amato shot this sequence last minute, and quickly added it to the rest of the film. As in the version I saw, they didn’t even bother to have this opening-scene dubbed in English (while the rest of the film was). I guess we’ll never know the exact truth, as these are the incomprehensible ways of Italian filmmaking.
The musical score was at times, uh, both amusing and interesting. An ominous electronic score, preferably created with analog sequencers, always rocks my boat, no matter how simplistic it may sound. The big mansion (the house with a dark history) near the end was a great location, so D’Amato wisely used it to set his climax in (and around) it. And the film had that typical late 70′s/early 80′s gritty feel to it. But it takes more than all this to make a good film, doesn’t it? The couple of death scenes we do see, are fine and bloody, with decent flesh-ripping make-up effects. And the two most notorious gory shock-moments (which only happen near the end, and yes, one involves the pregnant woman), are well worth seeing (if you like things sick & nasty). But the whole film really isn’t worth sitting through just for that. You might just ask a friend who has the film, to show you the nasty bits and be done with it. But make sure it’s the complete, uncut version. You don’t want to miss out on the only things this film is (in)famous for.
A paragraph about the cast. Aside from cult actor George Eastman being undoubtedly the most well-known cast member, Tisa Farrow is another name that should ring a bell. She’s the less-famous sister of Mia Farrow (Polanski‘s Rosemary’s Baby). Especially Italian horror fans have taken a liking to miss Tisa Farrow, as her part in Lucio Fulci‘s Zombi 2 (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters) is the one film she’s most famous for. Two other notable gems on her résume include the ’76 crime thriller A Special Magnum For Tony Saitti (that plays out like an extravagant B-movie mixture of genres, with hard-boiled ‘fumetti neri’ touches, mild Giallo overtones & even a vintage carsploitation sequence) and Antonio Margheriti‘s ‘vietsploitation’ outing The Last Hunter (1980). The rest of the cast is a peculiar bunch. Aside from Saverio Vallone, who continued to act in some Italian films until the 90′s, the rest of the male cast members did virtually nothing anymore after Antropophagus (with the exception of Mighty Eastman, of course). Mark Bodin did have a role in Alien 2 Sulla Terra (a pretty obscure Alien cash-in, set almost entirely in caves) – alongside a young Michele Soavi no less – the same year he did Antropophagus. The actresses did a better job in remaining active. Serena Grandi managed to star in nonsense like Luigi Cozzi‘s Hercules II (1985), popped up in one notable 80′s Giallo effort, Delirium: Le Foto Di Goia, and also made an appearance in Tinto Brass‘ Monella during the 90′s. Margaret Mazzantini said ‘au revoir’ to the horror genre after Antropophagus, and Rubina Rey (playing Irina Karamanlis, the mystery woman in black) stopped acting all together. Zora Kerova is the most interesting of the bunch, as she continued to star in several Italian genre films, some of them growing a vast cult fanbase over the years. Her resumé includes Umberto Lenzi‘s Cannibal Ferox (1981), and one year later she got re-united with George Eastman in Enzo G. Castellari‘s The New Barbarians, a downright hilarious post-apocalyptic knock-off. More of her work during the 80′s includes collaborations with Lucio Fulci on three of his films. After a break from acting for ten years, she recently returned to the world of on-screen terror in 2006 with a little know Giallo called The Root Of Evil (aka La Radice Del Male).
I understand the cult following this film has (Joe D’Amato, George Eastman and the few gory bits, I imagine), and I am glad I finally saw it myself. It is kind of a must-see, if you are into obscure & vintage Italian exploitation horror. But I can’t say I just watched a good film. Honestly, the more I think about this film, the more the warped part of my mind would like to speak in favor of it. But I feel I really do have to apply some common sense here too. After all, we’re dealing with a film that takes itself very serious, so we have to judge it on its own terms. I would like to flunk it, even, but looking at it from all possible perspectives, I find myself able to conclude that as an exploitive shock-horror feature, trying to be sickening & unsettling (and hoping to upset your stomach), well… it does succeed. So there you have it.
Footnote: As to be expected, the BBFC was not too happy with this film, so it proudly earned its place on the UK Video Nasty list. It remained banned for 18 years (from 1984 until 2002). Technically, the uncut version is still banned in the UK to this date, as the version submitted for re-classification in 2002, was the US R-rated version, already heavily cut by the MPAA (and previously released under the aka title The Grim Reaper). It’s understandable those good old British lads in control wouldn’t let this movie into their country. It is an evil film that more than likely would encourage George Eastman fans to go out and eat the warm flesh of a fetus straight out of a mother’s womb and have their own intestines for dessert afterwards. No, seriously, what the BBFC should have really done, is make the uncut version of this film obligatory viewing material in their eductational program, to let it serve as a warning to never go on a holiday near uninhabited Greek islands. Those places are very dangerous, for there dwells George Eastman, lusting for human flesh, killing and eating everything in his path. Except for lovely little kittens.
Informative note: please go to page 2.
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