Antropophagus (1980)

antropophagus_1980_joe_damatoAka Anthropophagous: The Beast, The Savage Island, Man Eater, The Beast, The Grim Reaper, Zombie 7
Directed by Joe D’Amato
Starring George Eastman, Tisa Farrow and Zora Kerova
90 Minutes
Italy

Joe D’Amato (one of many, many pseudonyms for Aristide Massaccesi, this is the one that has stuck) is arguably the most infamous Italian exploitation director of all time. Getting his start as a director of photography for such genre journeymen as the ‘Spaghetti Western Ed Wood’ Demofilo Fidani (we’ll get to one of his films one of these days), he soon progressed to his own early directorial efforts, such as his Spaghetti Western Go Away! Trinity Has Arrived In Eldorado (1972), Heroes in Hell (1973), a Macaroni Combat movie starring Klaus Kinski, and the Giallo Death Smiles At A Murderer, also released in 1973 and also starring Kinski. However, he really managed to carve a niche for himself with his bizarre hybrid of Pornography and Horror, starting with his series of unofficial Emanuelle sequels in 1975. As they went on, these films introduced such transgressive elements as zoophilia, faked snuff footage and cannibalism. He continued this Horror-Sex-Sleaze sensibility through to the sister films Porno Holocaust and Erotic Nights of The Living Dead in the early 80’s. After the decline of the Italian film industry in the 90’s, D’Amato worked mainly in more conventional porn movies until his death in 1999. The relentlessness with which he churned out films from the 1970’s until his death has led to him being considered the most prolific Italian filmmaker of all time. Reading his IMDb page, which boasts some 197 directorial credits, is amusing in itself, boasting such gem titles as Cop Sucker II and Anal Perversions of Lolita. Though D’Amato clearly placed the potential financial outcomes of his productions above any pretensions to artistic merit, he was still by all accounts a competent and passionate director within his unique brand of exploitation. In the late 70’s and early 80’s directed several gory, non-porno crossover Horror flicks have gone on to become cult favourites. One of these is 1980’s Antropophagus. Holding a place on the UK’s Video Nasty list as a prosecuted film, it continues to dwell in infamy alongside such Italian titles as Zombie Flesh Eaters and Cannibal Holocaust for its rough gore.

Antropophagus begins with a German couple waltzing happily through a Greek village as an unsettlingly cheery piano jangles on the soundtrack. As the credits finish the couple end up on a beach, and the woman decides to go swimming as the man stays behind to listen to music on his headphones. As the woman plays happily the water, we get a Spielbergian shot of something approaching her pretty legs below the surface. A gust of red mist goes up in the water as the killer makes his first strike. Immediately the audience are thinking of Jaws due to this set up, and for a moment we might think the zombie-serial killer looking bloke on the DVD cover lied to us and this is actually a film about a killer fish. However. D’Amato marvellously subverts our expectations. Jaws is of course about it not being safe to go in the water, but by having the killers POV rise from the depths and hulk towards the boyfriend on the beach, D’Amato immediately makes it clear this is film where you aren’t even safe on land! The boyfriend, lost in his music, opens his eyes for the final time to scream as the killer lunges a hatchet into his face. What an opening! D’Amato uses the audiences knowledge of the earlier film to subvert their expectations, and hooks them in from the outset.

vlcsnap2011110419h08m22After such a potent opening, the next half an hour can feel like a drag as we are slowly introduced to our main characters and have to get them to the remote island seen in the opening. On the Greek mainland 5 travellers are preparing to take a trip to said remote island. They are soon joined by Julie (Tisa Farrow) who is looking to meet up with some friends on there. The trip to this Island, which is never named (presumably because they couldn’t think of a name funnier than ‘Matool’ from Zombie Flesh Eaters), is only objected to by Carol (Zora Kerova), something of a clairvoyant who is convinced via her tarot cards that something awfully wrong is going to happen on the Island (she’s not wrong). Upon reaching the island, the pregnant Maggie (Serena Grandi), hurts her ankle, so she stays behind on the boat with its owner. It isn’t long before the unseen man who killed the two Germans in the intro attacks the boat, decapitating it’s owner and kidnapping Maggie. Meanwhile, Julie and the rest of the gang find the island is almost completely abandoned save for a mysterious old woman who lives on a big house in the hills, and a blind girl whom Carol had actually been travelling to the island to babysit.

antropophagus_02Antropophagus is truly a rough, grimy, nasty film that earned its place among the video nasties. Though it’s slow to get going, when it delivers the gore, it doesn’t pull any punches. George Eastman, as the cannibalistic serial killer Klaus, is a hulking, brutish boogeyman whose actions make Hollywood killers like Michael Myers look gentle by comparison. It’s never explained how exactly he went about killing and eating an entire island’s population, or why it caused him to transform to develop saggy, zombie-like skin, but it’s pretty impressive regardless. I’ve never been been into eating human flesh myself or hanging around those who do so I can’t speak for it’s effect on skin complexion. But this is a moot point, I don’t watch Italian gore flicks like this for their logic or richly developed storylines, I watch them for the awesome atmosphere and gore, and Antropophagus delivers on both of those fronts. I really like the isolated Greek island setting, and even though the premise of the entire island’s population being killed and devoured by one man is ludicrous, it’s hard to deny that being trapped alone there with the cannibalistic freak is one of the horrendous situations you could find yourself in on your summer holiday. It’s a great and original locale to stage a slasher flick, featuring such locations as the centuries old carvers on the seaside with rotten bones, and the aforementioned ghostly mansion on the hill which is the stage for the climax. These places are the perfect setting for the grotesque gore that unfolds, and D’Amato films them with all the Gothic flair they need.

Joe D’Amato may be seen as a seedy porn baron for the most part, but here he proves his ability as a competent genre director who was able to stage an effect horror atmosphere and gore scenes that still pack a punch. It’s interesting to note that a great many of his films revolve around cannibalism in some form, an obsession which comes to a head in Antropophagus’ Klaus, one of the most memorably offbeat and disturbing villains in Horror history.

antropophagus_01

One final note – I’ve heard a lot of people complain that the title Antropophagus is nonsensical and stupid. A quick search on Google actually reveals it to be a Greek word for a cannibal, so though it might sound silly, it actually makes perfect sense.

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Ash vs. Evil Dead – Reaction and thoughts on the trailer.

After twenty odd years of endless rumors, speculation, and a controversial remake, Ash-vs-Evil-Dead-2015-05-29the Horror gods that are Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert have finally blessed us with a follow up to 1992’s Army of Darkness, though rather than being a fourth entry in the Evil Dead series of films, they have instead took the the route of a TV series with the title Ash vs. Evil Dead. It’s a smart choice, TV series are all the rage nowadays thanks to the Netflix revolution, and the massive success of HBO’s The Walking Dead along with Robert Rodriquez’s From Dusk ’til Dawn revival through his El Rey network likely spurred them on to the fact that Horror can thrive in this format.

I’m a huge Evil Dead and Bruce Campbell fan, I even started wearing Old Spice deodorant because of Bruce Campbell’s series of adverts for the brand, and there’s something glorious and exhilarating about seeing the square chinned legend strap on the chainsaw and boomstick again after so many years. This however brings me to the first worry about the trailer, the characterisation of Ash himself. In the first Evil Dead, there wasn’t anything heroic or badass about Ash, he just happened to the luckiest member of the group and used what little smarts he had to banish the deadites in the films climax. In Evil Dead 2, Ash continued torment at the hands of the deadites and resulting deteriorating mental state caused him to snap and in the name of not taking any more shit, fix a chainsaw onto the stump where his hand used to be and become the one liner spewing badass we all know and love. Army of Darkness continued this image of Ash with it’s slew of one liners, cementing the pop culture image of Bruce Campbell as a man so badass that Duke Nukem nicked his one liners form him (HAIL TO THE KING BABY!). The fact remains however that the dialogue and characterisation of the Evil Dead films was never Shakespeare, they’re a series of films in which a man has his hand possessed by demons which he then cuts off and attaches a chainsaw to the stump. What worries me is that, with a higher level of writing and characterisation required for a long term TV series, Campbell has inadvertently put his ‘My Name Is Bruce’ persona on the Ash template. 2009’s My Name Is Bruce was a daft but entertaining look at Campbell as a hyper real version of himself who is called out of his washed up B Movie star existence by a fanboy in order to help combat an evil in his home town. Ash referring to himself as ‘sexy’ and some of his mannerisms in the trailer were more reminiscent of My Name Is Bruce than anything in the Evil Dead trilogy.

ash-vs-evil-deadThis worry aside however, the tone of the trailer is PERFECT. The slapstick horror comedy of the Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness is perfectly on show, with moments like Boomstick coming out of the floor and Ash being attacked by a possessed doll looking like they could have come straight out of those films. Some people prefer the more straight faced, brutal horror approach of the first Evil Dead, which was seemingly what 2013’s Evil Dead remake was trying to recapture. This series seems to be more about giving people like me, who consider Evil Dead 2 to be a masterpiece of Slapstick Comedy Gore Horror, what they’ve been craving these last twenty years. Raimi, Campbell and their cohorts were a bunch of misfits from Detroit who grew up watching The Three Stooges shorts and messing around in the woods with a Super 8 camera. It was this sense of youthful silliness that allowed them to make Evil Dead 2 into the slapstick masterpiece it was, with blood and gore replacing custard pies. From what we have seen today, it looks extremely hopeful that they carry this sensibility through to a Horror Sitcom with Ash vs. Evil Dead.

Ash vs. Evil Dead is set to premiere on Halloween.

Fear Clinic (2014)

Fear-Clinic_Poster_04-691x1024Directed By Robert Hall
Starring Robert Englund, Fiona Dourif and Corey Taylor
95 Minutes
USA

Fear Clinic is a film that’s based on a web series that I’ve never seen. I didn’t give much thought to this fact when I glanced over it on the back of the DVD box, but within the first few minutes of the movie it became obvious that it was important. The movie begins with Robert Englund relaying backstory to us in voice-over over the opening credits, while footage and stills are shown to illustrate. This caught me off guard and I soon felt myself gasping for air, struggling to take in so much exposition at once. So like Englund, I’ll attempt to bring you up to speed. Fear Clinic has a high concept, and an interesting one at that. Englund is Dr.Andover (and over, and over, and over etc.), who has invented a device called the Fear Chamber, which in theory is supposed to cure people of their crippling phobias by placing them in a state of isolation which forces them to confront their fears in a series of horrifying hallucinations. I say ‘in theory’ because, this being a Horror film, all does not go according to plan and Andover’s device ends up becoming more of a help than a hindrance to Fear itself.

coretaylorfearclinicpromo2So with a lack of any prior knowledge of the web series, what was it that drew me to buy this film? As the box cover proudly states, Fear Clinic stars ‘A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET’S ROBERT ENGLUND [and] SLIPKNOT’S COREY TAYLOR’. Such a momentous meeting of two adolescent heroes for the paltry sum of £5 was too much for me to pass up. Taylor isn’t particularly bad, but his role isn’t a memorable one and could have be played by almost anybody. He does however get to sport a rather fetching moustache and provide a decent Metal Church cover for the closing credits with his band Stone Sour. Now as for the Horror Royalty, Englund’s character has the potential to be fascinating, as the fact he plays a character who deals in peoples phobias and assists them in confronting them in nightmares is a neat inversion of his Freddy Kruger persona. He even gets to use his trademark Kruger voice a couple of times. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel Englund’s character was well established enough for me to connect with, which is likely one of several results of this being an off-shoot of a web series. Our leading lady seeking help from Andover is the likeable Fiona Dourif, who reminds me of Kristin Stewart with a wider range of facial expressions. The rest of the cast is rounded out by a rag tag group of agitated young misfits, and this along with being set primarily within a mansion housing fantastical science equipment, means Fear Clinic is reminiscent of X-Men to an extent. I guess you might say that your individual phobias, which are your weaknesses, are the opposite ends of your inner strengths, which of course is what X-Men is all about celebrating.

fear_clinic_fionaFrom my opening paragraphs you may have already understood what my main gripe with this film is, it feels too geared towards those who have already seen the web series. And while it isn’t the films fault that I didn’t watch the web series first, I feel like a film based on an existing work should always be accessible to the uninitiated. The main crux of the story here is that 5 people were witness to a traumatic shooting in a diner which has left them variably with phobias, psychotic personalities and post traumatic stress disorder. The film takes place one year after this shooting, with our protagonist Sara (Dourif) returning to the Fear Clinic to seek help from Andover with her reoccurring hallucinations. Being set one year after this major event which connects the main characters, and is only seen in flashbacks, made me feel as though the web series must have been based around the shooting events of one year prior. But after some research, I discovered that the web series was actually based around a different phobia each episode, which admittedly might be the most advantageous way to tackle the Fear Chamber concept. The idea of some kind of traumatic event which connected all the characters could have worked to stretch the concept to an hour and a half movie, but the way it’s handled here is so clumsy. The characters and their back stories and phobias are never really delved into in any great detail, which is a real shame considering the possibilities of what the Fear Chamber could do if it actually managed to get into the head of a character we knew and cared about.
Though I felt jipped by the first half Fear Clinic due to its lack of decent plotting or character development, I at least got an entertaining climax. After an hour of brooding and bickering over the Fear Chamber, the diner, relationships and whatever else, some awesome metaphysical shit begins to go down. Fear begins to enter the human world and manifest itself in psychical forms, and in scenes which owe much Nightmare on Elm Street, it begins to be difficult to tell where nightmares end and reality begins. Fear Clinic does manage to create some effective creepy imagery with these scenes. One bit that really stuck in head was where an arachnophobic woman grows a big bulging black zit on her back, the doctor pops it open, and a nest of spiders burst out and crawl everywhere! The final scenes almost worth the meandering bulk of the film, and allow Englund to get right into his element. All that I’ll say is; Freddy Kruger on steroids.

Overall, the main thing I can say about Fear Clinic is that it made to want to go back and watch the web series. I really do like the concept of the Fear Chamber, and despite a borderline exhilarating climax, it’s mostly squandered here through a clumsy and unfocused narrative. The idea of their being some kind of traumatic event which brings together a group of charters to visit the Fear Chamber could have worked well if the foundations of that story had at least been clearer. It’s because of this I want to give the web series a go and see if I can confirm my suspicions that episodic story-telling would do more justice to the Fear Chamber concept. In conclusion then, the Fear Clinic film has an intriguing concept that manages to conjure up imaginative apparitions, but ultimately it is too messy and disjointed to feel like anything more than an after-thought to the web series it was based on.

fear-clinic-1Fear Clinic is available on DVD and Blu Ray in the US, but only DVD in the UK.