George Eastman: Absurd Anthropophage

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Among the various movies added to the so-called “video nasty” list in the UK in the 1980s, few have as as much in common as Anthropophagous and Absurd. Both are projects by expert trash merchant Joe D’Amato, and both have George Eastman in almost identical costuming. And both are incredibly grim, though in mildly different ways…

Trigger warnings would be appropriate at this point: both of these involve cannibalism and murder, one involves violence against a pregnant woman, one involves violence against a disabled person.

Anthropophagous

As with many of the video nasties, this one was released under a whole swathe of different titles; the print 88 Films seems to have used to prepare this high-definition rerelease actually has the title “The Savage Island” appear during the opening scenes. The film kicks off with a young German couple exploring a delightful Greek island, with a lovely old village and decent beaches. As the man sunbathes, the woman spots a boat sitting apparently abandoned just off the beach. She swims over there, only to be shocked by what she finds therein – the occupant being the eponymous anthropophage, who after slaying her makes short work of her blissfully unaware friend.

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A Blunder In the Dark

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Sing along everyone, to the tune of That’s Amore:

Wheeeeen you’re stabbed in the eye
And you gruesomely die
That’s giallo!

Ahem. Giallo is a distinctive subgenre of Italian horror that emerged in the late 1960s, reached a peak of unusual artistic accomplishment in the 1970s, and degenerated (along with much of the rest of the Italian B-movie industry) into unmitigated trash in the 1980s. It’s a sort of heavily stylised precursor to the slasher movie, with a big emphasis on psychological horror, often a strong mystery element, and occasional whiffs of the supernatural.

The innovator of the genre is generally held to be the prolific Mario Bava. Like many Italian directors of his era, Bava’s filmography is massive and diverse, but his horror work was particularly important; having made a start as a cinematographer, he directed his second movie, I Vampiri, in 1956 after original director Riccardo Freda had a falling-out with the producers and walked out of the project, leaving Bava to complete the unfinished shoot in just two days. The end result wasn’t exactly distinguished, but it’s a historically important work because it was the first Italian horror movie to be released in the sound era; the genre had been banned under Mussolini, and though fascist-era restrictions had been eased there had been a question mark over whether the Italian market had any appetite for horror.

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The Sophisticated Soavi

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Italian horror cinema is generally held to have had a peak of creative accomplishment in the 1970s and a rather sad decline in the 1980s, with the former masters of the genre suffering from diminishing returns and a tidal wave of second-rate material glutting the market.

A happy exception to this critical slump is the work of Michele Soavi. After serving an apprenticeship with a number of small acting parts and stints as an assistant director or second unit director for more prominent directors like Lamberto Bava, Joe D’Amato or Dario Argento, Soavi would direct four movies that are often taken to represent the best in Italian horror of the 1980s and 1990s.

Unfortunately, his career was derailed when he was forced to step back his involvement in the industry to care for his terminally ill son, though in the 2000s he did make some non-genre TV movies, and it’s still possible that – particularly with recent blu-ray releases of his own movies and those projects he assisted on coming out – the stars might align to allow him to produce another horror feature one day. If he does, these are the films that work will be measured against.

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Dario Argento’s Horror Disasterclass

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Italian horror cinema had a funny old journey in the 20th Century. After returning from the dead in the 1950s, when the Fascist-era ban was repealed, it didn’t really catch fire until Mario Bava gave it a welcome shot in the arm in the 1960s. Then a new generation of Bava-inspired auteurs (and utterly shameless ripoff merchants) rose in the 1970s, with Dario Argento reigning as the decade’s dark overlord. However, by the time the 1980s got into full swing the wheels were beginning to come off. Older hands were slowing down or becoming regrettably inconsistent, and the balance between stylish, artsy originals and schlocky formula material – the two types of movie the scene was best known for – started to swing dangerously towards the “disposable bullshit” side of the coin.

The Demons series seems to have been Dario Argento’s attempt to mentor the next generation of Italian horror directors. Enjoying a break from directing after wrapping up his Phenomena, Argento took on the role of producer and co-writer, with Lamberto Bava (son of Mario Bava) in the director’s chair. Perhaps the most important thing Argento brought to the table was his name, since it was one of a select few with genuine gravitas outside of the Italian horror bubble and it allowed him as producer to secure a budget for the movies that was well in excess of Lamberto’s earlier efforts.

Another protegee of Argento’s, Michele Soavi, acted as assistant director on the first movie and performed a couple of cameos in it, having collaborated with Lamberto in a similar capacity in his earlier A Blade In the Dark. In the long run, Lamberto Bava’s reputation has tended to be overshadowed in horror critic circles by his father’s, and he seems to have had most success outside of horror with his Fantaghiro series of fantasy TV movies. Conversely, Soavi seems to have done rather better out of the deal, with Argento giving him the same producer-and-cowriter help to produce his subsequent movies The Church and The Sect; moreover, Soavi’s final horror movie, Dellamorte Dellamore, is widely seen as the best Italian horror release of the 1990s, if not the final movement of Italian horror’s golden age. And Soavi… well, he doesn’t look back on the Demons films too fondly, writing them off as “pizza schlock”. Is he being unfair or ungrateful, or does he have a point? Best way to find out is to crack open the two-disc Arrow Video rerelease of the movies and see for ourselves…

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