• Gabe Powers

Absurd Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)

Click here to read my full, multi-part Joe D’Amato horror retrospective, including overlap with this review.


After Anthropophagous became a surprise hit, director/producer Joe D’Amato (real name: Aristide Massaccesi) continued his short, but prolific stint as a gore movie maker with a pair of gore/porn hybrids, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (Italian: Le notti erotiche dei morti viventi, 1980) and Porno Holocaust (1981), before jumping back on the slasher bandwagon with George Eastman once again in tow as writer and star. Their follow-up, Absurd (Italian: Rosso Sangue; aka: Horrible, 1981), theoretically began as a direct sequel, as clear from alternate titles Anthropophagous 2 and The Grim Reaper 2 (it was also resold as a bogus fifth sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, 1978, at one point under the title Zombi 6: Monster Hunter) and the fact that the killer is played by the same guy (Eastman). He also begins this film disemboweled and clutching his intestines, but this is an homage to the last movie (where he dies with guts in hand), since the cause of injury is completely different. Eastman (who has the only story and screenplay credits this time around, despite claiming in interviews that he didn’t have enough time to actually write a complete treatment) and D’Amato quickly abandoned the idea of another distinctly European variation on the slasher for a more straightforward aping of the basic traditions and clichés developed by John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980), and the largely Canadian-made mad killer movies that were squeezed out in between. However, being Italian boys at heart, the duo still managed to infuse Absurd with a multitude of European eccentricities.



Halloween is the key template, beginning with the dynamic relationship between a silent, unstoppable killer and the man burdened by the knowledge of his madness. In Carpenter’s film, the killer was a troubled boy who grew into an even more troubled man and his nemesis was his one-time psychiatrist. D’Amato and Eastman add Catholic and sci-fi twists, by making the good-guy nemesis a guilty Vatican priest (Edmund Purdom) who helped to create the killer during a botched, church-sanctioned scientific experiment (?!). Unlike Michael Myers, who, until later films, was a mysterious, pseudo-supernatural force that didn’t need to be explained, Mikos is impervious to impalement, disemboweling, and gunshots specifically because the Church’s biochemistry division (?!?) designed him that way. Absurd then recycles the disabled victim gimmick from Anthropophagous, replacing a blind woman with a paralyzed girl (Annie Belle) who miraculously isn’t really all that paralyzed when it’s convenient. However, by the final act, Absurd’s disabled victim grows into a stand-in for the North American brand of Final Girl, who survives the killer’s attacks via emotional fortitude, precocity, and surprising physical strength. It’s possible that D’Amato and Eastman were attempting to do something similar with Anthropophagous’ blind heroine, but opted to make sure their star actress survived the ordeal, instead. The one other Halloween-ism Absurd borrows is the big event occupying everyone’s attention. They trade the largely American holiday (Halloween, naturally) for an all-American sporting event, namely the Super Bowl. Despite the authenticity of including footage from the actual 1980 game, they do little to disguise the laughable Italian stereotypes. The people watching the game sit in white-plastered villas and eat nothing but piles of red sauce spaghetti.


Absurd is less grotesquely creative than its counterpart and its vague Rome as America setting is a step down from Anthropophagous’ more compelling Greek island backdrop, but it makes up for this ambiguous nature with a much larger body count and cruel streak that, despite all of his notoriety as an exploitation machine, D’Amato rarely revisited. During his mostly head-based rampage, Eastman drives a surgical drill through a nurse’s temple, rams a slaughterhouse janitor’s skull into a jigsaw, strangles a biker (future Cemetery Man director Michele Soavi), pickaxes a babysitter from scalp to jaw, and shoves a physical therapist/secondary babysitter headfirst into an oven, then stabs her with scissors when she turns up alive and almost gets the drop on him. Other gore delights include Mikos’ aforementioned exposed guts, which are surgically shoved back into his body. There’s less filler this time around, as well, though D’Amato once again ends the film on its strongest point, when the still injured heroine stabs Mikos’ eyes out and silently sneaks around as he blindly and angrily gropes the air. She eventually rectifies the situation by brutally hacking his head off and presenting it to her parents.



Video

Absurd was more of a home video rarity than Anthropophagous, especially in English-speaking countries. Stateside, Wizard Video released a very hard to find, (mostly?) uncut version on big box VHS under the title Monster Hunter, complete with cover art that promised a graveyard full of zombies that most definitely do not appear at any point in the film. In the UK, Medusa’s VHS was quickly banned and pulled from shelves, making it a valuable collector’s item. The film didn’t fare much better on DVD, where fans had a choice between a pair of non-anamorphic German language discs from Astro and Laser Pacific, or a grey market, uncut, non-anamorphic and misframed disc from Mya (under the French title Horrible), which went OOP almost immediately. For the film’s stateside BD debut, Severin has included two versions of the film: the international Absurd cut, which runs 1:33:55, and the Italian cut, which runs a shorter 1:28:33. The differences are a collection of slightly longer shots of mostly mundane activities. No gore is censored between each version. Again, the film was temporarily banned in the UK, though it suffered only about 2 minutes and 23 seconds of trims, until 88 Films released a completely uncut Blu-ray in 2017. I don’t have that disc at my disposal for comparison sake, but, assuming that, once again, the two companies were working from similar 2K restorations (there are some brief clips from the 88 Films BD included on the shared extras and it appears much yellower/oranger than this disc).


Perhaps it’s just years of bootlegs and Mya’s borderline VHS-quality DVD fogging my mind, but I think this 1.85:1, 1080p remaster looks pretty fantastic. It helps that Absurd was filmed on 35mm, rather than 16mm, making it a less gritty experience, though D’Amato seems to have been less invested in his cinematography than he was when he shot Athropophagous. To that effect, the transfer is basically as strong as the photography – when D’Amato steals a quick, dimly-lit shot, it looks dull and flat, but, when he takes the time to paint with the light a tad, the image is dynamic, nicely detailed, and the natural colors are rich. Machine noise is minimized in favor of relatively accurate film grain and the posterization effects tend to blend with the softness of better photography. In comparison, the not-so-good photography has slight problems with bleeding and mosquito-y grain, but it’s still a really solid presentation.



Audio

This disc includes the Italian and English dubs, again, in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono, but only on separate versions of the film. Since I prefer the longer cut and extra silliness of the English language cut, I spent most of my time reviewing the that dub. I like this version, probably because it features so many familiar English language dub artists and that perfect blend of sincere performance, silly dialogue, and weird pauses to compensate for Italian-speaking actors. The Italian version has slightly louder sound effects and slightly tinnier dialogue, but the general mixes are the same. Composer Carlo Maria Cordio was an underrated member of the Italian movie community during the ‘80s and this was one of his first soundtracks and went on to more or less define his entire career – in part because parts of it were re-used by other films, including Juan Piquer Simón’s Pieces (1982). There are a few choppy, keyboard-based scare cues, but, for the most part, this is a rock score, à la Goblin and Keith Emerson, with full guitar, drum, and bass tracks supporting the organ, synth, and piano motifs. The music is clean, but the rhythm section is occasionally lost in the single channel mix.



Extras

  • The Return of the Grim Reaper (30:53, HD) – A second and more substantial interview with Eastman/Montefiore. This was recorded separately from the interview on the Anthropophagous disc, so there is some overlap in subject matter, especially towards the beginning, when the star/writer describes his early career and friendship with D’Amato. Eventually, the discussion skews more towards Absurd, where Eastman praises the professionalism of his castmates.

  • D’Amato on Video (19:43, HD/SD) – This archival, English language interview with D’Amato was taken from a VHS-quality source and suped-up with some poster images and clips from his movies. It’s not enormously informative in terms of unknown details about the man’s career, but it is valuable as a personable and honest portrait of a long career. Besides, D’Amato died before most of his movies ever hit DVD, so there’s little footage of him available, outside of Roger A. Fratter’s Joe D’Amato: Totally Uncut (1999) bio-doc double-feature.

  • A Biker (Uncredited) (17:47, HD) – In this interview produced for 88 Films’ release, director Michele Soavi recalls his brief cameo in Absurd and the two’s ongoing professional relationship, which included Soavi’s directorial debut, Stagefright (aka: Aquarius and Bloody Bird, 1987).

  • Trailer

  • CD soundtrack (limited to the first 2500 copies)


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