Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Italian Horror Blogathon: Absurd (AKA Rosso Sangue, Anthropophagus II, Monster Hunter, The Grim Reaper 2)

One of the more notorious “Video Nasty” films that never made it off of the final list of 39 films banned by the DPP, Absurd is a film – like most Joe D’Amato films – where the viewer is left to wonder what all the fuss was about. Nothing about the film is particularly scary or obscene, and even though it is essentially a beat for beat remake of the first two Halloween pictures, there’s nothing remotely artistic or well-made about the film that warrants disgust at the fact that it was banned in the UK.  It is, however, helmed by the infamous Artistide Massacessi – better known to us Yanks as Joe D’Amato – and for that it has obtained a level of cult status as being inherently nasty because his name is attached to it. Now, sitting down to watch a Joe D’Amato film isn’t something you do all willy-nilly. It has to be pre-meditated, and, if you’re anything like me, this is an act that shows your unbridled love and enthusiasm for the genre. Because let’s face it: why else would one subject themselves to a D’Amato film? So it’s with that that I find it difficult to get a bead on Absurd. In no way is it good, but in the right frame of mind, it’s more than tolerable.

Before I get too far ahead of myself though, I think it would be good to go over a little context. In 1980, D’Amato and Luigi Montefiore (better known as George Eastman) created Anthropophagus, which in Greek means “cannibal,” a horrendously tedious and boring film that caused major controversy with the two specific scenes that come at the end of 80 minutes of people walking around a Greek island. Anthropophagus is one of the most overrated of the Italian Video Nasties, but it’s important because it cemented D’Amato as a horror exploitation director whereas prior to Anthropophagus (and Beyond the Darkness, which looks like freaking Citizen Kane compared to his later horror films), D’Amato was known as nothing more than a soft-core porn hack who mixed horror elements and cannibals with his infamous Emmanuel series. Oh, I guess we shouldn’t forget the tastefully dubbed, Porno Holocaust.

So, in 1980, after some mild success with Beyond the Darkness, D’Amato gave us Anthropophagus which contains a crazy George Eastman (who also wrote the script) tearing out fetus’ and eating his own guts (the former effect was nothing more than a skinned rabbit wrapped in bacon, and when one sees it now, it’s hard to imagine why anyone was up in arms about it). In Absurd, the unofficial sequel to Anthropophagus, Eastman returns as a monster who has his guts removed at the beginning of the movie rather than the end (hey, at least we didn’t have to wait 90 excruciating minutes this time); however, because of this, Eastman’s monster is somehow more powerful than ever and able to regenerate himself, kill everyone in the hospital, and set out on a rampage that will, naturally, take him to a house where a babysitter awaits him for a final battle.

Familiarity aside, I have to say, Absurd is interesting in a so-bad-it’s-good kind of way if nothing else. D’Amato – ever the inept hack – couldn’t pace a scene to save his life, but at least he doesn’t make the viewer wait eons for the gore this time, so I suppose his pacing in that regard is good. Absurd, as mentioned earlier, is essentially the first two Halloween movies. Perhaps a better title though would have been Super Bowl, as D’Amato finds it a good idea to set his film on one of America’s favorite holidays: Super Bowl Sunday. The entire non-killing parts of the film contains non-American actors pretending they like American football, talking about the big game, where they’re going to watch the big game, and eating Italian food while the big game is on. It’s an amazing thing: that one little touch so endeared me to this movie in the classic so-bad-it’s good/watch this movie with friends and beer kind of way that the movie kind of has some, er, charm to it.

But alas, this is D’Amato, and I’m never happy when I have to sit down and watch one of his movies. But he is a staple of the Italian horror subgenre, so here we go. A mysterious man named Mikos (Eastman) has an ability to regenerate even after being disemboweled. When taken to the hospital, he revives himself and kills a nurse and goes on a murderous rampage that is obviously inspired by Halloween II. After the monster escapes it turns into the first Halloween picture as the priest that has been chasing Mikos all this time (played by Edmond Purdom basically doing his best Donald Pleasance impersonation) informs the people at the hospital that the only way to kill Mikos is to, “destroy the cerebral mass.” Yup, so we know someone is going headless by the end of this movie. The rest of the film can basically be broken down into the following pattern: someone is murdered via cannibalism, 15 minutes of plodding around, people watch the Super Bowl, someone is murdered via table saw, 15 minutes of plodding around, people watch the Super Bowl…etc. It’s all very D’Amato-y, meaning: you wait and you wait and you wait and then you get some gore…and all you can really hope for in those minutes that seem like hours in between the kill scenes is that there is enough cheesy goodness to get you through to the next gore piece.

Here’s the deal though: D’Amato at least seems to have learned from his mistakes in Anthropophagus because Absurd isn’t nearly as boring (at least it doesn’t feel like “Come Visit Greece” tourism video). Interspersed throughout are those semi-gory deaths that have decent gore effects (again, though, nothing so bad that I can imagine it offending people to the point where it never made it off of the DPP’s list) to at least get you through to the next scene, but they’re surrounded by other nonsense that shows how inept D’Amato was at making horror films. There’s a scene near the end with a crippled girl in a bed that seems helpless against the monster’s home invasion. This scene, in the hands of a competent director, should have been a home run – a tense scene that winds the audience up – instead, it’s just kind of so-so, and all we’re left doing is marveling in the ways that D’Amato completely botches scene after scene showing no ability whatsoever to build suspense.  

This movie is really for completists only – whether you’re a slasher completist, an Italian horror completist, or, God forbid, a D’Amato completist; the casual horror fan will be, justifiably, bored with this movie. But there is a group – aside from the aforementioned ones, who really fall into this category anyway – that the movie was tailor-made for. If you’re anything like me, you enjoy the many levels of entertainment horror can offer. Sure, Absurd is nothing close to Deep Red or Don’t Torture a Duckling, but it is one of those movies that is kind of like Cheerleader Camp or other trashy ‘80s slasher fare. Now, admittedly, Absurd is a lot grimmer and less self-aware than something cheesy like Cheerleader Camp, D’Amato definitely thought he was making a really good horror movie here, but the spirit of watching this type of movie remains:  horror aficionados should see this movie with a group of friends, some pizza and beer, and sit back and marvel at the wondrous, mind-numbingly, wonderfully awful world of Joe D’Amato. Oh, and that Super Bowl Sunday subplot.


  1. Great first post, Kevin! I can't think of a more appropriately-titled film, but I love it just the same.

    Here is the link to my post about Cannibal Apocalypse:

  2. Thanks, Michael. I look forward to reading your take on Cannibal Apocalypse.

  3. Okay -- I need to watch this just for the Super Bowl stuff. I love when Italian directors try to pretend like they know stuff about specifically American things like that and usually fail laughably. The rest of the movie sounds pretty bad though...

  4. Great post. I just watched this film the other day. My second time seeing it actually... quite the uh, experience.

  5. Troy: really is the best part. This is one that is right up our alley. The acting is typical D'Amato-directed acting.

    Drunketh: Wow, I am impressed you were able to sit through this twice. You, sir, are a better man than I.

    Thanks for checking this out, guys.

  6. Gee I never knew there was a "sequel" to Anthropophagus... Have to check this one out! Thanks Kevin!