Tuesday, February 28, 2017

ABSURD - BLU-RAY REVIEW

It’s absurd! Completely absurd!” exclaims Dr. Kramer, as per the title.

Blatantly modeling it after John Carpenter’s exemplary and enormously successful stalk ’n’ slash flick HALLOWEEN (1978), it was inevitable that the Italians – in particular, Joe D’Amato (a.k.a. Aristide Massaccesi, here directing here under his less-commonly-used alternate pseudonym of “Peter Newton”), Italy’s self-proclaimed “cheater”/rip-off artist – would take a stab at it (no pun intended).  At first, this seems like a continuation of sorts to his earlier, far scrappier, ANTHROPOPHAGOUS (a.k.a. THE GRIM REAPER, 1980), which likewise starred George Eastman (a.k.a. Luigi Montefiori) as an imposing and seemingly indestructible boogeyman named Nikos Karamanlis.  He also plays the same Nikos character in ABSURD (1981), so it’s easy to make the connection to D’Amato’s earlier film, but ABSURD easily works on its own merits as a fairly energetic riff on all those slasher films of the time.  Released on Blu-ray as part of 88 Films’ ever-expanding ‘Italian Film Collection’, this is by far and away the best option currently available, both in terms of picture quality and extras.

Almost immediately, the film lives up to its title as Nikos (“the boogeyman”) literally runs into small-town U.S.A. as another man (Edmund Purdom), wearing a black trench coat – who is having a difficult time keeping up, and clutches his chest in obvious exhaustion – follows close behind.  During a scuffle, Nikos is graphically impaled atop of a steel fence and then stumbles into a nearby house, clutching at his guts while a young boy (Kasimir Berger) watches in understandable horror.  In diametric contrast to ANTHROPOPHAGOUS’ show-stopping finale (wherein Eastman gobbles on his own guts), for ABSURD he gets disembowelled right at the very start; a sly wink for those in-the-know.  Then, right in the very next scene, he’s seen in surgery, with the presiding doctors, including Dr. Kramer (dubbing specialist Ted Rusoff), marveling at his (quote) “recuperative powers” whilst they endlessly fumble around with his exposed innards.


Later that night, at the same house where Nikos made his grand entrance, Ian (Ian Danby) and his wife Carol (Hanja Kochansky) don’t seem very concerned following such a traumatic incident and, insensitively and irresponsibly enough, keep a dinner date at their neighbour’s house to (quote) “watch the game on television”, abandoning both their son Willie (the young lad from the beginning) and their bedridden daughter Katia (Katya Berger), who get left in care of their babysitter; a plot device which hews closely to the tried-and-tested HALLOWEEN template.  Naturally, much like a criminal returning to the scene of the crime, Nikos ends up back at the house and, after graphically killing-off a few unsuspecting incidental victims along the way and, during the film’s equally far-fetched finale, he encounters the highly unlikely ‘final girl’.

While the film does its darnedest to emulate any number of slasher pics you can name, it still doesn’t make a lick of sense; but then again, you might well have been expecting an ‘anything-goes’ type narrative well in advance, what with a title like ABSURD attached to it.  In one of the film’s stranger developments, that mysterious man from the opener actually turns out to be a Greek Orthodox priest (!), who serves God (quote) “with biochemistry more than with rites and ceremonies.” Clearly patterned after HALLOWEEN’s gun-toting psychiatrist Dr. Loomis, this unorthodox ‘man of God’ also totes a firearm, informing the local constabulary, led by Charles Borromel as Sgt. Engleman, how “there exists a reality that we do not see.”  Apparently, Nikos had escaped from some unknown laboratory, and the reason for his madness stems from the fact that his cells don’t regenerate properly, thus rendering him insane (!). This only further adds to the almost mythic-like quality of the unstoppable killer, an aspect which American slasher films began extensively toying with around the same time with the likes of FRIDAY THE 13TH’s Jason Voorhees et al. 

                                                                                                                                                                                            
As with ANTHROPOPHAGOUS before it, ABSURD was once again penned by Montefiori under his “John Cart” pseudonym. However, according to “The Absurd Files”, one of the many extras on 88 Films’ Blu, he’s not all that enamoured with the final product, equating it with an “average horror film”, albeit one that “works.”  It’s unsure whether Montefiori had also been intending to hide the film’s Italian origins, or if this was a decision made by D’Amato himself during filming, but it’s actually quite amusing to what lengths the film revels in its ‘Americanisms’, typically via dialogue involving American football (including such blatant name-drops as “It’s the Rams and the Steelers!”), but as the ‘adults’ gather to watch the game, they’re all eating pasta and surrounded by typical Mediterranean architecture and atmosphere.  At another point in the film, Sgt. Engleman reacts to the priest’s mention of kilometers (“Kilometers, huh?”) instead of the more customary term miles – this is (not!) “America”, after all! – in still another instance of its makers brazenly – if futilely – attempting to disguise the film’s true origins. 

Originally released in the U.S. on VHS circa 1985 by Wizard Video as MONSTER HUNTER, that version was, happily, uncut, although its muddy/murky full-screen image was certainly nothing to write home about.  Debuting on DVD stateside in 2009 courtesy of MYA Communications under its equally-apt French theatrical title of HORRIBLE, that widescreen (if non-anamorphic) edition utilized a slightly shorter Italian version of the film – including even a few VHS-sourced inserts – dubbed into English. However, once again, picture quality was, even for the time, woefully lacking.  Thanks to a highly successful Indiegogo campaign, which also saw the restoration of Lucio Fulci’s AENIGMA (1987), D’Amato’s BEYOND THE DARKNESS (1979) and Michele Massimo Tarantini’s MASSACRE IN DINOSAUR VALLEY (1985), 88 Films have finally provided fans the definitive version of ABSURD with a brand new 2K restoration that was struck directly from the film’s original camera negative.

Presented in its original – and quite a bit longer – English version (94m), 88 Films’ Blu-ray is a handsome restoration whose clarity and sharpness far outdoes all previous releases, and which should please even the most demanding fans of the film.  Plus, as an added bonus, 88 Films have also included the shorter Italian version (88m), with optional English subtitles, and both its LPCM 2.0 mono audio tracks boast excellent sound.  Extras include the aforementioned “The Absurd Files” (14m20s), wherein Eastman discusses his thoughts on the film, the downfall of Filmirage (D’Amato’s little “Corman”-like film factory), plus the benefits of smaller productions.  It’s a pretty solid interview piece, even though he doesn’t have very many good things to say about ABSURD itself.  In the next interview, this one with Michele Soavi (17m47s), Soavi talks about how he got his start in the film business (he plays a bit-part as a biker in ABSURD), how D’Amato took him (quote) “under his wing”, as well as Soavi’s appreciation of D’Amato as the (quote) “quintessential man of cinema.”


Also on hand is an audio commentary from The Hysteria Continues (“the slasher-loving Podcast”), during which they discuss the film’s connection to HALLOWEEN; its interesting cast, which comprises some of Italy’s leading English dubbing artists, such as the aforementioned Rusoff and Danby, here working in front of the camera for a change; Giuseppe Ferrante’s sloppy-if-effective makeup effects; the inordinately long running time; some of their favourite slashers; as well as drawing parallels between the FRIDAY THE 13TH PART IV: THE FINAL CHAPTER’s ending and that of the present film.  It’s a fun, breezy commentary which most fans should enjoy.  As an added bonus, we get a 16-page booklet by Calum Waddell that outlines Britain’s so-called “Video Nasties” – a shit-list which included ABSURD – with a brief write-up on each of the 39 condemned titles; plus, as per their usual standards, 88 Films also provides reversible cover art highlighting the film’s original Italian poster art.  Lastly, for those who contributed to the campaign, the Blu-ray also comes complete with a nice glossy slipcover of the film’s original Video Nasty cover art.

Overall, this is another outstanding release from 88 Films, amounting to one of the more impressive restorations in their ongoing ‘Italian Film Collection’. It is most definitely worth picking up if gory Italian horror is your thing. Order ABSURD from DiabolikDVD here

* All screen grabs are taken directly from 88 Films' Blu-ray.

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