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Blu-ray Reviews: Anthropophagus / Absurd

There’s evil on this island. An evil that won’t let us get away. An evil that sends out an inhuman, diabolic power. I sense its vibrations now. The vibrations are an intense horror. It will destroy us! The very same way it did all the others!”

“Shut up, Carol!

Distributor: Severin Films

 It has been called “seriously creepy” (CoolAssCinema.com), “insanely violent” (Nerdist.com) and “truly repulsive” (DVD Talk). It was seized by UK authorities as a ‘Video Nasty’ and accused of being an actual snuff film. Yet even by ‘80s Italian gore-spewing standards, this grueling shocker from sex & sleaze maestro Joe D’Amato (BEYOND THE DARKNESS) still stands as perhaps the most controversial – and extreme – spaghetti splatter epic of them all. Tisa Farrow (ZOMBIE), Zora Kerova (CANNIBAL FEROX) and co-writer/producer George Eastman (STAGE FRIGHT, 1990: BRONX WARRIORS) star in this depraved daddy of cannibal carnage from “Italy’s King of Trash Sinema” (Horrorpedia.com), now featuring a 2k scan from the original 16mm negative – including two of the most gut-retching scenes in horror history – and spurting with all-new Special Features.

Toss away those inferior bootlegs and experience sleaze maestro Joe D’Amato’s infamous follow-up to ANTHROPOPHAGOUS like never before: Borrowing heavily from HALLOWEEN, D’Amato unleashes gut-spewing Greek boogeyman (screenwriter George Eastman) into suburban America for a “gruesome as hell” (CinemasFringes.com) and “incredibly sadistic” (ASlashAbove.com) saga of doomed nurses, butchered babysitters, bio-chemical clergy and some of the most insane splatter scenes in Italian gorehound history. Edmund Purdom (FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS, PIECES) and Annie Belle (HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK, LAURE) co-star in this “violence-soaked bloodbath” (Hysteria Lives) and former ‘Video Nasty’ – also known as THE GRIM REAPER 2, ZOMBIE 6, HORRIBLE and MONSTER HUNTER – now featuring a 2k scan from the original negative and gushing with all-new Special Features.


Italian filmmaker Aristide Massaccesi is more commonly known as Joe D’Amato, the most prominent of his many pseudonyms. Like his colleagues Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Michele Soavi, Bruno Mattei, Ruggero Deodato, Umberto Lenzi, and the Bavas — Mario and Lamberto — D’Amato was a director and producer primarily known for gross-out, gory horror that featured the kind of gags you’d never have seen during the same era of American filmmaking. I guess it’s because Italians are inherently fucked up (I’m allowed to say that), but even during the video nasty era of Britain, or when Reagan et al. were cracking down on R-rated movies and profane lyrics in music, Italian filmmakers were also pushing back on violence and gore — but in the opposite direction. They pushed violence and gore to the breaking point — beyond “this is fun!” to “I’d like to vomit!” D’Amato was the hardest working one among his colleagues, averaging FIVE feature films a year, and he directed EIGHT in 1981 alone. (To put things in perspective, similarly boundary-pushing horror director Eli Roth has been making features for 16 years and he currently has only seven features to his name.) By the time of his death at 62 years old, D’Amato had 197 directorial credits. Granted, a lot of this was porn, but hey — a movie’s a movie. (My favorite title from this era of D’Amato’s filmography is definitely Robin Hood: Thief of Wives.)

1980’s Anthropomorphous (The Grim Reaper) is one of D’Amato’s most famous efforts, which would be one of several collaborations with actor/screenwriter Luigi Montefiori (pseudonym George Eastman), who wrote Anthropomorphous and its sequel, Absurd, while also playing the maniacal cannibal/killer in each. Anthropomorphous was one of many titles infamously included on Britain’s official Video Nasty list, which nearly declared this and films of its ilk illegal and was pulled from video store shelves. I won’t go as far as calling it “tame by today’s standards,” which is a go-to line for retrospectives on once-infamous films, but it’s not a constant collection of gross-out gore, either. For much of its running time, it unfolds as your fairly typical slasher flick: a group of attractive youngins go where they ought not have gone and run afoul of a cannibalistic madman who begins to kill and semi-eat them one by one. 

At film’s end, the villainous Man Eater suffers a fatal blow to his stomach, out which flow his intestines, which he promptly sticks in his mouth and begins to eat as he stares into the eyes of the man who killed him, which is the greatest spite-death I’ve ever seen.

Sure, Anthropomorphous is definitely gross, and its infamous fetus-eating scene is one of the grossest things from this genre, but it’s also more well made than you might expect based on its reputation. For much of the first half, in spite of the intermittent murder scenes, D’Amato is much more interested in creating tension and setting a mysterious and creepy mood. A night-brought storm rages, dumping buckets of rain on the crumbling structure where the friends are hunkering down, and filling its darkened rooms with blazes of lightning flashes. He also sticks Eastman’s killer, Man Eater, in dark corners and other faraway places nearly offscreen, revealing him in small bursts. Reputation aside, D’Amato was a competent director, and it’s to his credit that he was able to work in every genre beyond horror, and especially beyond gross-out horror, even if the horror genre would come to define his legacy.

A soft sequel to Anthropomorphous, called Absurd, would follow just one year and ten more D’Amato-directed films later, and would travel much of the same path, although this time, Eastman’s script would borrow heavily from elements from the first two Halloween films: Eastman, this time given the name of Mikos Stenopolis, your de facto Michael Myers, Edward Purdom (from the legendary slasher flick Pieces), though whose trench coat may be black, is definitely the regretful Sam Loomis, with young bedridden Katia doomed to act as the film’s beleaguered Laurie Strode. There’s even a subplot of a babysitter watching two kids while the parents piss off to a party, both of whom having to contend with a killer in their house. (The babysitter, however, isn’t so lucky this time.)

The reason I call Absurd a soft sequel to Anthropomorphous is because it doesn’t feature any returning cast members beyond Eastman, and even then he’s playing a brand new/basically the same character. The film even finds a way to replicate the fatal wound that Eastman’s Man Eater is dealt in the final moments of Anthropomorphous in an additional effort to tie the films together. However, Absurd isn’t nearly the same success as its predecessor, surrendering to a more common and less interesting setting and falling back on a less assured pace. In Anthropomorphous, tension built from having our characters wander a desolate location where we know the killer to be and slowly putting together the events of the dastardly deeds that have gone down there. In Absurd, we spend way too much time watching a bunch of middle-aged party-goers stand in a living room watching American football on TV and eating spaghetti. That sounds like I’m making a joke, but I’m not — that’s really what they do. Obsession with American football must’ve been at an all-time high in ‘81 because every character beyond Eastman (who never speaks) mentions football at least once. Like Antropophagus, the murder sequences in Absurd are top notch, but they all occur so far from each other that we’re forced to spend most of our time with the police investigation side of things, led by Sgt. Ben Engleman (Charles Borromel, who looks freakily like Robin Williams).

Interestingly, though Absurd borrows heavily from the plot of Halloween, both Absurd and Halloween 2 were released in October of 1981, and both feature a finale in which the maniacal killer is blinded and the final girl begins throwing off the path of the coming killer by creating false signs of her presence around the room using anything that makes noise, allowing for someone else to come in and dispatch the killer. The very ending even predicts that of Halloween 4, which wouldn’t be released for seven more years, so apparently Eastman piped into the official Halloween series wormhole and got a glimpse of what was to come.

Severin Films’ releases of both titles look phenomenal, as they are finally free from years of cramped and murky transfers that plagued previous video releases. Eastman is on hand to provide interviews for each title, and as he’s proven on prior Code Red releases, he’s extremely to the point. (He calls Anthropomorphous, a film he wrote and starred in, “shit.”)

Fans of Italian horror should see each title at least once. I wouldn’t go as far as to call them even cult classics, but they do feel like necessary viewing for those who have a predisposition toward “extreme” Italian horror cinema.

 THE SUPPLEMENTS

Antropophagus

  • Don’t Fear The Man-Eater: Interview with Writer/Star Luigi Montefiori a.k.a. George Eastman
  • The Man Who Killed The Anthropophagus: Interview with Actor Saverio Vallone
  • Cannibal Frenzy: Interview with FX Artist Pietro Tenoglio
  • Brother And Sister In Editing: Interview With Editor Bruno Micheli
  • Inside Zora’s Mouth: Interview with Actress Zora Kerova
  • Trailers
  • Reversible Wrap

Absurd

  • Rosso Sangue: Alternate Italian cut (with optional English subtitles)
  • The Return of the Grim Reaper: Interview With Actor / Writer / Co-Producer Luigi Montefiore (George Eastman)
  • D’Amato on Video: Archive Interview With Director Aristide Massaccesi
  • A Biker (Uncredited): Interview With Michele Soavi
  • Trailer
  • First 2500 copies includes Bonus CD Soundtrack
  • Reversible Wrap


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Written by

J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.

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