Yes folks, it’s a Joe D’Amato double feature as the twisted minds at Severin Films have seen fit to release two of his most notorious shockers, Anthropophagous (1980) and Absurd (1981) simultaneously for the horror crowd curious and rabid (rabidly curious?) to find out what all the fuss was about when these were originally banned way back in the day.
Banned? Indeed, they were part of the first wave of Great Britain’s infamous early ‘80s “Video Nasties”, a group of horror films that were yanked from shops and prosecuted; many would return to shelves wounded and neutered, or never make it back to the storefronts at all until many years later. Bless Severin Films then, for once again bringing viewers the greasy goods uncut and restored to their former, well beauty may be a strong word. These are D’Amatos we’re talking about.
These two particular films are of a piece; not only is Absurd a semi-sequel of sorts to Anthropophagous, both feature the writing and performances of one George Eastman, or as he’s known back home, Luigi Montefiori. Eastman and D’Amato make a good team; whether you like their collaborations or not (and these are only two of several), they are nothing less than very memorable.
Let’s look at Anthropophagous first; AKA The Grim Reaper, The Beast, The Savage Island (the title Severin’s Blu-ray uses), The Zombie’s Rage, and Eater O’Fetus, it tells the simple story of a group of tourists who visit a Greek island and come across a hulking, misshapen cannibal who decimates the cast over 90 minutes. Tisa Farrow (Zombie) leads a cast of pretty men and women, who either act stoic or shrill and not always necessarily in the order you think.
I’ve always had a complicated history with Anthropophagous; of course I checked it out as a youth as soon as it was made available, and was in equal measures bored and repulsed. Time has softened my feelings towards it; several of the scenes are well executed, including a woman springing with a knife from a vat of wine, or the infamous baby eating scene, or the finale as Eastman, as the monster, eats his own splayed innards before shuffling off D’Amato’s grungy coil. So while I appreciate the gall and twisted artistry behind these scenes, that’s really all the film is: a few memorable moments peppered throughout an admittedly beautiful travelogue. But it is worth it for those out there set pieces and Eastman’s chilling work as the deranged cannibal. He’s the creepy goods.
As he is in the sort-of follow up, Absurd, AKA The Grim Reaper 2, Zombie 6, Horrible, Monster Hunter; the difference being he’s merely a homicidal maniac, genetically modified by The Catholic Church (!) to heal at a miraculous rate. The connection to the former film is tenuous at best, disregarding the behind the scenes D’Amato/Eastman powerhouse; our “creature” this time is a Greek man brought back to life by a biochemist/priest played by Edmund Purdom (Pieces). Chased by him, too; our film opens with Purdom breathlessly chasing Eastman, who impales himself on a wrought iron fence before collapsing, innards out, at the door of the first house he comes upon.
Rushed to hospital, Eastman wows the surgeons with his recuperative abilities; they’re even more wowed when he wakes up and bores a hole through a nurse’s noggin with a drill before fleeing the grounds. Even though we get a grumpy detective and bumbling sidekick on the case, it’s really up to Purdom to drive around endlessly in pursuit of Eastman. (Almost Loomis-like, you might say. Okay, very.) Our killer makes it back to the house where the film started; naturally mom and dad are out for the evening, leaving one annoying moppet and his bedridden sister in the charge of a babysitter – will the clueless police or Purdom arrive in time to stop the slaughter?
It’s really easy to compare the two films especially with their connective tissue behind the scenes, in front of the camera, and with the simultaneous release of both films by Severin; so if I’m rating the films themselves, Absurd is the clear winner for me. It’s just more engaging, lively, and has a story with forward momentum. Sure, it’s Halloween’s story (with a touch of Halloween II and a smidgen of The Shining), but it moves from first frame to last; even when the grownups are watching “the big game” on TV (showing an old NFL game in slow motion replay that’s supposed to be live is *chef’s kiss*) in this typical American town, the slightly off behavior keeps the viewer intrigued over any talky parts (and there are a few of those). While it can’t compete with Anthropophagous’ more outrageous scenes, Absurd has its share of splashy splatter, including the aforementioned cranial stoppage of the health care provider, Eastman’s disembowelment, a butcher’s remorse, and a moist decapitation to cap it all off. Absurd is just plain fun, which Anthropophagous has no interest in, and that’s fine; both films show Eastman and D’Amato to be well versed in the light and shadows of the horror genre – my preference most of the time just happens to be the former.
It is win-win with the special features though, as Severin Films has provided exemplary extras for both no matter which mood you choose to indulge; both boast 2K scans from the original negatives - there’s plenty of grain present, but also a level of detail not there in previous versions – in other words, clean grime just the way I like it.
Please watch both films (I’m assuming you’re getting both, right?) before you dig into the special features of either; there are lengthy interviews with Eastman on the Anthropophagous and Absurd discs that serve to highlight what a delightful man he is; while he isn’t a fan of the former (he’s a little kinder to the latter), he has many fond remembrances of working with D’Amato even though their collaborations do not indicate “love-fest” in the slightest. It’s better to view Eastman as wild and feral before you see him as cute and cuddly.
The same goes for D’Amato himself, who appears on the Absurd disc in a fun archival video interview again proving that what’s projected on screen doesn’t always reflect its maker; an interview with director Michele Soavi (Stagefright), who plays an unfortunate biker, bears witness to same. Rounding out the Absurdity is the shorter, alternate Italian cut, Rosso Sangue, and a limited edition soundtrack CD.
Meanwhile, back on the island, Anthropophagous has further interviews with actors Saverio Vallone, Zora Kerova, FX Artist Pietro Tenoglio, and Editor Bruno Micheli. Both discs boast trailers to round out thorough and supplementary materials.
As I’ve said, Anthropophagous and Absurd are kind of a perfect pair; being banned ironically threw a brighter spotlight on a couple of films that may have passed horror fans by as third billed exploitation cheapies. Thanks to Severin Films, the spotlight is fired up again to show the world what these two really are: first rate exploitation cheapies, for every mood, at the top of the bill where they belong.
Anthropophagous – Movie Score: 2.5/5, Disc Score: 4/5
Absurd – Movie Score: 3.5/5, Disc Score: 4/5