One of 39 titles to be successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Acts in 1984, Joe D’Amato’s Absurd (aka Horrible aka Rosso Sangue) massaged the erogenous zones of gore hounds across the globe upon release. Centered around a tense, unforgettable melody, Carlo Maria Cordio’s score is a compelling mix of high-strung grindhouse funk and synthesized splinters of Italian flair. As part of Death Waltz’s video nasty series, the label commissioned the canvas work of Wes Benscoter, whose grizzly graphical style violently epitomized the film's dark, bloodthirsty aesthetic.
Creating cadaverous cover arts for many of heavy metal's legendary acts (his portfolio includes Slayer’s Divine Intervention and Black Sabbath’s The Dio Years), it was only a matter of time before Death Waltz became a regular client of Benscoter. “After [the cover art for] New Barbarians was finished, I mentioned to Spencer [Hickman, head of Death Waltz] that if they ever do Antropophagus that I’d love to do the cover art,” explains Benscoter. “He mentioned they had Absurd [a pseudo sequel to Antropophagus] coming up, so I told him I’d love to take a crack at it.”
Whilst interested in the project, initially Benscoter was more attracted to the style rather than the substance. “I’m an Italian horror fanatic, so I do have some appreciation for it, but I’m not the biggest fan of Absurd,” he notes. I like the original Antropophagus much more because of the makeup, nasty set pieces, and the unhealthy vibe. Absurd was more of a traditional slasher film, but I always loved the soundtrack.”
With his unsettling style in rhythmic step with Death Waltz, Benscoter dug deep to carve out a concept covered in surreal and nightmarish tones. “My first thought was that I didn’t want to do a collage or a bunch of floating heads. Also, I wanted to give it a little bit of my usual ‘death metal’ style, especially in the background, because I know a lot of the other artists doing covers can’t do some of that stuff.”
Working with acrylics on hard board, it took Benscoter about two weeks on and off to complete the project. Explaining his creative process, Benscoter notes, “I took a few screenshots from the film so I could get George Eastman’s likeness correct. I also took a few reference photos of a shirt so I could get the folds right. The background was completely improvised on the board. That’s my favorite kind of painting. No sketching. It’s fun to see what shapes and textures will come out of it. [Death Waltz] basically gave me free reign, but I did a rough pencil sketch just to make sure we were on the same page. Spencer approved it and I went to the final painting.”
“The biggest difference from my usual record covers is that I’m painting a known face [Eastman], so you have to make sure you get it right or it’s not going to be recognizable. You’re basically painting images from a film, so you have less freedom to dream up crazy ideas. There’s still a lot of room for creativity, but you also have to be true to the spirit of the film.”
Manic and grotesque, Benscoter's painting is nothing short of a vulgar display of power. The background hemorrhages a mixture of dark and bright blood vessel textures that contrasts George Eastman’s auroral, deranged character, Mikos Stenopolis. The light source from the top left sprawls a golden, demonic glow across the grim look of determination on Stenopolis' face and self-mutilated body. The use of the intestines to shape the film’s title showcases not only the violent, demonic nature of Mikos Stenopolis, but also Benscoter’s technical approach to branding his work with creative aplomb. Looking at the finished product, Benscoter reflects, “I thought it turned out perfectly, and I think the embossed entrails might push it over the top and into classic status.”
Exposing the inner demons (as well as the innards) of George Eastman’s sadistic subject, Wes Benscoter’s approach to the Absurd score cover art is a conceptually appalling yet technically appealing use of acrylics. Much like the film itself, Death Waltz's release of Carlo Maria Cordio’s score is guaranteed to shock and sleaze its way into your subconscious.
[Editor's Note: This special feature was originally published on BEATDUST in December of 2015.]