Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Census Bloodbath: Feta Sleaze

Year: 1981
Director: Joe D'Amato (as Peter Newton)
Cast: George Eastman, Annie Belle, Edmund Purdom
Run Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: N/A

As we inch toward the dregs of Census Bloodbath in 1981, we’ll be seeing that, despite its reputation for being the Golden Year for slasher cinema, there’s still plenty of crap to go around. This was the slasher genre, after all. It’s not exactly renowned for its consistency and integrity, even in the early days. And there’s perhaps no genre in cinema history more prone to lapses in integrity than 80’s Italian horror, which is where we find ourselves right now.

Today’s topic of discussion is the Joe D’Amato flick Absurd, also sold as Rosso Sangue (Red Blood). Also sold as Horrible. Also sold as Monster Hunter. Also sold as Zombie 6. But mostly sold as Anthropophagus 2, the supposed sequel to Anthropophagus, a movie I quite like. For that reason only, I was jazzed for Absurd.

I should have known better.

In Absurd, two Greeks descend upon small town “America” without explanation during the night of the Big Football Game. One of these is Father Andres (Edmund Purdom, who made bad movie history as the Dean in Pieces), a priest who also studies biochemistry. The other is Mikos Stenopolis (George Eastman), a bloodthirsty killer with the power to heal dead tissue and coagulate his blood like, crazy fast, so wounds don’t hurt him or something. Science! It’s worth noting that he almost never actually uses this power, because they don’t have the budget to manage such extravagance. This is just a pseudoscience explanation for his Michael Myers strength.

We don’t know why this now officially superhuman Michael Myers and his perhaps even more useless Dr. Loomis appear in this small town, nor do we care. The Halloween riffing doesn’t end there (they literally call him the Boogeyman) as Mikos ditches the hospital and closes in on the Bennett home where a babysitter is taking care of the kids while their parents are out watching the Big Game, which has more or less incapacitated the entire police force as well. Not that the active officer Sgt. Engelman (Charles Borromel) is much help anyway. He spends most of his time asking the priest to recite exposition over and over again and then not investigating things until it’s already too late.

Anyway, these kids are Katia (Katya Berger) and Willy (Kasimir Berger). Katia is bedridden with a brace to correct her spinal column (rendering her as helpless as the deaf, mute, and blind Jennifer Jason Leigh in the same year’s Eyes of a Stranger), and Willy has a full time job being the most annoying child eve put onscreen, constantly whining and defying the instructions of every single adult trying to keep him alive.

If the goal was to make you sympathize with Mikos’ urge to kill children, it worked.

After finally watching Absurd/Anthropophagus 2, I feel like one of its alternate titles would fit the movie better: Horrible. Although there is a heaping helping of hilarious “Italians faking America” gimcrackery and some truly inexplicable bad-good scenes (one of my favorites is a surgery scene where the doctor snips vaguely at some intestines with scissors, frantically switching pairs of scissors once every .25 seconds like he’s doing a challenge on The Amazing Race), Joe D’Amato is working very hard to earn his reputation as Most Boring Italian Director.

What I have long come to associate with Italian horror is a certain reluctance to adhere to a straightforward plot but a masterful sense of composing surreal, horrifying cinematic images. D’Amato is the opposite. Absurd’s plot is an extravagantly cavalier rip-off of Halloween (besting even He Knows You’re Alone, which essentially cribs John Carpenter’s entire score wholesale), chugging flatly through a Babysitters in Peril subroutine with nary a narrative fillip in sight. 

So it’s at least comprehensible, but it comes at the expense of anything interesting to look at. D’Amato (also credited as cinematographer) shoots his scenes like they’re horses with broken legs. The devastatingly frequent woodland shots are brutally inelegant, murky, and ill-framed (trees tend to block half the action, because who has time to plan ahead when the director is heading two departments), and the interiors are lit like somebody told a sitcom lighting designer to achieve a “Walmart ambience.”

It’s not fair to compare Absurd to Anthropophagus (it’s also pointlessly romantic, considering that the only thing this “sequel” shares with that film is its director, star, and a certain predilection for disembowelment.), but this movie couldn’t even dream of achieving one iota of that film’s class, beauty, and elegance.

Remember, that’s the movie where a pregnant woman gets her fetus ripped out.

Absurd is just plain bad. No matter how much the score squeals, desperately proclaiming its terror, it can’t punch up the deathly dull chase scenes that perforate Absurd’s already tenuous pacing. There’s a chase scene between a hobbling handicapped girl and a blinded killer and it’s still the fastest, most action-packed moment in the film. Plus, the gore that’s meant to be Absurd’s shot in the arm curbs its creativity, limiting its especially grotesque kills like it’s on a blood-free diet. And the kills we actually get (most notably a wholly useless character getting his head split open by a band saw) are full of bungled close-ups so extreme you can’t tell whether you’re looking at flesh, bone, or maybe just the wall.

And don’t even get me started on the acting! Edmund Purdom is tedious as the useless priest, his only trick being holding his hand feebly to his collar in a sickly approximation of pious shock. But even worse is Kasimir Berger as Willy, who alternates between reading his lines like a robot whose batteries have just been removed and shrieking at the top of his lungs. Everybody else reaches a median of overly showy woodenness that the at least blends into the background.

Like I said, there are some campy fun moments sprinkled throughout like garnishes, almost apologizing for what you had to sit through to get to them: the biker gang that drives back and forth down the same street like they’re stuck in a Groundhog Day-esque time loop and the enormous suit of armor replete with battle ax decorating this rural Southern home are but two of the inane delights you can come to expect from D’Amato’s anti-masterpiece, but they’re hardly worth the hour and change of relentlessly boring, pallid horror they’re ensconced in.

Killer: Mikos Stenopolis (George Eastman)
Final Girl: Katia Bennett (Katya Berger)
Best Kill: The nurse is drilled in the temple using a magic bit that extends like Pinocchio’s nose all the way through her head.
Sign of the Times: Emily’s hair makes her look like a botched Annie Lennox clone.
Scariest Moment: The town drunk laughs maniacally after handing Emily something she dropped.
Weirdest Moment: The Forrests enjoy the game while chowing down on that classic, All-American football snack: spaghetti.
Champion Dialogue: “We’re just going down the road. After all, it’s not as if we’re leaving for South America.”
Body Count: 7
  1. Nurse is drilled in the temple.
  2. Mechanic has his skull sawed in half.
  3. Biker is strangled.
  4. Peggy is pickaxed in the head.
  5. Emily has her head stuffed in the oven and is stabbed in the neck with scissors.
  6. Father Andres is strangled.
  7. Mikos Stenopolis is decapitated with a battle axe.
TL;DR: Absurd is a tedious, occasionally unintentionally silly slog.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1247

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