George Eastman - Niko Tanopoulos
Annie Belle - Emily
Charles Borromel - Sergeant Ben Engleman
Edmund Purdom - Priest
Katya Berger - Katya Bennett
Kasimir Berger - Willy Bennett
Ted Rusoff - Doctor Kramer
Genre - Horror/Slasher
Running Time - 96 Minutes
A man (George Eastman) has been driven insane by church-sanctioned scientific experimentation which also causes him to be nearly impossible to kill. He is pursued to America by a priest (Edmund Purdom) where he embarks upon a killing spree while the priest tries to hunt him down and kill him.
By the year 1981, the horror genre was within the Golden era of the popular slasher film. Due to the massive success of 1978’s HALLOWEEN and later 1980’s FRIDAY THE 13TH, countless producers and studios attempted to capitalize on the slasher craze to varied success. Even though Italy had a similar craze going with the popular giallo, the country as well wanted to create their own version of the slasher film. Having success with the infamous “Video Nasty” ANTHROPOPHAGOUS in 1980, Joe D’Amato and George Eastman decided to film what many consider a pseudo-sequel, 1981’s ABSURD [aka MONSTER HUNTER, aka ROSSO SANGRE, aka ANTHROPOPHAGOUS 2]. Taking some “influence” from a certain American slasher film, ABSURD joined ANTHROPOPHAGOUS on the “Video Nasty” list for its gory sequences. And while the violence isn’t as intense as it is in ANTHROPOPHAGOUS to make it as memorable or notorious, ABSURD manages to do certain things better than its predecessor to make it more worthwhile to a mainstream audience.
Watching ABSURD, it’s obvious that both D’Amato and Eastman were huge fans of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN to the point where certain storytelling aspects were inspired by it. And by inspired, I mean both men ripped it off to create their own version of the same story. You get a silent killer who can’t seem to get hurt or die. You have a man, who knows what the killer’s deal is, chasing him in order to stop him from killing. You have babysitters in a suburban town accidentally targeted by this killer. You have police officers willing to believe the word of the monster hunter. You even have people watching television while all this is going on! Hell, you even have a hospital setting in the first act of the film that’s reminiscent of HALLOWEEN II of the same year - which is most likely a coincidence since both films were probably made around the same time. You even have an annoying little boy worried that the Boogeyman is out to get him for being bad. It’s not subtle and it’s definitely not as good as its inspiration, even if all the elements are there.
For example, the killer in the film [Nikos] is not a psychotic person who murdered people when he was a child and grows up to be this embodiment of evil as an adult once he escapes the insane asylum. He’s basically a science experiment gone terribly wrong, where he has this uncanny ability to regenerate any serious wounds and not die unless he was basically decapitated like HIGHLANDER. The man chasing him, a priest, seems to be responsible for this mess and is trying to stop Nikos from hurting other people after the experiment drove him insane. The town Nikos terrorizes is not his hometown in Greece, but a random spot in America [which might make it more terrifying for some]. The priest has dialogue that resembles a certain Dr. Loomis, but isn’t as meaningful or creepy. The babysitter is a mix of Annie and Lynda from HALLOWEEN - a hot blonde who has a sassy and/or bitchy attitude towards taking care of an annoying kid and his disabled sister. The Laurie Strode character is actually a nurse with no relation to the killer other than that she helped save his life in a hospital earlier. It’s actually quite fascinating to watch your favorite film rearranged in a different way that it becomes a new film called ABSURD, regardless if the quality isn’t up to par.
The only real differences from the original HALLOWEEN are that the children’s parents have more of a role here, especially the father who had ran over Nikos earlier in the film, which causes Nikos to recognize the car and terrorize the family living inside the house its parked at. It’s actually a clever way for the killer to target his main victims out of some sort of revenge, giving him a reason to do his thing in the last half of the film. It also separates Nikos from The Shape, giving him a more human reaction to wanting to hurt people he feels done him wrong in some way. There’s also a disabled character in the film, strapped to a bed due to some spinal accident. You start to wonder why this girl is in the film, other to give the audience the fear that the killer will target a helpless victim. But this character ends up being a big part of the final act, helping create a very memorable last image that probably helped put ABSURD on the Video Nasty list. There are also unintentionally funny moments that involve a group of grown up wearing fancy suits watching the Super Bowl on television while eating pasta and drinking champagne. ABSURD tries so hard to make the audience believe that this is all taking place in Midtown, U.S.A. that it ends up being really funny watching these people watch American football in a way Americans don’t. I also never realized that football games took place in slow motion either. I guess it’s the Italian television frequencies.
I will say that ABSURD improves upon ANTHROPOPHAGOUS when it comes to its storytelling. While the mystery isn’t as strong, at least things constantly happen in ABSURD that won’t bore the hell out of you. The murders are more frequent, even if they are pretty standard in terms of slasher films. The characters are a bit more fleshed out, playing up to their horror archetypes pretty well, because they’re given more to do here. I will say that the Priest and the Police Officers should have been in the film more, as they seemed to be forgotten for most of the middle portion of the film. And less of that damn annoying kid would have been great [he’s part of the reason horror fans dislike children in horror films most of the time]. Other than that, things just flow a whole lot better in ABSURD that I appreciated the different pace compared to the previous film. I’ve seen some bad rip-offs and this is one of the better ones because its heart is in the right place.
Speaking of pacing, Joe D’Amato definitely improved on giving his audience some more action and less talking compared to ANTHROPOPHAGOUS. The film feels shorter than its 96 minute run-time and the death sequences are actually placed within the story well and frequently. I will say that D’Amato doesn’t bring enough tension, suspense, or scares in ABSURD that HALLOWEEN and other slashers have in spades. There are certain moments that could have had more atmosphere and a certain tone to make them stand out more. I will say that the final act is actually well directed, with genuine moments of tension involving the killer and that annoying brat that led to bad things happening to characters around them. I especially liked one particular shot where the kid is looking out of a window, not realizing the killer is hiding in a corner looking right at him from behind. And there are other moments where the framing helps create some decent jump scares as Nikos pops out of nowhere to spring upon his victims. There’s nothing special about the look or style of ABSURD and I actually think ANTHROPOPHAGOUS is a more interesting film visually and atmospherically. But the direction is simpler here and follows a slasher template that I can respect somewhat.
As for the gore, it’s not as visceral or disturbing as the ones in ANTHROPOPHAGOUS. But I can easily understand why censors placed this one on the Video Nasty list. Nikos has a lot of fun murdering his victims in different ways to entertain himself and the audience watching. A certain nurse gets drilled from one side of her skull through the other. We get a drill saw slicing a head in half. There’s also an axe through the skull. We also have a death involving a head being forced inside an oven, scalding the person’s skin. And probably the most infamous moment of the film involves a decapitated head via an axe. Nothing here tops any of the effects that were in ANTHROPOPHAGOUS, but these moments more than work in a slasher film format and I’m sure will add to the watchability for many horror fans.
The acting is more than competent. George Eastman is very good as Nikos the killer, using his crazy looking eyes and massive height to intimidate the other characters and some of the audience as well. His look isn’t as memorable as it is in ANTHROPOPHAGOUS, but his presence is just as strong. Edmund Purdom, English actor best known to horror fans for his roles in both 1982’s PIECES and 1984’s DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS, does as much as he can with the role as the Priest chasing after Nikos. While he can’t deliver lines as powerfully as Donald Pleasance, he does manage to bring some gravitas to an otherwise silly film whenever he appears. I wish he had been in the film more to create more of a dynamic with Eastman though. The other actors are fine, like Annie Belle and especially Katya Berger - both providing memorable moments in the last part of the film. There’s also a small role for future Italian horror director Michele Soavi as an unfortunate biker. Joe D’Amato would later return the favor by producing Soavi’s first directorial film, 1987’s STAGEFRIGHT. The only actor I didn’t care for was Kasimir Berger as Willy, the annoying little kid. I don’t know if it was the dubbing or just the acting in general, but I kept hoping this child would make an exit sooner than later. No wonder his father in the film was hitting and running down people on the road.
THE FINAL HOWL
While not as notorious and as memorable as 1980’s ANTHROPOPHAGOUS, 1981’s Joe D’Amato & George Eastman follow-up ABSURD is my preference of the two films. Obviously inspired by John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, with the film following many of the same beats, ABSURD has a lot more going on narrative wise than the previous D’Amato and Eastman collaboration. The direction is quicker paced, with some unintentionally funny moments where this Italian film tries to pass off as American. The acting is pretty solid, especially by slasher killer Eastman and Edmund Purdom as the Dr. Loomis character in priest form. The gore isn’t as strong as it is in ANTHROPOPHAGOUS, but slasher film fans will get a kick out of drills, axes, and other sharp objects taking out helpless victims. However, there’s a lack of atmosphere, tension and suspense besides the final act, as well as an annoying child character that’ll make you pull your hair out. If you want to see D’Amato and Eastman’s version of a slasher classic, ABSURD isn’t a bad film to check out if you crave an Italian Boogeyman fix.