Update #6, Absurd: Anthropophagus Part 2

Exotic blu-ray collectors surely remember when 88 Films ran an Indiegogo campaign in 2015 and netted almost $17,000 to restore two "classic" Italian horror films: Zombie Holocaust and Burial Ground.  Well, this time they've gone even bigger, collecting roughly $105,000 to restore four more dubiously "classic" Italian horror greats: Aenigma, Massacre In Dinosaur Valley, Beyond the Darkness and today's entry, Absurd, the aptly titled sequel to Joe D'Amato's Anthropophagus.  Oh, and there will also be a fresh restoration of that film, too, this summer.  Well, I contributed to that campaign, too, and I've been enjoying the harvest.

Update 1/30/17 - 8/22/19: If we're doing Anthropophagus, it only makes sense to throw Absurd into Update Week, too.  You might be starting to detect a pattern here: 88 Films restores an Italian horror classic for the UK market, and then a year or so later, Severin releases it in the US.  But it's not just a case of more or less identical discs just being demarcated Region A or B; they're always quite different from each other.
George Eastman is back as Nikos (or is it Mikos?), the crazed Greek killer, here to spread a little nihilistic madness amongst some unwitting victims.  Eastman is also back as scriptwriter, and D'Amato back behind the lens of this off-beat giallo/ slasher hybrid.  This time Nikos has made his way to what the filmmakers would have us believe is America, being pursued by a Dr. Loomis-like priest, who knows the secret to killing the madman.  Yeah, this film makes the leap franchises like Friday the 13th and Halloween would make years later: the killer most be some kind of superhuman monster (hence the alternate title Monster Hunter) to keep coming back in sequel after sequel despite having been killed at the end of the last one.  In our case, he basically has Wolverine-style healing powers and can only be truly killed by destroying his brain.  I guess it's thanks to those powers that he doesn't have the burned, balding look from the first movie; but he does arrive on the scene in a great homage to the finale of the previous film.
So it's a bit of a step down to lose the exotic Greek locations of the original film, and this film is definitely taking a lot from Halloween, from babysitters in peril, the sheriff searching small town streets, to kids referring to Nikos as the boogeyman.  But there are worse films to crib from, and bringing Nikos to America works in a fun, logic-free way.  And Absurd has a lot of things going for it, including some great kills, another bizarre-o little kid dubbed by a grown woman, some notable performances by Annie Belle, who's just beginning to regrow her hair back after House On the Edge Of the Park, and Edmund Purdom.  Oh, which reminds me: listen to a cameo from Pieces' infamous big band music in this film as well!  When I first saw this film, it was on a friend's bootleg DVD, which was a very murky VHS rip.  All I remembered were a few good kills and so much talk about football (to sell us on the fact that they're in America), that the Rams vs the Steelers began to feel like a legit subplot.  I was amused, but it really felt like some bottom of the barrel, shot on video effort, like the Violent Shit films (all the more fitting, then, who would go on to make Anthropophagus 2000).  But now that I've seen it restored, it looks and feels much more like a real movie.
NOT a shot from 88's new blu; don't worry folks!  I found this transfer online
that looks just the way I remember my first viewing experience.

88 Films brings us the HD debut of Absurd, though to be fair, there was a bit of mid-ground between that ugly bootleg I saw and now.  There have been a couple low-quality foreign releases over the years, and finally an official DVD from MYA Communication in 2009.  Even that was non-anamorphic and had to composite in elements from a VHS print to present a fully uncut version of the film.  In 2017, we have a brand new 2k scan of the original film elements, 100% uncut with no compositing.  And we're given two versions: the English and Italian.  And no, that's not just a question of alternate audio, they're two different cuts of the film.  So let me break that down.
A scene only in the English Version.
So to start with the obvious, yes, the English Version has the English dub and the Italian Version has the Italian dub with optional English subtitles.  The two versions also have alternate credits sequences written in their native languages (though both use the fake, Americanized names).  But besides that, the English version is several minutes longer.  And that's not due to credits playing at different speeds or anything dull like that.  It's a longer version of the film with whole scenes only included in that cut.  And it should be noted that the English version has all the exclusive extra scenes; there's nothing in the Italian version that you don't see in the English.  So what's unique to the English Version?

6:40 There's more to the beginning of the scene with the biker punks harassing the drunk.

8:08 Only the English version returns to the operation on Eastman.

11:05 There's a whole scene with the cop visiting the mother and boy after Eastman broke in.

23:20 We have a couple more shots of Eastman running through the streets at night.

45:40 There's an extra scene of the parents' football party.

1:25:30 Katya Berger is chased down a couple extra hallways.

In 88's audio commentary, they must be watching the Italian Version, as they mention some missing footage but assure us we're not missing any gore.  But the situation's even better than that thanks to the inclusion of the longer, English Version.  Even the footage they specifically cite from the movie-censorship page is in that cut.

And of course now we have another contender: 2018's US blu-ray from Severin.  It also has both versions of the film taken from a 2k scan from the original negative.  The same one?  We'll have to check.
1) 88 Films 2017 English BD; 2) 88 Films 2017 Italian BD;
3) Severin 2018 English BD; 4) Severin 2018 Italian BD.
So they seem to have used exactly the same scan and final transfer for both versions, but just to be thorough, I threw in comparisons of the English and Italian cuts.  The framing is slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1 and grain looks very natural.  The color-timing looks great, too; so I don't see any reason to wait for a label in another region to pick this up and tweak it.  I did spot an instance of dirt in the lens (in another screenshot below), but overall this film is very clean and steady.  It's really a trip to think Absurd has wound up looking this good.

But now we need to put our glasses on, because we have dueling restored blu-rays to compare.  Severin's blu is also 1.85:1 and unlike with Anthropophagus, the framing seems to be identical to 88's.  And detail seems to be the same right down to individual specs of grain.  I'm guessing they used the same scan.  But of course you can see the colors are quite different.  It looks like they've added blue night filters to these scenes, or at least leaned much more heavily into the blues to give them an authentic moonlit look.  But, of course, the bulk of the film is indoors, so let's do another quick comparison to see if those colors differ, too.
2017 88 Films BD top; 2018 Severin BD bottom.
Yup, they sure do!  88 generally has paler colors, which Severin deepens.  They also definitely go for blacker blacks, where 88 is content to leave the blackest areas as gray, perhaps to show that they aren't crushing any detail away.  88's remaster already looked pretty terrific, but I'd say Severin has made it even a little more attractive.

Both the original mono audio tracks are presented in lossless LPCM 2.0 on both discs and sound surprisingly good.  Carlo Maria Cordio's soundtrack really rocks.  And the Italian version has optional/ removable English subtitles on 88's disc.  On Severin, both versions have subtitles, which match their audio tracks.  So one bonus point to Severin there.
Oh you want extras, too?  Yeah, this film's got some good stuff.  First up is that aforementioned audio commentary.  It's another one by The Hysteria Continues podcast guys, and I'm not usually a big fan of theirs (in terms of audio commentaries, not the podcast itself), but I think they're getting better.  Typically, one of them seems to prepare and know a lot about the film, acting as sort of an expert commentary, and the other guys just interrupt him and annoy the listener.  That dynamic hasn't really changed, but I think they've dialed it down, and at least two of them are plugged in this time.  They provide some good info in the first half, despite the other guys kinda phoning it in, and the jokes-to-commentary ratio is, well, mostly fine.  They do keep the energy up throughout (though the added scenes do force some pauses in the track).  Halfway through the movie, though, they seem to run out of things to say and just go on super long tangents about their favorite slashers or other movies that came out in 1981.  So you could probably turn it off once you start getting into that territory; but the first half is worth a listen and does add some value to the disc.
Besides there's still more, even better stuff.  The crown jewel is the interview with George Eastman.  He's unfortunately a little dismissive of this film, but is still very interesting as he talks about his working relationship with D'Amato and more.  And there's another, in-depth interview with Michele Soavi, who played a small early role in this film as a biker.  Because his part was so brief, he does start drifting off into more general topics like the decline of the Italian horror scene, but you're definitely not going to want to skip this one.  There is a limited edition booklet, which I think means later printings won't include it, by Calum Waddell.  It's 16-pages and all about the Video Nasties.  Now, as an American, the story of that whole drama never really struck a chord with me, but I really like how this booklet presents each of the 39 Video Nasty titles that were actually prosecuted (out of 72 total films that were branded Nasties) with artwork and a brief description of every single one.  It also features reversible artwork with the film's original, Italian title (Rosso Sangue); and for supporters of the indiegogo campaign, this release also came in a very cool looking slipcover.
So what's Severin brought to the party?  Well, first of all, they carry over 88's interview with Michele Soavi.  But that and the trailer are the only extras the two releases have in common.  But Severin has conducted their own interview with George Eastman, which is almost twice as long.  And while it's certainly not a formula that twice as long = twice as good, this one's nicely focused on the film at hand, and he's even a little more up on the film, this time cheerfully calling it "not bad."  We don't get an audio commentary, we do get a solid 20-minute vintage interview with D'Amato himself.  It's shot on video and has forced subtitles despite the fact that he's speaking in English.  It's a lot of fun, though it's more of a career overview piece.  He basically shares an anecdote or two about each of his many films (including Absurd), actually talking the longest about Anthropophagus.  You'll definitely get a kick out of it.  Anyway, then Severin has their own reversible artwork and slipcover, and the first 3000 copies also include a soundtrack CD.
I never really loved Absurd; it was an entertaining watch for me, but not much more.  But the chance to see it fully restored and look like a completely new film made this one of my most anticipated titles.  And I am definitely not disappointed.  In fact, I'd say I've become much more of a fan now having watched this on blu, so I'm really glad.  And now in 2018, we've got options.  Between the two, I'd go with the Severin, it looks slightly better and I'll always take interviews with the filmmakers over experts/ fans.  But I definitely wouldn't bother replacing one disc with the other, and the new unique extras are slim enough that you really don't need both.  If you're deciding between the two, yeah go with Severin; but you really won't be going wrong with either one.

1 comment:

  1. I got this through Indiegogo as well, John, and like you this restoration has given me more appreciation for the film than I had before. I agree that the commentary track was pretty good too, I enjoyed listening to it.