I recently read a book called Blood Money, which despite combining two of my favorite subjects - slasher movies and box office stats - was ultimately too dry to recommend to the masses. It had its fair share of interesting reveals (such as the fact that Final Exam, one of the more "obscure" titles from 1981's glut, actually outgrossed the likes of Hell Night and Madman), but for the most part it was pretty repetitive and kept going off topic, with author Richard Nowell going off on long diversions about other trends of the era (such as "animal comedies" such as Animal House and Caddyshack), while spending little to no time on a number of slashers from that time (including Halloween II, which is barely mentioned at all despite being in the covered timeframe). Basically, it was specifically for people like me, and even I had trouble with it, so if you feel you must check it out, don't say I didn't warn you.
But one thing the book got right that others have traditionally gotten wrong is that it wasn't Halloween's success that paved the way for the likes of Just Before Dawn and My Bloody Valentine, at least not directly. No, Halloween's box office fortunes were earned over a long period of time (the film became a hit because of word of mouth and a long platform release) and thus didn't have many rushing out to try to replicate it; it wouldn't be until 1980 that a pair of films with surface similarities came along and performed well (not AS well as Halloween, mind you) that the floodgates opened. Strong ticket sales for Friday the 13th and Prom Night, both in the summer of 1980, had indie producers finally catching on and subsequently tripping over one another to secure locations (and holidays!) to get their own body count flicks out there as soon as possible. It was this resulting glut that caused the death of the slasher for a while, as the audience was divvied up among too many options.
So while these films are traditionally referred to as Halloween knockoffs, that's not exactly correct, as Friday the 13th was equally and probably more of a frame of reference for the likes of The Burning and The Final Terror. But when it comes to 1981's Absurd, aka Horrible*, there is no question that writer/star George Eastman and director Aristide Massaccesi (better known as Joe D'Amato) were... let's be polite and say "paying homage" to John Carpenter's classic. The film is about an escaped killer who tracks down a girl who is alone with a young boy, while evading a cop and an old nemesis (a priest instead of a shrink, though he covers his collar with a Loomis-esque trenchcoat) and it takes place on a most sacred holiday: Super Bowl Sunday, since October 31st was taken. Of course, it's an Italian film so it's more concerned with spilled intestines than suspense, but I dare anyone to watch it without thinking of Michael Myers' adventures in Haddonfield.
What makes it more fun than most knockoffs is that they sometimes spin things around a bit. For example, the little boy in the movie is kind of a brat, and his babysitter tells him if he doesn't knock it off the boogeyman will get him, only for the kid to insist there's no such thing - a 180 from Laurie and Tommy's conversations in Halloween. And while I don't like to spoil things, let's say that this "Loomis" (played by Edward Purdom, who along with a few chunks of this film's score would go on to appear in the even nuttier Pieces) is not as triumphant as Donald Pleasence. That score, thankfully, is NOT recycling "The Shape Stalks" and the like; if anything it sounds more like Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 cues at times, though for the most part it's a fairly traditional sounding score from the genre films of this era (i.e. either Goblin or the producer telling the composer to make it sound as much like Goblin as possible). Basically, while the Halloween influence is obvious, it's not an exact clone like Offerings - it's kind of a fifty-fifty split between Carpenter's immortal classic and whatever else came to mind.
They certainly didn't copy Carpenter's approach to gore: it's got a number of nasty bits, which landed it on the famed Video Nasties list back in the day. There's a gnarly saw kill that tears a guy's head up, some icky business with a drill, and spilled guts - the kills are a bit spread out, but they're always worth the wait. That said, as a whole it's more audience-friendly than the team's previous film Anthropophagus, which featured the killer (also Eastman) eating a fetus and later his own intestines. In fact, the movie is occasionally even titled Anthropophagus 2, which doesn't quite work since Eastman's character in the "first" film was more of a feral beastman than this relatively normal looking guy, but Absurd does somewhat resemble a sequel to a film we haven't seen, as it kicks off in medias res, with Purdom's priest already chasing Eastman's killer for crimes we're not privy to. These scenes are intercut with a family having breakfast, and it takes a while for the script to explain the connection, but until that moment it adds to the feeling that we are indeed watching a followup.
Even stranger, it ends up becoming a "ripoff" of Halloween II, as well, though it seems impossible as the two films were in production around the same time and Absurd was even released about a week earlier. I guess it's possible that Eastman obtained H2's script somehow and worked some of its elements into his own, but if so he doesn't mention it in his interview, where he is very candid about the film and its makers (so it seems he'd admit it - he freely cops to stealing the "Here's Johnny!" scene from The Shining). So I guess, barring someone fessing up, we should just accept that it's sheer coincidence that this movie, which is most certainly influenced by Halloween 1, has a finale where the heroine - who was confined to a bed the entire movie - manages to blind the killer, who then swings his hands around trying to find her. Except instead of being blown up, she cuts off his head (a move that the series producers would "steal" for H20 now that I think of it!).
To be fair, the film can be a bit sluggish. D'Amato isn't quite adept at genuine suspense, so he tries to make up for it by just dragging things out endlessly. There's a scene where the killer puts a girl's head in an oven to kill her, and I swear a real life head-cook wouldn't take as long as it does in the film, as the scene runs for nearly five minutes even though nothing of note is happening besides some half-assed struggling (intercut with the girl's young charge running around the house trying to find help). But there's just something so off-kilter about the movie (similar to Pieces, especially whenever the cops are on-screen) that I never mind the pacing issues, as the goofiness more than makes up for it (for me). There's a scene where one of the protagonists just falls down while walking for no reason I can see, only to then be "chased" by a guy who just wanted to return some lipstick she dropped when she fell - and then he laughs maniacally for no reason after he finishes his good deed. That sort of stuff delights me to no end, and I'd rather have that and some boring stuff than a fast-paced movie with no personality at all.
I first saw the film nearly a decade ago, as one of my "I know nothing about this but I'll watch it" rentals for Horror Movie A Day, and was completely charmed by its gory/silly take on my favorite film. One thing in particular that I loved was that it takes the time to explain why the killer (basically Myers without a mask) is able to sustain injuries, chalking it up to a condition that allows him to rapidly heal any injury unless his head is removed (science!). If you're a student of Italian horror of the '80s, I'm sure you're aware that unexplained/incoherent events are par for the course, making it incredibly endearing that they felt the need to provide a sound explanation for one of the sub-genre's givens, that gunshots and such aren't necessarily an issue for their iconic boogeymen and we never really care why. I saw a number of these films over the years, as you might expect, and most of the time I came away more annoyed than amused with the lifts from my beloved Halloween, but this sort of thing is the reason why this one stuck with me when the others, if they cross my mind at all, tend to inspire derision as opposed to defense.
Severin has finally brought the film to Blu-ray (alongside Anthropophagus, the "original" film) in a nice special edition that includes a few interviews (including a 20 minute one with Michele Soavi, ostensibly about his 90 second cameo in the film) and the soundtrack. Eastman's interview is the best, of course, as he runs through his history with Massaccesi (who passed away in 1999) and the film's production, including his own opinion that it's not that great of a movie (I disagree!). He also says that he turns down movies that take themselves too seriously, feeling that movies should be an escape and not a reminder of how dreary life can be. With 99% of the press about this week's new Halloween focusing on trauma and being a survivor, downplaying the fact that the movie is also pretty fun, I couldn't help but wish that Massaccesi was around to make their own 40th anniversary followup to this film that dove deep into just being a goofy, gory slasher.
*AKA Rosso sangue, Monster Hunter, The Grim Reaper 2 (Grim Reaper being another title for Anthropophagus), and, personal favorite: Zombie 6: Monster Hunter. Maybe it's time to do another one of these?