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DVD Review: Horrible (1981)

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During my teen years (which weren’t too terribly long ago by my recollections, but are hopeless out of reach nonetheless), I was one of the world’s biggest fans of cheesy Italian horror films (it’s how I earned my Luigi Bastardo alias, actually). Whenever my friends would come over to my tiny basement apartment adorned with original horror movie posters, they could always expect two things: funky imported beer (courtesy of a source that shall remain undisclosed) and ever funkier films (courtesy of a mail-order service that believed I was of age). The combination of alcohol, cheesy Italian horror movie, and my cynical sense of humor (yes, I’ve always been like this) always made for a thrilling experience for us (or me, if I was flying solo — an event that happened far-too often).

Unfortunately, all of those thrills have long since disappeared. Occasionally, I find myself missing either the company of my old friends (most of whom have moved on or finally figured out that I’m sort of a strange guy) and the short-lived effects of funky beer (I’m lucky to get through an entire 12oz bottle of light beer these days without feeling tired). But moreover, I miss the thrill of sitting down and beholding a previously-unseen cheesy Italian horror film for the first time.

And then, I watched Joe D’Amato’s Horrible: a goofily groovy Italian horror film starring the great George Eastman as a large lumbering killer loose in a small American town. An escaped lunatic from a Greek laboratory (don‘t ask — just nod), Mikos Stenopolis (Eastman) has a rare blood type that automatically repairs any injuries (fatal or otherwise), making him an unstoppable killing machine.

When the movie opens, Mikos is being pursued by a priest (Edmund Purdom, a once-respected actor whose career was long gone by this point in time) through a small unnamed American town (which looks suspiciously like a small Italian village). As to how a murdering maniac like Mikos managed to board a plane and sit idly for the duration of his 13-hour flight without even so much as a passport is beyond anyone’s comprehension.

Receiving a near-fatal wound from an iron gate, Mikos is taken to a hospital where the physicians declare him an incredible medical anomaly — and then promptly leave him unattended in the surgery room with only a small frail nurse to watch over him. Needless to say, the poor lass receives a long surgical drill through her head (shades of Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead). Soon enough, Mikos is out on the town, senselessly slaughtering one random innocent after another (one of whom is Michele Soavi, director of Dellamorte, Dellamore and who was in Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead). A passing motorist runs him over — making him even more upset than he already is — which leads him heading for the home of the Bennetts, an uptight “American” family.

Mr. Bennett (Ian Danby) is upset because he ran over Mikos earlier that day and just can’t seem to work up the nerve to say anything about it. Mrs. Bennett (Hanja Kochansky) is worried about her oldest daughter Katia (Katya Berger), who is confined to a bed with an unsightly brace around her neck (what, did they just have her fixed?). And then there’s the youngest member of the Bennett family: little Willy (Kasimir Berger), a really curly-haired kid who appears to be bipolar. The adults take off to go see the big football game (the Stealers vs. the Rams) at someone else’s house — where they all eat pasta. Yes, pasta. Apparently, this is an America from some weird alternate universe. Sorry, we don’t eat hotwings and drink beer in this reality: it’s pasta and wine.

So anyway, while all this exciting stuff is happening, our heroic priest is trying to explain the nonsensical backstory to the town sheriff, Sgt. Engleman, played to a hilarious degree of flamboyancy by Charles Borromel. Fans of Italian horror and sci-fi films will no doubt recognize Borromel from several god-awful Al Bradley flicks, as well as a few other D’Amato films, including The Blade Master aka Cave Dwellers. Yes, Mystery Science Theater fans, it’s the same Cave Dwellers that you all know and love — Borromel played “the really dull old guy” in that film, but here he’s a lively and as hammy as ever.

But back to the so-called story: Mikos comes-a-knockin’ down the Bennett family door while the parents are out watching the game (actually, everyone in town takes the night off early for this seemingly epic game), leaving young Willy and Katia to fend for themselves against the killer, along with their apathetic family nurse, Emily (Annie Belle). The finale is outright hilarious, with Mikos holding Emily’s head in the over while he patiently waits for it to cook.

While this happens (and it takes a long time to happen), Katia is locked in her room, trying to build up the strength (or ambition) to undo her neck brace and unstrap herself from her bed while little Willy bangs on the door screaming “Katia! Let me in!” over and over. Honestly, director D’Amato drags these two moments out to well beyond the maximum tensile strength, turning it into the most perversely comical (and tedious) climax in Italian horror history. If you need a visual aid, imagine that moment in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid where Steve Martin is making a cup of coffee — and then make it the finale of a horror film.

Often billed as a sequel to the D’Amato/Eastman stomach churner Anthropophagus, Horrible has nothing to do with the infamous Greek Island horror film. You won’t see George Eastman eating a fetus in this one, nor will you see Mia Farrow’s sister. The only similarities the two films share consist of the star, the director, and the post-production passion for having more names than Satan himself — including Rosso Sangue (which is the actual onscreen title to be found here), Monster Hunter, and the oh-so-appropriate Absurd.

In essence, this is a movie that exists purely to shock via schlock. There is absolutely no moral to the story. No purpose whatsoever. No socially redeeming values are to be found anywhere. More importantly, Horrible offers no apologies to its audience — it simply says, “Here I am…rock you like a hurricane.” And frankly, I haven’t had it this good in years.

Mya Communications brings us one of Joe D’Amato’s better horror films (yes, believe it or not, this is one of his more proficient outings) in a non-anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen ratio. Despite the lack of an anamorphic transfer, the color here is better than you’d expect it to be — especially when it comes to the bloody moments. A disclaimer before the start of the film announces that certain scenes were only available via inferior source material (e.g. VHS), and there are a few minutes total of footage that is noticeably different. Thankfully, none of the gore or blood effects were culled from the lower quality material.

All of you Horrible viewers out there (ha-ha, I made a funny) are given the choice of watching the film in either the English dub or the original Italian dub (many Italian movies are often shot with their actors speaking phonetic English and then looped accordingly). Both audio options are presented in glorious mono sound and present the dumb dialogue — plus the bitchin’ synth sounds of musician Carlo Maria Cordio — quite well. For the record, when the movie switches to the inferior VHS footage, the Italian audio is available in English only. There are no subtitles adorning this release (which is a pity, really), nor are there any special features to be found here (which is really a pity).

The execution of this film is utterly incompetent at best. It’s development is puerile at the very least. It is, by every definition of the word, Horrible (not to mention Absurd). And that’s what makes it so wonderful: it completely manages to transport me back to my slightly-younger days and, for a brief 94 minutes, the thrill of and beholding a previously-unseen cheesy Italian horror film for the first time returned.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.