Despite the fact that the phrase an “average Joe” remains in the lexicon of colloquialisms, in the last thirty years the name Joe has taken a drastic drop in popularity. It seems that the average on “Joe” just isn’t what it used to be. Speaking of Joes that’d defy the average, there’s one that I like who frequently has highs and lows above a median line, and that is Joe D’Amato. Born Aristide Massaccesi, the Italian exploitation master, who hid out under a number of Nom de plumes apart from his adopted moniker, made an incredible string of almost 200 films before he died in 1999 at the age of sixty-two. While most of them ranged from soft-core to hard-core to oh, my, is it okay to film that?, D’Amato is best known for his horror movies, specifically Antropohagus, Buio Omega, and Absurd, but there was one that has somehow flown under my radar. So join me as Joe takes us on a futuristic ride, which looks like the 80s despite being filmed in the 90s, this is Return from Death (Ritorno Dallas morte) a.k.a Frankenstein 2000.
Georgia (Clinzia Monreale) runs the local video store, but the real problem in her life is the trio of three motorcycle riding thugs who continually menace menace her and her young child. After the local drifter Ric (Donald O’Brian) recuses Georgia from an attempted rape (during which the thugs don masks including one of Freddy Kruger), the trio exacts their revenge by attacking her at home that night resulting in Georgia falling into a coma. The local police are quick to place the blame on Ric rather than clean cut local lads, and they take the cover up as far as hanging Ric in his cell as if he had committed suicide. However, Georgia had a latent telekinetic ability that she was always trying to explore, and deep within her coma, she uses her mental powers to resurrect Ric and send him on a quest for vengeance against the rapists, the police, and the town elders who condoned the conspiracy.
It probably goes without saying, but Frankenstein 2000 has very little to do with the source material. Really, there was no reason for the title, tacked on pointlessly on the title screen, to even be there. The only correlations are that Donald O’Brian is quite tall, and his character is resurrected post-autopsy during which his skull was popped open and closed with thick metal staples. In only those two ways, and the bringing of life from death, does Return from Death, as the film is properly called, resemble anything vaguely Frankenstein-ian. Instead, the film is chock full of things one would expect from a Joe D’Amato horror flick, gross effects (some of which are hilariously bad and some of which are actually pretty visceral), vague psychic powers that can do a myriad of things, and a healthy dose of rape/revenge. Oddly, and in my opinion thankfully, the attack on Georgia isn’t a terrible graphic affair, and that comes as something of a surprise with the level of sleaze D’Amato usually provides. Perhaps the most shocking thing is that the film is from the early nineties as it looks and feels like an early 80s film.
The hardest thing to judge about about Return from Death is the performances. The version of the film I watched, and, as I understand, most available versions of this film are plastered with one of the worst dub jobs I have ever heard. Seriously, it was like they just brought people in off the street and had them read into a microphone. I mean I’ve heard better line delivery in elementary school plays. So I don’t really feel like I got the sense of what any of the actors were like. Donald O’Brian’s character fares best overall as once he gets killed and brought back to life he becomes the super-humanly strong and silent type. O’Brian, who Italian film fans will recognize from his many roles in films such as Keoma, The Inglorious Bastards (it funny how it’s hard to type that right post-QT’s film), and Images in a Convent, strikes an imposing figure that is somewhat Frankenstien-ish enough to make me understand where D’Amato got his film’s subtitle. The only other character that gets any real development is Georgia, played by Cinzia Monreale (The Beyond, Buio Omega), but she lies comatose for most of the film’s running time.
For all intents and purposes, Return from Death was an excuse for D’Amato to take a breather from porno and have some fun with special effects. The best/worst of these comes when O’Brian’s raging monster squeezes the autopsy doctor’s head until it pops. Like a slow version of the eye popping scene from Total Recall crossed with the head bursting from Riki-Oh, I wouldn’t say that D’Amato delivers in that scene, but it certainly doesn’t hurt the film’s chances of being enjoyed by horror fans who like splatter even if it’s delivered in a slipshod way. Despite the fact that Return from Death has no developed characters to speak of, inexpertly executed special effects, and a script that doesn’t make sense, it’s the kind of Italian horror nonsense that I don’t mind watching. It certainly doesn’t stack up to Buio Omega or Antropohagus, but taken for what it is, it’s a silly but interesting last entry into D’Amato’s horror oeuvre. D’Amato may have been a man of a thousand different screen monikers, but Joe by any other name, he’s still just as sweet.