= Highest Rating
this one may make you barf.
With Beyond the Darkness, Italian
exploitation maestro Aristide Massaccesi (aka "Joe D'Amato",
among a legion of other pseudonyms) blends the 'taboo' themes
of sadism, necrophilia and cannibalism into a genuinely horrifying
confection, a neo-gothic gross-out garnished with nudity and
liberally splattered with gore. When originally released it
was either cut or banned outright in numerous countries;
remains a dirty word around here it's almost easy to see why.
Frank (future porn actor Keiran Canter) is
a rich, handsome young man whose fiancée Anna (Cinzia
Monreale) lies dying in the hospital. He's an extremely weird
dude with a keen interest in taxidermy... never a good
sign. Orphaned at age 13 when his wealthy parents were killed
in a car crash, Frank has been cared for during this time by
his devoted — and
quite insane — housekeeper, the dour, spinsterish Iris (memorably
played by Franca Stoppi). Apparently Frank and Iris have had
a super-kinky sexual relationship ever since. Whenever Frank
gets in a mental funk, Iris is there to "comfort"
him with a kindly handjob or by letting him suckle her breasts
like an infant. Obviously Anna doesn't know about this or else
she wouldn't have fallen in love with the guy. Iris is insanely
jealous of Anna, so much so that she consults a voodoo witch
about causing the young woman's death. (I suppose voodoo isn't
all that uncommon in the Italian Tyrol.) Now Anna is in the
hospital, dying of heart disease, and Frank is losing his mind.
There's nothing the doctors can do. She expires in his arms.
Frank snaps — and when this guy goes over the edge he
does it full-bore, his brain in a barrel at Niagara Falls. Frank
decides to put his considerable skills as a taxidermist to use.
At the funeral parlor he injects Anna's body with some kind
of preservative chemical. (For some reason the corpse seems
not to have already been embalmed.) Later he digs up her coffin
and transports the body back to the workshop at his huge, imposing
villa in the countryside.
What follows is shocking,
revolting and undeniably horrifying. Frank
believes that his love for Anna is stronger than death. He simply
can't bear to be apart from her. While eviscerating her corpse
in nauseating detail, he pauses to eat her heart... raw. He
stuffs Anna's body so he can keep her with him forever. It's
strongly hinted (though fortunately never explicitly shown)
that he gets it on with the cadaver. To keep his awful secret
hidden, Frank resorts to murder when two women he randomly encounters
— a dope-smoking English teen, an attractive jogger — accidentally
learn about his "realistic" love doll. The hitchhiking
English lass (who, we'll warn, is an extra-Plus Size gal with
a full frontal nude scene) is smothered to death but not before
an inexplicable burst of sadism on Frank's part; he methodically
pulls out the screaming girl's fingernails with pliers before
killing her. Frank slips completely into the abyss when he murders
the jogger, biting a huge chunk from her neck and then, as he
watches her die, eating the bloody flesh. Aiding him in disposing
of the bodies is Iris, who'll do anything to protect her "baby"
— including hacking up one victim with a meat cleaver in preparation
for the acid bath. But jealousy inevitably rears its ugly head.
Soon Iris begins to resent all the attention Frank lavishes
on Anna. She challenges him, citing the danger posed by keeping
the perfectly-preserved corpse on the premises. Two homicidal
maniacs can't live under the same roof for long, it seems, particularly
in a household so charged with psychosexual weirdness. Violence
is bound to erupt in this bizarre love-hate relationship.
Never really scary,
the film relies chiefly on shock and disgust. It doesn't go
as far as splatterfests like Cannibal
Ferox but what is shown is extremely disturbing,
not only for the realism of the makeup effects (which are revoltingly
effective) but for the way Massaccesi uses them in the context
of the story. The evisceration of Anna's corpse, the murder
of the hitchhiker, the dismemberment of the victim's body, the
acid bath, the meal Iris whips up once all the work is done...
These sequences essentially comprise one long set-piece you're
guaranteed never to forget — high octane nightmare fuel
that'll leave even the most jaded viewer squirming. Mainly this
is because there aren't any goofy-looking zombies present, nor
savage cannibals hunting a tasty European through the jungle.
As over-the-top as gore can get in the Zombie/Cannibal genres,
such stories are not grounded in a reality we recognize, thus
diluting the impact of their shock scenes. (Until they start
killing real animals on camera, that is.) Beyond
the Darkness is different in that it has no supernatural
or science fiction monsters, no Stone Age natives with a primitive
culture to explain their behavior. While watching it, in the
back of one's mind lurks the knowledge that such psychos can
be real — corpse-fucking cannibals like Ed Gein or Jeffrey Dahmer
never fail to make headlines. Of course the filmmakers didn't
have to make the movie so graphic... But is there really a tasteful
way of telling a story like this? Not to show anything
simply isn't the "exploitation" creed, after all. The film could
easily have been more sickening than it already is in
the hands of a director like, say, Ruggero Deodato. Fortunately
Massaccesi (Porno Holocaust,
of Sinners) had the good sense to leave some of the
proceedings to our imagination.
Contrary to what
more prudish critics — those strictly enamored of "Golden Age"
fright films — might say, revulsion can be a legitimate
element of Horror. It certainly doesn't have to be; it's merely
one of the tools at a director's disposal should he/she
deem it appropriate to use within the context of a particular
story. Massaccesi wields this tool most effectively in Beyond
the Darkness, perhaps too effectively. Within the framework
of a competently assembled film (as this is), scenes of shocking
gore have even greater resonance. Boring through a zombie's
face with the propellers of an outboard motor, as in the ridiculous
Zombie Holocaust, can almost
be like watching a cartoon, regardless of how much brain matter
is flying. Such is not the case here. This truly is horror.
Which leaves this reviewer with a question... Well-made as it
is, even with a notable score by Goblin (Deep
Red, Suspiria), this is not
a flick I'll be revisiting for many repeat screenings. Beyond
the Darkness does its job, all right — a horror film
that's genuinely horrifying. And discomforting. And disturbing.
And revolting. But is it entertainment?
Show presents Beyond the Darkness
in 1.85:1 anamorphic letterbox format. It's a decent transfer,
with good color and little or no print damage in evidence, marred
only by grain in a few overly-dim scenes. Unfortunately the audio
track doesn't fare as well. Sounding "AM radio" flat and a tad
muffled, it's serviceable but still quite disappointing. (Goblin
simply kicks ass in 5.1 Dolby stereo. Alas, not here.) Still,
the flick looks better than it ever has on North American video.
Obviously the disc represents the best possible elements that
Shriek Show could obtain.
number of bonus features are included. In addition to the trailer
for Beyond the Darkness, original
theatrical previews for three upcoming Shriek Show Eurohorror
releases are offered: What Have You Done
To Solange?, Seven Blood-Stained
Orchids, and House on the Edge
of the Park. (The latter trailer rather humorously reads "House
of the Park on the Edge" whenever the title is flashed —
which happens about 8 or 9 times. What, no English translator?)
A substantial photo gallery showcases various stills, posters
and lobby cards from different countries. An audio interview with
art director Donatella Donati plays commentary-style over what
amounts to a separate "highlight reel" of the film's goriest moments
nothing said is related to the clips being shown, so no one except
hardcore "D'Amato" fans will glean anything from it. (Its value
is pretty much nil.) More rewarding is a subtitled video interview,
shot recently, with costar Cinzea Monreale ("Anna").
She discusses working with Massaccesi and Lucio Fulci, doing nude
scenes, and her personal dislike for horror films. (The fetching
Monreale, by the way, is even more attractive now, almost 25 years
later!) Finally, the Chapter Listing insert card is a folding
brochure containing interesting liner notes by Mondo
Digital's Nathaniel Thompson (on both the film and Italian
rock group Goblin) and DVD
Maniacs' Robert Monell (providing a brief career sketch of
director Massaccesi). 6/03/02