Monday, January 04, 2010

Beyond The Darkness

Beyond The Darkness
Original Title: Buio Omega
Directed by: Joe D’Amato
Italy, 1979
Horror, 94 min
Distributed by: Shriek Show

This movie is one sick little puppy. Dealing with cannibalism, voodoo, necrophilia, torture, perverse relationships and violent death, it’s no wonder that it’s one of Joe D’Amato’s most popular movies.

Joe D’Amato, birth name Aristide Massacessi started out as a cinematographer shooting second unit and assistant director work from the late sixties until the early seventies on movies like Alberto De Martino’s Scenes from a Murder and Massimo Dallamano's What Have They Done To Solange? 1972.

When he did direct his first features they where a fist full of Spaghetti Westerns, Go Away! Trinity Has Arrived in Eldorado (Scansati… a Trinità arriva Eldorade); God is My Colt (La colt era il suo Dio), A Bounty Killer for Trinity (Un Bounty killer a Trinità) all in 1972. It was also in 1972 that he directed and shot the movie The Last Decameron (Sollazzevoli storie di mogli gaudeneti e mariti penitenti – Decameron nº 69). The film, which blends comedy and erotic situations in a very Italian Sex Comedy manner is obviously inspired by Pier Pasolini’s Award Winning Il Decameron 1971, and shows the beginning of the traits D’Amato would find himself most comfortable directing, sleazy sexploitation flicks. But that comes later.

1973 Saw D’Amato under his birth name directing the surreal horror/thriller Death Smiles at A Murder starring Klaus Kinski and Eva Aulin in leading roles. The movie was an almost like a contemporary Gothic film using themes of incest, necrophilia, murder and sexuality; all themes that D’Amato frequently used in his horror films. As D’Amato chose to direct the arty flick under his real name, Aristide Massaccesi, a title he usually didn’t use for directing credits but for his cinematography as this was what he took most pride in, it's probably fair to say that he was satisfied with the results

D’Amato continued to crank out movies in a varied range of genres, but not until 1975 would he tackle the franchise for which he would forever be associated with, the sexploitation classics that make up the Emanuelle series.

Eventually we’ll get round to Emanuelle, and the living legend of Laura Gemser, but we will save for a later day, as today I’m looking at D’Amato’s entries into the horror realm.

Being so strongly connected to the sexploitation genre, there are certain ingredients one would presume to find in a D’Amato film, sure he did experiment and blend Sexploitation with Horror in several films, ones like Erotic Nights of the Living Dead 1980, Porno Holocaust 1981 to name a few, give you a gist of what the movies are about - the titles say it all. But when he focused on pure horror he gave it all he had, the films Beyond Darkness 1979, Anthropophagus: The Beast 1980 and Absurd 1981 are all cherished entries into the dark underbelly of Italian Horror. No holds are barred as D’Amato brings on the sinister antagonists, buckets of blood and gore and stunning special effects – if you’ve seen the movies you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Beyond The Darkness is a trippy movie to say the least, Kieran Canter plays Frank Wyker a young man who after his parents died inherited their huge mansion where he now lives and conducts his taxidermy on a professional level that would have Norman Bates envious. Frank’s girlfriend Anna Völkl [Cinzia Monreale – who is painstakingly skinny in this movie, and looks so much hotter these days. Monreale who you may remember from Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond 1981, where she plays the blind Emily and House of Clocks 1989 and later in Dario Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome 1996] is in the hospital on some sort of life support machine, still Frank and Anna have a love like any other between them. Frank lives in his huge house with the maid Iris [Franca Stoppi – who went on to star in several of Bruno Mattei’s Nunsplotitation and Women in Prison flicks] with whom he has a very strange relationship. She probably took care of him after his parents died and was more than likely his nanny as a child, because the first scene she and Frank share, she comforts him after Anna passes away by breast feeding him!

The sinister Iris is in many way’s the main antagonist of the film, as she is the one who has with the aid of witch put a voodoo curse on Anna to start with as she want’s to claim Frank, or is it his wealth and mansion for herself.

After Anna’s death, Frank starts going insane. With the assistance of Iris he steals her corpse the night after the funeral, and D’Amato neatly plants Anna’s twin sister Elena, also played by Monreale into the plot. He embalms Anna, removes her internal organs, and takes a healthy bite out of one, let’s say her uterus to make it even kinkier dresses her and lays her in his bed. Anna’s now a mummy that he now can love for all eternity.

Now things could be all hunky dory from here on, but no, this is a horror flick and shit has to break down any time now. Which it does, on his way back from the morgue with the body of Anna, before the above mentioned autopsy, mummification scenes, he get’s a flat tire, allowing a dumb hitchhiker, Jan [Lucia D’Elia], to get in his van, needless to say after the suspenseful threat of exposure during the ride home, the nosey, doped up hitcher stumbles upon Frank as he lays the final touches to Anna’s corpse. Needless to say the hitcher meets a violent death, as Frank will let nothing come between him and Anna. He beats her, pulls out her fingernails, and finally strangling her.

What makes this such a splendid little sequence is that it’s all intercut by Ornella Micheli’s, the preparations of Anna's body and the hippie hitcher sneaking around build suspense that is exhilarating, because you know that the hitcher is going go catch Frank at work and the shit is going to hit the fan, which it does. Once again Iris proves her dedication to Frank, or is it her underlying agenda to take over the mansion, and helps him dispose of Jan the hippie hitcher’s corpse in a gruelling fashion. She coldly chops the body up into disposable pieces and chucks them in a bath filled with acid. It’s one of the most fiendish scenes of the film and will stay with you for a long time. The special effects are astonishing and really freaky, it’s amazing what you can do with a few pounds of pig, a plastic skull and bubble bath. But it works and is a great sequence.

D’Amato also gives us a small, but effective release after the grim scenes when Iris serves Frank dinner, a beef casserole, and as he moves his camera close to the mouth of Iris sloppily chewing on the food intercut with the hideous remains of Jan, Frank runs to the sink and throws his guts up. Excellent timing for a laugh as the plot thickens and the Mr Kale, who works for the mortician and funeral parlour that buried Anna, and who also saw Frank inject that initial dose of formaldehyde into the corpse, starts to look into Franks activities. A young jogger [Anna Cardini] becomes Frank’s outlet for all that dammed up sexual frustration, but obviously he can’t restrain himself and pulling back the covers revealing the embalmed Anna next to them in the bed, he quickly murders the screaming young woman by tearing out her throat with his teeth. That’s when Iris makes her move, if she is to help the now multiple murderer Frank, she wants’ something in return, she wants Frank to marry her!

The movie gets into it’s last half hour and grows even more surreal as the detectives try to search the house while the joggers body burns in the taxidermy studio’s furnace, then again an opportunity for laughter as Iris family of freaks gather to celebrate the couple soon to be joined in holy matrimony. Mr. Kale takes yet another sneak around the house again and this time to his shock, finds Anna, who for reasons untold is hidden in a closet. The end is nigh, as an external partner now knows Frank’s dark secret.

As Beyond The Darkness revs up to it’s climax, Frank once again picks up a strange girl, this time at a disco, only to be interrupted by a sudden surprise visit from Anna’s twin sister Elena! Frank desperately begs Iris to keep Elena in the house, (as he only sees her as Anna alive and kicking), while he gets rid of disco girl – who actually takes the time to drive home... But Iris has finally had enough of Franks abuse and non-response to her love and life long affection and decides that Frank will have none of the Völkl girls. The grand finale is splendid, gory and vigorous as several subplots come into their culmination, and then when you think it’s all over there’s an excellent little twist concerning Mr Kale and Elena.

Beyond The Darkness is a great movie; gory, kinky and surreal in a way that only D’Amato could deliver it. His cinematography leaves nothing to complain about, he knows what he wants from his compositions and that’s what we get. Ornella Micheli’s editing is perfect once again, and then there’s that excellent soundtrack by Goblin, that constantly keeps the movie moving along with their progressive rhythms. Also it’s where you’ll find the track Quiet Drops that Prog Super group Morte Macabre covered on their magnificent soundtrack alum Symphonic Holocaust. As said, Beyond The Darkness, although not as violent and aggressive as Anthropophagus: The Beast or Absurd is possibly Joe D’Amato’s finest hour as a horror director. It comes with my warmest recommendation!

1.85:1 Aspect Ratio remastered for 16x9

Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, English Dub Dialogue

Trailers for Massimo Dallamano’s What Have They Done To Solange? 1972, Ruggero Deodato’s House on the Edge of the Park 1980, Umberto Lenzi’s Seven Bloodstained Orchids 1972, and the original Beyond the Darkness trailer. A booklet with articles on D’Amato, Goblin and Beyond The Darkness, Interview/commentary with Art Director Donatella Donati, and a neat little session with Cinzia Monreale who looks better than ever as Mike Baronas and Kit Garvin interview her.


Ninja Dixon said...

First of all, a great text. Wow. I would love to have the energy and talent to write stuff like this.

I haven't seen Beyond the Darkness for many years, but because of this I will watch it again. I remember it to be a very impressive movie, and that clearly shows that D'Amato had a lot of talent. I'm very fond of Death smiled at murder and some scenes in Erotic nights of the living dead is fab. Not to forget about Anthropohagus :)

CiNEZiLLA said...

Dude! Thanks, and yeah Anthropophagus is a real treat.


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