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  Beyond the Darkness
Year: 1979
Director: Joe D'Amato
Stars: Kieran Canter, Franca Stoppi, Cinzea Monreale, Sam Modesto, Anna Cardini, Lucia D'Elia, Mario Pezzin, Walter Tribus
Genre: Horror, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Joe D’Amato (real name Aristide Massaccesi) ranks easily as one of Italy’s most notorious trash directors, managing to have the first two movies on the Video Nasties list, a host of extremely sleazy Emanuelle flicks (Emanuelle in America being particularly evil), churning out disgraceful hardcore sleaze such as Porno Holocaust and Erotic Nights of the Living Dead and making a version of Caligula that easily out-outrageouses the Tinto Brass original. So it’s hard - nay, impossible – to figure out quite which movie is D’Amato’s most controversial moment. It’s a safe bet, though, that Beyond the Darkness ain’t far off.

Baby-faced weirdo Frankie is a taxidermist. He’s such a weirdo, that it’s hard to believe that he has such a nice girlfriend in Anna, but then again she is confined to a hospital bed waiting to close those pretty blue eyes for the very last time. Frankie lives in a huge villa, alone except for a strange (you’ll hear that word a lot during the course of this review) lady called Iris who has presumably been his housekeeper and guardian since his rich parents died all those years ago. Dead parents, yes, always a recipe for disaster although Frankie hasn’t done so badly with Iris being the house’s matriarch for so long. She mothers him so well, she even lets his suck her tits every once in a while. But still, he’s not totally mad; at least until he sees his love Anna finally draw her last breath…

Being a taxidermist, Frankie is in like Flynn, shooting her full of formaldehyde on the slab, unaware that the mortician is watching. Then, after her funeral, he hops in his rusty red Mystery Machine and digs her up, picking up a Cockney (Dick Van Dyke was her voice coach) hitchhiker whom, for some reason, he leaves sleeping in his van while he gets to work immediately on Anna. The stoned hitchhiker sees what’s going on and is promptly suffocated. Well not exactly promptly – Frankie inexplicably takes five to finish what he’s doing before doing her in but, well, you know what I mean. From then on Frankie keeps his “baby doll” in bed with him, killing off any pretty girls who come his way whilst avoiding both the police and the unscrupulous funeral director who now seeks to blackmail him…

Beyond the Darkness has a fantastic soundtrack by Goblin. In fact, it probably took up most of the film’s budget as everything else looks so cheap – not exactly tacky, just cheap, and there is no better way to illustrate this than in D’Amato’s roughshod photography. As usual he did it himself and has also managed to cut costs by using just one camera. It shows, and it’s not hard to imagine Sleazy Joe creeping around the set, voyeuristically poking his lens over people’s shoulders, trying to get a better glimpse of the perversions they’re indulging in. It makes the whole thing look like a porno film. Or maybe a documentary… Yeah, a documentary…

“Documentary.” It’s a fantastic euphemism for “snuff movie”, isn’t it? And that brings us nicely to the reason why Beyond the Darkness is just so damned controversial. “All persons and events are imaginary,” it says. Well, the characters may not be real but the actors sure as shit are, and that includes the dismembered corpses! OK, so that doesn’t exactly make it a snuff movie, but it’s enough to get the puritans stoking their hell-fires again. Seeing Frankie dismember Anna is a very grotesque scene indeed, seeing him slice open her body and chuck her entrails into a bucket (which is subsequently knocked over.) There’s no way that’s a special effect, especially when compared to Frankie later popping in Anna’s shiny new glass eyes – her “hollow” eye-sockets have been haphazardly painted on with eye-shadow that has later become smudged. Still, D’Amato hasn’t done too badly with the rest of the effects; Frankie biting out somebody’s throat, Iris chopping up a body and throwing it into an acid bath (the head floats up to the top complete with one dangling eyeball) and Iris and Frankie stuffing dead bodies into their own private crematorium. And still, that’s only the tip of the iceberg; the movie’s most gruelling scene has Frankie tugging out the hitchhiking stoner’s fingernails with a massive pair of pliers. Quite unnecessary. So consider it a bonus.

But gore is gore. Beyond the Darkness’ real strength lies in the fact that it’s… it’s just so STRANGE! D’Amato’s movies are often accused of being boring, but they have a certain ambience to them that means fans can watch them again and again. Everything just seems so surreal. Frankie’s strange house full of stuffed animals, Frankie’s strange relationship with Iris, Iris herself; God, Franca Stoppi is a fucking weird looking actress, all skin and bone, hollow cheeks and high cheekbones. It’s the face of death itself! Mind you, Kieran Canter as Frankie is no better, with his cute, baby-faced features contrasting heavily with those glassy, ice-grey eyes. Ugh! It sends shivers down my spine! While we’re looking at character, who the fuck is that wizened old hag at the beginning of the film? Presumably one of Iris’ relatives, but what is the significance of her pushing pins into a voodoo doll? What does it all mean? Very strange, very strange indeed.

Despite its shortcomings, Beyond the Darkness has some truly classic scenes that could potentially stick in the viewer’s mind forever. There’s a very poignant, touching scene when Frankie kisses Anna as the life-support machine slowly goes dead. Frankie fucking a jogger while Anna lies conspicuously on the bed beside them is just twisted genius, and it’s almost sheer slapstick when Anna’s hand pops out of the back of his van just inches away from the hitchhiker’s face. And, although you should be able to see it coming a mile away, the film’s very final shot is still a real shocker.

Time and time again, D’Amato’s ability as a filmmaker is questioned. It’s true that he, like his (inexplicably more respected) Spanish counterpart Jess Franco, was just some hack who churned out bad movies like a leper-colony sewer pipe churns out shit. But also like Franco, he was a talented director whose real skill would occasionally shine through – if you can find the time to poke a hole in that slimy, sleazy sheen that seems to stick to everything he touches. A must for all fans of Italian horror cinema, Beyond the Darkness could well be D’Amato’s best movie.

Aka: Blue Holocaust, Buried Alive, Buio Omega, In Quella Casa… Buio Omega, The Final Darkness
Reviewer: Wayne Southworth

 

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