Friday, August 11, 2017

BEYOND THE DARKNESS (Joe D'Amato, 1979--Severin Films Blu-ray Reviewed)

Beyond The Darkness [Blu-ray + CD Soundtrack]
A disturbed young man (Kieran Canter) drives up a country road somewhere in Italy as a lively, sinister GOBLIN theme pulls us into the scenario. He is on his way to make a pickup of a dead simian which, as a taxidermist, he will embalm and add to his macabre collection. But things get complicated for anti-hero Frank Wyler. It will turn out that Frank is a necrophiliac, cannibal and a murderer. Any one of those is problematic in the "normal" world, but to be all three, and a momma's boy to boot...! Well, you've got a problem there in Northern Italy, Brixen, to be exact, where this monster cult item is set. Frank is the monster, but a human monster, and the cult movie is Joe D'Amato's 1979 BEYOND THE DARKNESS.

You know something is wrong with Frank right from the very first shots. He seems to wear a look of startled lust, which becomes his default visage. Frank prepares his baboon for treatment while housekeeper Iris (Franca Stoppi) is busy presiding over a voodoo ceremony where a local sorceress sticks pins in a doll representing Frank's beloved Anna (Cinzia Monreale), who is dying in a nearby hospital, the result of an ongoing curse. Frank arrives at her side just in time for a last kiss. As she flat-lines he vows that death will not separate them.... 

Probably the best way to approach the experience of BEYOND THE DARKNESS is to first watch Mino Guerrini's 1966 horror thriller THE THIRD EYE (IL TERZIO OCCHIO). This somewhat obscure, but well crafted black and white film, whose story is credited to Gilles De Reys (sic), is a tale which another historical transgressor, The Marquis de Sade, might have penned. A young Count (a pre-DJANGO Franco Nero), who also practices taxidermy, is engaged to a young woman (Erika Blanc) who dies in a car accident engineered by his jealous housekeeper (Gioia Pascal). The emotionally dominated protagonist finally runs amok when the housekeeper also arranges the death of his domineering mother. Murder, mayhem and a final reckoning follow after an ironic undercurrent subtly displaces the lurid scenario into the realm of classical tragedy. On the other hand D'Amato's 1979 remake screams Tabloid! Guerrini's film (he also is credited as a writer on BEYOND THE DARKNESS) is hauntingly scored by the great Francesco De Masi with a Viennese type waltz theme which he also used in his score for Riccardo Freda's 1963 Barbara Steele Gothic, LO SPETTRO (THE GHOST). Both films are very much worth seeing for comparison and contrast, with a nod to Franco Nero delivering possibly his career best performance in the 1966 version. Hopefully, a future HD release with English subtitles with give THE THIRD EYE a much deserved resurrection from obscurity. 

The genius of D'Amato, who also directed the 16mm cinematography, was to stage all the macabre events in a completely different key than was used by Mino Guerrini in THE THIRD EYE. The same story, the same characters, the same setting, but the somber melody this time around is played by a madman pounding on the piano keys in between disembowelments, mutilations, feasts of flesh and internal organs. A frenzied tale of mad love which also has elements which might have been imagined by Edgar Allan Poe, BEYOND THE DARKNESS might not be D'Amato's very best film but it's certainly his most emotionally intense, with a delirious, urgent GOBLIN (credited as The Goblins) score, which puts us right into the skin of the demented protagonist. Much of the film's power comes from the performances of Canter and Ms. Stoppi. He's well cast as an underground man who is painfully shy in public but capable of the grossest atrocities when left alone with his corpses. Ms. Stoppi is an actress who, as she demonstrates in the interview THE OMEGA WOMAN, is sensitive to the internal forces which propel her manipulative character.

The shock scenes here, the detailed embalming, the hacking apart of the hitchhiker, the cannibal attack on the jogger, are strong stuff and the actors are wise enough to indicate their character's complete immersion in the mayhem without going over the top. The sensitive English language voicing provided by the skilled team of Ted Rusoff and Carolyn De Fonseca, really adds layers of emotion and ambiguity to both characters and the English option is the recommended track for playback. The Italian track is also available, but the subtitles are actually dub titles of the English language dialogue. Both tracks and the music are crystal clear and resonant in the 2.0 mix. BEYOND THE DARKNESS is one of the most enduring and popular of all Italian horror films and this Blu-ray presents it in 1080p full HD resolution and 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono Audio. The shot -on-16mm images reveal a distinct graininess at first but the improved color and detail are impressive, especially in the night scenes of Frank in the graveyard, in which the crimson flora on the memorial wreaths seem to glow in the dark and the names on the stones are actually readable as our sick necrophile digs up his Anna for future sex games. 

BEYOND THE DARKNESS has had several previous releases. Including the 2001 Shriek Show DVD, to which I contributed a text bio of Joe D'Amato as part of the retail booklet. That disc only had English audio available and included some good bonus materials including a commentary by Assistant Director Donatella Donati and an interview with actress Cinzia Monreale, both conducted by Kit J. Gavin. The Severin Blu-ray edition has a new interview with Ms. Monreale in which she discusses the location, her impressions of Canter and Franca Stoppi and how she managed to be very convincing as a beautiful corpse. The interview with the late Ms. Stoppi also reveals an exceedingly talented, nice and generous person who seems the polar opposite of the vicious characters she plays in BEYOND THE DARKNESS and THE OTHER HELL.

 A 20 minute featurette revisits the locations today. Also included is a 3 minutes theatrical trailer, narrated in English by Ted Rusoff, which manages to cram each and every lurid moment into its short run-time. GOBLIN perform the opening theme live in Buio Omega LIVE 2016. A 60 plus minute documentary, Joe D'Amato: The Horror Experience, from the feature Joe D'Amato; Uncut, is an in-depth sit down with the late, good natured director, who reveals his own favorite of his films was the non-linear Gothic DEATH SMILES A MURDER (1973). He also discusses working with the notorious Klaus Kinski, experimenting with hardcore sex and gore in EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD and expresses satisfaction at having produced the first feature film of Michele Soavi (STAGE FRIGHT) and the last film of Lucio Fulci (DOOR INTO SILENCE). On camera comments by frequent D'Amato actors "George Eastman" and Donald O'Brien are also included. The director makes a salient point toward the end, noting that director's like Riccardo Freda, Lucio Fulci and himself were an dying breed, an endangered species at that time, the mid 1990s. How sadly true that comment turned out to be. Only a few years later all three genre titans would be dead.

A 24 track CD of the GOBLIN score is also included when ordering the BD + CD edition. Over the years this has evolved into my own favorite GOBLIN film score and alone makes this a worthwhile purchase. 

I really can't report on the previous Blu-ray releases but Severin's HD presentation is probably going to be your go-to option for experiencing this defining example of European Trash Cinema. 
Reviewed by (C) Robert Monell, 2017

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