Beyond the Darkness (1979)

Also known as:
Buio Omega
Blue Holocaust
Buried Alive
In quella casa... buio omega
The Final Darkness

Necrophilia. Cannibalism. Twisted sex. Sound like your cup of tea? With countless blood and sleaze-filled exploitation films to his name, Joe D'Amato contributed a hard-to-be-topped excursion into sick horror with this Italian production. While it hasn't hit the top of my horror all-time-greats, it's a compelling view and does stay in the mind past the initial viewing. The presence of Dario Argento mainstays Goblin on the soundtrack add to the worthiness of the film, but it's the relentless, morbid gore-filled imagery and sordid themes that will probably make the biggest impact.

We first meet Iris (Franca Stoppi), the middle-aged housekeeper of our protagonist, Frank. She's conferring with some old woman about a voodoo ceremony, and they stick some pins into a voodoo doll. Next we meet the beautiful Anna Völkl (Cinzia Monreal from Fulci's The Beyond) who is dying in hospital, and we can begin to suspect Iris has something to do with it. The distraught Frank (Kieran Canter), Anna's twenty-something boyfriend who just happens to be a taxidermist, visits her and as they embrace, she breathes her last. Later, back at his inherited mansion, Iris comforts the grieving Frank by letting him suckle at her breast. Calling him "my baby boy", we can see that something is intrinsically odd about this arrangement!

Probably already off the deep end, Frank loses it completely and steals into the funeral home after Anna's funeral. He injects the corpse with some sort of preservative and vanishes. Later he digs her up and carts off the body in his truck. The cadaver shows no signs of rigor mortis, let's just say it was the substance Frank injected into it, rather than the actress not being asked to lie stiffly. After changing a blown tire, Frank finds himself with a pretty but stoned hitchhiker (Anna Cardini) stowing away in his truck. It's too late to do anything about it, and he takes both Anna and the girl back home. With the girl in another room, Frank begins to eviscerate Anna's naked corpse. This is one of the bloody setpieces of the film, as Frank removes the internal organs and plops them into a bucket. He even takes a bite out of the heart and chews lovingly, blood squirting out of the heart almost orgasmically. He then removes the eyes and replaces them with glass ones.

Suddenly the girl discovers the gruesome scene and in her panic to escape, fight with Frank, tearing shreds in his neck with her fingernails. What's a poor psycho to do, but attack back and pull out the offending nails with plyers? Frank then smothers the shrieking girl to death. Finally we see what lengths Iris will go to, to be with Frank. As he prepares an acid bath, Iris graphically dismembers the nude corpse with a meat cleaver and throws the remains in the acid. A skull with a single eye-ball floats to the bloody top and they bury the gooey remains. They put the newly-embalmed, open-eyed Anna in a bed, dress her and gently tuck her in. Afterwards Iris messily eats some stew which reminds Frank of the pieces of his unfortunate hitchhiker victim - she laughs as he throws up in disgust.

Under the pretext of wanting to buy one of Frank's stuffed baboons, a man stalls Frank so that a mysterious second man (Edmondo Vallini), possibly an investigator, sniffs around the mansion. He finds a few drops of blood and leaves. Iris comforts the still-grieving Frank, this time by manually stimulating him to orgasm. After a few days Frank meets a pretty jogger after she twists her ankle near his property. He brings her home, binds the ankle and after they begin to make love on his bed, he can't resist pulling back the bedspread to reveal Anna. The girl screams, struggles and bites his hand. This time Frank despatches his victim by biting her throat out, and eating the chunks of flesh. As Iris helps her little boy again, the method of body disposal is an incinerator this time around. No sooner do they look through the glass at the 'corpse' then she begins to struggle in her final death-throes.

More detectives show up looking for the missing girl but Iris convinces them nothing is suspicious, hiding the girl's running shoe at the last minute. She invites her old, eccentric relatives around for dinner and bringing Frank into the room, announces their engagement. Frank looks dismayed and leaves, with Iris humiliated. The investigator turns up again and with Iris in a drunken stupour and Frank out jogging, he prowls freely around the house. He looks in the bed but there's nothing there. Opening a closet, what falls out at him but Anna! Shocked, he takes some photos and leaves, developing them later. The jealous Iris tries to convince Frank to get rid of his 'stupid doll' - Anna's corpse - but he'll have none of it. They push each other around and Frank shoves her away.

Later that night he picks up a girl (Simonetta Allodi) at a disco and it looks like another murder is about to take place - but who should show up but Anna's twin sister Elena, also played by Monreale. Elena wants to pay her last respects, and so the stunned Frank quickly send his disco-dancing companion away. As Elena explores a darkened room, she screams as she spots her dead sister sitting propped up in a chair. Elena faints, and from out of the shadows a crazed-by-jealousy Iris approaches with a knife. Then, as the knife is about to plunge, Frank arrives and screams for Iris to stop. Furious, Iris attacks him with the knife - and it's time for a savage, stabbing, face-ripping, eyeball-pulling final confrontation between the two ex-lovers. Who survives this gruesome conflict will determine the final bizarre fate of the unconscious Elena, and her dead sister ...

Certainly sick and twisted, Beyond the Darkness will leave some sort of blood-spattered impression on most viewers. Fairly well-acted, Franca Stoppi as Iris comes out the best with her ruthless, perverted yet devoted character. Kieran Canter as Frank apparently went on to a porno career and though he's not a great actor, does try hard at conveying Frank's turmoil and longing for Anna, as well as his cannibalistic tendencies. I had hoped for more from Goblin's score but though effective, it doesn't seem to create the pounding atmosphere they are often capable of. Now, to the macabre setpieces and themes. We're talking full-on show-it-all in the autopsy and embalming scenes, and the nail-pulling and graphic dismembering of the hitchhiker is intense, and just plain nasty. The makeup effects are well done, that's for sure, and filmed in a cold, clinical way. There aren't any scenes of actual necrophilia with Anna's cadaver, and it seems almost odd that D'Amato held back at this point. Still, given what Frank's capable of, it probably happens behind the scenes.

With a stronger dose of dark atmosphere, Beyond the Darkness could have been an insane masterpiece of graphic, morose horror. The static camerawork and plain-vanilla lighting hold the film back in my opinion - scenes are filmed in a completely straightforward way that could have plunged the film into a maelstrom of insane horror, if filmed with imagination. Instead, the disgust factor is all the film relies on for impact, and perhaps this reliance diminishes D'Amato's achievement to some degree. Nonetheless, this old reviewer adores Italian horror in all it's forms, and this is only a small criticism. Any cinema that pushes at the boundaries - even if the boundaries are decency and taste - are definitely worth a view and Beyond the Darkness certainly gives these boundaries a major shove.

© Boris Lugosi, 2006.

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Review written: 07/05/2006 22:00:33