Thursday, August 10, 2017

BEYOND THE DARKNESS - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Following a string of highly successful – and at times controversial – BLACK EMANUELLE films starring his muse-of-sorts, the Indonesian-born Laura Gemser, director Aristide Massaccesi (better known to most who know him as ‘Joe D’Amato’) helmed BEYOND THE DARKNESS (1979), an unflinching, taboo-breaking horror film; which, along with Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE (1979, a.k.a. ZOMBI 2), helped pave the way for the gory excesses of the Italian film industry during the early ’80s.  Taking into account the number of releases that D’Amato’s film has received over the years on a number of different formats, including both DVD and Blu-ray, Severin has once again stepped up to the slab to deliver the definitive package of this oft-seen, but memorably effective horror film.
  
Frank (Kieran Canter), a reclusive taxidermist, has just lost his fiancée Anna (Cinzia Monreale) to a mysterious illness which was triggered by a voodoo curse (!) brought into effect by his psychotic housekeeper Iris (Franca Stoppi), who obsessively seeks his attentions/affections.  Devastated, Frank secretly injects his recently-deceased girlfriend with a preservative agent during the funeral, which eventually allows him to dig her up and, during a particularly unsettling sequence, put his skills to use.  However, as nutty as Iris is, she remains steadfastly opposed to Frank’s continued post-mortem companionship with Anna, but has no qualms about helping the ghoulish Frank dispose of the various unfortunate women who cross paths with him.


BEYOND THE DARKNESS is sick, twisted stuff, for sure – which, considering D’Amato’s prolifically sleazy filmography, is surely some sort of recommendation to fans of his work – but what sets this film apart from some of his earlier, almost playfully-sleazy scenarios such as EMANUELLE AND THE LASTCANNIBALS (1977), is the general unrelenting sense of unease he generates here.  Derived from a screenplay by Ottavio Fabbri and loosely based on Giacomo “Mino” Guerrini’s morbid B&W 1966 gothic thriller, THE THIRD EYE (which was itself a variation of Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO [1960]), BTD is also shrouded in death, decay and unhealthy sexual inclinations, but in this case with an unflinching, nothing left-to-the-imagination approach taken towards the material.  In one of the film’s many ‘highlights’, the embalming procedure depicted is particularly macabre, dwelling not only on the excessive gore (the film’s raison d’être), but also on the degenerate Frank’s obsessive desire, which truly knows no bounds.  Iris’ equally abnormal if conflicting sexual obsession is well juxtaposed against this morbid scenario and, likewise, she’ll stop at nothing to earn Frank’s affection even as she rigorously – and with chillingly casual callousness – dismembers a victim’s corpse then disposes of it in a homemade acid bath.  As gruesome as BTD is, it stands head-and-shoulders above most of D’Amato’s work in terms of basic quality, and outside of their work on both Dario Argento’s DEEP RED and SUSPIRIA (1977), it’s also helped along by one of Goblin’s most memorable scores, parts of which were later re-used in both Luigi Cozzi’s CONTAMINATION (1980) and Bruno Mattei’s THE OTHER HELL (1980).

Retitled BURIED ALIVE for its scant U.S. theatrical screenings courtesy of Aquarius Releasing way back when, BEYOND THE DARKNESS had its biggest exposure in the U.S. (and here in Canada) via Thriller Video’s VHS cassettes (also under the title BURIED ALIVE) where it endured as a favourite among gorehounds for years.  In the ensuing years, numerous DVD editions appeared around the world, but most of them were either drab-looking transfers, or were incomplete or improperly-framed.  Earlier this year, U.K. outfit 88 Films took their stab at it, and despite being (quote) “restored in 2K from the original camera negative”, the picture quality still left a lot to be desired, its image suffused with a perplexing green/yellow hue throughout the entire runtime of the movie.  However, 88’s edition did contain both uncompressed English and Italian audio options with (quote) “newly translated English subtitles”, which was a nice bonus along with a number of relevant extras.


Fortunately, with their latest Blu-ray, Severin have once again come through and provided the best presentation to date.  Their 1080p HD transfer is properly framed at 1.66:1, but unlike the 88 Films transfer, it’s a considerable improvement, boasting a much more robust colour scheme (which only makes all the blood and gore pop off the screen that much more than before!), and BTD finally looks the way it most likely should.  The DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio sounds perfect (all the better to truly appreciate Goblin’s wonderful score!), but in contrast to 88’s disc, the Italian audio is in Dolby Digital 2.0 and only includes SDH English subtitles; but frankly, the English dub-track is preferable anyways, as we get to hear the voice-dubbing talents of both Ted Rusoff and Carolyn De Fonseca in action.  Extras are quite significant, beginning with Roger Fratter’s admirable documentary “Joe D’Amato: The Horror Experience” (68m21s), which was also included on Media Blasters’ 2-disc DVD of ANTHROPOPHAGOUS (1980) under the title Joe D’Amato: Totally Uncut 2 (the first part was included on MB’s 2-disc set of D’Amato’s nunsploitation shocker, IMAGES IN A CONVENT [1979]).  This appears to be a revised/updated edition of the doc (it’s copyrighted 2016), which is essentially a career-spanning interview about many of the title subject’s horror films, and also includes interviews with George Eastman (a.k.a. Luigi Montefiori), Donald (r.n. Donal) O’Brien and Al Cliver (a.k.a. Pier Luigi Conti).  In it, some of the topics Massaccesi discusses include: DEATH SMILES AT MURDER (1973), which he remains very fond of; his many porn/horror hybrids, such as THE EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980); the aforementioned ANTHROPOPHAGOUS (1980), ABSURD (1981) and CALIGULA THE UNTOLD STORY (1982); his association with producer Eduard Sarlui; and many of the titles produced by Filmirage (D’Amato’s ’80s production company), such as Fabrizio Laurenti’s WITCHERY (1989) and Claudio Fragasso’s similarly-titled BEYOND DARKNESS (1990).  It’s a highly informative and sincere doc which is always worth a revisit. 

In “The Omega Woman”, a 2015 interview with the late Franca Stoppi, she talks about working on the film in-between her ‘legit’ work in the theater (“I had nothing to do the whole summer…”) and how she began a relationship with her co-star Canter.  She also reveals that it was D’Amato/Massaccesi’s express intent to (quote) “make a movie which will make people puke”, and in addition she relates the dangers involved in filming the film’s final scene.  In “Sick Love” (8m47s), an interview with Cinzia Monreale, she talks genially about Massaccesi and how he (quote) “knew how to make everything work”, and despite all the blood and gore on screen, it was (quote) “fun for us”.  She also admits that Canter (quote) “courted me a little”.  In the short, but most welcome “Goblin Reborn” (4m17s) featurette, the legendary prog-rock group (including two of its original members) performs a live rendition of the Buio Omega title theme.  In the final extra, the very comprehensive “Locations Revisited” (20m05s), Martin Nechvatal takes a look at the many locations in Brixen / Bressanone (a predominantly German-speaking Italian town located north of Bolzano), comparing how they look today with how they did at the time the film was shot.  The extras are capped-off nicely with the original Ted Rusoff-narrated English-language export trailer (e.g., “Ladies and gentleman, if you are easily frightened, we advise you not to watch this film!”).  Last, but certainly not least, the first 2500 copies of the Blu-ray contain the entire soundtrack CD, which, incidentally, is the full 24-track remastered edition as opposed to Cinevox’s original 15-track release from 1997. 

Pathologically drenched in grue and various socially unacceptable perversions, it’s highly doubtful that a better edition of BEYOND THE DARKNESS will – or ever even can – surface, thanks to Severin’s fully-loaded and magnificent-looking Blu-ray. 


Severin is currently offering BEYOND THE DARKNESS as both a standalone DVD or 2-disc Blu-ray or as part of their lavish Necro Bundle, which even includes an impressive, full-size reprint of the U.S. one-sheet poster!  The Blu-ray is also available at DiabolikDVD.

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