BEYOND THE DARKNESS
Joe D'Amato's BEYOND THE DARKNESS has the reputation as being one of the sickest films to be made during the 1970s Italian horror boom. It certainly ponies up the goods in terms of sheer viscera. This is one of the few films that paid more attention to the victims after death than before, placing a strong, vomit-inducing emphasis on the dismemberment, preservation and disposal of corpses. In fact, the film is so preoccupied with necromania and dripping viscera that the plot feels designed solely for the purpose of arranging for the audience the opportunity to relish in the films perverse fetish. This isn't a film as much as it is a geek show, one with an undeniable power in its imagery, but without a single new thought or innovation to set it apart from other films of its kind. The question is, how much does the lack of narrative hurt the film or does it even matter?
BEYOND THE DARKNESS deals with Frank, a rich, young psychotic man whose girlfriend Anna dies suddenly when Iris, an obsessive older woman who has cared for Frank and the family villa since he was young, uses a bit of voodoo on her. Anna's death leaves Frank in shambles. Unable to deal with losing her, Frank digs up her body, placing it in his van. On his way home, a back tire blows out. While Frank is replacing the tire, the most unappealing hitchhiker to ever appear in an Italian exploitation movie sneaks into the passenger seat. Frank reluctantly agrees to give her a ride. She smokes a joint and passes out, allowing Frank the opportunity to stop at home and drop off Anna's corpse. While Frank works to remove the vital organs from Anna's corpse (he is a master taxidermist), the hitchhiker regains consciousness. When she discovers Frank elbow-deep in a dead body, she freaks out and Frank overpowers and suffocates her.
The next day, Anna's body has been relocated to an upstairs bedroom with the help of Iris. Two men arrive at the villa. While one of the men goes inside to talk to Frank, the other man does some snooping around. We've seen this man before. He was the funeral director overseeing Anna's burial. He knows something isn't quite right with Frank (he saw Frank injecting some strange fluid into Anna's body at the viewing) and, more over, plans on putting together enough incriminating evidence to blackmail the very well-off Frank. Once the two men leave, Frank and Iris go about the nasty business of dismembering and dissolving the hitchhiker's body. Though disgusted by the necessary but nauseating body disposal, Frank slowly but surely gives in to his bloodlust and soon more women meet their maker at Frank's hands.
D'Amato seems to have designed BEYOND THE DARKNESS with only one purpose in mind: to disgust his audience. And that is exactly what BEYOND THE DARKNESS does well. Even for hardened gore fanatics, the films stand-out scenes manage a queasy efficiency. The protracted scene of Frank preparing Anna's corpse is played out with a matter-of-factness that lends a kind of air of credibility to the scene. Yes, that is obviously a pig carcass being sliced open and yes, those are obviously animal guts being bandied about, but the slickness with which the material is presented ties all the bits together. It is genuinely effective. The dismemberment of the hitchhiker is also done extremely well. The bubbling brew of blood, flesh and acid (complete with a half-dissolved head bubbling to the surface) is one of the most disgusting images the film throws at us and the clever cutting from the sloppy goo of human remains to Iris messily eating a bowl of shit-colored stew is sure to throw a few stomachs into convulsions.
When the film works, it works incredibly well but that only serves to highlight the films major flaw. There is simply nothing else going on here. The subplot concerning the funeral director is nothing more than throwaway material. It doesn't actually get us anywhere. The obvious psycho-sexual material languishes among the frequent bouts of bloody murder. There is a mountain of material here that D'Amato and his writers could have explored (Iris's unhealthy sexual obsession with Frank, her breastfeeding of him, the way Frank seems developmentally stuck in his childhood, etc.) but they simply don't, preferring to keep the film in full-on exploitation mode for the vast majority of the films running time. For all the strength of its imagery, the film ultimately turns out to be much ado about nothing.
But I guess complaining about what the film isn't instead of appreciating it for what it is would be the wrong tract to take with this film. Some films definitely fare better if you take them completely at face value and BEYOND THE DARKNESS is easily one of those films. As an exercise in transgression and violence, D'Amato created a creepy, nasty little film, one that is just off-balance enough to work. The Freudian subtext (slight though it may be) is there if you want it, but I imagine most of you will walk into the film wanting one thing and one thing only: unbridled nastiness. And BEYOND THE DARKNESS will certainly satisfy your appetite.