Beyond Darkness (1990)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: August 24th, 2015
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
If you wanted to check the pulse of the Italian horror industry as it entered the 90s, look no further than Claudio Fragasso’s output during the first year of the decade. Each of the three films he directed that year—Troll 2, Beyond Darkness, and Night Killer—were each marketed as sequels to completely unrelated films (the most brazen being the latter, which was touted as a third Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Obviously, originality was not a priority, nor was accuracy. Let this be a fine lesson in not judging books by their covers—that these films do not actually connect to their “franchises” is not surprising, but it’s fascinating how they’re often not even close.
This is especially true of Beyond Darkness. The fifth entry in the La Casa “series,” it has little in common with The Evil Dead and is instead yet another dance with Satanic forces. With the bones of The Exorcist having been thoroughly picked over for the past fifteen years, this film turns its eyes to bit of a fresher corpse in Poltergeist (itself also exhausted by two sequels at this point). It says a lot about this era when you’re surprised that a film has taken to ripping something else off other than the usual fare.
Not that Beyond Darkness is immediately recognizable as a Poltergeist rip-off, what with its bizarre opening sequence in a Louisiana penitentiary, where a notorious, devil-worshipping child murderer Bette (Mary Coulson) is bound for the electric chair. Before her mortal coil is fried away, Father George (David Brandon) must administer her last rites and make one last appeal to her humanity. Unamused, she replies in no uncertain terms that she will see him in hell.
Flash forward a few months (or years? Coherence, as always, seems optional.), and George has become a boozy shell of his former self, wandering the streets, haunted by visions of the Bette (returned to life wearing ghastly make-up that resembles mashed potatoes) and her victims. When fellow priest Peter (Gene Lebrock) moves into a new house with his family (including a son, played by Michael Stephenson of Troll 2 infamy) that winds up being very haunted, George—despite being in no condition to do so—attempts to intervene in order to save Bette’s next target (and perhaps his own soul as well).
Of the trio of Fragasso-helmed films in 1990, Troll 2 is obviously the most infamous and with good reason. But there’s an equally good reason that you haven’t heard as much about Beyond Darkness: it’s just not quite as good—which, in this case, may mean it’s not quite as bad. Sure, it’s loopy enough by normal standards, but it arrives out of a tradition that completely warped said standards. Adding to that distortion demands you go big, weird, and fucking insane, and Beyond Darkness never quite reaches such delirious highs. It has its moments (one’s ears should always perk up whenever an Italian horror movie features children, who often say literally the damnedest things) and features the occasional, feverish burst of madness, but, for the most part, it feels like another serving of reheated leftovers.
It’s an eclectic dish, at least, one that takes gnawed off bits from this plate and that plate to form a sort of trashy cornucopia. For a while, the most obvious course is a huge helping of Poltergeist. Once Peter’s family (which includes a daughter named—I shit you not—Carol) moves in, the children almost immediately stumble across some spooky phenomena. Since Beyond Darkness is a long way from Steven Spielberg’s bankroll, this mostly entails a rocking horse that creaks to life on its own and a strange light bleeding through a hole in the wall (likely accomplished by someone shining a flashlight through the opening).
Fragasso’s camera occasionally roves through the cavernous house’s eerie, empty corridors to simulate the presence of some unseen evil, but it can hardly overcompensate for how familiar these proceedings are, especially when they’re often captured with such flat photography. Many last gasp Italian horror howls at least pop off the screen as they attempt to outrun their nonsense, but Beyond Darkness has the vibrancy of an umpteenth-generation Xerox.
Even its attempts to go crazy—and, yes, it goes nuts—are undercut by retreading the most familiar ground imaginable. There’s a moment when you realize Beyond Darkness has more or less run through all of the Poltergeist beats—and, yet, somehow there’s half a movie left. The script itself seems just as surprised and seems ill-prepared to compensate as it practically fumbles for words: suddenly, there’s an out-of-nowhere backstory involving a coven of hanged witches and a sequence involving a child strapped to an electric chair. Finally, you think, assured that Beyond Darkness is about to ascend to that rare, unhinged plane reserved for its Eurohorror predecessors and contemporaries…and then I’ll be goddamned if it doesn’t just retreat to the same old Exorcist shit after all. Clearly, someone wanted to know if it were possible to flog the ground up bones of a dead horse.
Technically, you can, but it’s not exactly something that demands to be seen. Maybe if the horse suddenly reanimated itself and somehow fought back, it’d be worthwhile. Beyond Darkness has little fight in it by this point, though, having revealed itself to be yet another attempt to recapture a glory so faded that even returning to Fulci’s bayou haunts can’t summon it (is it any coincidence that the other two La Casa entries set up shop in New England for similar reasons?). As always, it’s amusing to watch these filmmakers cross the streams by cobbling together so many different movies. It’s not as brazen as most of Bruno Mattei’s filmography, though, nor is it quite as lively or atmospheric as its La Casa brethren--eventually, these things start to feel like tired, desperate gasps of a dying industry. The problem here is Beyond Darkness doesn't feel desperate enough.
Enthusiasts of the La Casa saga can at least take heart that all three Italian-American offerings have now arrived on Blu-ray thanks to Scream Factory. Where Ghosthouse and Witchery arrived together, Beyond Darkness is paired with fellow rip-off Metamorphosis (a George Eastman helmed copycat of The Fly) on a double feature disc that features a trailer and optional subtitles for each film. The presentation is thoroughly fine in that the likes of Beyond Darkness is never going to be reference quality; plus, simply releasing these titles is a coup in itself, especially when you consider how elusive Ghosthouse and Beyond Darkness have been over the years. Hopefully, Scream Factory will continue down this path, though I suspect the legal waters may be tricky to navigate. If only the entire world could shrug at copyright law as nonchalantly as the Eurohorror scene. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: