Having emerged from The New York Ripper earlier this month with my faculties intact, I decided to play with fire and watch another movie from my "do not watch this, it will ruin you" list. That's right, I took Marbles Harsgrove's "Don't live your life by fear. Don't do that" advice to heart and planted myself in front of the one vote wonder that is...
Yes, I have now seen Joe D'Amato's infamous spaghetti splatter flick Beyond the Darkness (1979), aka Buio Omega despite my worries that it would have me puking up my innards like that lady in Fulci's City of the Living Dead.
Hmm. Well, maybe I puked up my innards a long time ago and never noticed. Or perhaps I never had any innards to begin with? Whatever the reason is, I came out the other side of this one with my gorge decidedly unrisen, which is perhaps the most shocking thing about this shocker.
Don't get me wrong, Beyond the Darkness is truly, truly, truly gross. TRULY. But with the exception of one gnarly scene (that did have me looking away, I admit), the grossness isn't tied to the violence, which made all the difference for me. I think I was expecting, I don't know, tongues ripped out and eyeballs stabbed and the like, so when it wasn't that--when it's just "oh, you're hacking up a dead body?"--it was more palatable...though not at all palatable, if you know what I mean. It definitely deserves to have caution tape wrapped around it to ward off the innocent, but I think that for me, the context of the gore put it in the "really gross" category when I thought it'd be in the "really gross and hateful" category. Never thought I'd be here all "oh it's not that bad, I think I might have even enjoyed it" about a movie chock full of splatter, cannibalism, and necrophilia. But then I also never thought I'd live in a world where I stopped buying Sleater-Kinney albums, but here I am! (#Justice4Janet)
Frank (Kieran Canter) is a very pretty (he really is) young taxidermist whose girlfriend Anna (Cinzia Monreale) is in the hospital for some reason. Frank's housekeeper Iris (Franca Stoppi) is jealous of Anna, and so she enlists the help of a Strega Nona-type to do some voodoo on Anna. The voodoo do work, and Anna dies. Frank is sad. Back home, Iris offers him some titty. I mean that literally. She breastfeeds Frank, and you say to yourself, "Oh, what have I done to myself by watching this movie?"
Anyway, Frank ain't a taxidermist for no reason! He absconds with Anna's body, then proceeds to preserve her--you know, taking out all of her insides, giving her glass eyes, taking a bite out of her heart, etc. As you do. It's gross!
Unfortunately for...well, all of us, in a way...a hitchhiker forced herself into Frank's van when he was on his way home with Anna's body. When she catches wind of what's going on, Frank kills her, but not before ripping out all of her fingernails with pliers. Please note, that was the scene where I had to look away. It's gross!
The ever-helpful Iris is right there to assist Frank with disposing of the hitchhiker's body. By "assist" I mean "do most of the work" as Iris chops up the dead young lass with a cleaver while Frank fills the tub with acid. I love that the acid was in green glass wrapped in a basket, like a giant bottle of the finest Ernest & Julio Gallo.
Several nauseating hacks later, the hitchhiker's body parts are chucked into the tub where they dissolve into a curdled froth. Iris scoops up wayward guts with a dustpan. It's gross!
In the next scene, D'Amato intercuts Iris really disgustingly eating stew (seriously, who eats like that?) with shots of hitchhiker stew, and Frank barfs. It's gross!
Frank meets a couple of other lovely young women--a jogger, a disco dancer--and they may or may not end up dead if they find out about the dead body in his bed. Frank almost maybe could be into these lovely young women, but he really only loves Anna still and he's sad. Iris offers him a handjob. Aww (?)
Iris grows increasingly jealous of Anna and insists that Frank dispose of her. To placate her, Frank agrees to marry her on the condition that Anna stays. But when Iris invites her family over to celebrate the engagement, Frank gets a gander at them and bolts. Yeah, they're kind of weird, but they seem nice, and Iris is heartbroken. I was surprised to find myself feeling bad for the psychotic housekeeper! (#Justice4Iris)
Eventually Anna's twin sister Elena (also Monreale) shows up, throwing several wrenches into all the works. Frank is like "Oh dip! She's just like Anna but she moves and blinks, what do I do?" Iris is like "Oh dip! She's just like Anna but she moves and blinks and Frank is going to love her, what do I do?"
Frank flees to dispose of Anna, and Iris cuts the lights in the house. As Elena wanders around wondering what the fuck is going on (much like we, the viewers), a ghostly voice calls to her, warning her to leave the house because it's cursed. Now look, I couldn't really tell if it was supposed to really be Anna speaking from beyond the grave or whether it was Iris pulling some Scooby-Doo kind of shit, but obviously I choose to believe the latter. That's too good! And it's a great way to get rid of unwanted company, so I'm filing it away for reference.
Elena wandering in the dark and Iris coming after her with a knife is the closest thing Beyond the Darkness has to an effectively tense scene, and thus it was my favorite.
Iris and Frank end up duking it out. Cheeks are eaten, eyeballs are ripped out, groins are stabbed. It's gross! But honestly, it's far far from the grossest thing in the movie and at this point you're just like "okay, Buio Omega, what else you got for me?"
In a case of mixed-up corpses, Elena almost ends up buried alive. But then she doesn't! And actually, that might be the most shocking thing about this film. After all of the nastiness and nihilism, Beyond the Darkness ends on a silly, light note.
I really do think I enjoyed this dumb movie. I say I "think" I enjoyed it because its only goal is to gross you out, and that's not usually my bag. The story is a simple one, and yet so many questions remain.
Has Frank always been a wackadoo, or did Anna's death break his brain and drive him insane? We know nothing of his personality before her death, so it's impossible to say. And as his one facial expression throughout the film is "being pretty" (he really is), we never really understand what his torment is all about. Is it just frustration that he and Anna never consummated their relationship?
What's Iris's deal? Is she really in love with Frank, or does she just want his money? Has she always offered up some titty here, a handjob there? She is curious! She is a real weirdo and I am intrigued by her prison matron charms.
I suppose you could make some case for Beyond the Darkness as a film about grief and learning to let go of our loved ones when they're gone. But again, D'Amato's only aim is to induce nausea, so any greater meaning is likely happenstance. However, much as I choose to believe in Iris's Scooby-Doo antics, I also choose to believe that D'Amato was making a larger point. I'm putting that thesis out in the world if only to see Beyond the Darkness listed alongside Hereditary and The Babadook and Don't Look Now in listicles about horror movies that deal with grief.
Or maybe D'Amato is just saying "Hey, if your girlfriend looked like Cinzia Monreale and she died, you, too would consider keeping her around regardless," amirite? It's not like these kinds of things don't happen in real life.
As Anna, Monreale doesn't have much to do beyond, you know, playing dead, sometimes fully nude, sometimes clothed. She's great! When I was in college I had to play a dead body in a stage production; I was under a sheet and it was a struggle not to breathe in an obvious way. Meanwhile Monreale's out here not breathing, not moving, and not blinking, amazing. Between this and those chunky-ass contacts she wore in The Beyond, she has certainly suffered enough onscreen in some of horror's more insane outings.
While it took me forever to get to Beyond the Darkness--and I wasn't sure I'd ever get to it--I've had the Goblin (billed as "The Goblins" in the film) soundtrack forever because it's fuckin' wicked. While it could simply be a side effect of listening to an unmoored soundtrack for years, I was a bit surprised to come out of hearing it in situ feeling like it didn't really work. It doesn't organically mesh with what's happening onscreen. It's more sort of plonked in there with no real function. But hey, it's still fuckin' wicked, and I'm not entirely sure what an effective, integrated score would be for a gross out flick anyway. I am just saying.
It's a wonder I never saw Beyond the Darkness back in The Day™when my best friend and I would come home from the video store loaded down with every movie that promised to be the scariest and/or the grossest. Many horror-loving yoots go through that phase, yeah? Where mainlining Faces of Death I, II, and III seems like a great way to spend an evening. This film would have fit right in. Maybe that's why I find myself coming away from it bewildered by the fact that I may have enjoyed it: it took me right back to those kind of horror movie parties, where you (gasp) have fun and, when you're not gagging from the grue, you squeal and squirm with delight. I also spent much of the film marveling at D'Amato's cleverness with editing and camera angles; He makes such effective use of animal parts that audiences have often wondered if real human corpses were used.
Beyond the Darkness is definitely not for the fait of heart, nor is it for the queasy of stomach. It's vile and repellant, I suppose, but ultimately it's a sad and silly film, not a mean one. So if, like me, you've been curious about it but hesitant to indulge, I say let go, let gore.