Italian Horror Blog-a-thon: Beyond the Darkness (aka Blue Holocaust, aka Final Darkness, aka Buried Alive)
Ah yes, Joe D’Amato…the man who gave us Porno Holocaust, a slew of Emmanuel movies, and the brilliantly titled Erotic Nights of the Living Dead. I couldn’t let a blog-a-thon about Italian horror go by without talking about the man who is probably the most famous of the hack Italian horror filmmakers. His real name is Aristide Massaccesi and he actually did one good thing in his career of 150+ movies: he hired a young up-and-coming assistant director named Michele Soavi and helped him write and finance his first feature, the wonderful giallo/slasher hybrid Stage Fright. His one good deed aside Massaccesi is a horrible director who is most famous for filming someone eating a fetus (not a real one, but people were convinced for a while – it was actually a skinned rabbit wrapped in bacon). In one of his early films – Beyond the Darkness – you see a filmmaker who is at least trying, and isn’t simply resorting to the hack tendencies of his colleagues Umberto Lenzi, Claudio Fragasso, Bruno Mattei, Jess Franco, and Ruggero Deadato.
The story kicks off on a familiar note as the sounds of Goblin pump through the speakers assuring us that at least one thing about this movie will be good…even if it sounds like recycled b-sides for their better soundtracks they composed for Argento. We meet Frankie a well-to-do 20-something who is on his way to pick up a baboon. The baboon serves no purpose except to show us that Frankie’s hobby is taxidermy. Yeah, there’s no doubt where this movie is going.
Well, Frankie’s girlfriend dies at the hands of some bad voodoo put into effect by Iris, an older woman who runs the manor that Frankie lives in (his parents, presumably, left it to him). See she wants his girlfriend out of the way so that she can have Frankie all for herself in an early demonstration of a cougar on the prowl. This movie was way ahead of its time. Frankie decides to dig up his girlfriend and inject her with new blood and body parts from victims he kills; random girls of course, and then the story just keeps getting weirder and more unnecessary. See…the whole taxidermy thing comes back into play. Brilliant!
Iris and Frankie fall in love and share some tender moments together; whether it’s her shoving her breast into his mouth in a weird psycho-sexual maternal gesture, or whether they’re hacking up victims together and melting their flesh off. It’s one big happy family:
Frankie decides he wants to keep his girlfriend’s body around, though, and in one of the films funniest scenes he seduces a girl who sprains her ankle running by his house. He invites her in – of course this is D’Amato we’re talking about so it doesn’t long before they engage in some awful soft-core banter – and the gettin’ busy commences. The only problem is that Frankie thought it would be a good idea to do it in the room where he has his girlfriend preserved in the bed right next to his.
This creates one of the films funniest shots. When the girl is horrified to see a corpse lying in the bed next to them, she (naturally) screams…so Frankie takes a bite out of her neck in a reference to the cannibalism themes that D’Amato has so often touched on. The only problem with it here is that it is completely out of nowhere. Essentially Frankie just, on a whim, decides what a great idea it would be to take a bite out of some poor girl’s neck. There’s no prior reference to his love of cannibalism and there’s no mention of it after the fact (except in an odd dinner scene that flashes between Iris burying body parts and Frankie eating a stew that looks rather suspicious).
In an odd twist to end the film the girlfriend’s twin sister shows up and Frankie gets all warm inside and begins to feel the way he used to before he started diggin’ older women. After he initially tells Iris he will marry her, he breaks it off at an odd family gathering, causing her to go crazy. The ending is all a blur because there’s nothing memorable about it.
This is your standard bad Italian horror film…and there are a lot of them, but it’s one of the charming things about this subgenre. Discovering tripe like this is fun because it’s not offensive tripe – it’s not a film that makes you feel like you completely wasted your time; rather, it’s the perfect example of the “so-bad-it’s-good” type movie where you can sit back with your friends, enjoy some adult beverages, and just have a good time watching a bad Italian horror flick. You get all the goodies you come to associate with this kind of Italian horror film: bad gore effects, a soundtrack that sounds like it has been recycled from a more popular film, bad dubbing, weird moments of eroticism that don’t work, hilariously bad dialogue, and of course a nonsensical plot that just makes you laugh at how inane it all is.
Now some people will argue that if a movie is bad then it’s not worth watching at all; that there is no such thing as a movie being “so-bad-it’s-good”. I see their point, but honestly sometimes I just want to watch something like Beyond the Darkness with my friends and laugh – I prefer these types of films to any kind of comedy released today, because these type of Italian horror movies made by hack directors elicit more genuine laughs than something like Step Brothers or The Brothers Solomon (okay, maybe not the best examples…but I caught them on Starz recently and they’ve been on my mind). Beyond the Darkness is not as fun as Virus (Mattei), Nightmare City (Lenzi), or Troll 2 (Fragassi); but it shows a director who is trying to make a decent movie and failing on so many levels because they just can’t leave their hack tendencies in the past.