Beyond the Darkness directed by Aristide Massaccesi horror movie reviewsBeyond the Darkness directed by Aristide Massaccesi (Joe D’Amato)

Hooo, boy, is this a sick one! Jaded fans of Euro horror, lovers of the outrageous, and gorehounds in general might find their mouths opening in awe and their eyes widening in shock as they get deeper into the Italian cult item Beyond the Darkness (1979). Conflating as it does elements of voodoo, necrophilia and deep, deep psychosis, and mixing in some truly stomach-churning blood-and-guts scenes along with multiple bizarre sequences, the film is one guaranteed to impress the viewer — one way or the other. The even better news here is that the film has been very well put together by a group of genuine pros. Despite the repugnant visuals and decidedly outré subject matter, this IS a quality film, and hardly the shlock experience you might be expecting. I generally try not to include spoilers in these mini-reviews, but feel I must do so here, as it is important for prospective viewers of Beyond the Darkness (or, as it was called back in November ’79 for its original Italian release, Buio Omega) to know precisely what they are getting themselves into.

In Beyond the Darkness, we meet a handsome young man in his early 20s named Frank Wyler (surprisingly and touchingly well played by future porn star Kieran Canter). An orphaned and only child, Frank lives with his imposing housekeeper, Iris (the unforgettable Franca Stoppi, whose Iris character is such a force of nature, so demented and deadly, that she might as well be called Isis), in an imposing villa in the Italian countryside (the picture was largely shot at Bressanone, around 20 miles from the Austrian border, and makes nice use of the local color). The viewer quickly discerns that all is not quite right with Frank, however, when we see him suckling at Iris’ teat whenever he is troubled, but especially since his hobby, like that of Norman Bates before him, happens to be taxidermy; a definite red flag! And Frank does indeed carry on in Norman’s footsteps after the death of his girlfriend, Anna (Cinzia Monreale). “Death has no power to separate us,” he tells the dying woman in her hospital bed, and true to his words, he later disinters her, abducts her body from its coffin, brings her home and, with Iris’ help, uses all his great skills to preserve Anna forever. Unfortunately for Frank, though, a nosy morgue attendant, the amorous advances of Iris, and some untimely homicidal impulses on his own part keep interfering with any private time he might want to enjoy with his beautiful corpse doll…

Imaginatively directed by Aristide Massaccesi (in this film listed as Joe D’Amato) — whose filmography of over 200 pictures (!) is largely composed of both soft- and hard-core porn — and featuring still another wonderfully creepy score from Goblin, which band had achieved international renown by dint of its scores for Dario Argento’s Deep Red and Suspiria several years before, Beyond the Darkness is, as mentioned, a LOT more sophisticated, production-wise, than one might expect. Finely acted by one and all, gripping and suspenseful, the film is most assuredly deserving of its cult status today. As for those sickening visuals, most of which the film front-loads into its first half, we have close-ups of hypodermics entering flesh; Frank’s eviscerating taxidermy operation on Anna, from its opening incision to its offal-tossing close (viewers who are able to watch this sequence without getting queasy might consider themselves future candidates for the surgical profession!); Frank pulling off the fingernails of a stoned female hitchhiker who has stumbled into his lab; Iris hacking up that hitchhiker with a butcher’s cleaver before dumping the limbs into an acid bath; Frank barfing into the camera; Frank biting out the throat of another young woman and, strangely, eating the ripped-out chunk; the burning of a female victim in the villa’s handy crematory-style incinerator (no psycho’s home should be without one!); various knifings and an eye gouging.

But even these exploitative shock elements pale in comparison with the film’s constant barrage of weird situations and bizarre sequences: Frank suckling on Iris and receiving a handj … I mean, manual pleasure from her; Frank’s nighttime grave robbing; Frank picking up that hitchhiker while Anna’s corpse lays just inches away; Frank, for some odd reason, eating Anna’s heart raw during the evisceration; the lovemaking scene in which Frank gets it on with a beautiful jogger, whilst gazing at Anna’s corpse in the neighboring bed; Frank and Iris’ engagement dinner party; Frank, soon after, giving Iris two tremendous punches to the face; the scene in which Frank kisses the Anna corpse squarely on the mouth; and the scene in which Iris tries to scare Anna’s twin sister to death … using Anna’s body! Yes, the film grows more and more amazing as it proceeds, and its final five seconds constitute a WTF moment guaranteed to mystify … AND startle the crap out of you!

An extreme instance of graphic and twisted Euro horror, to be sure, but also, somehow, quite sweet. I mean, the depth of Frank’s love for Anna is touching, and the lengths he is willing to go to keep her with him quite romantic … in a psycho sort of way, natch! Further good news regarding Beyond the Darkness: It is currently available on a great-looking Media Blasters/Shriek Show DVD, replete with many fine extras. In one, the modern-day Cinzia Monreale shares her memories of making the film around 30 years earlier. Amazingly, Cinzia looks even better today than she did as a young cadaver three decades ago. Even Frank might have been stunned to see her so well preserved!


  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....