Beyond the Darkness (Italy, 1979)
Let’s establish something here: Italian horror films can be fucking weird. Whether it’s the dream logic of an Argento giallo, the outright surrealism of Fulci’s The Beyond or the dizzy mania of Dellamorte Dellamore, Italian film-makers often take unusual approaches to style and storytelling rarely seen from their British or American counterparts.
In Beyond the Darkness, Joe D’Amato (probably better known for Anthropophagus) tells us a classic story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl to housekeeper’s black magic death curse, boy digs up girl’s body in the dead of night, boy eviscerates and embalms girl before taking her to his bed, boy goes on to kill a lot of people for no very good reason. The meandering storyline takes in murder, taxidermy, necrophilia, cannibalism and torture. There is eye gouging, fingernail ripping and dismemberment galore, presented with unflinching, low-budget glee.
As you might have inferred, this is not a subtle film. There are scenes of profound gore and violence, often involving free use of animal viscera. The end result is nowhere near as nasty as it should be, though, as almost every aspect of the film is deliriously demented. This includes a typically off-kilter score by The Goblins.
My time watching Beyond the Darkness was pretty evenly split between recoiling, laughing helplessly and staring open-mouthed in disbelief. Characters take stupefying ill-advised action throughout, ensuring problems escalate or creating new ones completely unnecessarily. For example, Frank, our protagonist, leaves a stoned hitch-hiker sleeping in his nearby van (garaged in the next room over) while preserving his girlfriend’s corpse and then seems genuinely surprised when the hitch-hiker walks in on the act. This isn’t a film for nit-picking, though — you either have to engage with the wilful insanity or find another activity that won’t scramble as many neurons, like huffing glue or practising headers with bricks.
This is the first D’Amato film I’ve knowingly seen, which is odd considering that he made 200 of them. Most seem to be soft core porn of some description, but he made a handful of other horror films as well. After looking through his page on Wikipedia (his IMDB page often fails to render properly, perhaps out of embarrassment), films like Porno Holocaust, Anal Paprika and Papaya, Love Goddess of the Cannibals are calling. It may be too late for me.