Of all the Italian horror maestros whose various works I discovered and worshipped as a teenager in the analog era, none stood out quite like the great Aristide Massaccesi did. Best known by his more marketable anglicized alias Joe D'Amato, the late low-budget director/producer/writer/cinematographer/editor of sleazy European exploitation cinema cranked out nearly 200 directorial efforts alone throughout his wild ride on Earth before heading off to the world beyond in 1999. Fortunately, Joe left behind a wide and varied legacy for both the devout and the curious alike, with numerous contributions to every feasible film genre in existence, from westerns to direct-to-video pornographic Shakespearean "epics."
In fact, Joe D'Amato even helped to create (or at least establish) a few new film genres such as hardcore horror flicks. Heck, he even went to the Philippines once to make an erotic softcore fantasy which he then sold to his fellow Italians as a Chinese film, complete with a phony Chinese alias. You know, just for fun! He also helmed several wonderfully schlocky post-apocalyptic favorites such as 2020: The Texas Gladiators and Endgame (the latter of which is essentially the first film version of Stephen King's The Running Man, albeit uncredited); the infamous knockoff Conan franchise of Ator; and a series of increasingly disturbing and graphic Black Emanuelle movies with the alluring beauty of Laura Gemser.
Ultimately, however, very little Joe stamped his name on compares to his best known gross-out flick, Buio Omega. Armed with a meager budget and a heap of discarded animal innards, the film ‒ best known to English speakers as Beyond the Darkness (or Buried Alive, if you were ever fortunate enough to find a copy of that Thriller Video VHS way back when) ‒ the film tells the unbelievably disgusting tale of a young taxidermist who really veers off to the deep end of the pool when his terminally-ill fiancée dies. Now, as anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows full well, grief can make us do strange things. But I think it's safe to say anyone who digs up his late love's corpse was probably already a little off.
In the instance of our feature film's "protagonist" however, we witness the twisted young heir to an aristocratic estate go completely ape shit. Not only does he lay claim to the deceased's shell, but he also disembowels and preserves her ‒ creating not only one of the most realistic real dolls ever, but also one of the most gut-wrenching scenes ever filmed. Normally, an actor without the ability to emote too terribly much doesn't add anything to a movie (even a low-budget horror movie). But the expressionless mug of stone-faced lead Kieran Canter is so stoic, it actually adds to whatever Beyond the Darkness somehow manages to pass off as "charm," which inevitably lingers and clings to your ependymal lining like static.
Mind you, I have only touched on the beginning of the film. Believe it or not, it actually gets weirder, ensnaring its repulsed audience in as D'Amato's no-holds-barred commitment to ensure you become either vegetarian or anorexic as his messy masterpiece generously encapsulates elements from other cinematic universes. Though the film is first and foremost an uncredited remake of a little-known 1966 Franco Nero giallo entitled Il terzo occhio (The Third Eye), there's no denying D'Amato's screenwriters also saw Psycho and an Edgar Allan Poe adaptation or two. But, of course, there is no such thing as copyright infringement within the seedy realm of Italian exploitation filmmaking. Just half-cocked homages.
Put simply, Beyond the Darkness is a one-of-a-kind nosedive into things most people would prefer not to inhale the aroma of. And that's a very nice way of reminding you there is an awful lot of realistic gore in this flick, thanks to the incontrovertible brilliance of Italian special effects artists of the time, who understood full well just how useful a pig carcass could be. As if an assortment of unapologetic gory going on weren't enough to whet what little appetite might remain for the average viewer, Joe D'Amato ups the ante to his overwhelming, soul-killing experience by adding a unique soundtrack by the iconic Italian progressive-rock group Goblin ‒ which Bruno Mattei shamelessly "borrowed" immediately after.
(Like I said, there is no such thing as copyright infringement within the seedy realm of Italian exploitation filmmaking.)
But ample amounts of full frontal nudity (oh, pubic hair, how we have missed you), jaw-dropping disemboweling and dismemberments, eye-gouging, nonsurgical fingernail removal without consent, cannibalism, and untimely cremations aren't all Buio Omega has to offer you. There's also the late Franca Stoppi (who also appeared in Severin Films' recent restoration of the aforementioned Bruno Mattei's The Other Hell ‒ the same flick that stole part of Goblin's score) as Iris, the creepy housekeeper who helps Frank around the house with things like disintegrating the bodies of British stoner chicks in bathtubs full of acid. To say she loves Frank is an understatement, as evidenced by the unique way she tends to him.
(Fun Fact: I once picked this movie out for a first date with a young woman who said she wanted to watch something sleazy and gory. It worked.)
Cinzia Monreale is the (hopefully, well-imbursed) actress who plays both the dead girl and her twin sister, committing one of the most unique performances in cinematic history in the process. A somewhat Patrick Bauchau-looking fellow credited as Sam Modesto (sure) roams the film's B-roll footage as a suspicious funeral home worker who seems to think he's in a giallo. The rest of the cast is comprised of bit players and people whom even the Italian film industry would fail to provide additional work for ever again, but regular Italian film fans will more than likely recognize the talents of voiceover artists Ted Rusoff and Carolyn De Fonseca, who provided the English-dubbed voices for Kieran Canter and Franca Stoppi.
Presentation-wise, Beyond the Darkness has seen its ups and downs over the years. Long after the analog era went kaput, Shriek Show unveiled a DVD in 2002, which wasn't really the best presentation ever; a tradition Shriek Show continued with their equally disappointing (and incomplete) 2011 Blu-ray presentation. Fortunately, that situation has been rectified with this truly amazing and 100% uncut HD release from Severin Films, which arrives in the US just a few months after the 88 Films BD release in the UK. Like Bruno Mattei's The Other Hell, D'Amato's Beyond the Darkness was shot in Super 16mm ‒ but you'd never so much as suspect that after viewing this marvelous 1080p MPEG-4 AVC transfer.
Truly, this is probably the best one of horror filmdom's most notorious efforts will probably ever look. This is exemplified in that tender love scene where Kieran Canter bites into the freshly extracted heart of his lost love (oh, did I forget to mention that beforehand?), wherein you can see a sufficient amount of fine detail which may be classified as "too much" to some. What's more, Severin Films has given us English and Italian audio selections for this presentation. The English-dubbed soundtrack (which really seems to pump up the Goblin) is encoded in DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono, while the Italian audio is a slightly less dynamic DD 2.0 Mono affair. English (SDH) dubtitles are included for use with both aural options.
Special features for this very special feature are plentiful and will probably prove to be more fulfilling to fans than to newbies, but the inclusion of Joe D'Amato: The Horror Experience (an abbreviated form of the biographical documentary Joe D'Amato Totally Uncut) should serve as an excellent eye-opening introduction to Italy's most prolific filmmaker (exploitation or otherwise). The 68-minute sit-down with Joe himself (filmed shortly before his demise) dives into the meatier moments in Signori Massaccesi's career, and features big, hard-coded, yellow (and sometimes, illiterate) subtitles. Next up is a chat with the late Franca Stoppi, which was filmed at the same time as her interview included on The Other Hell.
A third interview, this time with Cinzia Monreale, also features non-removable subtitles, and gives the cult horror figurine an opportunity to revisit her infamous role, having previously discussed it in an older interview seen on the Shriek Show releases. A then-and-now look at some of the movie's filming locations (in beautiful South Tyrol, which used to be German if you're up on European history or have at least listened to the original concept album of Tim Rice's Chess) appears to be the same extra included on the new 88 Films release, and makes for an interesting (if nonlinear and, yes, also slightly illiterate) viewing. The original international export trailer is also included, which has been mastered in High-Definition.
Of course, no home video release of a movie featuring a soundtrack by Goblin would be complete without showing the legendary rock group a little love. First off is a brief reunion of the band performing in 2016. But the crowning moment for anyone well familiar with the synth-laden sounds of the score will be pleased as punch to find a Bonus Soundtrack CD. Toss in a quote on the grisly front cover attributed to Alfred Hitchcock (!) and you've got yourself another excellent Blu-ray from Severin Films. Well, providing you are capable of stomaching everything Joe D'Amato's Beyond the Darkness will throw at you. And believe me, this film throws an awful lot at you in its relentless, guiltless quest to make you throw up.
Highly Recommended (to the right sort of people, that is).