Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Beyond the Darkness (aka Buio Omega) (1979)

"I was beginning to suspect my husband was cheating on me."

It's been a while since I've reviewed some trashy Italian horror, so who better to turn to than the King of Trash, Aristide Massaccesi, better known as Joe D'Amato. I've reviewed a few D'Amato films, from post-apocalyptic actioners to lousy zombie sequels, but this one is probably one of his best known. Beyond the Darkness (aka Buio Omega) rode the wave of gory shock films that peaked in the late 70s, combining copious nudity with fetishistic gore.

As far as creepy hobbies go, taxidermy has to be one of the creepiest. Sure it starts innocently enough: A squirrel here, a baboon there, but pretty soon you're looking down at the body of your dead girlfriend and thinking how good she'd look on the wall of your trophy room. Enter Frankie (Keiran Canter), recent heir to a huge fortune and a remote countryside villa complete with it's own mortuary and crematorium. Convenient! After getting a call from the hospital about his sick girlfriend Anna, he rushes to her bedside (bowling over a patient who mutters "Where'd you get your license?" despite the fact that they're both walking) and sneaks one last kiss before she shuffles off her mortal coil.

Sure enough, he starts discreetly shooting her up with formaldehyde while she's at the funeral parlour (witnessed by a nosy mortician, more on him later) and the night after the funeral he grabs a shovel and heads out to the graveyard in his bright red van. It's grave robbing time! Unfortunately he gets a flat tyre on the way back, and by the time he's changed it a chubby stoner (with a ridiculous accent that would make Eliza Doolittle cringe) has climbed into the passenger seat and demands transportation. Pretty soon she's taken a pot-induced trip to Sleepytown, and for some reason Frankie goes home and leaves her snoozing in the van while he starts work on Anna.

This is probably the big gory set piece of the film. Frankie cuts open her body and rips out intestines, livers and various other organs and unceremoniously dumps them in a bucket. Now, I'm no mortician, but isn't this the kind of stuff the funeral parlour should have taken care of earlier? What are they being paid for? He even shoves a couple of tubes up her nose and proceeds to pump her brains into a big jar. It treats the whole embalming process with a perverse attention to detail, and D'Amato's stark, lingering camerawork doesn't help. It's almost pornographic, and considering D'Amato's body of work that isn't surprising. The hitchhiker wakes up and stumbles across Frankie right when he's busy replacing Anna's eyes with some glass substitutes. As she is backing out of the room she knocks over the bucket o' guts, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who wished she had actually got her foot stuck in the bucket and tried to hobble her way to safety, sloshing entrails all over the place. A real missed opportunity. Frankie calmly finishes the job, chases her down, pulls out all of her fingernails with a pair of pliers and smothers her with a towel.

Well great, now he's got two bodies to take care of. Luckily he's got an accomplice by the name of Iris (Franca Stoppi from The Other Hell, in "severe matriarch" mode). She's the housekeeper, and her relationship with Frankie could charitably be described as "dysfunctional". She's actually the one responsible for Anna's illness (via voodoo magic), and while she's none too happy about him keeping Anna around the house post-mortem, she is more than happy to help him dispose of bodies and even give him the occasional handjob when he's feeling down. I know she means well, but she's got to realise that this kind of enabling behaviour is just preventing him from reaching his full potential. And while the debate about the benefits of breastfeeding still rages on today, I think we can all agree that it's time to stop once he's pushing thirty.

For some reason they have half a dozen huge bottles of acid lying around, so Iris gets to work carving up the hitchhiker's jiggly naked body with a cleaver while Frankie dumps the various bits and pieces in the bathtub. In a nice touch, a half-dissolved head bobs to the surface, complete with eyeball. After dumping the resulting slurry in a pit, the two of them sit down to nice chunky stew and Iris's atrocious table manners (she could have at least taken off her leather apron and washed her hands) have Frankie puking in the corner. She takes a strange delight in this. It's kind of weird.

Now murders are much like rich, chocolaty Tim-Tams in that it's difficult to stop at just one. By the next morning Frankie is out chatting up an injured jogger, who can't see past his smiling facade of feathered hair, v-neck jumpers and high-waisted slacks. Unfortunately for her, Frankie is gunning for some sort of necrophiliac three-way, making out with her on the very same bed where Anna is lying under the covers. When she spies Anna's corpse and starts screaming, Frankie takes a huge chomp out of her throat and soon they've got another body on their hands. To the crematorium!

While all of this is going on, that nosy mortician is sneaking around, trying to gather evidence of Frankie's shenanigans for blackmailing purposes. Frankie seems pretty careless with his evidence, but luckily Iris is on the ball. She even moves Anna's body to the wardrobe but leaves a big suspicious lump in the bed for him to find. Psyche! The cops also show up at one point but Frankie's nervous explanation seems to satisfy them.

Eventually Anna's sister shows up on Frankie's doorstep, a spitting image of her sibling, and Frankie is smitten. This is too much for the jealous Iris, who starts chasing after her with a butcher knife. Frankie catches Iris in the act and they end up in a battle royale that results in lacerated cheeks, gouged out eyes and stabbed groins. Frankie gasps his final breath just as the mortician arrives with his incriminating photos, resulting in a silly final twist that I guess was supposed to be shocking.

Although there is a lot of nudity (naturally the hottest girl, the jogger, doesn't get naked) but don't expect any explicit sex scenes. Those expecting necrophilia-based pornography should go elsewhere, preferably to their nearest mental health clinic. The film tries to make up for it with gore. Apparently when the film was released some people thought D'Amato used real cadavers, but the effects aren't anything that couldn't be achieved with some foam latex and (literally) a bucket of pig guts. Some of the effects are pretty sloppy (the glass eye insertion scene, for instance) but most are well-realised. Eponymous prog-rockers Goblin provided the soundtrack, but it isn't one of their better efforts, repetitive and synth-heavy, with no memorable hooks. That didn't stop Bruno Mattei from using it again in The Other Hell but when did a lack of quality stop him from doing anything?

This film could have been a gore-soaked meditation on love and loss and Frankie's own battle to get out from under the thumb of his psychotic housekeeper. It didn't take that direction, however. Iris and Frankie are both incorrigable weirdos with no real motivation given for their psychological problems. Their behaviour is often inexplicable. Granted this is probably due to a poor script and a lack of craft, but it does give the film a surreal quality where you feel like anything could happen. Although for long stretches nothing actually does happen, so don't expect a non-stop gorefest. As far as D'Amato goes, you could do worse. If you're looking for a D'Amato film and you're not in the mood for historically-themed hardcore pornography (which really narrows your options), this is probably one of your better picks.

No comments: