Color, 1990, 92 mins. 42 secs.
Directed by Claudio Fragasso
Starring David Brandon, Barbara Bingham, Gene LeBrock, Michael Stephenson, Theresa Walker, Stephen Brown, Mary Coulson
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), 88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
Italian horror films from the latter part of the '80s and into the early '90s can be a confusing swamp of unrelated "sequels" and film series whose entries have no rational connection to each other, as anyone who's stumbled onto the many Zombie / Zombi and Demons / Demoni films can attest. A strong competitor for the most baffling of them all has to be the La Casa series, which began with the retitlings of Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 before turning into a weird cottage industry for Filmirage, Joe D'Amato's production company behind a slew of horror and erotic films that mostly went straight to video everywhere outside Italy. La Casa 5 is the Italian title for a film originally conceived as Beyond Darkness by the writing and directing team of Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi, but the fact that most of the action takes place in a house made it a marketing natural to follow La Casa 3 (better known to us as Ghosthouse) and La Casa 4, a.k.a. the Linda Blair supernatural romp Witchery. Oddly enough, Beyond Darkness actually turned out to be the most accomplished of Fragasso's horror films, featuring some solid shocks and a striking visual style. In fact, it's a bit of an odd film out in a career filled with shaggier fare like Monster Dog, Robowar, Night Killer, and the immortal Troll 2, and Beyond Darkness is still a modest buried gem of sorts for fans willing to dig around during the waning days of Italian VHS horror oddities.
At the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Father George (Stage Fright's Brandon) is called in to administer last rites to the very unrepentant murder Bette (Coulson), who promises "We'll be together in hell!" and seems to be surrounded by ghostly children on her way to the electric chair. After the execution, he's engulfed by a white light and again sees the spirits of her pint-sized victims, which is enough to send him away from the church into a drunken downward spiral. A year later his successor, Father Peter (LeBrock), moves into that familiar Otis House (from The Beyond and Killing Birds, among others) with his wife, Annie (Bingham), and their kids, Martin (Troll 2's Stephenson) and Carole (Walker). Right away Carole's hanging around a giant glowing hole in the wall, objects start moving around, and it becomes clear that Bette is reaching out from the beyond the grave to claim more victims through the house, the site of a mass witch execution. Can Father George offer salvation and fight off his inner demons to help the new arrival and his family cleanse the house, or will the demonic murderer gain the upper hand?
With its recurring blasts of bleached-white lighting and pounding electronic score by Carlo Maria Cordio (Aenigma), this is unmistakably a late '80s Italian horror film all the way with lots of sweaty Louisiana scenery also in keeping with the usual Filmirage look of the period. The story itself may be fairly rote stuff, but the spookshow approach actually works here with the second half essentially turning into a Fulci-esque parade of shock effects as all hell breaks loose in the house. It doesn't hurt having Brandon aboard; probably the best actor in the entire stable of D'Amato and company, he gets to go from slovenly bum to holy avenger and everything in between without missing a beat. The other actors are, shall we say, a lot more limited, but they don't hurt the film and function well enough as much as the script will allow.
Released on VHS by Imperial back in the early '90s, Beyond Darkness never really got the wide circulation afforded to some of the label's other films from the era. Scream Factory issued it on Blu-ray in 2015 paired up with Metamorphosis (making it an unofficial LeBrock double bill) with only a trailer as an extra; as with the other Scream Factory Filmiramge twofer around the same time, Witchery and Ghosthouse, the film is colorful and accurately framed but plagued by wildly overzealous noise reduction that scrubs out all fine detail and film grain. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track is satisfying for what amounts to a typical mix from the time, with optional English subtities; the film was shot in entirely in English with most of the actors' real voices, so that's the preferred option anyway. In 2020, 88 Films bowed the film on U.K. Blu-ray featuring the same scan, outfitted with new extras including an audio commentary by this writer and Troy Howarth, a "Hammond and Hair Loss" (13m35s) interview with Cordio, and "Filmirage Memories" (27m23s) with Umberto Lenzi's daughter, Alessandra. The limited first pressing also comes with a slipcase and an insert booklet with liner notes by Chloe Leigh Taylor.
In 2021, Severin Films gave the film its second U.S. release as a two-disc special edition including a soundtrack CD that marks the first release in any format of Cordio's score (which overlaps with some of his work on Witchery). It features the same Filmirage-sourced scan and English track, though here you also get the Italian track with correctly translated English subs (plus English SDH subtitles for the main track). In addition to the trailer, the disc comes with three new featurettes starting with Fragasso in "Beyond Possession" (37m16s) chatting about the whole La Casa situation, the genesis of the script, the influence of The Exorcist, and the execution of the special effects. Then it's Drudi's turn in "The Devil in Mrs. Drudi" (22m50s) as she talks about developing the script, her fascination with demonic topics and cults, the weird story behind a skin-crawling book, the genesis of the demon Ameth used in the film, and her later encounters with kids freaked out by the movie. Finally in "The Sign of the Cross" (28m45s), Brandon shares his extremely detailed and precise memories from the shoot including a memorable interaction dressed in his priest garb, his fascination with the New Orleans locales, his preference for vomiting stage blood instead of foam, and the filming of that guerrilla "man on the street" sequence. The Blu-ray also came with a limited slipcover if you moved fast featuring an "unpromotable" title that rhymes with Weevil Head Hive.
Reviewed on June 27, 2021