Color, 1979, 94 mins. 18 secs.
Directed by Joe D'Amato
Starring Kieran Canter, Cinzia Monreale, Franca Stoppi, Sam Modesto, Anna Cardini
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), 88 Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Media Blasters (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9),

Beyond the DarknessBeyond the DarknessOne of the more notorious Italian horror films from the genre's most extreme period (released the same year as Cannibal Holocaust, in fact), Beyond the Darkness (known in Italy as Buio Omega) is arguably the best film by director Joe D'Amato, who found a perfect balance here between stomach-churning grotesqueness and dark poetry. It's a grubby, foul-tempered little film, of course, but it really put D'Amato on track as a horror filmmaker after a long break since his 1973 debut, Death Smiles on a Murderer. The director had injected grotesque elements in many of his erotic films in between, of course, particularly in his Black Emanuelle cycle (which worked in flesh-eating cannibals and snuff films among other things), but here he set the pace for what would become some of his biggest international successes with Anthropophagus (a.k.a. The Grim Reaper) and the delirious Absurd.

Young man Frank Wyler (Canter) lives in the Italian countryside in an elegant home he inherited from his late parents, where he lives with his stern and manipulative housekeeper, Iris (The Other Hell's Stoppi). Frank regularly indulges in taxidermy and pays regular visits to his girlfriend, Anna (The Beyond's Monreale), who's terminally ill and languishing in Beyond the Darknessthe hospital. One afternoon news arrives that Anna isn't going to Beyond the Darknessmake it, and Frank barely arrives in time for her to die in his arms. Stricken with grief and losing his grasp on sanity, Frank injects a strong preserving agent in her neck before the funeral and later resorts to digging up Anna's body, disemboweling her in the basement, and preserving her in his bedroom after killing a jogger he's picked up and sinking his teeth into Anna's ripped-out heart. Iris's twisted infatuation with Frank comes to a head as he continues to bring young women home for necrophiliac games, complicated further by the arrival of an unexpected guest and a rapidly escalating body count.

Taking its story structure from the 1966 Franco Nero chiller The Third Eye, this film wasn't a major English-language success in theaters (as Buried Alive in the U.S.) but turned out to be ideally suited for the VHS craze that soon earned it a massive fan base among Italian horror junkies. In England it was flagged as a video nasty, while in America it was released by Thriller Video in 1986 as one of a handful of Aquarius Releasing films Beyond the Darkness(along with Make Them Die Slowly and 7 Beyond the DarknessDoors of Death) deemed too extreme or trashy to be introduced by the label's regular hostess, Elvira. It's definitely the kind of film that grabs your attention with a cavalcade of perverse shocks, be it the prolonged and graphic treatment of Anna's corpse, a cringe-inducing bit involving fingernails and a pair of pliers, or Iris's "maternal" comforting of Frank that gives Burial Ground a run for its money. Stoppi gets the showiest role here by far and is perfectly cast, with her severe features and pulled-back hair conveying everything you need to know about her character at first glance. Monreale and Canter are also effective, using their good looks as a counterpoint to the overripe decor and grisly imagery on display, and the effective, pounding score by Goblin (hot on the heels of Dawn of the Dead!) has also played a major role in this film's enduring popularity.

Beyond the Darkness was shot cheaply on 16mm film, which means that it looks pretty awful projected in theaters blown up to 35mm and has always had a fairly seedy, grungy appearance on home video. The Beyond the Darknessfirst DVD release in 2002 from Media Blasters were very underwhelming, overmatted at 1.85:1 and interlaced to boot. (It's worth Beyond the Darknessnoting that some signs of damaged in isolated shots of the film, especially some stain lines visible around the 93-minute mark, are actually baked into the negative and not a transfer issue.) Nine years later, they revisited the film for a Blu-ray release (dual-format with the old DVD included) that didn't set the world on fire. The framing was correctly adjusted to 1.66:1, but the film had a dull, underwhelming appearance hobbled by some indifferent compression and the fact that a transitional scene just after the credits showing Canter transporting the body of a baboon into the house was inexplicably missing. That version clocks in at 93m46s, almost half a minute shorter, with some company production credits tacked at the end to fill out the missing time. Both formats contain a selected audio commentary with art director Donatella Donati and moderators Kit Gavin and Mike Baronas, as well as a Cinzia Monreale interview (9m57s), a stills gallery, and bonus trailers.

88 Films issued the film uncut in the UK as separate Blu-ray and DVD releases, and right off the bat it's obvious that the transfer doesn't look like any of the others. The 1.66:1 presentation has a much flatter, green and yellow cast throughout, which results in a significantly different viewing experience. The DTS-HD MA audio options include the English track and the Italian one, Beyond the Darknesswhich Beyond the Darknessis presented with accurate English-translated subtitles. "Omega Rising: Remembering Joe D’Amato" (68m52s) offers a comprehensive overview of his career including a bit of footage with the man himself and lengthy chats with George Eastman, Michele Soavi, composer Carlo Maria Cordio, Claudio Fragasso, and writer Rossella Drudi. It's a big disjointed at times but paints a very warm portrait of the beloved director, a self-described craftsman who had no qualms about any genre he worked in as long as he was still making films. "Locations Revisited" (20m5s) offers an extensive, very informative then-and-now look at some familiar sights in the beautiful Italian town of Brixen. Also included are the trailer and the Italian opening and closing credits from the film's heavily edited 1986 Italian reissue version, In Quella Casa - Buio Omega. The package also contains a liner notes booklet by Adrian Smith discussing the film's turbulent BBFC history, which include several heavily trimmed versions in the UK before this uncensored one.

In 2017, Severin Films brought the film back into U.S. circulation with separate Blu-ray and DVD editions featuring yet another wrinkle in the history of this film's transfers. It's by far the healthiest looking of the batch so far with natural colors (the flesh tones look dead on and the blood is a perfect red), extra image info visible in the frame despite the same 1.66:1 framing, and an admirable adherence to the film's grainy aesthetic without trying to smooth it out or prettify anything. The usual English version is included as a DTS-HD Beyond the DarknessMA Beyond the DarknessEnglish mono track, while the Italian one is included as lossy Dolby Digital; the latter's status as an afterthought is cemented by the English subtitles, the one area where this release really drops the ball by only including dubtitles for the English version -- and they're SDH, which means they're good for hearing impaired viewers (lots of audio designations like "electronic beeping" and "screams") but essentially useless if you're trying to watch the Italian version. It's subjective which language track is preferable; more often the actors are in synch for the Italian one, but they sound dubbed in both and neither one match up perfectly for a decent amount of the running time, not an uncommon occurrence in Italian genre fims.

On the extras side, "Joe D'Amato: The Horror Experience" (68m21s) presents a lengthy interview with the late filmmaker about his macabre cinema career (a little bit of it was seen in the doc on the 88 Films disc), starting off with Death Smiles (which he regards with fondness and signed with his real name, Aristide Massaccesi) and going through Emanuelle in America (including a nasty legal threat that took his passport away), Emanuelle and the Cannibals ("I'm just a copycat!"), Images in a Convent, Porno Holocaust (including a graphic clip illustrating the big zombie member), Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, Sesso Nero, Caligula: The Untold Story, Anthropophagus, Absurd, and Stagefright, with a digression about the nature of film censorship. Actors George Eastman, Al Cliver, and Donald O'Brien are also seen in Beyond the Darknessoccasional interview snippets, resulting in an avalanche of anecdotes from everyone involved about animal guts, gambling, deflowering someone in a swimming pool, and lots more. (You'll probably be shocked by the film Beyond the Darknesshe cites as the best he ever made, too.) Stoppi appears next in "The Omega Woman" (15m41), cheerfully recalling having to dye her hair for the film, kicking her leading man in the crotch, and sitting incognito among a crowd watching the film in a theater, while Monreale appears for "Sick Love" (8m47s), recalling her fondness for D'Amato, the lack of discomfort with the disembowelment scene, and the makeup trickery that made her appear dead on camera. Both of these are Freak-o-Rama featurettes and quite entertaining -- and between them you also learn that both actresses had some romantic involvement with Canter either before or after the production, which is odd to bear in mind when you watch the actual film. It's a shame no one has been able to snag an interview yet with Canter himself; after this he moved on to a few soft and hardcore films (including the crazed L'amante bisex) and even the Pia Zadora vehicle The Lonely Lady before embarking on a current school bus coordinator career in Rome. That's a story that just has to be captured one of these days. Goblin Reborn, one of the two iterations of the legendary band currently touring the world, can also be seen performing the film's theme live (4m17s) in 2016, and "Locations Revisited" and the English trailer are included as well. The Blu-ray edition also comes with a bonus CD soundtrack, the remastered 24-track version reissued in Italy versus the original 15-track one from Cinevox (which had the stereo channels reversed).

88 FILMS BLU-RAY FRAME GRABS

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MEDIA BLASTERS BLU-RAY FRAME GRABS

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Reviewed on July 25, 2017.