Joe D’Amato Reflection – Beyond The Darkness (1979)

Buio-omega-poster

Since I’ve been reflecting upon Joe D’Amato’s contributions to the list of Video nasties, I think it will be quite poignant to reflect upon a Joe D’Amato film that didn’t make it onto the video nasties list, but, in my opinion, definitely qualifies for that title. Beyond The Darkness (AKA Buio Omega) was made in 1979, one year before Anthropophagous, and, in contrast to the previous Joe D’Amato movies I’ve covered, it is neither starring nor was it written by George Eastman. As it stands, Beyond The Darkness is a straight Joe D’Amato horror flick with all the blood, sex and gore that a Joe D’Amato flick is famous for. From the ground up, Beyond The Darkness is a film that is supposed to be one-hundred percent repulsive and violent. It’s disgusting, exploitive and nasty, what with Joe D’Amato confirming during an interview that “I personally opted for the most unrestrained gore, since I don’t consider myself very skillful at creating suspense” which, in all fairness, is quite self-aware of the Italian Director because he really isn’t skillful at creating suspense if Anthropophagous and Absurd are anything to go by. The end result, however, is a movie that divulges in all manner of gut-wrenching extremity, especially for 1979 and especially during an era where the majority of violent films were still quite restrained before the rise of gore focused films in the 1980s, which Joe D’Amato arguably started himself with Anthropophagous in 1980.

However, the most curious thing about Beyond The Darkness is the fact that it’s not an original movie, the film is actually a remake of a forgotten Italian macabre horror film from 1960 called The Third Eye, a film most notable for being an early feature role for Franco Nero (Django 1966). Both films follow a very similar plot: a young count with a hobby in Taxidermy has his wife to be murdered by his obsessive maid. The count then decides to Taxidermy his wife and keep her with him whilst pursuing a one-sided relationship with the obsessive maid, all the while bringing home other women to sleep with and eventually murder in an uncontrollable bloodlust. The main differences between the two movies is the fact that whilst the plot is largely the same, The Third Eye was a low budget, macabre film that relied on suspense and character interactions to create a dark (if somewhat underwhelming) atmosphere, whereas Beyond The Darkness is a film that places more emphasis on perversion, exploitation and bucketloads of gore. The film contains scenes of such acts as cannibalism, torture, mutilation, erotic lactation, autopsy, eye-gouging and death by burning; none of which were ever featured in the original The Third Eye, but instead were added into this movie because Aristide Massaccesi, when making films under the moniker of Joe D’Amato, only makes very exploitative films to titillate gore hounds and purveyors of nasty cinema (such as myself).

However, upon reflection, I can actually say that I enjoyed Beyond The Darkness more than The Third Eye, though that increased level of enjoyment is minimal. The Third Eye, despite it’s promising premise, was quite a mixed bag affair what with the pacing becoming almost too slow to bear at times, and the more macabre and frightening ideas being used underwhelmingly infrequent instead of being explored completely, however the character relationships were strong and the plot played with some quite interesting themes of grief and insanity. Beyond The Darkness, in contrast, actually does explore the dark and macabre subjects that The Third Eye under-utilized, albeit in a exploitative way, however it does miss out on the strong character relationships and themes of grief and insanity. Because of this, I found Beyond The Darkness to be more entertaining, more enjoyable, and more memorable than The Third Eye mainly because it had a more visceral impact and the plot was far more entertaining than The Third Eye despite the discrepancies.

That being said though, Beyond The Darkness is far from being a great film as it has numerous problems. Firstly, if Joe D’Amato knows that he isn’t skillful at creating suspense, then why is a lot of the film focused on creating slow suspense? Beyond The Darkness isn’t a fast-paced movie, not like Absurd at least. It’s pacing is rather slow. There’s an emphasis on mystery and suspense, with scenes of gore being heavy but far between. The problem with this approach that Joe D’Amato can’t build suspense that well, at least not as well as his contemporaries such as Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, so a lot of the slower scenes really just come off as boring and unimpressive with nothing going on. This is combined with a lot of scenes that are really just pointless, nonsensical and only added in to get a ‘shock’ reaction from a viewer, which didn’t as much shock me personally, but rather pulled me away from my immersion. This film may have gone all out to create a ‘repulsive’ experience, or at least according to lead actress Franca Stoppi, but this ‘repulsion’ comes at the expense of plot and sensibility, leading to many, many plot holes and confusing plotlines throughout the movie. For example, the first victim is disposed of via acid and dismemberment when later on down the road it is revealed that there is a working Cremation Furnace in the basement where the main character killed the poor woman to begin with. Why risk a long winded, messy process that uses up precious materials used in autopsy/taxidermy when you can just burn the evidence, especially when you know that the police are on your tail? It makes no sense to me plot-wise, but that’s the type of film that Beyond The Darkness is: nonsensical, repulsive, and one definitely needs a stern sense of disbelief if they’re going to enjoy the film to its maximum.

In comparison to what’s shown on screen, Beyond The Darkness does have quite a commendable production quality behind it. This film clearly demonstrates Joe D’Amato’s talents are much more suited to camerawork rather than directing, which is how Joe D’Amato go started in the Italian film industry. In Beyond The Darkness, Joe D’Amato (as Aristide Massacesi) is also the Director Of Photography and much like Absurd (which I had neglected to mention he was Director Of Photography on that film as well because he used yet another alias) the camera work is very creative ad somewhat stylish. However, Beyond The Darkness really shows off Joe D’Amato’s work as Director Of Photography. He utilizes various clever, creative angles that when combined with the film’s dynamic lighting and extraordinarily visual set design, create an identifiable, very memorable visual style that adds a new level to the film’s visual impact. Most importantly, however, the camerawork is the backbone of the gorier scenes that Beyond The Darkness has to offer. Through the use of both effective special effects and very clever camera angles, Beyond The Darkness definitely stakes its claim as one of the more gorier films to be released in the 1970s. The camera angles creating a sense of realism to the effects because it hides a lot of the special effects, instead of passing off sub-par special effects as real which usually happens in many contemporary gore films.

The gore itself is gruesome to behold. Combined with the realism of the camera angles, scenes  of autopsies, dismemberment, eye-gouging and mutilation are very effective to witness, much more effective than anything that I witnessed in Anthropophagous or Absurd. I personally think it’s safe to say that Beyond The Darkness is far more gorier and disgustingly nasty than Anthropophagous or Absurd. However, that does leave a lingering question in my mind: if that was the case, then why wasn’t it banned in 1984 like Joe D’Amato’s other works that I have covered? After doing a bit of research with whatever little information that I can find on this movie, it seems to occur to me that perhaps Beyond The Darkness just wasn’t released in England, although I cannot fathom why that may be the case. Maybe British video distributors saw more profit in a film with a man eating his own intestines on the front cover literally called ‘cannibal’ instead of a film with an artistic front cover that looks like it might have had effort put into it? Maybe the film was too expensive to buy in comparison to the other films? Or maybe it actually was released and just went over the heads of the conservative parliament and Mary Whitehouse’s moral standards group. Either way, Beyond The Darkness was arguably Joe D’Amato’s greatest contribution to the horror genre, even though it never saw the popularity of Anthropophagous or Absurd thanks to the fact it was kept off of the DPP’s prosecution list.

For me, however, Beyond The Darkness is just a little bit better than either Anthropophagous or Absurd. It’s more competently made with better production and much better music (thanks to famous Italian Prog Rock band Goblin (or The Goblins), who I guarantee will make multiple appearances as I go through these Video Nasty films.) Not a great film, but not a terrible film either. Joe D’Amato’s greatest effort, but sadly that’s rather telling of his skills as a director. His great skills as a Director Of Photography, however, I’ll be talking more about later on down the line…

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