Don’t Mind the Glowing, Ominous Hole in the Wall. That’s Just a Gateway to Evil. “Beyond Darkness” reviewed! (Severin / Blu-ray)

A witch acolyte of Ameth, an underworld demon, is executed on multiple counts of child murder.  The priest who oversaw the witch’s last rites came in with a doubtful heart and upon researching Ameth through an unholy book, disavowed his own religion only to fall into a near drunken stupor of atheism.  Months later, a new priest and his family move into a home arranged by the archdiocese, but soon after settling into the old house, a series of disturbances point to a closed in wall behind a door that’s uncovered to be a gateway to another plane of existence; an existence where the child killing witch is granted access to seek the souls of the priest’s young children.  Fighting with his own struggles of faith, the ex-Jesuit assists the priest and his family in an attempt to cast out evil once and for all. 

Perhaps common knowledge amongst diehard horror fans, but not so much among the casual curiosities of an oblique coursed moviegoer is the fact that “Beyond Darkness” and Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” share a cinematic series connection.  Well, not one in any official capacity one at least.  Drained from the same bloody vain that unofficially corrals Lucio Fulci’s “Zombi 2” as a sequel to George Romero’s “Day of the Dead,” retitled in Italy as “Zombi,” the American-made, Italian-orchestrated “Beyond Darkness” too fell upon the slew of Italian title changes sword with a rechristening into the “La Casa” series.  With the success of “The Evil Dead” in the U.S., Raimi’s video nasty was renamed to “La Case” and “Beyond Darkness” became the fifth “sequel” in the series as “La Casa 5.”  Since Italy has no copywrite laws, a light breeze can easily change any filmic title.  Even the director, Clyde Anderson, dons a false pretense as the Americanized alter ego of Italian director Claudio Fragasso.  The “Scalps” and “Troll 2” Fragasso pens “Beyond Darkness” with longtime script confederate Rossella Drudi, under the Sarah Asproon pseudonym.  “Beyond Darkness” is shot in the deep American South of Louisiana under the Joe D’Amato (aka Aristide Massaccesi) founded Filmirage (“Anthropophagus: The Grim Reaper,” “Deep Blood”), produced by D’Amato, as the Filmirage Production Group.

While behind the camera is mostly an Italian production team, in front of the camera is a cast of American and English actors with an opening Louisiana penitentiary pre-execution theology debate between Bette the witch, played by Mary Coulson, and Father George, a priest having a crisis of faith, played by one of D’Amato’s regulars in English actor David Brandon (“StageFright,” “The Emperor Caligula:  The Untold Story”).  Coulson’s role may be punitively small as the “Beyond Darkness’” lead witch and predominant face of the core evil, but the actress puts all into the Bette character comprised of a maniacal laugh and a lots of very European skin-tag makeup effects whereas the classically trained David Brandon has an array of lively emotions and facial expressions sized to fit Father George’s clerical shirt and white tab collar when he’s not sloshed with doubt.  Both characters interweave into the life of a new-to-the-area priest, his wife, and two kids who move into an old house, built on unholy ground, to start his new chapter in priesthood.  Days later, as the kids become instantly okay with a giant black swam rocking horse in the middle of their bedroom, the family is terrorized by flying kitchenware, flooded with a bayou mist, and frightened by figures in black, tattered shrouds seeking to steal their children’s souls.  Christopher Reeve’s lookalike Gene LeBrock (“Night of the Beast”) fails at double father duty in his poorly lit excuse of a worried father with his children being lured to the realm of the spirit side and as a grounded in faith Father combating the forces of evil without a solid sense of what to do.  Both parents are equally written off as incompetents who continue to stay in the house despite on the continuous threat of Baba Yaga wannabes knocking at every door in the house.  As the mother, Barbara Bingham felt as if she had a little more skin the game.  Perhaps having just come off the legacy success of a “Friday the 13th” sequel (“Jason Takes Manhatten”) she felt the responsibility of maintaining a more diligent approach toward being a mother coursing through occult’s dire straits.   Michael Paul Stephenson (“Trolls 2) and Theresa Walker excel much better in their roles as the two kids, Martin and Carole, who’ve become the centerpiece of Bette’s maliceful desires. 

“Beyond Darkness” will come across as very familiar amongst both horror fans and fans of movies in general with a story pulling inspiration from films like William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” and Tobe Hooper’s “Poltergeist.”  Fragasso picks and chooses a blanket of trope elements to rework with great malleably in order to not be a total copy.  However, for those who know anything about low-budget Italian horror, Fragasso’s rousing similarities to major and independent hits should come as no surprise.  Notoriously renowned schlock horror directors Joe D’Amato and Bruno Mattei, amongst a sea of others, use to fabricate out of fame at every opportunity by gobbling up successful films, chewing them up, and spitting out their Italian produced counterparts without a second thought just to cash in on just a fraction of the original narrative’s success.  The way I see it, the method was (and still is) an honorable form of flattery. Yet, flattery doesn’t cure sloppiness and “Beyond Darkness” is about as sloppy as sloppy joes. Plot hole after plot hole stack up on Fragasso’s inability to amalgamate elements in an entirely coherent way. There are underwhelming revelations to anticipating character build ups that fizzle; such as a thick-tension mystery behind the local archdiocese and their involvement to place a good Christian family in a house built on evil land or what precisely convinced Father George of Ameth’s power to sink him into an alcoholic pit of despair? I already mentioned Martin and Carole’s inept parents on not fleeing the house at first sign of poltergeist activity or any activity since then so don’t get me started. The story needs some fine tuning but not after is amiss. The acting is not entirely a humdrum of monotony, Carlo M. Cordio’s eclectic synthesizer riff and haunting keynotes score is on another level akin to a composition pulled right out of a survival horror video game, and Larry J. Fraser, another one of Joe D’Amato’s pseudonyms, has an honesty about his scenes unlike we’ve ever seen before in a D’Amato production as the cinematographer captures the fog luminously and effervescently surrounding and chasing the family from out to in.

“Beyond Darkness” is no “The Evil Dead” but is a solid demon and ghost dog and pony show from 1990. Now, the Claudio Fragasso (or is it, Clyde Anderson?) classic is heading straight to your level room television set with a new 2-disc Blu-ray. The hardcoded Region A is presented in widescreen 1.66:1 aspect ratio in a full high definition and 1080p resolution. With only a possible color touch up here or there, I would venture to say the transfer used is the most pristine copy with hardly any damage or any age deterioration. The grain looks amply checked and no cropping or edge enhancing at work in an attempt to correct any issues, if any ever existed. Severin offers two audio options: an English language DTS-HD master audio 2.0 and an Italian dub of the same spec. With dual channels, there retains an always room for growth inkling and with the film’s broad range in sounds, a difficult to swallow lossy audio pill plays the aftertaste tune of, man, this could have been way better. Yet, the track is solid enough, if not more so, with virtually zilch damage. Dialogue comes across clean and clear, but there tails some minor hissing. Like with many Severin releases, new interviews are the star of the special feature show with one-side, talking head interviews with writer-director Claudio Fragrasso Beyond Possession, co-writer Rossella Drudi The Devil in Mrs. Drudi, and actor David Brandon Sign of the Cross. Though the theatrical trailer rounds out the first disc special features, Severin also includes Carlo M. Cordio’s superb soundtrack as disc number two along with a two-page booklet with an introduction to the ingredients of a horror score and to Cordio himself as well as a listing of all 17 tracks. “Beyond Darkness” is Claudio Fragrasso’s unbridled mutt, a motley of motion picture royalties rolled up into an adulating and piggybacking horror beyond comparison.

“Beyond Darkness” 2-disc Special Edition Blu-ray Available on Amazon

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