Holy jumpin’ Jehoshaphat! Whatever one’s expectations going into Beyond the Darkness, one of Joe D’Amato’s flicks from 1979, they will be exceeded. I went into this film knowing only so much as what was provided in a small blurb, and was left either speechless or exclaiming in shock, depending on what depravity D’Amato and company were putting on screen. This is that kind of movie, folks. Allow me to spoil some of it for you.
Working from a screenplay by Ottavio Fabbri, D’Amato constructed a film that is light on character development, light on exposition, light on plot, even. The purpose of the film is to shock — visually, sensually, what have you. It does that, but not in a way that is purely exploitative. There is some not-so-shallow stuff going on. That’s impressive for D’Amato, who could usually be depended upon to provide as much depth as linoleum tile. Maybe this was by accident, or maybe I’m reading too much into a film that’s just meant to be experienced, rather than scrutinized.
Kieran Canter plays Frank, a young man who has inherited an Italian villa from his mother. He lives there with his wetnurse, Iris (Franca Stoppi). You read that right. A grown man lives with the woman who used to, and still does, suckle him at her breast. Intrigued, yet?
After Frank’s fiancée, Anna (Cinzia Monreale), dies in the hospital, Frank, who dabbles in taxidermy, steals her corpse from the cemetery and, with Iris’s help, preserves the corpse and sets her up in the marriage bed. After this, Frank goes on something of a killing spree, although all his victims are targets of opportunity, while all the time Iris is there feeding Frank’s insanity, and adding a healthy dash of her own to the mix.
This is a bizarre movie. There is no backstory at all to explain to audiences how these two nutjobs came to feed each other’s psychoses. At times Frank and Iris’s relationship is abuse, at other times parasitic, at other times symbiotic. What is clear is that the two of them are locked into a violent fantasy at the center of their own universe, and woe be to anyone who wanders near.
There is a lot of blood and guts in this flick, too. The 1980s may have been a golden age for horror, but it was films like this from the 1970s that pioneered stomach-churning excess. It looks like D’Amato used an entire sty’s worth of offal for his gore effects. Frank and Iris dig into so many corpses that it ends up looking like they bathed in blood and guts. At the very least, this had to be a very smelly set.
But, what about plot? Plot is just about the least important part of this movie. This movie is about experiencing the life and insanity of the two leads. Canter had more of a pretty face than a good performance, so most of the heavy lifting was done by Stoppi. She played her character stiff as a board. Iris indulges Frank like he’s her child and her lover. While Frank has continued difficulty keeping his insanity from spilling out, Iris is steady throughout the film.
The performance with the highest degree of difficulty was put in by Monreale, however. Just because her character dies early, does not mean she got to collect her check and go home. Oh, no. The majority of her screen time is as a corpse, mute witness to the depravity in the villa. I think I saw her grab a breath once while Frank was removing her eyes, but that’s it.
I’ve seen a few movies from D’Amato, and storytelling is not what he did best. This film showed that, absent a strong narrative, he could piece together a film that was compelling in its spectacle, and also had an interpersonal relationship that will be difficult for viewers to forget. Without spectacle, without shock, his films can be quite mediocre, if not downright awful.
Sure, Beyond the Darkness is shallow, exploitative sleaze. But it’s well-done shallow, exploitative sleaze. Without equivocation, this is the best movie I’ve seen from Joe D’Amato. That bar is not high, but Beyond the Darkness ranks well amongst horror flicks that will make an audience squirm.
There, now you have more accurate expectations than a short blurb on a streaming service. It’ll still get you.