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An unflinching embrace of the shocking and grotesque, “Beyond the Darkness” redefined what horror could be — and just how far it could go.

Beyond the Darkness

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Let’s go back in time.

The year is 1991. I was 13 years old and just starting 8th grade. My buddy Taylor asked a few of us to his house for a sleepover to kick off the new year. Taylor was the resident redneck at the otherwise preppy middle school we all attended. He was an avid hunter and fisherman. His dad was a successful carpenter who had been in ‘Nam and had grenades, claymores, and all sorts of guns displayed at their house. He was also famous for his barbecue.

I was in charge of picking out a horror movie for the night. I was the ‘movie nerd,’ but horror was largely uncharted territory for me. Many of our parents still monitored and/or limited our watching of R-rated movies. We were allowed to watch some if they were the edited TV versions and others only with our parents, who would fast forward through the nudity and sex scenes.

Some students were allowed to watch R-rated movies, though it often turned out they were lying. For example, one friend, in particular, gave us all a breakdown of the Friday the 13th films, saying the unedited versions on HBO and Cinemax featured orgies, Jason blasting naked women with an UZI in Part 3, and Jason even raping a woman in Part VI.

Taylor said his dad would rent whatever movie we picked out, no questions asked, which was one of the reasons we were excited to spend the night.

Before Blockbuster got into the business of weeding out offensive films, they would often purchase existing video stores and use their back catalog as the foundation upon which to line the aisles with bazillions of new releases.

I came upon the now-famous cover for Joe D’ Amato’s notorious euro trash classic Buried Alive (Beyond the Darkness).

The front and back were plastered with the kinds of warnings we’d never seen before. This belonged to a category of film our parents would never let us rent. This had to be our film for the night!

Back at Taylor’s house, his dad laid out a massive BBQ spread for us and left us to our own devices. We dived into the feast: BBQ pork, chicken, beef, sausage, beans, coleslaw, Texas toast, etc. We stuffed ourselves silly and then popped the film in.

Beyond the Darkness is the story of Frank Wyler, a deranged young taxidermist who can’t deal with the death of his fiance so he digs up her body shortly after the funeral, which unleashes a torrent of disgusting insanity.

The film started off slowly, but its strange nature definitely piqued our collective interest.

I was nervous the film wouldn’t deliver, especially since expectations were high after all those warning labels. When the housekeeper, Iris, lets our disturbed protagonist suckle her breasts, we all knew we were watching something different.

This was dark, weird, and perverted; we were hooked from that point on.

Once we got to the scene where Frank lays his dead naked fiancé on the slab, everyone was on the edge of their seats.

The casual jokes and conversation died down as the infamous autopsy scene unfolded before our eyes.

Everyone recoiled as Frank had the brains sucked out of her nose with a tube. But when he began eating his fiance’s heart, our friend Adam said he couldn’t take it anymore and rushed to the bathroom and puked. We all made fun of him when he returned.

Then we got to the scene where the chunky, naked hitchhiker is butchered and her limbs thrown into a tub of acid. None of us had ever seen anything like that.

James, who had been making fun of Adam just moments earlier, said he couldn’t hold it any longer. He ran to the bathroom and barfed up a sloppy river of Taylor’s dad’s famous BBQ as well. He came back and sat down, pale and sweaty. He didn’t say a word for the remainder of the film.

The movie deliciously careened from grotesque set piece to grotesque set piece until the hysterical finale.

After the movie, we felt like we’d been on a rollercoaster. We talked in excited, hushed tones.

For a group of 13-year-olds that had maybe seen a Nightmare on Elm Street flick or a Halloween sequel on edited commercial TV or, at most, on HBO: this was next-level shit. It was forbidden, absolutely foul, and imbued us with the thrill of partaking in something our parents would absolutely freak out if they knew we were watching.

These were the days before oceans of pornography were available on the internet, and at the middle school age, porno tapes were scarce. Our idea of graphic violence was Commando and Dirty Harry.

Beyond the Darkness’ foreign vibe, flagrant nudity, gnarly gore, and taboo subject matter blew our minds.

Our innocence was lost. We had been transformed.

Iris, played wonderfully by Franca Stoppi, was certainly the MVP of the film as far as we were concerned. We told Iris jokes for weeks at school afterward. A few acknowledged the whole experience was fun, but they never wanted to watch something like that again. But for some of us, it gave us a taste of what was out there — and we wanted more.

We began to have “Barbecue Feast Horror Sleepovers,” where we watched everything from Gates of Hell, Dawn of the Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Zombi, Cannibal Holocaust, Faces of Death, and more.

But it’s Beyond the Darkness that gave us a glimpse into what our local video stores had if we dug deep enough.

I was lucky to have an independent video store on my side of town that had a huge selection of horror, exploitation, and foreign films. By the end of 8th grade, most of our parents had given up on monitoring what we watched. We just made sure they were out of the house or in bed for the night before we popped one of those video nasties into the VCR.

There was certainly something magical about those days of wandering the aisles looking for exotic and forbidden treasures, but times have changed.

(However, I do have to say that finding an obscure film on Tubi, YouTube, or Netflix on my tablet and watching it while under the covers with the lights turned off and the rain pouring down brings back the same feeling of those old video horror rentals.)

To this day, Beyond the Darkness remains on my list of top 20 favorite horror movies.

It is deliriously rancid and remains the only movie I’ve watched with a group of people that made a couple of them barf during the screening.

This past year, one of my high school students checked it out and said that the movie should be released in a burlap sack. And she’s right. This is a downbeat sleazer that doesn’t benefit from audio commentaries, movie dork essays, interviews, or booklets.

This movie will raw dog anyone’s cinema-loving soul. It just needs the cover and the warning labels. The film speaks for itself. While other films over the years have neutered this film’s shock value a bit, this is still a uniquely dreary descent into violent debauch.

Director D’Amato, most famous for his ‘Black Emmanuelle’ sexploitation movies starring the legendary Laura Gemser, manages to shoot this film with just enough panache that it compliments the voyeuristic style of the proceedings without ever feeling artificial.

Aided by Goblin’s unobtrusive yet eerie synth score, the result is a grim viewing experience that will continue to corrupt the viewer’s soul long after the credits have rolled.

Never equaled, always revolting, Beyond the Darkness’ legacy continues to endure.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 5

Beyond the Darkness is currently available through Severin Films in a wonderful Blu-ray edition.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Written by Damian K. Lahey, an award-winning independent filmmaker and screenwriter, whose last film, Simple Like Silver, we reviewed here on Morbidly Beautiful. An interview with the filmmaker can be found here as well.

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