Beyond Darkness Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: October 26, 2021
Audio: Italian and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 92:42
Director: Claudio Fragasso
A young reverend and his family move into a new house, only to discover that it was once home to a coven of child-sacrificing witches who were burned at the stake. Soon after, a portal to Hell opens in the walls.
When I refer to the 1990 Italian horror movie called Beyond Darkness, even the most ardent fan will likely be confused as to precisely which movie I’m referring to. Tracing the title involves a labyrinthine explanation of the lengths that these filmmakers would go to trick viewers into seeing their less-than-reputable product. The North American and British title, Beyond Darkness, is easily confused with the Italian horror title of Beyond THE Darkness, which was known as Buio Omega in Italy and Buried Alive on US home video, and was directed by Beyond Darkness producer, Joe D’Amato. In its native Italy, Beyond Darkness (again, not Beyond THE Darkness) was released as La Casa 5. La Casa, you see, was the Italian release title of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (1981), making this the third of five false entries in the Evil Dead saga, as well as the final Italian-made one, since Ethan Wiley’s House II: The Second Story (1987) and Sean Cunningham’s The Horror Show (1989) were American-made and simple retitled in the region.
While I seriously doubt that even the most ardent Italian horror and Euro-sleaze would defend Claudio Fragasso’s Beyond Darkness as anything approaching a good movie, it is among the most prototypical such films of its era. By 1990, things were looking rough for the Italian film industry and even reliable genre directors, like Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, and Ruggero Deodato, were mostly churning out garbage for the international straight-to-video machine (only Dario Argento continued making horror films and thrillers with any kind of budget behind them). As the director of notorious turkeys, like Zombie 4: After Death (Italian: Oltre la Morte, 1989) and Troll 2 (affectionately known as “The Best Worst Movie,” 1990), Fragasso was not up to the Fulci/Lenzi/Deodato standard during even the best of times, but he adapted to the STV cycle better than most. Along with cohorts Bruno Mattei (with whom he co-wrote and co-directed a number of movies until Mattei’s death), co-writer and wife Rossella Drudi, and D’Amato (who had turned to directing porn and acting as producer by the late ‘80s), Fragasso picked the bones from Italian horror’s corpse.
The name of the game was, as always, cash-ins on proven properties, but the video market was particularly thirsty, so more rip-offs than ever were scraped from the grindstone. Movies ended up vying for leftovers, combining source material, and even copying already established copies.
Even among the dregs of copycatdom, Fragasso’s work sat at the bottom of the barrel. He peaked a year early when he helped Mattei combine James Cameron’s Aliens (1987) and The Terminator (1984) to make the indubitably entertaining Shocking Dark (aka: Terminator 2, 1989). Beyond Darkness outdoes that by combining third-generation Xeroxes of Umberto Lenzi’s and Lucio Fulci’s already fractured rip-offs of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982), Stuart Rosenberg’s The Amityville Horror (1979), and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), plus a bunch of scenes from William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), William Peter Blatty’s Exorcist III (1990), and Jack Sholder’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985).
On the spectrum of Fragasso movies, Beyond Darkness is actually one of the better ones, maybe even his best in conventional ‘good movie’ terms. The sheer quantity of properties being referenced doesn’t leave Fragasso a lot of time to spin his wheels and D’Amato, who acted as (uncredited) cinematographer, does an admirable job impersonating Matthew F. Leonetti’s searing white Poltergeist photography, which looks nice and covers the lack of budget. Troll 2 fans will probably delight in the weird, child-friendly slant and the horrible dialogue that the poor cast is forced to wade through (a young Michael Stephenson appears in both films), but it’s hard not to feel bad for the likes of David Brandon, Barbara Bingham, and Gene LeBrock – all of whom are capable of much better.
Beyond Darkness was released on DVD in Italy under the La Casa 5 title without English subtitles. Otherwise, it languished in obscurity until Scream Factory released it on a double-feature Blu-ray with Luigi Montefiori’s Metamorphosis (1990). That disc is now out-of-print, which is a bummer, because Metamorphosis is good fun, but also good news, because now Severin can produce a more comprehensive stand-alone Blu-ray (though there is also a RB Blu-ray from 88 Films with exclusive extras). I don’t have 88 Films’ disc on hand, but the Scream and Severin transfers are basically identical. It’s possible that there are some encoding differences (Scream tends to compress things a little more and it was crammed on the disc with another movie), but, comparing them side-by-side, I see nothing notable. That’s not a bad thing, because, besides what appears to be minor telecine scanning noise, the 1080p, 1.66:1 image is more film-like than you’d often see from Italian-born scans of this age. Many of the other issues are inherent in the material. D’Amato, working under the pseudonym Larry J. Fraser, aims for a soft look, even during the most uneventful sequence, leading to mushy edges and caking fine detail in fog. As mentioned above, he cut costs (and ripped off Poltergeist) by representing supernatural happenings with bright white lights and smoke. These effects fare very well, while darker scenes, though somewhat muddy, aren’t so messy that important elements disappear into its brownish-black shadows.
As in the case of the Scream Factory disc, Beyond Darkness is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Unlike that disc, this Blu-ray also includes the Italian language dub alongside the original English, though keep in mind that both tracks are at least partially dubbed and most of the cast appears to be speaking English on-set, so that is the way I preferred to watch the film. Once again, the major issues are found in the source material. There are clarity and consistency problems with what would normally be set-recorded elements, like dialogue and incidental effects, but everything was recorded in post, so I’m not sure what happened. It’s possible that some scenes were shot with on-set sound, which would be unusual, but the echoey room quality and greater consistency of the Italian dialogue might make it true. The volume discrepancies and buzzing/hissing problems don’t extend to the more heavily ‘designed’ scare scenes, however, nor the music. Carlo Maria Cordio’s score is typical of ‘90s Italian horror, including a number of mournful and spooky keyboard motifs that are better than the film deserves. And, whenever the score cuts loose, it sounds pretty fantastic with warm bass notes and a clean high end.
Beyond Possession (37:16, HD) – Director Claudio Fragasso talks about the history of the La Casa series, shooting in Louisiana (in a real prison, it turns out), Italian crews vs. American crews (he prefers Italians), working with the cast, producers wanting unrealistic amounts of special effects for their budget, clashing with composer Cordio, and spooky happenings around the set.
The Devil in Miss Drudi (22:50, HD) – Screenwriter and Fragasso’s partner Rossella Drudi chats about the American films she was asked to draw from, her research into possession and witchcraft, and Fragasso’s work on set.
Sign of the Cross (28:45, HD) – Actor David Brandon closes things out with a look back at making the film, shooting in the New Orleans area (for the second time) and in a working prison (which he did not enjoy), acting with the child actors, and getting along with Fragasso.
Soundtrack CD by Carlo Maria Cordio (17 tracks)
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.