Beyond Darkness is a 1990 horror film from celebrated cult director Claudio Fragasso. Originally titled La Casa 5 this homage laden film follows a young priest who moves his family into a home possessed by witches who are vying to steal his children. Filled with foggy theatrics and an intense Claudio Cordio synth score, the film is pure Italian ripoff cinema at its best. Severin Films brings the feature to Blu-ray with a serviceable A/V package, new interview featurettes, and a CD soundtrack for Cordio superfans. Recommended.
“This is no time to challenge theology!”
Father George (David Brandon, Delirium) administers the last rites to child murderer Bette (Mary Coulson) who claims to have devoured children’s souls for her god Amenth. When she receives her “final orgasm” in the electric chair she projects a vision of the innocent children for the devout Reverend to witness. George leaves the faith after the terrifying experience, picks up the bottle, and stumbles around town shouting at everyone.
A year later his replacement Reverend Peter (Gene LeBrock, Fortress of Amerikkka) moves into a weathered southern gothic home with his family. Soon they are met with bizarre experiences including an eerie hole in the wall that calls on daughter Carole (Theresa Walker). As the house reigns terror on the family Peter seeks help from Reverend Johnathan (Stephen Brown). Jonathan confesses that “There is a devil and I have chosen you to drive him away!” The aged Father reveals that the house was once the site of a mass witch-burning which killed many innocent women. While Peter grapples with the news, Bette appears through Carole’s glowing wall hoping to take her and brother Martin (Michael Paul Stephenson, Troll 2) back to hell.
Beyond Darkness is a wonderfully bizarre mix of horror tropes copied from films like The Amityville Horror, The Exorcist, and The Evil Dead. Titled as La Casa 5 in Italy it belongs to an informal franchise of films cashing in on the success of Sam Raimi’s iconic first feature. Director Claudio Fragassio, billed as his American alter-ego Clyde Anderson channels the successful elements of those great horror films and wraps them in plenty of smoky theatrics and an intense score from Carlo Cordio that’ll knock your socks off. The composer recycles some of his music cues from Troll 2, Witchery, and Zombie 5: Killing Birds which will be noticeable to superfans. It never dampens the overall effect of the music but rather adds some interesting textures.
Performances are committed and over-the-top which when combined with the low budget special effects and blazing synth score result in an unexpectedly thrilling yet unintentionally hilarious experience. David Brandon is the anchor here providing plenty of gravitas to the role of Father George whether he’s offering last rites or seething in pain from a rotoscoped electric chair zapping him with a million volts. Gene LeBrock’s everyman is a bit lifeless here as the conflicted Man of God who wrestles with his beliefs while witches come out of the walls. Let’s not forget the adorable Michael Paul Stephenson who would go on to star in Fragasso’s celebrated Troll 2. Other notable names in the crew are actress Laura Gemser (Black Emanuelle) credited as a costume designer and celebrated cult director Joe D’Amato serving as cinematographer under his alias Larry J. Fraser.
Beyond Darkness is an entertaining yet intensely serious Italian ripoff flick. Playing “spot the homage” won’t be difficult here unless you’re three sheets to the wind Googling Laura Gemser on your phone. Those familiar with the La Casa “franchise” will find this one tame and a bit dull compared to the others in the series. This possession/haunted house movie never lets its foot off the gas leaving characters constantly in peril except for a single meal of beans and orange juice.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Beyond Darkness arrives on standalone Region A Blu-ray from Severin Films in a black keepcase with a soundtrack CD and an insert sleeve accompanying the discs. Loading the BD-50 disc provides the Severin logo before landing on the Main Menu screen with scenes from the film playing against the navigation options. When you hear the tense Carlo Cordio scoring you’ve made it.
Beyond Darkness is possessed with an AVC encoded 1.67:1 transfer seemingly bound to never escape the clutches of a drab and lifeless presentation no matter which savior comes calling. We’re treated to some fine detail in close-ups with Bette that are juxtaposed against a consistent softness in medium and wide shots. Colors are bland though primaries wake up for a spell when needed in church adornments, costuming, or exteriors featuring the lush Louisiana greenery. Black levels are shaky at best though gain confidence in the kid’s bedroom scenes early on in the feature. Lighting helps balance out boosted contrast levels and offer some detail within shadows. Focus issues are present in motion and some establishing shots of Peter within the haunted house.
Severin uses the same scan as the 2015 Scream Factory Double Feature disc which was paired with the excellent Metamorphosis. The recent 88 Films release also uses this same scan as well. Our review of the Scream Factory disc mirrors my thoughts on this transfer closely. Though Severin doesn't provide any information, upon comparison the similarities to the previous releases are obvious. Frustratingly Beyond Darkness still lives on through numerous Blu-ray releases but we’re still waiting on the best one.
Severin Films brings Beyond Darkness to confessional with lively DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono tracks in English or Italian. Since most of the cast are native English speakers you should stay with the English track for the best experience. Previous releases had issues with the English subtitles on the Italian track but it appears that Severin has corrected those errors here. Thanks Severin!
Dialogue is clear and clean throughout the feature though some exchanges can be hard to discern at times. Where the audio mix excels is when the proceedings kick into high gear with effects, scoring, and screaming dialogue combining to offer a truly thrilling experience. Pro Tip: If you enjoy Claudio Cordio’s music I highly recommend popping in the included CD soundtrack to help elevate your next Halloween party.
Severin provides three new interview segments here that are a blast to watch after seeing the feature. When combined with the CD soundtrack this package offers plenty for fans of the film.
Beyond Darkness is an entertaining exorcism/haunted house flick that offers plenty of shabby theatricality and homages to your favorite horror movies. Claudio Fragasso is a director that brings plenty to the table for those seeking a certain kind of midnight movie experience. While not his most successful effort the film is the poster child of dwindling 90’s Italian horror. With over-the-top performances, crazy practical effects, and a killer synth score Beyond Darkness is a must for any cult collector’s shelf.
Severin brings the film to Blu-ray with the same serviceable A/V package found on the Scream Factory and 88 Films though special feature offerings are quite different across the labels. I found the mix of new interviews on the Severin Blu-ray combined with the CD soundtrack to be an exciting package for fans of the film. Collectors should do their research but this release comes Recommended.