Saturday, November 13, 2021

Buio Omega (1979)

... aka: Beyond the Darkness
... aka: Blue Holocaust
... aka: Buried Alive
... aka: Demencia (Dementia)
... aka: Final Darkness, The
... aka: Folie sanglante (Bloody Madness)
... aka: House 6: El terror continua (House 6: The Terror Continues)
... aka: In quella casa buio omega (In That House... Blue Omega)
... aka: Mroczny instynkt (Dark Instincts)
... aka: Saddo
... aka: Sado - Stoß das Tor zur Hölle auf (Sado: Open the Gate to Hell)

Directed by:
Joe D'Amato

Along with Lucio Fulci, Ruggero Deodato and perhaps a few others, D'Amato was one of a handful of Italian genre directors to get a huge boost in international popularity during the VHS era. In D'Amato's case, that popularity existed almost exclusively because of one title, this disturbing little number, which became one of the most notorious genre films of the entire decade on the home video market. Here in America, it was given an unrated theatrical run by Aquarius Releasing in 1984, followed by a big box VHS release from ThrillerVideo in 1986, both under the new title Buried Alive. Advertisements for the film were very memorable, with the theatrical poster promising such lovely sights as "acid bath revenge," "savage dismemberments," "pails of entrails" and women being torn "limb from limb" and getting "chewed to death," while the VHS box featured a huge yellow "WARNING" sticker on the front, followed by a disclaimer on the back stating "This motion picture is one of the most violent films ever made. There are scenes of sadistic cruelty graphically shown. If the presentation of disgusting and graphic material upsets you, please do not view this film." Of course that "warning" resulted in anyone who read it immediately snatching the film up and heading straight to the counter.

While D'Amato had other films on the market that received a bit of notoriety; most notably The Grim Reaper (1980) and Absurd / Monster Hunter (1981), both of which were prosecuted video nasties in the UK, and several entries in the Emanuelle series, none achieved quite the infamy this one did. So was all that hoopla warranted? Sure. While there have been countless more graphic and disgusting films made since 1979, placed within the context of when this was made, this is pretty strong stuff.

Frank Wyler (Kieran Canter) is a lonely young taxidermist who inherited a ton of money when his parents passed away in car accident and lives in a large gated villa (more like a compound) with his, shall we say, very dedicated housekeeper, Iris (Franca Stoppi). Frank's fallen madly in love with Anna Völkl (Cinzia Monreale) but, unfortunately, she's on her deathbed. Frank ensures her that "Death is not going to separate us" while giving her a final kiss... and boy does he mean it! In order to keep her fresh, he sneaks her injections of formaldehyde before she's buried. After the funeral, he sneaks into the graveyard with a flashlight, crowbar, shovel and sack, digs up her corpse and throws it in the back of his van.

On his way back home, he has to pull over to change a flat tire. An obnoxious, chubby tourist named Jan (Lucia D'Elia), who's been hitchhiking around the country, hops into his vehicle and passes out after smoking a joint. Frank returns home and leaves the girl in the van in his garage while he gets to work preserving Anna's corpse, which involves slicing her open with a scalpel, yanking out her guts, pulling out her organs, replacing her eyeballs with glass ones and sucking out her brains through tubes stuck in her skull through her nostrils (!) It does not involve eating her heart, though he does that, anyway. When Jan wakes up, stumbles upon the gory scene and starts attacking Frank, he pins her down, rips off her fingernails with pliers and suffocates her with a rag.

Soon enough, Iris finds out what Frank's up to. Instead of going to the police, she opts to help him out. After all, Iris is in love with Frank herself and was always jealous of his relationship with Anna, even to the point of trying to speed along her demise by enlisting the aid of a sorceress to kill her using voodoo dolls! Her and Frank's very bizarre relationship includes her comforting him by whipping out her tit and breastfeeding him (!) and helping him dismember corpses with a meat cleaver and dissolving them in acid baths. Now that Anna is dead but of no real threat to her, she helps dress her corpse, paints her fingernails, makes her look presentable and is even willing to give Frankie Boy a hand so he can get off ogling her corpse. Yikes.

Frank soon claims another victim. He brings an injured female jogger (Anna Cardini) back home, seduces her onto the bed he shares with his dead girlfriend, rips out her throat with his teeth and then eats the skin. He and Iris then throw the (still-living) girl into an oven and burn her alive. Their cozy little arrangement is threatened by a number of people, including a pair of police detectives (who thankfully barely factor into the film), an older gentleman (Sam Modesto) who starts snooping around, taking photos and occasionally breaking into the villa and Anna's lookalike sister, Elena (also played by Monreale), who shows up to say goodbye at a very inopportune time.

It's easy to see why this became such a favorite of gore-hounds and sleazy exploitation fans. There's plenty of bloody violence (a crotch is stabbed, a cheek is bitten off, a head and limbs are hacked, eyeballs gets ripped out with bare hands...), perversity, tastelessness and nudity, with three women going full frontal, including a blonde Frank picks up at a disco who comes back to his home and immediately jumps into the bathtub for some strange reason. There's also a pretty great Goblin score to complete the package.

Apparently having a leading role in an internationally-released film like this didn't do Canter's career any favors. He was appearing in hardcore sex films like Erotic Flash and The Bisexual Lover almost immediately afterward. He also played Satan in the filmed-in-Italy The Devil in Mr. Holmes (1987), which was the final film John Holmes made prior to passing away from AIDS in 1988. The female stars seemed to fair a bit better. Stoppi, who gives the best performance here by a country mile, went on appear in a number of Bruno Mattei films, like The Other Hell and Women's Prison Massacre, which some viewers may view as being only a small step up from porn. Monreale (who was sometimes billed as "Sarah Keller") would act for Lucio Fulci in three films, as well as Dario Argento and others, and is still acting today.

For decades, no one seemed to realize that this is actually a remake of a long-forgotten 1966 Psycho-inspired chiller called Il terzo occhio / THE THIRD EYE. That film, which starred a young Franco Nero and Erika Blanc, plays out almost identically to this one save for the ending. Naturally, the 1966 film features no explicit nudity or graphic gore like this re-do, but it surprisingly does maintain nearly the same level of perversity.

Original Italian posters featured a phony quote attributed to Alfred Hitchcock (who passed away in 1980) singing the film's praises! Even though this was primarily known as Buried Alive (a bit of a misleading title) in the U.S. through the VHS era, it's become much better known as of late as Beyond the Darkness; the title used for most of the subsequent DVD and Blu-ray releases from companies like Shriek Show and Severin. In Spain, it was released on VHS as House 6: El terror continua ("House 6: The Terror Continues") and it was re-titled and re-released in Italy to try to trick viewers into thinking it was an Evil Dead sequel.


Schock (1977)

... aka: Al 33 di Via Orologio fa sempre freddo (It's Always Cold at 33 Clock Street)
... aka: Beyond the Door II
... aka: Beyond the Door #2
... aka: Les démons de la nuit (The Demons of the Night)
... aka: Schock (Transfert-Suspence-Hypnos)
... aka: Shock
... aka: Suspense

Directed by:
Mario Bava

Many years after her drug-addicted, "half-crazy" husband Carlo (Nicola Salerno) died by suicide, Dora (Daria Nicolodi), her 7-year-old son Marco (David Colin Jr.) and her (frequently absent) new husband Bruno (John Steiner) move back into her Dora's former home. It was the same home she had once shared with her late husband and has been unoccupied since his passing. Thanks to Bruno's busy job as a pilot and the home's close proximity to an airport, Dora has decided to move back in and try to adjust to all of the bad memories associated with the place as she goes. She almost immediately begins to regret that decision.

It doesn't take long for Marco to start behaving strangely. He frequently asks, "Are we going to stay here forever?" and is caught talking to himself... or perhaps an imaginary friend... or an invisible entity that no one else can see. He wakes up late at night and starts growling "Pig! Pig! Pig!" as Dora and her new husband make love downstairs. He spies on her in the shower, steals her panties, crawls on top of her and starts thrusting and grunting in a decidedly non-childlike fashion. And let us not forget the unnerving casual asides like "I have to kill you mommy." All rather disturbing changes in the young boy, I'd say! And it only gets worse from there.

After a series of minor "accidents," which find Dora falling and bruising her arm when the lights suddenly go out, slicing her finger with a razor blade hidden between piano keys, cutting open her hand on an exploding pill bottle and slicing her leg open with a strategically placed rake, she begins to fear that she's going crazy. Again. She'd already spent six months in an asylum after the death of her first husband in what we can assume was an abusive, tumultuous relationship. If that's not bad enough, she's haunted by terrifying nightmares involving someone trying to break into her bedroom late at night and a floating utility knife slicing at her, plus flashbacks to her terrible first marriage. And if that's not enough, she also has daytime hallucinations like a bloody hand emerging from the ground to claw at her ankle. New husband Bruno, who ignores her frequent pleas to move out, resorts to secretly drugging his increasingly more hysterical wife.

Shock falls into a number of different popular horror subgenres. We get a haunted house film (complete with doors opening by themselves, furniture moving, creaking floorboards, etc.), an evil kid movie (complete with lots of shots of the boy glaring at his once-beloved mama and gleefully laughing at his various evil deeds), a ghostly revenge / possession flick and a psychological horror all wrapped into one. Hell, this even incorporates a little voodoo black magic into the proceedings, including the little boy using a voodoo doll, plus a photo fastened to a swing that almost brings an airplane down!

The multi-layered plot offers up a few distinct possibilities. Is Marco really possessed or just showing signs of psychosis himself due to having been raised by mentally-imbalanced parents? Is his late birth father using his child to try to return to life? Is Dora simply going insane? Is the ghost of the former husband out for revenge and, if so, why is he out for revenge? Bava manages to neatly tie it all together by the surprisingly downbeat finale whilst leaving a trace of ambiguity behind.

I completely disagree with those who've claimed this is "lesser" Bava or a disappointing final feature for the director, and anyone out there who claims this is less stylish than Bava's previous films doesn't have a clue what they're talking about. While it may be less colorful, less elaborate in regards to production design and lower-budgeted, there's more than enough visual style, great camerawork and directorial cleverness (especially good use is made of image distortion and out of focus shots) on display to satisfy, plus a highly effective score, great use of sound, some genuinely creepy moments and one of the best-executed jump scares you'll see in any film.

The camera swoops into a hole in a wall and then rises back up looking out the other side, the son uses a flashlight and a cutout from a photo to cast a spectral figure on a brick wall that may or may not house a corpse and ghostly hands made of light strip sheets off a bed. Those are just a few of the cool little touches found herein and the movie is filled to the rafters with other such moments.

Nicolodi is almost entirely known for her work with director Dario Argento, whom she dated on-and-off for years and had a child (actress Asia Argento) with, but was never technically married to. That relationship worked as something of a double-edged sword for her career. While it got her involved with some of the most famous Italian horror films of the period (notably SUSPIRIA, which she also wrote), Argento barely ever gave her a decent acting role in any of the films, with PHENOMENA perhaps being the lone notable exception. Here, however, she's given a central role and an actual character to play with some dynamics (not to mention hysterics!) and this is clearly the best role she ever got to play in a horror film. Annoying dub aside, little Colin Jr. is also very effective as the son. Genre regular Ivan Rassimov (MAN FROM DEEP RIVER) also shows up in a small role as a doctor friend, though he's not given anything interesting to do.

Shock was in pre-production stages as early as 1972, starting with a screenplay by BAY OF BLOOD writers Dardano Sacchetti and Gianfranco Barberi called Al 33 di via Orologio fa sempre freddo ("It's Always Cold at 33 Clock Street"), which was based very loosely on American mystery writer Hillary Waugh's 1971 novel The Shadow Guest. The script ended up sitting around for several years while Bava was working on other films but was later reworked by two new writers: Alessandro Parenzo, co-writer of Bava's great Rabid Dogs (1974), and the director's son, Lamberto (also the assistant director). The film finished up its five week shooting schedule at the end of June and was already playing in Italian theaters later that same summer.

Because there were no big bankable names to American audiences attached to the film, distributor Film Ventures International cooked up a new plan. Hey, since one of the actors was in another hit film, why not make this a bogus sequel to that film? The film in question was the Exorcist wanna-be BEYOND THE DOOR (1974), which became an international surprise hit despite being a piece of shit, so Schock then became Beyond the Door II. While I'm sure this did alright business under that title (there's also a bogus Beyond the Door III, after all), it didn't do nearly as well as the "original" despite being infinitely better. In the UK, it played (under its original title) on a double bill with The Blood-Spattered Bride (1971).

This title has always been much easier to find here in the States than most of Bava's other films. The initial VHS distributor was Media. It was then re-released on VHS by Video Treasures (who just recycled the Media poster art). DVD releases followed in the early 2000s from Anchor Bay and Blue Underground. Arrow (out of the UK) is going to handle the Blu-ray release, which is currently slated for a January 2022 release. My screen caps were taken from the Anchor Bay DVD and, as you can see, there's still a lot of room for visual improvement here.

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