Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Más allá de la muerte (1986)

... aka: Beyond Death

Directed by:
Sebastián d'Arbó

Director D'Arbó (real name: Sebastià-Daniel Arbonés Subirats) is best known as an occult / afterlife / paranormal expert who's been a regular presence on Spanish TV and radio since the 1960s and is still busy to this very day promoting his books, films, etc. on both social media and television. In addition to hosting and presenting countless programs, he also branched out into filmmaking and made a number of genre films (see list below) throughout the 80s, all dealing with his favorite subjects. D'Arbó shows up on screen here as well in the pre-credit introductory sequence and tells us what we're about to see is based on his own research and the real-life experiences of those who were declared clinically dead long enough to get a taste of what lies beyond. We're then off to Dachau, Germany in 1945 to see a Nazi general and his men gun down some prisoners. From there, we zip ahead to modern day Spain in the snowy Pyrenees mountain region where Austrian psychiatrist Dr. Johan Möser (Tony Isbert - TRAGIC CEREMONY) arrives at a parapsychology institute located next to a ski resort (!?) There, he catches the tail end of surgeon / biologist / professor / "alternative scientist" Hamermann's (Narciso Ibáñez Menta - MASTER OF HORROR) lecture on the afterlife and approaches him afterward.

Johan is in need of answers. After just one year of marriage, his beloved wife Vera passed away, leading to a period of depression and neurosis for the grieving widower. However, he swears up and down that the ghost of his late wife has visited him on at least one occasion. Not only that, but he was actually able to see and touch her. Hamermann claims what he experienced is nothing uncommon or unique. He was simply in an altered state and thus open to receiving psychic energy in the home, which enabled him to materialize a "psycho-energetic entity", a process called "phantasmogenesis." Just as simple as that! By the way, this is just the start of all of the pseudo-intellectual paranormal babble you'll have to endure with this one.

Professor Hamermann quickly befriends Johan (who suggests he work as his assistant), takes him to his home and shows him the thousands of testimonials he's collected over the years from people who've had near-death experiences. One such experience is even laid out for us in real time by a woman (Blanca Martínez) who hits her head after being thrown from her snowmobile, ends up officially dead and is later revived. She describes the first moments of death as being both inside your body and outside of it floating around simultaneously, taking a warp speed trip through a black tunnel and then heading to a peaceful place that's so wonderfully serene the woman gets upset at the doctor for saving her life!

Neither Hamermann nor Johan are who they claim to be and both have ties to the sinister Thule Gesellschaft (Thule Society), a (real-life) German occult and ethno-nationalist organization that was eventually dissolved into Hitler's National Socialist German Workers' Party. Johan, who has already gone through the official Thule blood ceremony and been branded with their insignia, works for them as an informant and was sent there to get information on the professor, while Hamermann (back when he was using the name Skladovsky) was a captured Jewish doctor forced to help the SS conduct hideous experiments on fellow prisoners. Toward the end of WWII as Germany was on the verge of being defeated, Hamermann / Skladnovsky was taken outside with the other remaining prisoners and shot. Only he managed to survive.

Because Johan has taken a liking to the professor, and started a romantic relationship with his daughter Florence (Berta Cabré), he decides not to relay accurate information back to the Thule Society, but instead help the professor with his experiments. Thus far Hamermann has been able to kill and then revive guinea pigs and monkeys using a special serum he's created. Now he'd like to try it out on a human being. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't get the chance when a Thule Society assassin shows up and shoots him. Johan, with help from Florence and one of the late professor's colleagues, Dr. Carlos Ferrero (Sergio Tula), decides to then pick up where the late professor left off.

While this almost comically over-stuffed movie clearly has many issues, especially with its pace and the convoluted plot, it surprisingly managed to somewhat win me over by the end. That may have something to do with the director presenting his otherworldly existential gobbledygook on the screen with such conviction I just had to respect the man for having a specific point of view, and it may have something to do with his film at least provoking thought. Also, if we're to be honest here, a lot of his concepts really are in tune with a lot of the near-death experiences one will read about.

Most interestingly, D'Arbo doesn't accept the afterlife on completely biblical turns, though he does settle on a disappointingly New Age-y equivalent of heaven and hell when one evil character dies. His visions include flashes of loved ones drifting by accompanied by a colorful psychedelic spacey light show, stardust skeletons, multi-colored orbs, mist and stars and tunnels of refracting light and rainbow panels. His "heaven" is essentially becoming one with the universe and he ends his thesis with the quote "Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed, because everything is an energy." which is (probably falsely) attributed to Einstein.

Stylistically, the film also does a surprisingly good job with the various flashback scenes. Johan's (probably fictionalized) ghostly flashback and his initiation into the Thule Society are tinted red. The various Nazi flashbacks, which have been shot in grainy black-and-white to resemble old newsreel footage, look authentic and are effectively disturbing. There's also a fantastic moment where the professor character, who survives a gunshot graze to the head, is "reborn" out of a pile of corpses and crawls away from what will soon be a covered open grave.

Also appearing in small roles are Antonio Molino Rojo as a police inspector, Víctor Israel as a janitor, Carmen Serret aka Carla Dey as a doctor's wife and future director Germán Monzó (Antichrist 2: Magic London) as a Jewish prisoner. IMDb currently lists a whole bunch of other actors (Julissa, Enrique Lizalde, Mónica Serna, Silvia Solar) who are not in the film. D'Arbo's other genre credits include Viaje al más allá / "Journey to the Beyond" (1980), El ser / "The Being" / PSYCHOPHOBIA (1982), Acosada / "Harassed" (1985) and Cena de asesinos / "Dinner of Murderers" (1989).

Even though a decent print with English subtitles has finally surfaced, I could find no evidence this was ever officially released to home video anywhere in the world. It's not to be confused with Los fantasmas que aman demasiado ("The Ghosts That Love Too Much"), a Mexican horror film directed by Julián Pastor released the following year on VHS as Más allá de la muerte. That same title was also used for the Spanish-language video release of the notorious shockumentary Faces of Death (1978).

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