Particularly innocently faithful priest Peter (Gene LeBrock) and his family – wife Annie (Barbara Bingham) and little kids Martin (Troll 2’s Michael Stephenson) and Carole (Theresa F. Walker) move into the wrong house, or really, are maneuvered into moving into that place by his mentor, one Reverend Jonathan (Stephen Brown), I think. Please keep in mind this movie was written by Claudio Fragasso, so half of the logical connections have to be provided by the viewer or the film would go from “makes no goddamn sense at all” to the noise a brain makes when it dribbles out of a helpless cult film blogger’s ears.
Anyhow, it’s really not a good place for a family to stay, for the house is haunted by a bunch of women in black shrouds – of course once burned for witchcraft they may or may not have committed – who like to tear holes in the fabric of reality, produce dry ice fog of astonishing density, and kidnap children for sport. These charming dead persons are lead by a dead child murderess (Mary Coulson, I believe) who not just murdered her little victims but ate their souls to be able to bring them down to her favourite demon’s part of wherever he dwells.
It was an encounter with that lovely woman right before she was executed on the electric chair that broke down the faith of Peter’s old seminary friend – who unlike Peter became a Catholic priest – George (David Brandon ably assisted by buckets full of sweat). Ever since, George has sort of dropped out of the priesthood, sort of become an alcoholic, is looking for knowledge Man Was Not Meant to Know. and may or may not be possessed by the demon the murderess prayed to, depending on the mood of Fragasso when he wrote any given scene. In any case, when the shrouded ladies get rude, it’s George who helps Peter in various ways, until the whole thing fake-climaxes in a hilarious exorcism and other assorted nonsense.
As we all know, when Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso ended their partnership, Mattei took with him whatever actual sense there was between the two (and given Mattei’s later output, that statement is rather frightening), while Fragasso went on to transfer full control to his Id and gave us Troll 2. Shot in the same year as that epochal achievement, and featuring the same non-acting child actor in Michael Stephenson, Beyond Darkness will probably always be “the normal one” in comparison, seeing that it features a vaguely understandable plot, contains only half a dozen or so scenes that might traumatise the unprepared by their sheer fucking weirdness, and even tells a – if completely unrelatable and absurdly told – story about faith lost and found and glowing holes in the wall that lead to another dimension belonging to demons none of the three priests in the film calls Hell.
Of course, compared with Troll 2, most films are “the normal one”, and you can’t really say Fragasso didn’t apply most of his powers of coming up with sheer bizarre bullshit dressed up in improbable dialogue while setting his camera at an angle when shooting Beyond Darkness. This is after all still a film that has his perhaps sometimes possessed doubting priest suddenly popping up at his old mentor’s church to sweat profusely and jam a bit on the organ while both men babble nonsense about demons a theology doctorate wouldn’t help one to understand, where there’s a scene shot via flying knife cam, and whose kidnap, rescue and possession plot is told in the most convoluted way possible. But hey, I’m pretty sure the good guys win thanks to mentor guy shouting at a demon really loudly while staying home in his church until a Satanic bible burns and mentor guy himself dies from a heart attack (see, you can hear Fragasso think, my film’s just like The Exorcist); which is pretty good, because without that, Peter and Annie would have sacrificed their own son to the demons – and only Peter has the excuse of being possessed at the time.
This kind of nonsense is obviously only the tip of the iceberg of nonsense and non-sequiturs Beyond Darkness barfs into our eyes, ears and brains. I might be mixing my metaphors a little here but this is only appropriate when talking about a Fragasso film. In fact, it’s more or less the same approach Beyond Darkness is applying to storytelling. Visually, Fragasso is all about all kinds of crooked camera angles that are probably meant to be stylish and creepy but most of the time seem tacky and weird, incredible amounts of dry ice fog, glowing holes in walls (with dry ice fog coming through them, obviously), dry ice fog, close-ups of eyes, dry ice fog, and more dry ice fog. Well, that and sweat, because all of the actors seem permanently drenched in a way that might – like a few other elements here – suggest some sort of misguided homage to Lucio Fulci, with David Brandon so caught up in the hot sweating action it’s a wonder nobody drowned in his fluids.
From time to time, between the nonsensical, the inane, and the bizarre, Fragasso also hits on an image that’s honestly creepy, like the shrouded (or really, wearing something that suggests he has seen The Woman in Black and/or photos of Victorian mourning garb) women stretching their hands through walls, doors, etc, again demonstrating that you don’t need to watch a “good” movie to see something shudder-worthy.
So, how much did I love this wondrous abomination of a film? Well, I wouldn’t want to marry it right now, but I’m interested in a long-term relationship full of speeches about demons, tasteless child ghosts, and some good old dimensional rifts in the walls.
Denis Klotz contributes a regular film column for ExB, and can otherwise be found kicking around on his prolific cult media blog The Horror!?