The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: BEYOND DARKNESS (1990) aka LA CASA 5
After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago, Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. GATW’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!
I understand when someone dediates their life to religion and to lead a flock in a church somewhere, that it is not a glamorous lifestyle by any means. These guys really dedicate their whole lives to being a pastor and have little time for anything else, not to mention the less than stellar paycheck they get. Most Catholic priests even have to take a vow of poverty with all of their necessities taken care of by the church. You have to go where they send you and can’t be choosy. But...there should be some sort of rule that, like the family in BEYOND DARKNESS (aka LA CASA 5), you can’t be relocated into a haunted house filled with pissed off witch souls. It’s just not fair.
Father George (David Brandon, STAGEFRIGHT) visits an inmate just before her execution on death row. She has killed numerous children and refuses to repent, instead she will take their souls to hell with her to increase her power. Before taking a spin in the electric chair she gives the priest the Bible she uses for prayers to her dark lord Ameth (who looks like the traditional Baphomet image).
A while later Father Peter (Gene LeBrock), along with his wife and two kids, are brought to town by the church and move into a lovely large home that seems perfect. Soon they realize that there are evil spirits inside their home, all centralized from a glowing crack in a wall, and they throw things around, try to posses the new inhabitants and bring them to the dark side. With a little help from the Father George, who’s now a faithless drunk, Peter must stop the evil spirits of the executed child murderer and her witch compatriots in his home before it’s too late for his family.
Quickly, here’s a little back-story on the name...
As was commonplace with Italian horror films of the time, this film was added into a series built from mooching off another famous franchise. In this case Sam Raimi’s THE EVIL DEAD and its sequel were released in Italy as LA CASA and LA CASA 2, so when Umberto Lenzi’s film GOSTHOUSE was about to be released the powers that be decided to cash-in on THE EVIL DEAD’s success and call it LA CASA 3. There was no relation between the films other than the thin connection of evil spirits in a house. This was done again the same year with Fabrizio Laurenti’s WITCHERY, starring Linda Blair and David Hasselhoff, released as LA CASA 4. BEYOND DARKNESS was the last film in this cycle of false pretenses, but not the only franchise to be treated this way.
There’s nothing really horrible about this film, in fact there are moments of greatness. It’s just comprised of a lot of things I’ve seen before in other, and better, possession/haunted house flicks. In one of the film’s moments George and Peter are getting ready to go face the possessed version of Peter’s son and it’s so reminiscent of THE EXORCIST that I was expecting the same dialog. The scene that followed was a pretty damn cool one, nothing near the extravagance of Friedkin’s film but still quite effective. I wonder if anyone watched this and was truly scared. I can’t imagine they were, but who knows? For me it felt like everything was rushed to get to the crazy action of the spirits instead of taking time to build an atmosphere that would leave you really caring for the characters and their situation.
A few things make no sense to me. How is it that a Catholic priest has a wife and two kids? I’m not Catholic myself but everything I’ve every learned about the religion - from movies, books, and television - always leads me to believe they must be celibate and married to their work. And when one of your kids is a possessed duplicate of your real son, who is being held captive on “the other side” by the spirits, why would you fall asleep and leave him on the loose and unattended? That’s just asking for trouble. Also, why, in the haunted house horror film, does no one leave? I guess you can say that they attempt leaving only to be kept their by the spirits, but it seems more often than not the families affected by the hauntings try to “tough it out” instead of doing what I would - get the fuck out of dodge. When things are blowing up and flying around the room on their own that would be the first clue to run. If my car wouldn’t start then I would continue on foot. Screw that noise.
Any problem with how this family handles their situation could be rendered moot as you can argue that they’re not a normal family. Aside from the aforementioned family/Catholicism thing take a look at what they eat for their first meal in the new place - orange juice and beans. What the hell? Annie did say that this was only because she “made a mess of the eggs” but how do you mess up eggs? That’s one of the easiest things to cook, and one would think that a mother of two would have mastered that culinary obstacle. Of course if she had not mucked up the dinner then we couldn’t have this brilliant comedic exchange between the brother and sister:
Martin: “Mmm, I love beans.”
Carole: “But then you make ‘stinkies.’”
And everyone laughs. If their table banter weren’t bad enough the pair sleep in the same room. I can’t be the only one out there who is creeped out by siblings of different genders sharing the same room. I understand if you don’t have the space/money and it’s a necessity but this clan just moved into a huge place. There has to be more than two bedrooms.
Be warned that this film carries a very low body count. Actually the lowest count of any film so far this year at Horror Movie Night. The gore level is also at a low here, which is not automatically a bad thing but that means that we have a lot of extra time to crack jokes. The popular one on twitter amongst HMNers during BEYOND DARKNESS was referring to the source of the spirits via the crack in the wall as a “glowing wall vagina.” You see what happens when we are not sated with crazy gore gags and high body counts? It’s not our fault, I promise.
There are still some pretty great things in this film. The look of the black veiled witch spirits taking over the house are pretty cool to see seeping through the fog and when the veil is lifted we see a very wicked looking woman with a zombies’ scaly complexion. The few moments of special make-up FX are very interesting I just wish there was more of them. Another good thing to come from this, and any other religious themed horror film regardless of quality, is you get some sweet, creepy organ music! The organ is one of those instruments that conveys a feeling of both Christian religion and “eerie things are afoot”. Coincidence?
BEYOND DARKNESS also marks the first teaming of an infamous pair. I speak of director Claudio Fragasso and young actor Michael Stephenson as Martin. I guess Fragasso was so impressed by the talent Stephenson put forth here that he cast him in his next feature, the infamous TROLL 2 (also out in 1990). That role lead to the young boy growing up and just under twenty years later make the hilarious documentary BEST WORST MOVIE. Stephenson’s role was not as crazy as portrayal of the Joshua Waits, and he doesn’t piss on anything in this film. It’s also funny to note that many Italian directors in the 80s and 90s making films that would play in America would do so under different pseudonyms, usually to sound more domestic. No one in the States wants to see something with a weirdo foreign name, right? Here Fragasso is credited as Clyde Anderson (Ha!) and his writing credit is under another pen name, Drago Floyd. Why he used two separate names on this film is beyond me. Some of his other “credited as” names include Drake Floyd, Cluade Fragass, Clide Fergusson, Claudio Fracassi, Claudio Sansevero and, I’m sure, many more.
A special mention must be made for the MVP of the film. By that I mean Most Valuable Prop. It should go without saying that this award was well earned by the production’s fog machine. Practically every scene is filled with its hazy goodness and nothing could have been done without its help. Well, unless they built the set at a Cypress Hill concert. Runner-up goes to the sweet inverted wooden cross/dagger. I need one of those!
LA CASA 5, BEYOND DARKNESS, EVIL WITCH SPIRITS BLOW UP A RADIO, OJ & BEANS or whatever you want to call the film - it’s not a bad one. If you go into this knowing Fragasso’s work only from TROLL 2 you will be shocked. This is very different stylistically and there is a lot less of the campy and unintentionally funny throughout. To my knowledge there is no American DVD release so you’ll have to hunt down a VHS if you want to see for yourself. Although, you might just go ahead and watch THE EXORCIST instead because that’s what it left me wanting to do.
Until next week - heed these words of wisdom from Annie: “For a woman there is nothing more exciting than the idea of going to bed with a sexy Reverend.”
Body Count: 3
Possessed Characters: 3
Total Running Time: 1:34:21
Time of First (and Only) On Screen Death: 1:24:56
Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-6/22/11: POPCORN (1991)
-6/29/11: AMSTERDAMNED (1988)
-7/6/11: THE DARK POWER (1985)
-7/13/11: RITUALS (1977)
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