The Films (3/5), (3/5)
Metamorphosis stars Gene Lebrock as Dr. Peter Houseman, a scientist who believes he has achieved a way to cure death by tapping into the evolutionary memory of DNA. Frustrated by the small-mindedness of his colleagues, he experiments on himself to prove his theories. As his science becomes more and more mad, his relationship with university bureaucrat Sally (Catherine Baranov) as well as his body devolve into monstrous forms. Queue the memory loss, aggressive behavior, rapid aging, and throat biting.
Beyond Darkness stars -you guessed it!- Gene Lebrock as Father Peter, a humble priest who moves his family into a haunted house (the same house as the one in Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond). This house was where, many years ago, a devotee of a Satanic cult sacrifice some schoolchildren because the demon Ameth demanded it. Once his kid gets sort of possessed and the house kind of transports them to another dimension or whatever, Father Peter is aided by the drunken Father George (David Brandon) who helps him save his family, maybe. Queue the batshit crazy!
What both of these films have in common is the absence of post dubbing. One of the biggest complaints that film reviewers of the 1970s and early 1980s had about Euro-horror films was they were obviously dubbed in post-production. By the mid-80s, Italian filmmakers were using live sound to compensate for this and the results were almost always disastrous. Suddenly, relatively good-looking people who were chosen to be in these B and C grade films suddenly had to speak their lines themselves. While nowhere near the worst of the lot, both of these films from 1990 have performances that will likely cause your head to explode.
Metamorphosis is directed and written by George Eastman who starred in a slew of wonderful genre delights like Anthropophagus, Rabid Dogs, and 2019: After the Fall of New York. His direction here is very competent though his script is utterly silly with straight-faced pseudoscience and insanely cheesy schlock. The camerawork by Gianlorenzo Battaglia is excellent which makes this film look especially slick and colorful throughout. Metamorphosis is violent, weird, though ultimately silly with both a finale and a denouement that will have you rolling off your couch in fits of laughter. My biggest criticism is that by the time this film gets to its cat and mouse chase scene antics, it has already overstayed its welcome. But you need to stick around for the end. It’s kind of perfect.
Beyond Darkness comes from director Claudio Fragasso and that alone is pretty amazing especially considering the nuclear bomb level shittiness of Fragasso’s Troll 2, released the same year. In terms of morbid atmospherics and generic horror shenanigans, this film is very successful. There are lots of cool lighting effects, fish eye lens tomfoolery, and odd makeup effects thrown at the camera but it all becomes a little overwhelming after a while. Though I enjoyed the horror stuff (which rips off everything from The Beyond to The Amityville Horror to The Exorcist to Hellraiser), this film spends way too much time in one location and is just a lot of screaming from the actors. I kind of enjoyed myself but I’m not really recommending this to anyone but Italian horror completists. If you pretend this is an unofficial sequel to The Beyond like I did and you’re a fan of David Brandon (of Michele Soavi’s Stagefright) like I am, you’ll have a good time.
In the case of Metamorphosis, this disc is such a vast improvement over the cruddy Mill Creek version that I want to give this one a 5/5 but this is far from perfect. I have little doubt that this will be the best this film will ever look. Beyond Darkness is in even better shape which is good because 90% of this film is fog machines and spotlights. Both films have decent audio with dialog being easy to understand though they both get a little distorted when the crazy shit happens which is a lot. Considering the lousy bootlegs one is used to with titles this obscure, the Shout! Factory disc which has both movies in 1080p and 1.66.1 widescreen is obviously a huge upgrade.
Other than trailers for each film, there’s no extras to speak of other than English subtitles. I would have loved to hear from the directors on both of these films, damn it!
I am a big fan of Filmirage and their insane films and this double feature didn’t let me down. Both Metamorphosis and Beyond Darkness have a lot going for them and they both equally have some serious handicaps though for different reasons. If you’re an Italian horror fan, especially one of the forgiving ones like myself who don’t mind the shamelessly ridiculous and sometimes tired bullshit of the last gasp of Italy’s golden era, then give this disc a look. The late 1980s were perilous times for the Italian film industry and the desperation of the horror directors to break into the American market once again by disguising their films as anything but Italian was just sad. But it was also fucking hilarious.