screamIf there’s one thing I love to do in this life, it’s discussing horror. I could be in the foulest of dispositions, having one of those days where I just want to ostracize myself from the rest of the world, but start talking to me about horror and I will instantly light up and my bad mood will instantly disappear.  In many conversations that I’ve had the pleasure of engaging in with horror fans I’ve met over the years, I get asked the same question: Leonel, why is it that you are so hooked on material coming out of that decade and what is it about it that makes such a big deal for you? Well, for starters the only honest answer I can give is, if you lived through the 80’s like I did, you will understand why. It wasn’t just the films themselves but what they represented during that time (and still do for some of us). There are some fans younger than myself who have been able to comprehend what I’m talking about and experience everything the 80’s presented us (and I’m not referring to the series of films that produced sequel upon sequel that are more commonly known) both from what filmmakers here in the States had to offer and those from Europe and other countries of the world did, also. Though I love the films that were made here in good ‘ol America, I have a penchant for films that were imported from the other side of the globe, especially ones from Italy. If you’ve never seen a horror film that was made in Italy during the 80’s, you’ve completely robbed yourself of some of the most preposterous, most inept, and most hilarious films that you will ever lay eyes on. Metamorphosis and Beyond Darkness are two of said films that should be immediately tracked down and viewed.

unnamed (82)THE FILMS

Metamorphosis is one that, sadly, I had no idea existed back during my mom-and-pop video store cruising days when I was a sophomore in high school. Then again, I had no clue during my youth that horror films had been made anywhere outside the U.S. I don’t remember having seen the box art for this 1990 entry anywhere and that sucks because I think I would have really enjoyed this one as a kid.  In the 80’s, director George Eastman made a name for himself starring in such regarded horror classics as Anthropophagus and Delirium: Photo of Gioia and writing the Euro-horror slasher masterpiece StageFright.  In 1981, he helmed and starred in the notorious video nasty Absurd which was immediately dismissed as a complete rip-off of Halloween. Eight years later, he would write and direct Metamorphosis, a film so hilariously bad that it has to be seen to be appreciated. The story revolves around Dr. Peter Houseman (played by Christopher Reeve-doppelganger Gene Lebrock) who is conducting experiments with a serum he’s concocted which he swears will put a halt to human aging once and for all.  But when the school’s benefactors are skeptical of his work and threaten to pull the funding he needs to carry on his studies, he makes the drastic decision to instead perform the tests on himself to prove that his theories indeed are conceivable and to win the affections of the beautiful Sally (Catharine Baranov) and her son Tommy. What he doesn’t realize is that the serum is slowly changing his body into something sinister that causes him to do evil things without him knowing. Could it be someone or something else inside him that’s trying to take over? Now…where have I seen this type of story play out before?  Wait…This is nothing more than a modified horror re-telling of The Nutty Professor! Add horribly-written dialogue and laughable one-liners clumsily delivered by vapid actors, some special effects that are juvenile at best, and a reveal during the film’s climax that will have you falling from your seat in complete and howling laughter and you’ve got this darling of a horror film. Thank you, Mr. Eastman, for once again taking the main concept of an already successful film and infusing it into your own even though the end result is nothing near what the film borrowed from was able to accomplish. Now, having watched Absurd years ago, I would be fibbing if I said that Metamorphosis isn’t an unbelievably entertaining piece of work because it’s a complete hoot. In fact, I actually now prefer this film to that notorious video nasty only because Eastman not only takes the essence of The Nutty Professor and takes it up a notch instead of just blatantly copying and pasting from Halloween as he did in Absurd. The actors in this film present their characters rather rigidly and two-dimensional and it would have been nice to have seen them actually develop, but then that would probably take away from the reasons I ended up liking this one altogether.  The one liners here are so painfully awful that they’re actually memorable: “How was lunch?” “You were the main dish and they served you up with every possible sauce.” I found myself laughing uncontrollably as I could only imagine how the actors could have delivered these lines in the first place. “What was it?” “A nightmare…from the past!” Cue my laughter once again. The final scene took the cake, though. I knew what the director was trying to present and convey but it disappointingly fell flat as the execution of what could have been a great ending came up short. And that stinks, because it could have been something really great. With all that said, surprisingly, I see myself watching this one again in the future as it was something that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy, but did. If you love horror films with lame plotlines, horrendous acting, ever-present red herrings, special effects that sometimes compare to something a third-grader could probably do, all while oozing sleaze and sex all at the same time then Italian 80’s (or in this case early 90’s) horror is definitely for you.

Now, I wish I could say the same for Claudio Fragasso’s Beyond Darkness, the 1990 companion film on this particular disc. First released as the fifth installment in the Italian series La Casa and as the second sequel to Ghosthouse, this one is a bit more of a doozy and not at all it a good way. The story involves a minister, Peter (Gene Lebrock, who was also in Metamorphosis – whose character in that film had the same first name – and whose performance is just as lackluster here) who moves into a new home with his family having no idea that it was built on a site where witches were once burned at the stake. The house was once inhabited by another priest (a disappointing waste of the fantastic David Brandon of StageFright and Until Death) who loses his faith after witnessing the execution of a possessed, devil-worshipping child murderer who now wanders the streets muttering cryptic warnings while sipping on the hard stuff, bottle in hand and all.  This film is a very banal offering in the haunted house genre as a whole as it borrows heavily from hit horror films of the time such as The Exorcist, Amityville Horror and Poltergeist.  The film immediately begins to go downhill and quickly takes a nosedive without looking back.  Unfortunately, everything about this film is completely convoluted, including its storyline and visuals and it tries hard to match – and sometimes outdo – those elements that made the films mentioned above so successful. The acting and dialogue here are so atrocious that you wonder how in hell the actors cast (including the kid that was in Troll 2) ever got hired in the first place and the clichéd special effects try so hard to be taken seriously that you end up doing the exact opposite. The film misses the mark here on all counts and delivers a convoluted and incoherent mess that sadly, cannot be recovered from.


Yet more praises to Scream Factory for taking the time to bring these obscure Italian films to a wide audience! Though Metamorphosis had been available on disc before, it was great to see Beyond Darkness finally receive a proper release on disc here in the United States. It’s great that they are taking the time to preserve films such as these so they don’t fall into obscurity and so that horror fans, can enjoy these at any time. Both films look and sound great and both have their accompanying trailers presented here, as well. Now having watched Metamorphosis, an audio commentary by George Eastman would have been a great addition to this already fantastic package. On-camera interviews with Eastman and Gene Lebrock would have rounded this out perfectly (to see what they both look like now and just to get to hear Lebrock discuss both films in one sitting). I would also have loved to hear what David Brandon has to say about Beyond Darkness (and to see what he looks like now) and what it was like working with director Fragasso. I do understand that it can be difficult for a distribution company to obtain financing to arrange interviews and such with actors and directors and be able to provide fantastic special features but in this case, I’m grateful that Scream Factory even thought about putting these two out for fans to get their hands on. Its companies like them that are keeping interests in 80’s horror alive and well and for that, they reign supreme.


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