Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Film Review: Buio Omega

Having spent the second half of the 70s churning out 7 "Black Emanuelle" films starring Laura Gemser, legendary (or should I say infamous) Italian director/cinematographer Joe D'Amato (real name Aristide Massaccesi) decided to try his hand at psychological horror. Scripted by the unknown Ottavio Fabbri, "Buio Omega" ("Beyond the Darkness" aka "Buried Alive" aka "Blue Holocaust") is D'Amato's masterpiece, a meditation on sex and death that manages to combine both in-your-face gore and an understated gothic atmosphere.
Living in a huge estate which he inherited after his parents' untimely death, 22 year old Frank Wyler (Kieran Canter, a pretty boy who would later go into porn) spends his time sitting in the untouched room of his dead mother, staring at her picture, and running a private taxidermy business from his basement (a little obvious Norman Bates reference, no?). His fiancee, Anna Volkl (the gorgeous Cinzia Monreale, later to appear in Fulci's "The Beyond" as the blind Emily) is dying in the hospital. It seems that Frank's twisted housekeeper Iris (the brilliant Franca Stoppi, veteran of Bruno Mattei's women's prison and nunsploitation epics) is obsessed with Frank, and has put a voodoo curse on Anna, who eventually succumbs to her mystery disease. To comfort Frank, Iris visits him in his mother's room, saying "now all you have is me", and cruelly grins as she undoes her shirt to breast feed him. The sight of Frank suckling the middle-aged Iris' breast is unsettling to say the least.

Undaunted, Frank puts his hobby to good use, digging up Anna's corpse and throwing it in the back of his groovy 70s van. On the way home, however, he gets a flat; when he is finished fixing it he finds a female hitchhiker in the passenger seat. She smokes a joint and passes out. Next follows a controversial scene where Frank completely eviscerates Anna's body in gruesome detail, dissecting and embalming her, and even putting glass eyes in the vacant bloody sockets. With organs and guts slopped into a metal wastebasket, it's a brutal scene, capped by Frank taking out her heart, and inexplicably eating it. Interpret that clumsy symbolism any way you please. The rumour going around at the time of the film's release was that a real cadaver was used; though not true, it does show how good the FX were. When the hippie chick wakes up and sees what's going on she freaks out; Frank wrestles her to the ground, grabs a pair of pliers, and one by one pulls out all her fingernails, before strangling her to death. Iris shows up with a lusty smile on her face. In the next scene, Frank and Iris are dressing Anna's body in stockings and a white nightgown; in a bizarre reversal of the murder, Iris lovingly paints Anna's fingernails bright red. The body is then laid out in Frank's bed.

The disposal of the hitchhiker's body is another hideously brutal scene. They drag her into the bathroom, where, dressed in a rubber apron, Iris proceeds to roughly strip the obese corpse and hack it into pieces with a meat cleaver, while Frank fills the tub with corrosive acid. Nonchalantly throwing the limbs into the bubbling vat and scooping up the guts and loose matter into a dustpan, Iris is a cold butcher; her only purpose is to maintain her hold over the increasingly distraught and panicked Frank. She does this by holding his crying face to her bosom, saying "there, there, little boy" while giving him a handjob. Creepy, and so wrong.

Another murder occurs, this time a jogger Frank has picked up. To demonstrate how twisted he really is, he covers up Anna with a sheet and starts going at it with the jogger right next to the corpse. When the dead face is uncovered the girl starts screaming, so Frank rips her throat out with his teeth and eats the chunks of flesh in his mouth. Once again, Iris maintains her grip over him by covering up the murder; they burn the girl's body alive in the basement furnace.

Gradually, Frank and Iris begin to get on each other's nerves as Iris tries to force him to not only get rid of Anna, but also marry her. Frank is disgusted by her (calling her an "old slut") and by his dependence on her for maternal comfort; he spends all of his time in a daze, holding Anna's corpse and kissing her cold lips.

One telling thing about this film, and it is oddly restrained for a sleaze merchant like D'Amato: not once is it ever suggested that Frank has sex with the dead body. It seems that the film is trying to show that Frank can express love only to the dead, while he can have sex (however grotesque it is) only with the living. In this sense the movie makes you feel sorry for Frank, however monstrous his deeds may be. He is at the mercy of not only Iris, but also his obsessions and psychoses. Frank is not a necrophile per se, but rather someone who has taken the idea of not being able to let go of the past to an ultimate extreme.

In the end, there is no redemption or cure for either of the protagonists. Frank and Iris battle to the death in a final showdown, which includes a nice shot of an eyeball being ripped out, a cheek being bitten off, and a butcher knife in the throat. Dying from his wounds, Frank manages to get Anna's corpse into the furnace; if he can't have her any more, she must finally be put to rest. There are other plot twists like a guy planning to blackmail Frank after discovering his secret, and the arrival of Anna's sister (also played by Monreale), but these are unimportant. The story is really about the bizarre menage a trois between Frank, Anna, and Iris. With all three dead, so is the movie.

Finally, the score is brilliant. Goblin do their usual thing during the action and murder sequences (though they're a little more mellow than they are for Argento's flicks), but it is the other music that really shines. Understated and elegiac piano melodies carry the film, especially in the tender "love" scenes between Frank and Anna, and the tender yet twisted sexual scenes between Frank and Iris. Also, D'Amato's cinematography is great as usual (that was really his strength, much more than as a director), as is the countryside setting and the palatial estate, which lends the whole thing a gothic and tragic touch. Overall, "Buio Omega" is a horrifying yet oddly beautiful and (dare I say) moving story about the obsessions with love and death that we all feel to a certain degree. Plus, it's gory as all hell!

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