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Metamorphosis / Beyond Darkness

Shout Factory // Unrated // August 25, 2015
List Price: $24.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 10, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Every time Scream Factory releases a high-def double feature of horror flicks that never found their way to DVD, an angel gets its wings. Or a devil gets its...I don't know, pitchfork. Something awesome happens. Anyway, their latest double header pairs together two of Filmirage's movies from the class of 1990: Metamorphosis and Beyond Darkness.

To swipe a line from another slice of Italian horror shot on these shores, Dr. Peter Houseman (Gene LeBrock) has been given carte blanche when it comes to his genetic research at this nameless university, but he doesn't have a blank check. Houseman has been burning through hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past couple years but doesn't have a word of published material to show for it. This brash young doctor refuses to unveil his work until it's ready, and that's not exactly the best bargaining position to take when he has his hand out for another round of funding. When the board hears what little Dr. Houseman is prepared to tell them about his batshit insane experiments into halting the aging process, the wheels start turning to have this arrogant son of a bitch benched so that a more trusted researcher can take the reins. Houseman figures he can force the university brass to let him continue if he can prove that there's substance to his theories. There just isn't the time to fill out a bunch of requisition forms, so Houseman injects himself with his not-really-tested serum instead. I'd tell you what happens next, but it's pretty much all right there in the title:

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There's at least one more stage to this...this metamorphosis, but I'll leave those final horrors for you to discover.

Metamorphosis draws deeply from two of the best possible wells. At least on paper, its premise is pretty much a head-on collision between Cronenberg's The Fly -- a misunderstood scientist mutates nightmarishly after making himself the subject of his own experiments, with lots of close-ups of text on ancient computer monitors and a vaguely similar denouement -- and Re-Animator with its power play between an arrogant young researcher obsessed with synthesizing immortality and a sneering, condescending faculty member of the old guard hellbent on taking over. There's also a Jekyll/Hyde angle, with Houseman blacking out when his darker, devolved self seizes hold, and the stalking of his lover (Catherine Baranov) and her tow-headed little son unfolds a bit like The Shining.

While its inspirations are inventive, relentlessly engaging films whose allure has only strengthened in the decades that have since passed,, isn't. Leadened by reams and reams of dialogue -- and woodenly delivered by a cast that had rarely stood in front of a camera before or since -- Metamorphosis is the cinematic equivalent of a fistful of Ambien. The pacing is excruciatingly slow, shuffling a lot of the carnage offscreen or in flashbacks to make room for more scenes of people standing around and talking. Gene LeBrock looks like a movie star but lacks the acting chops to match, and he's just woefully unable to shepherd Metamorphosis through vast expanses of dead air until it's finally time for all hell to break loose. Hardly anything happens throughout its first seventy-ish minutes. The movie's underfunded stabs at Cronenbergesque body horror generally fall flat, and the same goes for Houseman's detective work to figure out what this sinister force that's taking over his body has been up to. If you're curious, Housemutant has only viciously walloped a tiny handful of people (among them Black Emmanuelle herself, Laura Gemser). A further mutated version later in the film takes a quick chomp out of a couple poor bastards' necks. There's a slight uptick in interest when the climax rolls around, with a good bit more blood spilled and more meaningful attempts at suspense. It's just too little and far too late, and what a miscalculation it is to hinge our sympathies on Houseman's thoroughly unlikeable, creepy beyond description "son" as he's stalked through a lab Jurassic Park-style. Houseman's ultimate transformation opens up the door for something far more memorable, but that howlingly unconvincing rubber monster only scores a few seconds of screentime. There's another twist after that, but I just...I can't right now.

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There's so-bad-it's-good, and then there's Metamorphosis which circles back around to no-just-bad. Its biggest misstep is taking itself so seriously; if not for its restraint and its overreliance on page after page after page of dialogue, Metamorphosis could've been a blood-drenched romp about a devolved lizard-man gobbling up co-eds. Instead, we're stuck with a tedious, completely forgettable knockoff of The Fly.

Beyond Darkness
MLS #2666316032

Move-in ready and torn straight from the pages of...uh, The Sound and the Fury?, this achingly gorgeous 4 bedroom, 2 bath home boasts a number of features rarely found in this price range. A spacious Dining Room greets you upon entering the home, leading to a recently renovated Kitchen complete with a charming breakfast nook. The entire home is adorned with smooth ceilings and masterfully crafted moldings. The Living Room showcases vaulted ceilings as well as a wood-burning fireplace that has been upfitted with gas logs. A spacious Playroom / Office is located just off the Living Room, providing quiet seclusion when desired. The Master Bedroom is remarkably expansive, as is the Master Bath with its dual vanities. Built atop the stake upon which innumerable witches were burned, your family will be able to experience the untold history of the South firsthand. Other noteworthy features include a walk-in closet in the Master, a detached Garage with workshop, and the gateway to an otherworldly dimension in which the dead reign supreme.

Beyond Darkness
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...and, yeah, you're right: that is the same house from Lucio Fulci's The Beyond. Unfortunately, that "oh, wow!" glimmer of recognition is just about the only time my eyes lit up throughout this glacially paced Poltergeist knockoff.

Gene LeBrock is back for more punishment as Reverend Peter, who's brought his photogenic family with him to spread The Word in this speck on the map in Louisiana. There's a whole lotta praying, alright: they've just moved into a home built on top of an ancient Indian burial groundthe stake where countless witches from New England were burned alive. Why Massachusetts shipped its witches down to the bayou to be torched, I have no idea. Anyway, turns out that witches feast upon the souls of young children, and Carol AnneCarole (Theresa Walker) and Martin (Troll 2's Michael Stephenson) are ringing the dinner bell. Gaggles of Darth Maul-looking witches draped in black shamble throughout the house a couple of times until the long-dead leader of the pack drags Martin into a parallel dimension or whatever. Anyway, he comes back possessed, which makes sense seeing as how this was released as La Casa 5 in Italy and was the third in a series of unofficial sequels to The Evil Dead. It's around this time that the producers remember "wait, The Exorcist made way more money than Poltergeist!" and decide to rip that off instead.

Beyond Darkness
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I had high hopes for Beyond Darkness, which, if Michael Stephenson's memories are correct, director Claudio Fragasso helmed around a year and a half after Troll 2. From the time I first laid eyes on Troll 2 two decades and change ago late night on HBO, I was wholly and completely obsessed, and there are still probably only two or three movies I've watched more frequently throughout my life. So many cult flicks have maybe three or four standout moments, and the rest is just something you have to slog through to get to the good stuff. At the end of the day, the allure of Troll 2 is that it's a gloriously unhinged Grimm's Fairy Tale with something bizarre and wonderful lurking around every single corner. Beyond Darkness disappointingly settles for something far more routine. Its cast is considerably more competent this time around and is working with less stilted dialogue; not to the point that they're good, exactly, but they're not endearingly ridiculous in the same vein as Troll 2 either.

Beyond Darkness
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There really aren't any standout setpieces. Light beams through a sinister crack in the wall (call The Doctor!), an antique radio all of a sudden makes a mad dash towards the dinner table, figures head-to-toe in black shuffle around the house, and a heat-seeking cleaver slooooooowwwwwwwwly flies across the room. I appreciate the Nightmare on Elm St.-esque hands and head threatening to break through a wall, although Beyond Darkness milks that simple-yet-effective effect for way more than it's worth, and a "if the kid in the window is up there, then who's that in the backseat?" double take genuinely is creepy. There's almost something to the lead witch as she transforms into Rule 63 Pinhead near the end as well. Beyond Darkness is otherwise just limp spookhouse scares and endless repetition, barely clocking in at an hour and a half but so poorly paced that it feels at least triple that. This is the sort of movie that has Peter storming back into the house to find his family bruised, battered, and wielding axes and baseball bats...telling us about this epic battle against the witches that we never actually get to friggin' see. Clumsily edited, devoid of atmosphere, aggressively forgettable, and not even lousy enough to accidentally be fun, Beyond Darkness is a complete misfire.

Metamorphosis is kind of underwhelming in high definition, I have to admit. Its colors skew towards the duller and more lifeless end of the spectrum, although the production design shoulders a good bit of the blame for that. Contrast is surprisingly thin and wispy in a handful of scenes. There are times -- most noticeably during pans -- where it almost looks as if the movie was shot through gauze: as if the closest thing to film grain it has is floating above the image rather than being an inherent part of it. (If you own the disc and have no idea what I'm talking about, look at the lengthy pan across Houseman's students just before the three minute mark for one glaring example.) Though this varies greatly from scene to scene, it can be extremely soft as well. Don't get me wrong, though! There's frequently a level of clarity and detail on display throughout Metamorphosis that make it unmistakeably clear that this is a genuine 1080p24 presentation. Definition can be pretty erratic, so I'm guessing this either comes down to the way the film was originally shot, or maybe this presentation had be Frankenstein-ed together from multiple sources of varying quality. Or, I don't know, Italian licensors can be awfully hit-or-miss with high-def masters. The trailer elsewhere on this disc looks exactly the same, for what that's worth. On the upside, the image is free of any speckling or wear of note, and I couldn't spot any artifacting from its AVC encode either. This is undoubtedly the best that Metamorphosis has ever looked outside of theaters, but it still doesn't hit the marks I'd hoped it would.

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I don't know what dark magicks were summoned for Troll 2 to look so surreally gorgeous on Blu-ray, but they apparently ran out of the stuff when it came time to remaster one of Claudio Fragasso's other trashterpieces, Beyond Darkness. Its colors don't leap off the screen in nearly that same way, grain tends to be indistinct, and the image overall is considerably softer. Black levels and shadow detail tend to be lackluster as well. Beyond Darkness is kind of all over the place, though. Many scenes are fuzzy and hazy -- the overuse of fog machines and dry ice doesn't help -- while others are actually pretty nicely detailed. Case in point:

Beyond Darkness
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If I had to rank these two presentations, I think I'd give the edge to Metamorphosis. Neither of them manage to impress, exactly, but considering that this is their first proper home video release since the VHS era, Euroschlock fanatics still ought to find this Blu-ray set to be a more than worthy upgrade.

Metamorphosis and Beyond Darkness are both pillarboxed to an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, and they're served up on a dual-layer disc.

Both halves of this double feature are also rocking 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks. Metamorphosis is presented in two-channel mono, while Beyond Darkness gets a bump up to stereo.

Metamorphosis' lossless audio is listenable but doesn't rank too much higher than that. Dialogue frequently shows signs of strain, and I've verified on two different players and two sets of speakers that a number of lines crackle and pop. It's not just loudly shouted dialogue that suffers either; even routine conversations like a security guard filling in some of the blanks for Houseman flicker with static. A few lines are mumbled enough that they're not entirely discernable, but that's not a persistent nuisiance. There's a decent low-end punctuating some of the synth-bass in the score, although I'm surprised by how little punch the massive shootout in the finalé packs. No hiss or dropouts ever get in the way, but the recording isn't completely clean either, picking up a lot of ambient noise in certain scenes.

Beyond Darkness
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Beyond Darkness is even more of a mixed bag. The score by Carlo Cordio -- recycling a bunch of cues from Troll 2 -- sounds decent enough, again unleashing some deep, resounding bass from his banks of synthesizers. The synth-strings and wheezy organ near the end don't fare as well, though. The dialogue throughout Beyond Darkness is even more strained than in the other half of this double feature, with practically every last syllable sounding harsh and sibilant. For whatever reason, a couple of the sequences revolving around the elderly Reverend Jonathan are especially troublesome. As he speaks with Peter about George's deep descent into madness, some of the conversation is dialed so low in the mix that it's basically unintelligible. The cavernous reverb in the church when Jonathan and George meet once again muddies the waters as well.

Both Metamorphosis and Beyond Darkness are also accompanied by optional English (SDH) subtitles. The menu design for this is really sleek and efficient, letting you toggle subtitles for both movies from a single point on the main menu rather than have to nose around separate 'Setup' submenus.

No slipcover or reversible cover art this time around, although some production stills are showcased in the interior cover.
  • Trailers (5 min.; HD): High-def trailers are included for both Metamorphosis and Beyond Darkness.

The Final Word
Scream Factory has been on a hell of a run this summer, bringing the malevolent genie of The Outing and Umberto Lenzi's Evil Dead-in-name-only sequel Ghosthouse -- among many others -- to home video for the first time in decades, and often in nicely priced double features to boot. Part of me is thrilled to see a couple of Italian horror flicks revived like this on Blu-ray, especially considering that these two never really found their way onto DVD. ...and then I remember that we're talking about Metamorphosis and Beyond Darkness, so I kind of just shrug and frown. This double feature is a glacially paced, uninvolving slog devoid of any real verve or imagination. This pairing isn't unwatchable or anything, but there's just...nothing here worth recommending. Rent It.
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