With the Beyond the Darkness title stemming from a Joe D’Amato film and the subtitle cult, horror and extreme cinema, the typical reader of this blog can probably expect that Phil Russell’s book is going to be of interest to them, whether as a source of new films to track down and see or to simply see how another fan’s tastes diverge and converge with your own.
Rather than plunging straight into the alphabetised reviews of roughly 160 titles across 420 or so pages, Russell sets out his criteria in the introduction: No, this is not a comprehensive discussion of cult, horror and extreme cinema, nor could it ever be. No, this is not an “entry level” book, where no prior knowledge is expected.
At this point the prospective reader might wonder what “entry level” means and whether they are just going to get another discussion of, say, Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer or The Beyond. Well, yes, both these titles are present and correct.
Crucially, however, the wide geographical and temporal range in the films discussed, from North America, Europe, and East Asia, and from the late 1950s to the present, should mean there are titles you haven’t seen or may not even have heard of.
Another important factor here is the gamut of positions the films discussed occupy in relation to art, auteur, experimental and/or exploitation cinemas. This is sometimes seen within a single film (e.g. Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant or Nacho Cerda’s Aftermath) and sometimes within the broader career of a given auteur (e.g. David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future to Shivers to Dead Ringers).
Importantly, Russell also here establishes his limits, particularly around the inclusion of actual death footage. Accordingly those expecting a run through of interminable Faces/Traces of Death sequels may be disappointed.
The reviews themselves are informative and even-handed, avoiding fan-boy type hyperbole, whilst still often couched in Joe Bob-Briggs type language. There’s a levelling effect, where Jesus Franco’s “Bloody Moon is far from being a masterpiece but is entertaining from start to finish” whilst Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch is essentially a hit or miss affair”
In addition to the reviews there are also some longer pieces, such as a reprint of the Cinema of Transgression’s manifesto and an interview with Nick Zedd, or a discussion of horror and censorship in late Franco Spain.
Some apparent misspellings (“Marchians” for Martians in John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars) and awkwardness in the formatting (though no worse than other print-on-demand type titles I’ve seen) aside Beyond the Darkness can be recommended.