Hello, everyone. Welcome to the first post of November, and to the first installment of Once Upon a Time in Italy. I’ve covered plenty of Italian films here in the last year, and I wanted to give them a regular home. So each Monday you can stop by and check out a selection from everyone’s favorite boot shaped country. I’ll be looking at the entire spectrum of Italian cinema and everything they have to offer so expect everything art house, drama, comedy, western, action, and of course horror. Even after the 31 Days of Horror in October, I’m not quite ready to move on, and today I want to bring you a film from Italy’s Joe D’Amato.
He was born in 1936 as Artistide Massaccesi, the son of an electrician working at one of the largest of the Italian movie studios. He entered his film career in 1961 with a job as an assistant cameraman on Mario Bava’s film Ecrole al centro dell terra (Hercules at the Center of the Earth, and eventually he worked his way up the ladder to being a cinematographer. After a while he started directing films under a variety of pseudonyms to prevent any to harm his career. It was not until the ’70’s that he hit on the name Joe D’Amato, intended to emulate Italian-American directors Brian DePalma and Martin Scorsese. Under that name he directed basically all kind of films, but the sleaze and horror titles are always the most memorable. Looking back into D’Amato’s catalog you find films like Anthropophagous and Absurd nestled between gems like Emmanuelle and the Porno Nights and Erotic Nights of the Living Dead.
In there you might find tonight’s film, BuioOmega (1979) which played under the titles Buried Alive, Beyond the Darkness, and The Final Darkness in various corners of the world. In the film, Taxidermist Frank Wyler (Kieran Canter) is having trouble dealing with the death of his young wife Anna (Cinzia Monreale), and it’s not really helping that his creepy housekeeper Isis (Franca Stoppi) is pretty blatantly trying to seduce him. Frank decides that the only thing to do is steal his wife’s body and preserve her as he does animals. With Isis’ encouragement, Frank works his way up to killing buxom beauties, and of course, getting a little necrophilic action along the way. The love triangle between Isis, Frank, and the stuffed body of Ann finally blows up when Ann’s sister make a surprise visit.
Some of D’Amato’s previous films had mixed tinges of horror in with the erotic, but many have labeled Buio Omega as his first true horror film. It is not a film that hesitates or shies away from the graphic or disturbing. When Frank brings home his wife to stuff the body, it is shown as a detailed process, and though I am not generally squeamish, it made me glad that I wasn’t having a plate of spaghetti for dinner tonight. It’s immediately followed up with a scene of fingernails being ripped out that really put my nerves on edge. Ultimately. D’Amato was working on a shoestring budget, and it does show with a few effects taken straight out of the H.G. Lewis playbook. That’s not always a bad thing, and D’Amato brings it off well enough to be overlooked.
Even though this film was more slanted toward the horrific, Joe was not about to to sugarcoat the erotic aspect either. Frank’s fetishistic behaviors are unsettling to so say the least, but thankfully this isn’t 1978’s Nekromantik. So the unconventional love story never gets too intimate if you know what I mean and I think you do. While Frank is undeniably a creep, horny housekeeper Isis takes it to a whole different level with her deviant Cougar act. First she wants to breastfeed Frank which is bad enough. Then later, after they dissolve a whole girl in a bath of acid, she comforts him by giving him a hand job while he stares at his wife’s body. Later, feeling like he’s been outdone, Frank brings home a pretty jogger, gets her in his bed, and tries to get it on while showing Ann’s stuffed body off. I’m all for having pride in a job well done, but seriously, there’s a time and place for that.
Buio Omega revolves around atmosphere primarily, and dialog is used sparingly throughout. D’Amato doubled as his own cinematographer (billed under his real name), and as is usual with his work, he knows how to set up nice shots and execute them. A few of the gore scenes are hampered by the substandard props, but it didn’t really effect my enjoyment any. A real bonus in Buio Omega is the score by Italian horror film regulars, Goblin. Their synthy prog fit this era of film so well, and it definitely gives a great flavor to the film. D’Amato also made some smart decisions like keeping some scenes, like as the incineration of Frank’s victim, silent.
This film really just revolves around the two lead performances, and while there is a supporting cast, no one has any scenes of characterization no matter why they’ve appeared. The male lead, Frank is played by Kieran Canter, He had only appeared in a single film before this role. After, he landed a few other roles, most of them being X Rated titles. I thought his acting was quite good on the whole, but the sparse dialog might have played to his strengths. The star of the film is clearly Franca Stoppi as Iris, the devious housekeeper. While Frank perpetrated all of the violence, it’s Iris who encouraged him in order to gain what she desires. Stoppi does a wonderful job as the shrewish, scheming woman. I didn’t find it at all surprising that after this film she had a short career filled with diabolical roles. She became a favorite of Bruno Mattei who cast her as a devious nun in The Other Hell(1981) and vicious Prison Guard in Violence in a Women’s Prison (1982).
I’m still wading back into D’Amato’s back catalog, and checking out this early horror entry, it seems like an auspicious debut to kick off a run in the genre. Later in his career when he would make a living ripping off successful films, but this time D’Amato found an original story and that lent itself to his eerie and disturbing style. Though I didn’t find the film near as fun as Anthropophagous or Absurd, it maintained my interest with decent gore and themes of obsession that could be described as Hitchcockian. If you’re a fan of Italian cinema or D’Amato then Buio Omega is one that you should watch. Well, as long as you’re not planning to have a big dinner or a romantic evening, it would probably put a damper on your plans.