Wednesday, September 5, 2012

La Casa 5-Beyond Darkness (1990)

Now THIS is something to be afraid of-a Claudio Fragasso movie!

For those not in the now, Claudio Fragasso is an Italian director and writer, who usually worked alongside Italian exploitation king Bruno Mattei, in such films as Strike Commando, Rats: Night of Terror, Hell of the Living Dead, Terminator II (which is actually a ripoff of Aliens!) and many, many more!

When not working with Mattei, Fragasso was making such 'gems' that you've undoubtedly heard of-Troll 2 mainly, Zombie 4: After Death, Monster Dog (starring Alice Cooper!) and today's movie, La Casa 5! aka, Beyond Darkness, aka La Casa 4, aka La Casa 3, aka Ghosthouse 5, aka Ghosthouse 3, aka Evil Dead 5, aka Horror House II, aka House 5, aka House of Darkness, aka Return from Planet Ape...Ok, that last one isn't a real alternate title for La Casa 5...It's an alternate title for Tombs of the Blind Dead! A zombie movie was retitled somewhere as Return from Planet Ape! Yikes!

La Casa 5 is a 'sequel' to Umberto Lenzi's La Casa 3 (aka, Ghosthouse, aka Ghosthouse 2, aka Evil Dead 3) and Fabrizio Laurenti's La Casa 4 (aka, Witchcraft, aka Ghosthouse 2, aka Ghosthouse 4, aka Evil Dead 4-starring Linda Blair and David Hasslehoff!). So, yeah! There was pretty much an Italian Evil Dead franchise, worked on by all the notable exploitation directors of the time! (At least, in the sense that they have no connection to the Evil Dead films whatsoever! Or with each-other).

La Casa 5 starts off with a priest, Father George (David Brandon) going to a jail-into death row to give a prisoner last rites and confession. The prisoner is a middle-aged woman who killed several children, as she claims, 'to devour their souls and give them to Ameth'. The woman tries to unnerve George and get inside his head, and she gives him her satanic bible. After she is led away and executed, George starts having strange visions.

Later, Father Peter (Gene LeBrock)-a priest- and his family-his wife Annie (Barbara Bingham) and two kids, Carole (Theresa Walker) and Martin (Michael Stephenson...yes, THAT Michael Stephenson, from Troll 2! "They're eating my mom!")-arrive at their new house. Everyone goes packing except for Carole, who talks with her imaginary friend, and starts hearing a strange raspy whispering, and she goes wandering. She finds a strange hole with light pouring from it. She stares at it, entranced, until she's disturbed by Martin. The two talk until Martin scares her away.

Come nighttime, the family is having dinner when the power randomly switches off, then on again. Late at night, when everyone's in bed, Martin and Carole are woken up when the large swan ornament in their room starts rocking back and forth for no reason. Martin goes over to the swan, stops it from moving, all the while the music is ramping up!...And the scene abruptly cuts to the next day! Well so much for scares!

The next day, Father George, the priest from the movie's opening (who I actually thought was Peter up until this point!) is a drunk doomdsdayer, who sees the Ameth woman from the jail with a schoolbus full of kids. He tries to rescue them (that is, if they are really in trouble, and he's not just crazy), but it drives off, losing him.

That night, Carole has a nightmare about witches. The next day, Peter gets a phone call from his church's reverend, who asks him how his new house is going, then asks if he's gotten any disturbing phone calls lately. Peter says he hasn't, and asks the reverend why he's asking. He tells Peter to come over to the church, as it would be better to say face-to-face rather than over the phone. For anyone who's seen The Omen, you know where this is going! A reverend, Father Jonathon, who knows about something sinister involving the main character, who asks for a meeting-he is SO dead!...But no, he doesn't go the way of Father Brennan in this movie...

Later that night, while the family are having dinner, a radio suddenly turns on, with satanic chants playing. When Peter pulls the radio's plug, it stays off for a second, then turns back on and charges straight into the dinner table, surging with electricity. The whole house starts shaking, cutlery flies everywhere, and the house is transported...somewhere, and is invaded by witches. Whoah, steady movie, you don't want to blow your load just yet, it's only half an hour into the movie!

Peter wards off the witches with a crucifix and bible verses, and the house returns to normal.   sees Father Jonathon, who talks about george. Peter leaves the church and calls his house and tells his family to leave. they can't though, because Carole is running a fever. Peter starts to rush off when he is accosted by George, who tells Peter that his house is possessed. George runs off, and while Peter goes home, George goes into the church and yells at Father Jonathon about the meaningless of faith...

When Peter gets home, the house is in shambles, as the witches have attacked. Annie and the kids fought them off sucessfully, but soon after Peter arrives, the witches come again, and Martin is taken...

Well this was a surprise!-A Claudio Fragasso film that's not only decent, but actually good!

La Casa 5 doesn't rip off anything in particular (that I'm aware of at least), and it really isn't much of an Amityville Horror ripoff. Sure, Amityville has a demon-infested haunted house, but so do dozens of other haunted house movies. La Casa 5 does start ripping off The Exorcist in the last half hour though!

Speaking of The Amityville Horror, guess which of these two movies I think is better? La Casa 5! Unlike TAH, things actually happen, and there's a much better plot in La Casa 5, which has a LOT happening in it-it's never boring, and it never feels overstuffed.

Peter and George make good counteparts to each-other (is that a tautology?), with Peter the priest filled with faith, and with a happy family, and the faithless George, who's a shattered man thanks to the demonic influences on him. I didn't like how George's plotline was ended though. After George finally conquers his demons, he's...immediately killed. I wouldn't have minded if he died if he died doing something, but nope, he's just strapped to an electric chair and ZAP! He doesn't die right away, and his character does get closure, but the witches just killed him with no problem! The film didn't let him even get a chance to fight back, and that's annoying.

The whole ending is really confusing too! And of course, once the credits rolled, there was yet another of Claudio Fragasso's infamous super-downer endings! Remember how Troll 2 ended? How about Zombie 4? Or Hell of the Living Dead? And possibly Rats, if those...ummm...certain 'people' were a threat. And here! Claudio, man, you need to like your characters more!

The film's acting ranges from good to so-so. Barbara Bingham as Annie and Gene LeBrock as Father Peter both fall into the latter category, as do Michael Stephenson and Theresa Walker as the kids. David Brandon is the standout as Father George-he's quite good as the crazed, broken priest.

The actress who plays the Ameth woman, who's kinda the main villain, is played, I think by Mary Coulson. Coulson is credited as Bette, but there was no-one in the film named Bette. I guess it must be Ameth-lady, because it's the only name in the cast that could be. Whoever she's played by, she is one creepy the start of the movie. She a nothing villain for the rest of the movie though. She barely appears, does little, etc.

As with Troll 2, the costume designer for La Casa 5 is none other than Laura Gemser! And she does a good job-it helps that there are no goblins in the film.

So, despite being a Claudio Fragasso film, I wholeheartedly recommend La Casa 5: Beyond Darkness to all horror fans!...

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