Tomás Aznar’s Beyond Terror (1980) has long been one of the titles that has remained most elusive to Spanish horror film aficionados, that also effectively jumbles-together elements of the ‘quinqui’ (juvenile delinquent) films that were popular in Spain at the time. Ghost-produced and co-written by future Pieces (1982) director, Juan Piquer Simón, Beyond Terror has finally been given its first ever English-friendly release thanks to Cauldron Films’ exceptional new Blu-ray.
Right from the get-go, Beyond Terror is strangely understated and immediately primes itself for something a bit more unusual. Lola (Raquel Ramírez) needs some quick cash in order to score some dope, so she robs and then brutally murders a potential ‘john’ after teasing him with sex in an open field (“Dirty fucker! You’re gonna get it!” she exclaims). Later that day, she meets-up with her fellow gang members, Chema (Francisco Sánchez Grajera), Nico (Emilio Siegrist) and Jess (Martin Kordas), and they proceed to rob a local truck-stop greasy spoon for yet another quick infusion of cash. When the police inadvertently enter the premises, a flurry of gunfire leaves a number of people messily shot dead in their wake. So, in order to “help with their getaway”, Chema kidnaps Jorge (Antonio Jabalera) and Linda (Alexia Loreto), the only hostages left standing, and steals their car. After driving off into the night, this disparate group happen upon a house out in the countryside where an old woman (Andreé van de Woestyne) and her young grandson (David Forrest) reside, and this new encounter results in yet another violent altercation; only this time, as they flee from the scene of the crime, their getaway takes a bizarre and exceedingly unexpected turn…
While Beyond Terror is, first-and-foremost, a horror film, by virtue of its overall tone, it also—quite easily—fits into the violent, realistic world of the ‘quinqui’, a uniquely Spanish brand of film, which centered around working-class adolescents and their petty crime sprees, much of which was liberally infused with habitual drug use, graphic sex and plenty of violent behaviour. Prominent directors such as Eloy de la Iglesia explored this genre time and time again, oftentimes with non-actors, many of whom were cast right off the street. So, in that respect, it seems appropriate that Beyond Terror also features a number of unfamiliar faces within its small-but-memorable cast. A bleak landscape is quickly established as we the audience are introduced to our ‘protagonists’, a reprehensible group of juveniles whose violent, dead-end existence plumbs the lowest depths of sociopathic degeneracy. Even the kidnapped hostages, who at first appear to be no more than peaceable, benign characters, also reveal their darker personalities. In the subtlest of ways, the film does manage to explore some sociopolitical rifts, but for the most part, the filmmakers don’t attempt to fabricate any cheap psychological rationale for this group’s vicious behaviour. In one of the film’s effective if curiously introspective moments, Nico shoots-up smack and then describes his time in an orphanage where he was sexually abused as a child, while Lola casually remarks, “Careful with priests and strangers with candy!” As Kat Ellinger points out in her detailed audio commentary, the film does, however indirectly, provide plenty of “politically-charged” subtexts such as this, which not only helps to further enrich the film, but also expresses “anger at the Spanish establishment.”
Even though Beyond Terror’s horror elements aren’t introduced until about the half-hour mark, director Aznar handles everything with chilling efficiency. Left for dead in a blazing inferno, the elderly woman posthumously curses our hapless evildoers as they drive away (“Lord of Shadows. Descend. Lord! Come… Cover your slave with your majestic shadow!”), only for them to lose control of their car, which leads them to a desecrated church in the remote countryside. Slowing considerably, but never losing its momentum, the narrative’s sudden eerily-dreamy pace perfectly encapsulates the detached parallel reality our characters have stumbled into. Among other genuinely profane touches, Nico and Lola orchestrate an impromptu black mass in the abandoned church (“Blessed be the killers, for they reach ecstasy!”), a sequence that is intercut with Chema and Linda, the nouveau riche opportunist, getting it on in another room. All this comes to a heated climax (pun intended!) as Nico ejaculates into the fire, proclaiming, “We shall send a potent stream of semen to kill all those that deny sex!” which further emphasizes the vitriolic antiestablishment attitude that is periodically reiterated throughout the film.
However, the group’s cynicism is soon shattered when they begin to experience strange goings-on (“There’s something malignant here!”) punctuated by visitations from a young boy, who is obviously only an apparition. Despite their best efforts to flee from the church, however, they are unable to extricate themselves from its ever-tightening stranglehold. Significantly playing-up the Gothic atmosphere, Gumersindo Andrés gets a lot mileage out of his meagre if effective production design, while cameraman Julio Bragado impressively visualizes the dark crypts of this marvellous location, including an unnerving sequence involving some mummified corpses coming to life.
Barely released outside of Spain, Beyond Terror did manage to sneak onto Beta/VHS tape for a small smattering of releases throughout Europe, even garnering a brief Spanish-language-only theatrical release in the U.S., as seen in issue #65 of Rick Sullivan’s now-legendary fanzine Gore Gazette. Previously difficult to see outside of shoddy, grey-market bootlegs, Cauldron Films has really come to the rescue of this criminally-neglected film, and anyone even remotely familiar with any of the film’s previous home video editions will quickly realize what a significant upgrade this truly is. Given a new “4K restoration from the original negative”, Cauldron’s disc appears crisp and vibrant, bringing out plenty of heretofore unseen textures and details in many of the film’s best horror-tinged sequences; indeed, it looks just about perfect! Also, the LPCM mono audio is clean and distortion-free, which only helps to emphasize the Goblin-styled main title theme and ‘borrowed’ synth-driven score (courtesy of the CAM España music library).
Aside from a very thorough image gallery accompanied by the film’s entire soundtrack, the only other extra is the aforementioned audio commentary from Kat Ellinger, author and editor-in-chief at Diabolique magazine. Given her love and knowledge of Spanish genre cinema, it’s no surprise to find her uncover plenty of details about this “deeply misunderstood and rarely-seen” film. Here she discusses the film’s “strange subtext” and “anti-establishment” messaging, some of the “weird digs into religion”, and the “insular world of Spanish genre cinema”, which turns out to be one of the primary factors that contributed to the film’s distribution problems. Of course, Ellinger also goes on to provide loads of background info on several of the principal players involved in the production, including director Aznar and the uncredited involvement of writer/producer Simón, along with pointing out some of the parallels to his other, more well-known films. It’s a thoroughly engaging and intelligent listen, and well worth the indulgence if you have the time.
As with other Cauldron Films releases, the original limited edition print-run (which included a liner notes booklet, postcards and a glossy slipcover) has since sold out, but a standard release version, containing all the same extra features, will be released on July 6th.
Cauldron Films, 2021, Region A
Feature: Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1