Director: Panos Cosmatos
Starring: Michael Rogers, Eva Allan, Scott Hylands, Marilyn Norry, Rondel Reynoldson
Words – Nathan Scatcherd
To celebrate the release of the beautifully insane-looking Mandy on October 12th, this instalment of Cult Corner is looking at director Panos Cosmatos’ previous film, the bewitching and bewildering Beyond the Black Rainbow.
A trancey, druggy sci-fi horror you don’t so much watch as sink into, Beyond the Black Rainbow is very much on the self-consciously ‘arty’ side, which will understandably turn off a lot of viewers at the gate. Indeed, its deliberately slow, laborious pace and reliance on the general weirdness of its imagery has led some to decry the film as an empty exercise in artificiality.
It certainly isn’t shy about its inspirations, drawing liberally from Lynch, Kubrick and Jodorowksy (as well as non-cinematic influences such as Moebius comic books and lots of LSD). But for the patient viewer with an interest in any of the above, Beyond the Black Rainbow is an appealingly delirious, unsettling experience, simulating the queasy discomfort of a nightmare (or, more appropriately, a bad trip).
Its story – of a young woman with apparent psychic/telekinetic powers (Eva Allan) being observed in a prison/laboratory by the nefarious, skin-crawlingly creepy Doctor Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers) – is a straightforward, slow burn, bolstered by the thick bad dream-logic atmosphere of dread conjured by the imagery in nearly every frame.
This is very much a film concerned with mood over narrative, setting up a simple story of ‘trapped, more-dangerous-than-she-looks lab rat vs. creepy scientist/warden’ and allowing the ambience to do the heavy lifting.
BTBR’s themes of psychotropic experimentation and the dark underbelly of the Baby Boomer New Age movement make for sequences of intense hallucinatory force, and Cosmatos revels in an overriding commitment to sheer sensation* over particularly nuanced narrative or character beats (an extended trip/flashback sequence is particularly horrifying in a frazzled, darkly beautiful way). That said, Rogers’ central performance as Doctor Nyle is brilliantly slimy, and every second he’s onscreen – much of the film’s runtime – is spent in equal parts revulsion and fascination.
Special mention must be made of the pulsing, droning synth goodness of Sinoia Caves’ soundtrack. Conforming to the current trend of 80s-inspired soundtracks, this is one of the better ones; alternately spacey and claustrophobic synthesiser music providing a constant, at times almost meditative backdrop to the strangeness unfolding on screen. It goes a long way in forming the dark heart of this impressively patient, creepy, uncomfortable movie.
*It’s telling that one character – who makes a brief but crucial appearance – is actually referred to as a ‘Sensationaut’ in the film’s credits.
see the trailer for Mandy, the latest feature from director Panos Cosmatos here –