Originally I had intended to watch this movie at a local art house theater, but I saw that it was available on Amazon on Demand, so I decided to enjoy the movie in bed with my wife, dog and laptop. What you notice immediately about Beyond The Black Rainbow is that it draws heavily upon the 80’s science fiction horror aesthetic. It’s easy to see why it has been compared to such films as THX 1138, A Clockwork Orange, The Hunger and pretty much all the works of David Cronenberg, but not to be caught up in the smoke and mirrors there still has to be a good story…right? Searching for a viable plot in such artistry can sometimes be a daunting task, but you soon realize that the formula is the same, but it’s just being presented like a sarcophagus at a museum or vestige of some by-gone era that the director Panos Cosmatos (son of George P. Cosmatos, who directed Tombstone, Cobra, and Rambo: First Blood Part II) has meticulously decided to pay homage to. BTBR speaks in metaphors, the viewer is meant to take something from every single frame, the director even goes as far as beginning these super short scenes with fade in and outs of the grittiest red instead of the usual black.
Right now’s when you’d probably like for me to explain what the fuck this film’s about…
Deep within the mysterious Arboria Institute, a beautiful girl (Eva Allan) is held captive by a scientist, Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers). Her mind is controlled by a sinister technology (a mysterious pyramid-shaped light). Speechlessly, she waits for her next session with the deranged Dr. Nyle. She escapes her cell under the watchful eye of Dr. Nyle peering through video monitors. She journeys through the darkest reaches of the Institute but Nyle wonʼt easily part with his most gifted and dangerous creation.
It all makes for some amazing vintage horror done with a committed cast and one hell of an art director Antonio Colin and costume designer Kathi Moore. Shot entirely in Vancouver, the story travels along an analog path of science verging on insanity. As we learn more about the Arboria Institute we find out about or at least we think we find out about what the institutes real mission is and that’s when BTBR begins tinkering with the idea of the occult and going places with the storyline that all good 80’s horrors can’t do without. Like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s psychedelic masterpiece Holy Mountain, BTBR toys, ever so slightly, with god/devil themes in the form of glowing masonic style triangles and the Sentionauts (ominous albino baby faced worker bees or minions for the Arboria Institute) but doesn’t try to be what it’s not thus elevating the films level of genius by acknowledging the Satanic prime directive and moving on. It has to be said before I continue that the soundtrack is near flawless. Panos obviously knew that if the image was the vehicle the music had to be the engine so he did what any film/indie video director does and enlist the help of none other than Jeremy Schimdt from the synth rock band Black Mountain to pepper this art piece in a blanket of moogness, add that sound to the brilliant cinematography of Norm Li and you have a film fit for any classic VHS library.
The following Interview with Panos Cosmatos in it’s entirety is available @ Dork Shelf
DS: How involved were you with the score because it felt so integral to the mood and tone? I’d imagine it was something you wanted to be heavily involved in.
PC: Well, Jeremy Schmidt from Black Mountain wrote the score and has an amazing record collection of soundtracks and synth music from the 70s and 80s. He’s very influenced by that time and writes this amazing music that he records on analogue synthesizers. Once I discovered him, I really wanted him to score it. I showed him a rough cut and he really wanted to do it. I think he drew influences from a lot of not just soundtracks, but different artists from that era. John Carpenter was definitely part of that, but there were so many. I don’t know, our musical sensibilities were so close that I gave him some guidance, but generally I just let him create and it was like Christmas. Because I’m a fan of his, it was amazing to just to get to hear him create music and put it on my movie.
Overall the film’s formula isn’t anything something we’ve never seen before, but what Panos has done was added more to an era of films that had no idea what is was then or what it would become.
DS: How difficult was it to find financing for a project as experimental and out there as this? I’d imagine there would have been a lot of scratched heads while you were pitching it around.
PC: Well, I self financed it, but that didn’t stop people from scratching their heads when I was trying to talk them into working on it (laughs). The people that responded to it responded to it very strongly and wanted to be involved. It was just hard to find those people at times. The only reference they had for my work was a music video that was online. So that would show them that perhaps that mentality combined the script could be something interesting.
BTBR is what was to be expected of the son of the director of COBRA and seeing the world through his goggles and knowing the urge to go totally modern and sell this to the studios and not doing it, is a feat within itself and should be celebrated in this age of overdone. I bet no one could have seen this rebirth of 80’s coming and most won’t understand it or they think they will, but due to their lack of love for films, won’t be able to place a proper finger on it and that’s what I believe directors like Panos Cosmatos and Ti West (House Of The Devil) has set out to create…enigmas. Films without a home, but stand alone as works of art never to be looked upon as a movies in the Hollywood sense. BTBR is pure aural and eye candy for lovers of great science fiction (notice how I didn’t write 80’s science fiction). You won’t find me trying to even coddle those less likely to watch this movie cause there’s a time and place for everything and unlike some films from the past this one harnesses it’s own power, and because of modern technology, will be less susceptible to degradation/wear and tear unlike it’s 80’s predecessors, and that’s a bit of next gen that I’m sure even Panos Cosmatos is happy with.
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