Deep within the mysterious Arboria Institute, a beautiful girl (Eva Allan) is being held captive by a scientist, Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers). Her mind demonstrates power beyond nature but she remains controlled by a sinister pyramid-shaped light.

Sci-fi debut one for fans of the bizarre.

No one can accuse writer/director Panos Cosmatos of not forewarning viewers that his first film would challenge the sensibilities. The opening credit sequence is a succession of human eyes, hurriedly expanding outwards as the camera fixates upon them. ('Open your eyes now!," the film implores.) If you’re going to make it to the end of this supremely, superbly even, weird sci-fi/stalker/medical-horror thriller, you’d better pay heed.

a full and complete science-fiction vision

Broken down into its most basic plot elements, Beyond The Black Rainbow reads as a rather standard mad doctor/abused patient horror flick. The pretty Elena (Eva Allen) is kept in lockdown by her shrink, Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers) at a communal facility known as the Aboria Institute. Here, Nyle can study Elena’s psychokinetic powers – and also exploit them, given he has some mental health issues of his own, not least a penchant for emotional and psychological sadism. The combined allure of Elena’s power and innocence turns Nyle’s fascination into obsession; when she tries to escape the facility, his evil fully manifests itself.

Cosmatos (son of the late George P. Cosmatos, director of Rambo: First Blood Part II and Cobra) spins these narrative components to increasingly strange effect, mostly via a Kubrick-ian use of a throbbing ambient soundtrack, miniscule dialogue, and abstract imagery. Rogers plays Nyle as a truly unnerving, soft-spoken Mengele-type manipulator; Allen’s Elena is already a tortured individual, psychologically crippled by her 'gift’ and controlled by a large glowing triangle which, when operated by Nyle, distorts her powers. Arboria is peopled by grotesque denizens who may or may not be by-products of Nyle’s treatment: these strait-jacketed crave human flesh (Elena’s close encounter with one such charmer is truly horrifying), and towering guards are revealed to be baby-faced distortions of the human form.

Cosmatos, showing unrelenting (some might say, misguided) commitment to his vision, then takes it up a notch when Nyle is reborn from a primordial black sludge, becoming a hairless, trench-coat wearing killer, his dark, inhuman obsession with Elena now externalised.

Ably assisted by his DOP Norm Li, Cosmatos has given full flight to a vision that has drawn its fair share of detractors. ('The movie looks like it was lit by lava lamps, scored on Moog synthesisers, written between bong hits and acted underwater," said this pithy Miami Herald reviewer.) There can be no denying that Beyond the Black Rainbow just will not be everyone’s cup of black tea.

It’s a full and complete science-fiction vision, though, the likes of which rarely surface in this era of focus-grouped blandness. That may go some way to explain why this insane world all takes place in an alternate version of 1983. The film opens with a pre-credit promotional clip for Arboria, presented in 4:3 ratio and scratchy in a way that only those who recall well-played VHS tapes would recognise, that captures the period perfectly. It was a time when this type of fresh vision was afforded credibility. Beyond the Black Rainbow probably won’t score Cosmatos a gig at the helm of a Hollywood summer blockbuster, but it will allow him to look back and say, 'If never again, I once got to make exactly the movie I wanted." Audiences who appreciate oddball first efforts from talents such as Lynch (Eraserhead), Cronenberg (Shivers) and Jeunet (Delicatessen) will be thankful.


1 hour 50 min