Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo & Lucio Fulci
Starring: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint-John & Al Cliver
Reviewed by: Brett H.
“And you will face the sea of darkness, and all therein that may be explored…”
I first stumbled upon the name of a man from Italy who would become my favorite director in about 1997 at the age of 12. Although rental shops had stacks of slashers and gobs of franchises, foreign films were not their specialty. The videos on the shelves were lined with plenty of New World gems, but companies like Wizard Video, Continental and Paragon were few and far between. When I laid eyes on the cover of Zombie, my initial impulse turned out to mimic the quality of the ghoul himself. This was the greatest looking zombie I’d ever seen. It also tickled my fancy that although most lavish Wizard art was hyperbolized to sell the pictures, an actual shuffler from Zombie was featured on the cover. This interest led me to House By the Cemetery and what turned out to become one of my favorite horror movies of all time, The Beyond. Over a decade of pondering puts everything into perspective. I was turned on to Lucio Fulci because his films didn’t need exaggerated cover art; the films had the balls to show what we normally only see on the most elaborate of sleazy Wizard big boxes. No artist rendition necessary. Violence is art is the slogan mostly thrown around by Fulci fanatics. I think that may be one of the most undermining things that can be said about his films and if such was the case, there's no way this film would have ended up in Oh, the Horror!'s Hall of Fame.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is no looking back. The time has come to step into The Beyond.
The epic begins with a brownish tint on an old hotel in Louisiana in 1927. A torch-burning mob gently glides their boat along a river in the silence of night before entering into a hotel. The hotel clerk sits as though he has been expecting this for a long time. He sweats and looks on, not saying a word. His eyes say everything. The mob makes its way up to room 36 where a painter named Schweick (Antoine Saint-John) is working on his latest painting, which turns out to be his last. Things get ugly as the mob viciously crucifies Schweick to the wall of his room, accusing him of being a warlock because he’s convinced that the hotel is built on one of the seven doors to hell. Blood spurts from his wrists grotesquely and the mob continues to mangle his body, dousing it in quicklime and watching his corpse melt before their very eyes. Downstairs, a lady who will soon reveal herself as Emily (Cinzia Monreale) reads a prophetic verse from the book of Eibon before it bursts into flames.
In 1981, New Yorker, Liza (Catriona MacColl) has inherited a hotel from her rich uncle in Louisiana. The same hotel that bestowed a liquescent, tortured artist many years ago. Strange things start right off the bat. The basement floods and a painter sees horrifying eyes in the window while at work and falls, badly hurting himself. She calls Dr. John McCabe (David Warbeck) and they get the poor guy to the hospital for much needed attention. And when everything is going smoothly, the loud buzzer that rings for attention from room 36 without explanation. The flood leads Liza to need assistance, so she calls trusty ol’ Joe the plumber to fix everything up. And, that’s when everything goes wrong. Joe knocks down some bricks in the wall and finds the source of the water leakage, peering into a hall before a hand from hell reaches out and tears out his eye. The Deluge washed the earth clean of all sin, but this flood leads directly to resting place of it all. The dead rise, blood pours from the sky and the nightmares of nightmares invade the world. Welcome to hell.
The Beyond is the type of film that is diminished by words. The feeling of the film is very personal to a lot of people and very shoddy to the next. From the works of his mainstream (if such a word could possibly be used) heyday years of 1979-1981, it is the film that has the most middle ground. In general, you are either with Fulci or you are deathly against him. But even to his detractors, The Beyond seeps through the cracks of their minds and manages to disturb them and draw them in to its horrors. To the rest of us, it brings us to our knees. Described by Fulci himself as a ‘series of images’, I am the type who would prefer to give it much greater credit. It’s no shock that the legacy of the film will always ride on its gore visuals; it’s the aspect most viewers can latch onto easily and puke their guts out at. It’s startling unfair to coin The Beyond as a gore film though, as although the kills are much like the gooey cherry filling of a pie, everything that surrounds these kills are the crust that keeps everything contained and makes it all work. In horror films, flavours have to intermingle wonderfully or the results can be disastrous or lopsided. It is because of this that The Beyond's name should never be uttered in the same sentence as films that rely solely on gore and shock.
Emphasizing the gore is the dreadful tone of the film, which doesn’t play out as your average plot. Strange events seemingly happen at the drop of a dime and often these events will eventually pull someone else into this nightmarish world where reality, afterlife and excess blur magnificently. But, the events in the plot tie the film together tightly and it’s through the unexplainable points where the film truly excels. On the outside, some plot points seem to be just the ‘series of images’ that has been said infinitely too many times. But upon closer examination, I have always saw The Beyond to be the reflection of one’s most personal nightmare and their ideals on the existence of hell. Liza is the fish out of water whose fear just may be change and Dr. McCabe is brought into this surreal and terrifying world as a result of his profession. By tending to the fallen painter, he knows too much and is instantly thrust into the eye of storm. The hell that transpires on these characters always seems to stem from just around the corner. Just another everyday event that eventually turns into a one way ticket to the grave.
There’s no way to prove that the corpses coming back to life in the morgue of the hospital would necessarily be Dr. McCabe’s greatest fear, but seeing as the outside world ceases to exist when entranced in this macabre hallucination of reality, it’s a good bet. The Beyond is a film that allows your mind to run wild. You get to put the finishing touches on an already glowing canvas. The gore scenes are well thought out, it’s never just the idea of a head explosion or an 8-inch spike piercing through someone’s skull. There’s always an extra punch that adds significant oomph to the final effect of each kill. The spike doesn’t only go through the back of someone’s head, but squeezes their eyeball right out of the socket as it emerges. The explosion of blood from Warbeck’s famous shot to a heathen’s head isn’t enough; instead the scene cuts to a close-up and uses the momentum of the bullet pushing her head back with some thankfully exaggerated laws of physics that spews her brains from her cranium as her neck ricochets forward. The zombie scene is said to have been forced upon Fulci, but it turns out to be among the best scenes of the film and one of the most powerful zombie attacks ever captured on film.
Fulci’s direction is great as usual and the locations he chose to shoot at are amazing. The old, run-down hotel looks haunting on the outside, but the basement is something else. Full of murky water, dingy remains of God knows what and brick walls that must be a couple centuries old, I wouldn’t want to set foot down in this nauseating place let alone battle sanity and hell in the process. Frequent Fulci composer, Fabio Frizzi brings us one of the all-time great soundtracks in horror history and brings a wide array of instruments to the table. Everything from vocals, piano to synth to orchestral instruments, distortions and acoustic guitars are used to create some of the creepiest music ears have ever heard. Fulci also gets subtle every so often, you might chuckle when you see Joe the Plumber pull up to the old hotel with a “Jesus Saves” license plate displayed on the front of his white pickup before falling victim to the evils of The Beyond. There are stabs at repression of artists throughout the years and relics of Fulci’s Atheist beliefs. Then you have the character of Emily, who has been blinded (but not aged) since the year 1927 and is seen by those who aren’t fond of the film as being too abstract and confusing. But, if you pay real close attention, Fulci and his fellow screenwriters chalk up some delicate exposition without outright saying it. David Warbeck’s character references Emily as coming from the old house at the crossroads. In a place like Louisiana, a crossroads is said to be the space in between worlds.
The ending of the film is just as open as the rest of the film but explodes the preceding 85 minutes into something out of this world and puts the final nail in the coffin on one of horror’s landmark films. Anchor Bay/Grindhouse released The Beyond on an extravagant widescreen DVD years ago and the video quality still looks great, although there is the odd blemish and spots on the camera. The 5.1 track is equally impressive and it’s safe to say that it adds a whole new element to the film. Simply stunning work. Also included is an audio commentary with stars Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck that is very entertaining and just recorded mere days before David Warbeck succumbed to cancer. Warbeck comes off as a real charmer and MacColl is sweet and they each have pleasant tales to tell about the film and working with Lucio Fulci. They’re quick to point out in a joking manner that not all the other actors of the film felt the same way about him. There’s a few trailers, an interview with Fulci on the set of Demonia, still galleries, convention interviews an alternate pre-credit sequence showing the tinted scene in full color, which makes the gore even more explosively sickening. It is truly one of the greatest discs of all-time. The Beyond has everything, the erupting gore of Italian splatter, imagery akin to the most spine chilling of all gothic horrors and a soundtrack crying out from the fiery pits of hell. The Beyond is a surrealistic masterpiece and one of the most brilliant horror movies of all time. E tu vivrai nel terrore. Essential!
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