The Film: The Beyond (1981)
The Principles: Lucio Fulci (director), Katherine MacColl, David Warbeck, Sarah Keller, Giovanni De Nava
The Premise: Liza (MacColl) inherits an old hotel that sits atop one of the seven gates to hell. Fulci happens.
Is it any good? It is as good as Fulci gets. Whether that is “good” in a more objective sense depends on your feelings towards horror, particularly of the 80s Italian variety. For this reviewer, it more than earns its place on the DVD shelf.
The Beyond doesn’t really contain a plot so much as it does a series of bizarre occurrences involving various degrees of gore. Zombie gets all the attention in the Fulci canon for its eye-impalement scene, but The Beyond is the true pinnacle of the man’s hatred for all things ocular. If someone’s eyes do not at least have cataracts, they will most likely get them torn out, have a nail driven through them, or perhaps even have them devoured by tarantulas. This is all in addition to some good old-fashion throat ripping AND one of the best headshots of all time. Gorehounds who, for whatever reason, have yet to see this need not read any further.
The film begins with a mob descending upon a hotel in 1927 New Orleans, hell-bent on killing a painter named Schweick whom they’ve determined to be a warlock. As they whip, crucify, and pour lime on the tortured artist (rimshot), a woman named Emily reads an evil book in another room and proceeds to burst into flames. Fast forward 57 years, Liza inherits the hotel, and shit hits the fan. Ta-da.
Really, the “plot,” as it were, is irrelevant here. What follows is a thoroughly entertaining mess of gore, atrocious dialogue, and just flat out goofy decisions by Fulci and co-writer Dardano Sacchetti. Why is a fifty year old lime-dissolved corpse being hooked up to a heart-monitor in the morgue? Why is this guy who has a shard of glass in his cheek bleeding out of his forehead? And the soundtrack. Oh, the soundtrack. Though not particularly unusual for this subgenre, it makes the proceedings hilarious at the most inopportune/perfect times. Having a jazz-fusion drum loop kick in as a dog rips a woman’s throat out is just magically delicious. The whole thing is surreal in the best way possible.
At the climax of the film, as the undead funnel out of the gates of hell, our two main characters eventually escape to what I suppose is purgatory. Fulci had gone on record as saying he approached this project with the idea of paying homage to famous surrealist playwright Antonin Artaud. He most certainly did succeed in making a surreal, nonlinear ninety-minute sequence of well-shot horror, but any intentions he may have had in making some sort of metaphysical statement about the afterlife were lost in the shuffle. But narrative style aside, The Beyond is a sometimes-funny, sometimes-creepy, always grisly good time.
Is it worth a look? Non-horror fans will want to pass on this. Otherwise it is, without a doubt, worth 90 minutes of your attention. Definitely my favorite among Fulci’s horror films.
Random anecdotes: The film was heavily edited upon its original US release. Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Quentin Tarantino, the uncut version was finally released in 1998.
Supposedly, the naked bodies littering the landscape at the end of the film were those of random Italian homeless folk, who were paid in alcohol for their services.
Originally titled “The Seven Doors of Hell,” The Beyond is the second film in Fulci’s loosely related Gates of Hell trilogy, preceded by City of the Living Dead and followed by The House by the Cemetery.
Cinematic soulmates: City of the Living Dead, The House by the Cemetery, Zombie, Suspiria, Black Sunday