The Beyond (1981) Lucio Fulci Revisited

Posted: July 4, 2016 in FILM REVIEWS/COMMENTS
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*** This review may contain splatter spoilers ***

A woman inherits a hotel where one of the seven gates of hell has been opened, she must discover its secret before the world ends.

Director Lucio Fulci presents a Louisiana opening set in 1927 in sepia tone, as a lynch mob descend on a hotel. An artist Schweick is busily painting a vast apocalyptic painting in room 36. Thought to be a warlock the artist pleading only he can save them as the hotel is built over the seven doors of hell, is taken to the basement and gruesomely murdered. As a woman reads a prophecy from the book Eibon which sets alight leaving her fate, for the moment unknown, prompting titles over Living Let Die, Terminator 2, burning flames. Incidentally, I also viewed an erroneous bluray version (which the distributor have kindly since sent a corrected copy) where the opening was miss-coloured in a Night of the Living Dead, Universal classic black and white. Regardless of which version the wince enduring killing opens one of the Seven Doors of Death.

1981 present day workers go about fixing up the hotel for Liza Merril played by Fulci’s City of the Living Dead and The House by the Cemetery actress Catriona MacColl. Its not long before the trades men have a series of accidents and Liza is introduced to David Warbeck’s Dr. John McCabe. Fulci pulls no punches, but pulls focus on the camera with close ups of nails blurring our main characters and Sergio Leone-like eye close ups. When plumber Joe arrives at the hotel to stop a flood creepy Martha advises him where to go and it’s not long before he uncovers Schweick’s reanimated body who pops poor Joe’s eyes out.

In contrast to Zombie Flesheaters (1979) straight forward story, here writers Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo and Fulci explorer a metaphysical concept in which the realms of both the living and the dead bleed together. It spent some time on the UK video nasty list before being removed without prosecution. Though it was released in Europe in 1981, The Beyond did not see a U.S. release until 1983 under the alternate title “Seven Doors of Death.” The Beyond is debatably Fulci’s finest film, The City of the Dead appears to have been a practice run. The Beyond has a surreal edge, with a milky eyed blind woman (a look that American Horror Story Coven borrowed), a spectre appearing in a road, the woman who assists Liza is none other than the Eibon reading lady from 1927.

Cadavers, autopsies, bodies coming back to life, it’s all odd creepy stuff. Fulci can be heavy handed at times, notorious jarring cuts, dubbed dialogue nuances synonymous with his work, but The Beyond is finely shot, with top notch composition. It’s appears Fulci is paying homage to his idol, the French playwright Antonin Artaud with The Beyond being less about linear plot and more about imagery and symbolism with its exploding windows glassing a man’s face, corpse writhing in body bags, creaking gurneys, acid attacks and melting faces oozing blood, it’s gruesome practical effects by Giannetto De Rossi retain a timeless horror charm. Cinematography from Sergio Salvati on the backdrop of New Orleans gives it a distinct feel, with jazz playing in the background. The icing on the cake is Fabio Frizzi’s piano lead orchestral and vocal chants score which is outstandingly powerful during the eerie scenes and death setups.

Liza walks around the oil lamp lit house encounters the blind woman Emily and entities. Of course New Yorker Liza ignores Emily’s warnings and won’t leave the hotel she’s inherited. Shafts of light, dusty rooms, shadows, pianos playing by themselves, creeks may not amount to much, but Fulci build up tensions and jump scares with inexplicable lightening and crusty bony bodies on occasion nailed to the wall. Later while Liza tries to find out more about her hotel and missing book her friend Martin visits the public library to find the hotel’s blueprints only to be attacked by a horde of hungry tarantula’s who bite at his eyes and face – its gruesome stuff, with icky sound effects. Yes, there’s lapses in logic, but it adds to the off beat creeps and sadistic torture and gore it delivers.

David Warbeck is great as John (and equals Carlo De Mejo’s lead Gerry in City of the Living Dead). John breaks into Emily’s house, which appears to have been abandoned for years to find the book Eibon there and you realise, if you already didn’t know that Emily is a ghost of sorts. Back at the hotel Martha is killed by zombie Joe (probably still annoyed at Martha inadvertently sending him to his death) and we’re headlong into the final act with more dread-filled surrealism. Emily doesn’t want to go back to hells gate with Schweick and sets her guide dog onto him and the zombie victims who inexplicably appear and disappear before her own dog turns on her, ripping her throat out in a graphic blood filled scene.

To the writers credit the ending to this nightmarish extreme Italian horror is an unconventional brave one as Liza an John flee a hospital overrun by reanimated cadavers. Holding the hyper real effects and scripts shortfalls together are Warbeck’s and MacColl’s grounded performances. John goes all Dirty Harry shooting at the undead and Schweick’s crusty corpse. Rushing down a set of stairs the couple find themselves back in the basement of the hotel and stumble through a labyrinth into a supernatural wasteland of dust and corpses mirroring Schweick’s painting. Nihilist endings don’t come much better than this – and Fulci simply out does himself. No matter which direction they travel, they find themselves back at their starting point and are ultimately blinded just like Emily stuck in hell – as they dissolve, cue Fabio Frizzi’s pounding dramatic score.

Excellent atmospheric horror, Fulci at his best.

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