JUNE 24 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE BEYOND
Roger Ebert compared the late Lucio Fulci (who passed away back in 1996) to the infamous Herschell Gordon Lewis (GORE-GORE GIRLS, BLOOD FEAST, 2000 MANIACS) and I'd be inclined to agree with him. Both are directors that the average filmgoer has never heard of, both are revered in the horror community, and both had a genuine flair for the aesthetics of grue. Unlike Lewis, Fulci did manage to direct outside the genre, making several gialli, a western, etc. Of course, he'll always be remembered as the schlock auteur who brought us films like NEW YORK RIPPER, THE GATES OF HELL, ZOMBI, and his masterpiece, THE BEYOND.
Released in 1981, THE BEYOND is the story of Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl: THE GATES OF HELL, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY), a young woman who inherits an old New Orleans hotel. Merril is unaware that the hotel is built on one of the seven gateways to Hell (and I'd bet that once that little bit of info gets out, she's gonna take a real beating on the hotel's resale value). It appears that a painter/warlock was crucified and walled into the hotel's basement back in 1927 after trying to warn the locals about the gateway. As Liza prepares the hotel for re-opening, strange things start occurring. When Joe the plumber (Giovanni De Nava: THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) wanders into the basement to do some work, he unwittingly reopens the portal to Hell, bringing the dead back to Earth (FeoNote: isn't that how it always goes? Joe the plumber brings on Armageddon*). Liza and Dr. John McCabe (David Warbeck: THE BLACK CAT , RAZOR BLADE SMILE) run around trying to make sense of the strange events using a mysterious book entitled Eibon. With the book's aid they discover the truth about the hotel and the gateway it's built on and try to save the world.
The film comes across as a more polished version of the earlier Fulci flick, THE GATES OF HELL. This time out, all the pieces seem to fit: the direction is better, the FX are better (although, there are no scenes as cool as the intestine puking and drill to the head like in GoH), the acting is better, and the score is better too.
Despite the improvements, the film does still possess some notable flaws. The dialogue in Dardano Sacchetti's (DEMONS, DEMONS 2) script is laughable, with lines like "you have carte blanche, but not a blank check" guaranteed to have you talking to the screen ala MST3K. Also amusing are some of the translations . . . notably a hospital with a "Do Not Entry" sign. Another unintentionally funny moment worth noting is the badly decomposed corpse hooked up to a heart monitor . . . if the corpse is decomposed, it's probably dead.
This is probably Fulci's finest direction (I say probably because there are still some Fulci films that I haven't seen yet). Sure, the standard zooming close-ups of every gore effect are still there, but they're much more restrained than in a lot of his other work. The lighting is much improved over films like THE GATES OF HELL, meaning you can actually see what's happening on the screen. The edits are much smoother than the ones found in most of his other films, this time even showing some nice transition shots instead of the herky-jerky rough cuts that are standard in his earlier fare. All the way around, it's a nicely made piece of Italian horror cinema.
The film's performances are surprisingly good. Warbeck is the real standout here, playing the classic horror film lead and looking like he's having a lot of fun doing it. MacColl is decent as the damsel in distress, not too annoying and fairly credible in the scenes that she has to make work. Veronica Lazar (PHENOMENA) also turns in a decent performance as Martha. Keep an eye open for Fulci himself, who has a brief, uncredited part as a librarian.
Germano Natali (DEEP RED, INFERNO) handles the FX duties, with Gino De Rossi (CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE, ZOMBI) doing some make-up work. The FX are quite impressive, featuring some nice looking zombies, a crucifixion, a german shepherd ripping out its master's throat, decomposed bodies, bodies being dissolved by acid, and the infamous flesh eating tarantulas. On top of all that, there's loads of that Fulci staple: brutal eye violence. Eyes are popped out, impaled, eaten by spiders, etc. This is one of the films where Fulci earned his "king of ocular mayhem" nickname. Gore fans will be pleased with THE BEYOND.
Fabio Frizzi's (THE GATES OF HELL, ZOMBI, MANHATTAN BABY) score is a real plus, creating tension and building suspense throughout the narrative. Like most of the scores to Italian films in this time period, it sounds vaguely Goblin-esque...demonstrating just how profound an effect Claudio Simonetti's group had on their fellow score composers.
The film is widely available in a butchered "R" rated version with the THE SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH title. Avoid seeing this version at all costs. Tarantino's Rolling Thunder has promised an uncut DVD release for the past year or so, but it's not been given a definite release date at this time. If you happen to have a region free player, you can pick up a copy of the region 2 import disc. Otherwise, if you want to see this film, you're probably gonna have to find a guy to sell you a dub (not that I would ever condone such a thing).
In the end, THE BEYOND is a great film. It's a fine example of Italian horror cinema and the entire Euro-horror scene. It's the masterwork of a director who doesn't get nearly the respect he deserves, standing well above most of his other films and taking a place beside the finest works of directors like Argento, Soavi, and Bava. And for that, I give it 4 shriek girls.