Cinzia Monreale (as Sarah Keller)
Giovanni De Nava
It is inevitable when any hardened horror fan brings up the topic of Italian horror, that two names immediately come to the forefront. Those names are Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento. While the major groundwork for what would become essential Italian Horror was laid by the legendary Mario Bava, it was the work of both Fulci and Argento that showed the world that some of the most mind-bending, gory and inventive horror could come from Italy. When these two names are brought up it is inevitable that you will find many horror fans divided amongst the two. While Argento is obviously the bigger name, there are many who much prefer the work of Fulci. While I am personally a big fan of Argento and his work (specifically the masterful Suspiria, his most widely known work, as well as personal favorites Tenebrae and Deep Red) I have always found the work of the maestro, Lucio Fulci to be more enjoyable.
While Fulci had been working in film for years, his big break c ame when he helmed 1979’s Dawn Of The Dead knock-off Zombie. In Europe, where George A. Romero‘s zombie masterpiece was billed as simply Zombi, a group of producers created Zombi 2 with Fulci at the helm to capitalize on its success. The film garnered widespread success due to its realistic looking zombies and outlandish scenes of gore. Arguably the two most famous scenes are the one where an underwater zombie fights a shark (!) and the infamous splinter into the eye scene. Even if you have never seen the film, odds are you know these scenes from either YouTube or other means. Following the success of Zombie
Fulci was given more free reign and continued to ride his success as he went onto perhaps his most creative period of filmmaking from 1980 through 1983. He would go onto create his unofficial “trilogy” based on the gates of hell, beginning with 1980’s City Of The Living Dead (also known as The Gates Of Hell) followed by 1981’s House By The Cemetery and The Beyond. All three films were littered with different gore set pieces which have gone onto the stuff of legend. In 1982, the director helmed what is considered to be one of the most misogynistic horror films of all time, The New York Ripper, which would derail his career and from which he never fully recovered. While his output from that point on until his death in 1996 was very sporadic in quality, with 1990’s A Cat In The Brain (aka Nightmare Concert) being one of the few stand outs, his work in the horror genre would nevertheless stand the test of time. Many of his films were actually only available in heavily edited forms (The Beyond was known as Seven Doors Of Death for many years and was almost completely butchered by the censoring) until the advent of DVD, Fulci‘s work still stood out from the pack.
I first became aware of the man’s films in my teens when I was still a budding horror nut. My father had always told me that the only horror film he had ever seen that had an impact on him was The Gates Of Hell despite the fact that he remembered very little of it. This always stuck with me, and thanks to those crazy nuts who run Shock Stock and Vagrancy Films I was graced with the opportunity to actually see the film on the big screen. Following that, I tried to get into my possession as many of the man’s films as I could, which became difficult given my budget, and that they are increasingly rare and out of print until new editions come down the pike. Over the years I continually go back to his films periodically to remind myself how insane they really are, and while it was Zombie and City Of The Living Dead that made me a fan of the director, my favorite film slowly became The Beyond. It has been well over a year since I’ve viewed the film, and I thought what better way to revisit it than by doing a review here on The Deadhouse.
As anyone who has ever seen a film by Fulci will surely tell you, doing a plot review is almost hopeless, but I will attempt to give it a shot anyways. The film centers around a hotel in New Orleans that has apparently been built on one of the infamous gates of Hell. The Book Of Eibon plays into the plot as well. The film begins with a flashback sequence in 1927 where as local mob murders what they believe to be a “warlock”. This sequence is filmed in a sepia tone, but given what they do to the man, this is for the better, as it is one of the more brutal death scenes you could ever see in your lifetime. They drive spikes through the man’s arms impaling him to the wall, before beating him with chains that rip apart his skin. They finish by splashing the man with quicklime, leaving him to rot away to nothing but bone. Unfortunately, the murder causes one of the world’s seven doors of death to open. In the present day, the hotel is inherited by Liza (Catriona MacColl, arguably Fulci‘s muse as she also starred in the other two films in the unofficial trilogy) who begins renovations that activate the portal. This leads to several deaths of people working on the hotel and those around them.
To really go into more detail is not needed, as The Beyond is a film that simply needs to be seen. Hell, to be honest, you will probably need to see it several times before you really understand what is going on. I’ve seen it more than a dozen times, and I am still not completely sure I fully get it.
A film like this is nearly impossible to review for those who have never been witness to the aesthetic contained within. Fulci once said with regards to the film that he set out to make it a succession of images, which must be received without reflection. He did not bother to build a strong plot, instead focusing on showing all the horrors of the world. I once read that someone described the film as the closest approximation of a nightmare placed on celluloid. And truthfully, that is the best thing a horror film could have said about it.
The Beyond is a film that is almost not even a film, but rather a collection of some of the most extreme offerings the horror genre can give. It has no boundaries, as can be evidenced by a scene late in the film where a young teenaged character has her head blown completely apart by a shotgun blast. If you can name a single studio film that would have the testicular fortitude to have a scene like that, I’m all ears.
When I set out to do this review, I did it because The Beyond is one of my very favorite films, and my intent was to spread the word of its greatness. Once I began writing however, I realized that this film is nearly impossible to do justice with words. Lucio Fulci created with this film a horror that almost defies words. I truly wish that this review was longer and I could properly expand upon what I began with this review, but all I can simply say is that you must seek this film out in any way possible. I am also including the film’s trailer below to give you just a small taste of the madness.