Director: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzea Monreale, Giovanni De Nava
Woe be unto him who opens one of the seven gateways to Hell, because through that gateway, evil will invade the world.
There's a good chance if you're a horror fanatic or film enthusiast dabbling in the macabre for the month of October, you've taken a gander at lists of best horror films. There's a good chance Lucio Fulci's The Beyond showed up on that list. There's also a good chance some famous filmmakers praises have shown up for the film too. There's also a good chance you were sold on some pictures and gave it a go. There's also a good chance after you saw it, you don't quite get what was so great about the movie.
There's also a good chance you totally didn't understand the film.
I've been through that journey with the film. Back in the day I had a boss who proudly hung the poster up in his office, prominently featuring the iconic Emily. It was freaky and I asked him "What is The Beyond?". He hyped it up, told about its craziness and praised the horrors it delivered. When I finally got around to seeing the film, the only background I had was that it was from the same guy who did Zombi 2/Zombie/Zombie Flesh Eaters (Seriously, we'll explain one day). I had not done any research on the film and was not well versed in Lucio Fulci. When I saw it, and maybe I saw an earlier US/UK cut of the film I'll talk about in a sec, I thought there was a couple neat things. But, overall, the movie didn't make sense to me and I just wasn't "getting" it. This is also pre-Blu-ray with crappy cuts, transfers and prints for films being used for DVDs and VHS. However, the second time I got around to giving it another chance I moreso wasn't understanding myself and why I thought the way I did the first time around.
Fulci's second entry into his Gates Of Hell Trilogy (Also referred to as The Death Trilogy. Personally I think Gates of Hell has a cooler ring to it) is a film that asks for a different kind of mentality when viewing it. Its also a film that improves and starts piecing together with subsequent views. With The Beyond, Lucio Fulci set out to craft a non-linear film in the first place. He wanted to have one constant element to the story to play through out, but moreso building the film's strengths off of surreal imagery and brutal death/chase sequences. This movie wasn't supposed to cleanly link from scene to scene or moment to moment. Fulci doesn't spoon feed it to you either. You're going to have to let your mind open up its imagination, pick up details and link them together on your own. Its not about Lucio Fulci holding your hand through the film, its about you trying to find your way to holding that hand and taking the journey with him.
The director was intrigued with the idea of a gateway to hell, introduced in his previous film, and the undead opening and slowly seeping into our world. Fulci fully gets on board with something you'll see commonly referred to as "Nightmare Logic" in The Beyond, and this is the best film that gets that tag hung on it of all. In this case, the director is actually going for this method, not something people have used as a defense for a film. The hell dimension that the gate in this movie opens is not one that plays by our rules. That's the most important thing to grasp and understand when watching The Beyond. Things may not be "working" or "making sense" because you're following along the lines of how you know everyday life and an everyday movie. The hell dimension does not play by those guidelines. It slowly begins consuming the little Lousiana town and starts taking over and making it and its inhabitants its own. This dimension has an endless freedom and kind of dark magic that fools, frustrates and devours our characters and you the viewer. But, if you recognize this and know this aspect of the writing and directing, the doors of this making sense really start to open.
Many may be quick to label the more well known, Zombi 2/Zombie/Zombie Flesh Eaters as Fulci's masterpiece, but The Beyond easily claims that title. Even if you're not fully grasping the plot, I think some of the confusion does provide an extra eeriness to the table. Not to mention, Fulci shoots this thing with an atmosphere that is pretty damn creepy. Until the end, gone is the super foggy look of City of the Living Dead. Instead, he uses a lot of browns and the like that bring a sense dullness and deadness to a lot of turns in the film. And that damn ending! So bleak. Its an absolutely horrifying image and realization. Judging it on its own, and just as an image and environment, you have to give credit that this is one of the most haunting and unsettling images ever captured onto a horror film. Its sort of like some of the stuff in The Mist many years later, that just looking at it and then the thought of it sort of brings chills.
There are a lot of weird things just happening in the film that you'll not soon forget. The character of Emily is literally the poster child of the movie. Her eyes are just insanely creepy and spooky. You could toss her mug up in any haunted house today and it still unnerve people. AND SHE'S ONE OF THE GOOD GUYS! Joe the Plumber and the artist in the open are also memorable too. I don't know if they get lumped in with the more zombie-like undead at the end, but they sure are just weird and different looking on their own. Its bizarre how goofy a person like the plumber could be turned into something so odd looking and creepy, but they're able to pull it off here in the film. An especially great moment is when he appears in the house as a tub drains to reveal him.
The Beyond also features some great moments of Fulci's gore, both exploiting things he's known for while also harnessing an fine tuning himself to a perfect balance of restraint and overdoing it. You like the Fulci eye-ball gags? Here he has three of them! The film doesn't feel overall soaked in blood from frame to frame, but if someone is going to die, they are going to get killed in astonishing fashion. Emily gets her throat and face ripped to shreds, a man is eaten by spiders. The most notable death comes when a child (Who is possessed, let me state first) gets her head blown off by a handgun. Its one of the most iconic moments in the film and has made many a horror moments list. The event of it happening combined with the amount of detail and the editing choice not to cut away or make it "safe" provides a massive shock on a first time view. Its so known that there is a bobble head to commemorate it.
Originally, Lucio Fulci did not intend for the film to include "Zombies". There were to be undead, but no the traditional flesh eater. In order to get full funding for the film from German financiers, he had to write them in. Zombie films in the country at the time were all the rage and Fulci was a big reason for that. So, if you're backing his film, you want him to include his trademark. It didn't seem to bother or alter his plans for the film much at all, just add a little more action to the finale. They don't show up until the final moments of the film, which honestly ramps up some intensity and suspense and mixes in some shooting violence. For something that wasn't intended from the get go, it really doesn't feel shoehorned into the story of the film at all. To me, I just feel its part of the final take over from the hell dimension. It also spruces up some of uncovering the final mystery and makes for a bit more excitement. Who knows, if we didn't have that, maybe we wouldn't have the iconic moment of the little girl getting her head blasted off?
Fabio Frizzi returns to score The Beyond, which is a much more full and realized take on what he was doing in the previous film. Yes, its in tune with that of a "kind of" Goblin score, but this has its own identity. Included in here is some of the eeriest piano music you'll ever hear. The more upbeat music is also very interesting. If you watch a lot of Italian films, you're used to the style they go with when making chase music and the like and its fitting. If this is your first rodeo it might seem a little different and feel out of place, but it truly isn't. There are tracks on this score that should be on rotation in any haunted house during the Halloween season and that's a fact. This is the last Frizzi would do here in the Gates of Hell trilogy, so there is a small loss of consistency going into the next one. But don't worry, the other series' constant thus far, actress Catriona MacColl will be back to see things finished up. I haven't mentioned her, but this role was supposed to go to Tisa Farrow (To reunite her and Fulci from Zombi 2/Zombie/Zombie Flesh Eaters). Mia's sister, however, had retired from acting.
Once long ago, this film was cut to shreds by the UK and subsequently cut even more by the US. The US renamed it Seven Doors Of Hell. The UK ended up Video Nasty'ing it and for the longest time this chopped to bits version was the only way to see the film. And its missing all the good stuff and if you thought the film make little sense before, this one doesn't. For most haters of this film, I wonder if this was the version of the movie they saw. The film was legendary in being hyped up for scares and of course gore, but if you hear all that and then THIS is the version of the film you see, you're really not going to see what everyone is gloating about. It wasn't until 1998 that the US finally saw the proper version of the film released, and even then the bad cut was still floating around. Sage Stallone's Grindhouse Releasing restored it and got it back onto conscious proper with endorsement from Quentin Tarantino (Under the Rolling Thunder Pictures label, remember that?) and midnight screenings.
People who are not into arthouse film or are nit pickers (That enjoy degrading stuff like Honest Trailers) and/or need things completely spoonfed to them...stay away from The Beyond. Its not for you. Those with an appreciation of vintage arthouse horror cinema, that can admire craft and enjoy narratives that are pretty wildly ambiguous, should definitely give The Beyond at least 2 shots. I say two, because I firmly believe after the first viewing of the film, your second is where things might start to come together. Your initial view could be polarizing or a bit confusing. I highly recommend you seek out the outstanding Blu-ray set from Grindhouse Films from earlier this year so you can appreciate appropriate color timing, framing and see the film for its terrific cinematography and the way it was meant to look. When I first saw this film, I was a doubter. But come what may, I have become a big time praiser of it and its definitely become one of my all time favorite horror films. Its the best film Lucio Fulci crafted and his own masterpiece.
NEXT TIME: The Home By The Tombstone