Movie Review: The Beyond

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The  Beyond (1981)
Starring Starring Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint-John, Veronica Lazar, Larry Ray, Giovanni De Nava, Al Cliver, Michele Mirabella, Gianpaolo Saccarola

The first time I witnessed a Lucio Fulci film was seeing it under a completely different title, the edited American version called Seven Doors of Death. Even the director’s name had been modified, here listed as “Louis Fuller”. This played at the theater I worked at and I remember being very puzzled at just what the hell was happening on screen. I had heard of Zombie, and remember it had been playing at the local drive-in, but I wasn’t driving at that time and couldn’t get anybody to take me to see it. But even then, I had no idea of the connection between the two films. That would definitely come later though.

But years later, when I was really getting into these movies, finding an uncut copy of what I later learned was called The Beyond, preferably from the Japanese laserdisc, was something that most young gorehounds were seeking out. Now, decades later, with several releases on laserdisc, DVD, and now bluray, fans of Lucio Fulci’s masterpiece can now be enjoyed and savored by fans, young and old.

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The film opens in the past, with a group of townspeople coming into a hotel and torturing a tenant there, accusing him of being a warlock. They drag him into the basement, nail his arms to the cement wall, beat him with chains before throwing some sort of mud on him that causes him to burn and dissolve, amongst his screams and unheard pleas of mercy. Then we come to present day, with a young woman named Liza who inherits the same hotel that she plans on fixing up and opening. It does need a lot of work and seems to be plagued by problem and after problem. From a painter falling off a platform, to mysterious visions she sees in one of the hotel’s room. It doesn’t help when she is getting even stranger information from a strange young blind woman who seems to know more about the house than she’s letting on. Slowly people around the house are attacked, usually in very gruesome ways, by the living dead. As we get farther into the film, things really get even crazier.

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The Beyond is really a great example of the whole “style of substance” way of filmmaking. There are a lot of things in here that might not make sense to someone used to the traditional style of film, where everything makes sense and is tidied up neatly at the end. Instead, according to Fulci, his idea was to make “an absolute film, with all the horrors of our world. It’s a plotless film: a house, people, and dead men coming from the beyond. There’s no logic to it, just a succession of images. It Italy, we tried to make films based on pure themes, without a plot, and The Beyond, like Dario Argento’s Inferno, refuses conventional and traditional structures.” This really is a great description of the film since there are plenty of parts that make you scratch your head, such as Warbeck’s character never really figuring out where to shoot the walking corpses.

While the film is known for the over the top gore, it is also a perfect example of Fulci’s style, even with the gruesome bits. One of the best examples is when one woman is attacked by one of the undead, who grabs her by the face and slowly pushes her back towards the wall. As we see a huge nail sticking out of the wall, we know exactly what is going to happen. We get shots back and forth of the nail, then the head being slowly pushed towards it, then back to the nail. But the real payoff here isn’t when the head is smashed up against the nail, but when the nail pushes through the front of the face, popping the eyeball out on the end of it! What a bonus! That is Italian horror. That is Lucio Fulci.

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The cast is filled with some familiar faces, if you’re a fan of Italian horror. This was Catriona MacColl second of three films she would do with Fulci, following her appearance in City of the Living Dead, and would then appear in House by the Cemetery shortly after this one. While other actresses tended to have issues with Fulci, MacColl didn’t seem to have that problem. She could be counted on to give us fans a great performance, having to endure many hysterical moments, but always took the role seriously. Warbeck, another Italian genre regular, plays a local doctor who gets sucked into the strange happenings. The blind girl Emily is played by Cinzia Monreale, who had appeared Joe D’Amato’s Beyond the Darkness as a naked corpse throughout most of the film! While she does keep her clothes on here, she doesn’t end up too much better off.

One of the highlights of the film is the incredible score by Fabio Frizzi. Giving us a mixture of jazz, chanting, and some highly memorable melodies, it fills the strange images onscreen with a audio nightmarish companion. Frizzi had worked with Fulci before on films like The Psychic and Zombie. Added the beautiful cinematography by Sergio Salvati, we get to experience a film that assaults us on so many levels, from the glorious gore to the music, it really is a perfect example of ’80s Italian horror. Not to mention one of my all time favorite films.

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Most horror fans have probably seen this movie, so a lot of this is something that they already know. But those of you reading this that haven’t yet had the pleasure of experiencing this film, what are you waiting for? Sit back and experience…no…savor your first time witnessing this masterpiece. Enjoy the blood, the gore, the ocular carnage, and the plenty of WTF moments that you’ll be hard pressed to try and explain to someone who isn’t a horror fan. But most of all, remember the horrific beauty that Lucio Fulci have us fans to enjoy for years to come.

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