Catriona MacColl - Liza Merrill
David Warbeck - Dr. John McCabe
Sarah Keller - Emily
Veronica Lazar - Martha
Michele Mirabella - Martin Avery
Maria Pia Marsala - Jill
Gianpolo Saccarola - Arthur
Giovanni De Nava - Joe
Al Cliver - Harris
Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Zombies
Running Time - 82 Minutes
Italian director Lucio Fulci has been a heavily debated director within the horror community. Some people think he's great, creating surreal and disgusting visuals that leave a huge impression on you. Others think he is a hack, believing that he's all shock and style, and no substance. While I'm not the biggest fan of Fulci's work, I do respect the man for presenting non-linear narratives meant to confuse, yet entertain you - leaving different imprints on the audience as to what they saw and how they saw it.
There's no denying that ZOMBIE/ZOMBI 2 is an absolute 1979 zombie classic that has inspired many future zombies films since its release. And while some of Fulci's giallos are worth mentioning, the films people think of [other than ZOMBIE] when it comes to the director are the Gates of Hell trilogy - which includes CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, and probably Fulci's most beloved work - 1981's THE BEYOND. Now why would anyone claim that THE BEYOND is Fulci's best film? It doesn't make sense. The gore is there to shock people and make them uncomfortable. The direction and acting is what it is. Why so much praise?
Maybe it's because, sometimes, we just want to experience something so strange instead of wondering if it's logical or not. We want to be disturbed. We want to be confused. We want to know what the hell we're watching. Only certain directors can get away with things like that. Lucio Fulci is one of them. And yes, THE BEYOND is his finest work in my honest opinion for all of those reasons.
In 1927 Louisiana, an angry mob enter a hotel to attack a painter named Schweick (Antoine Saint-John), who's staying in Room 36. Apparently, Schweick is a warlock of sorts and he's working on his latest, and final painting. The mob grabs Schweick and crucify him to a wall in his room, then dump acid on him so he can melt. Meanwhile downstairs, a blind woman named Emily (Cinzia Monreale) is reading a scary prophecy from the Book of Eibon before it bursts into flames.
We move to 1981 Louisiana, where a New Yorker named Liza (Catriona MacColl) has inherited the same hotel from her rich uncle. Liza realizes she has her work cut out for her, as she needs to hire construction workers, painters, and plumbers to fix the hotel up. When a worker is frightened by a pair of white eyes in a window, Liza meets Dr. John McCabe (David Warbeck), who becomes sort of her confidant.
Since the hotel basement is flooded, Liza hires a plumber named Joe (Giovanni De Nava) to deal with it. As he investigates a moldy wall and knocks several bricks out of it, a demonic hand reaches out and gouges out his eye. Soon enough, more demonic zombies begin to invade the town, causing grief for our characters. Meeting Emily, Liza learns that the hotel contains one of the seven gateways to Hell. And now that the gateway has been opened, the dead will roam the Earth.
I haven't seen THE BEYOND is many years. In fact, the last time I watched it had to be on VHS. As a teenager, you could only imagine my feelings towards this surreal film. I kept asking myself what I was watching, and why I had this urge to continue seeing these bizarre images unfold. THE BEYOND unnerved me because I didn't understand it. Hell, I still don't really understand it myself now that much. But that's why I dig it. I'm not meant to understand it in a logical sense. THE BEYOND is like a dream that we all must decipher for ourselves, taking away what it means to us individually. Not everyone will get it. But for those who "do", we can appreciate what a weird masterpiece Lucio Fulci crafted with this one.
To dissect the narrative of THE BEYOND would be like teaching Kanye West some humility - I'd be wasting my time. Just because the plot you read up there is pretty coherent doesn't mean the storytelling is. Even Fulci himself called THE BEYOND a "series of images" put to film. Things happen randomly. A cast of characters who don't really have to do much with each other pop up and are murdered for whatever reason. Hell, I couldn't tell you why this gateway to Hell is at this hotel and why it's being opened now. Why do certain people get killed, and why do others become blind with white pupils? And why do these characters, who know that shooting the brain will kill these zombies, continue to give them body shots? Shit, who ARE these characters and why should I care? If these things matter to you, then you're going to hate THE BEYOND.
However, if you enjoy watching strange, surreal imagery spliced together to tell a visual dream-like narrative, then THE BEYOND is one of the best films you'll watch. And boy, are there some doozies when it comes to memorable moments. Most of them are gore related [thanks to Germano Natali and Gino De Rossi], with gooey liquid and pouring of entrails meant to make the viewer uneasy. We get a spike going through the back of someone's head, pushing the eyeball out of their socket to great effect. We also get many moments where acid is thrown on people, making their skin melt into foamy goo. And probably the best gore moment of them all - a person getting shot in the head, to the point that the force of the bullet bursts their head wide open, splattering their brains and leaving them without a forehead. I read that this moment [which takes place during the zombie filled final act] was actually forced on Fulci due to the popularity of ZOMBIE and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD. But it's so damn great and probably the highlight in terms of special effects. It's pretty awesome.
It's funny - watching THE BEYOND as an adult made me see the film much differently then I did as a teen. For a film without much plot, I think I understand what Fulci was trying to tell the audience. THE BEYOND is a 82-minute nightmare for each of the characters involved. Liza is struggling with her hotel, hoping she doesn't fail. So the hotel is a gateway to hell. Dr. John McCabe considers himself a great doctor. So the dead at the hospital are coming back to life. Joe the Plumber has a difficult task clearing a flood. So he's murdered before the job can be done. Joe's daughter, Jill, is upset losing her father. So her mother is murdered too. And it continues. THE BEYOND seems to be multiple nightmares for respective characters, displaying their worst fears right in front of their eyes. While the themes aren't exactly visible on the surface, you can definitely see what Fulci is trying to say here. While some say there is no substance in THE BEYOND, I think it's quite the opposite. You just really have to look deep into the visual storytelling to see it. It's a reflection of these one-dimensional characters' fears - leaving an impression on not just them, but on us as an audience as well.
Still, THE BEYOND has its flaws. The dialogue is very silly at times. Some Italian to English translations are chuckle worthy. "Do Not Entry" at a Louisiana hospital - really? Of course, we have characters shooting the bodies of the zombies instead of their heads, even though they can clearly see that head shots take them out for good. And of course, hooking corpses to monitors that measure brain waves and heart beats is always logical. Still, I thought these moments added to the entertainment value rather than hurt the film.
Fulci's direction is quite great here, as THE BEYOND is one of his more beautiful looking films. The scene where Liza meets Emily on that desolate road is just stunning. The ending sequence is also quite beautiful in terms of composition, shot scale, and framing. I love how Fulci shoots the beautiful exterior of the hotel in comparison to the dark, dingy remains of the hotel's interior - almost as saying "never judge a book by its cover". The gore effects are shot extremely well, and Fulci loves to linger on them - especially any sort of ocular violence. I thought the sepia tinted prologue in 1927 Louisiana was quite nice and inspired. And I love the music score by Fabio Frizzi. It's really creepy stuff that fits the film and the early 1980s for sure. The visual presentation for THE BEYOND is probably Fulci's strongest work.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE NEVER FIXING ANYTHING IN MY BASEMENT EVER AGAIN
- Schweick was tortured by a mob, whipping him for being a Warlock. Or maybe he stepped on a crack and broke some mother's back. Either way, they whipped it good.
- Hot liquid thrown on Schweick's face caused it to quickly melt. Looks like he took a trip too many to the plastic surgeon. Looking at you, Kenny Rogers!
- Arthur, sweating like a pig, was supposedly looking for keys in Liza's room. Yeah, I like to "look for keys" several times a day myself. It's sore on the forearms though...
- A demonic finger gouged the pupil of Joe the Plumber in the basement. I can see that was an eye for an eye, huh? Eh, that was such a cornea joke.
- A 60-year-old corpse still had brain waves and a heartbeat. His career may be dead, but Don Johnson is still alive and well!
- A group of spiders smothered and tore apart Martin after he learned about the secret of the hotel. I guess they thought he was pretty fly for a white guy...
- Martha got the back of her head slammed into a nail by an undead Joe. Usually it's a lower body area that gets penetrated from behind. But hey - as long as her eyes pop out after getting nailed, it's all good.
THE FINAL HOWL