To a layman of 80’s Italian horror, it would painfully easy to cast a disparaging eye over the frenzied output of Lucio Fulci and dismiss them all as containing more cheesy crap that a bowel movement from Jerry the Mouse – but those in the know have the inside scoop that if you can see beyond the slightly careless dubbing, inappropriately placed music cues and excessive, rubbery gore, there’s a keen filmmaking mind underneath the constant eye popping and flesh ripping.
Ok, I’ll grant you that maybe City Of The Living Dead and The House By The Cemetery may be something of a hard sell, but Fulci’s 1981 opus, The Beyond, stands as arguably the most refined work the sultan of spaghetti splatter managed to release in the genre.
Exploding heads, a killer guide dog and spider assassins may not sound much like the work of a “refined” anything, but rest assured, no one could produce that shit like Fulci. In the words of English ska band Madness, it’s time to go one step beyond.
After a string of financial and professional flops, Liza Merrill finally thinks she has a chance at building a life thanks to the mysterious inheriting of the Seven Doors Hotel, an establishment that is located in New Orleans – however, a string of accidents and weird occurrences are slowing down the refurbishment that she’s desperately trying to rush through before she’s rendered utterly bankrupt. Of course, if she’d bothered to look up local history, she’d know that back in 1927 a wannabe artist/warlock named Schweick was beaten with chains, nailed to a wall and had lye poured on his head by the local townspeople who obviously thought the remit for their neighbourhood watch programme included the practicing of black magic. Well, it seems that joke is on us, because Schweick was holed up in room 36 in order to save up from the fact that the hotel sits above one of the Seven Gates Of Hell – which is something Liza might wanna avoid announcing on Trip Advisor…
Inevitably, a plumber who is trying to get the building’s water running again, stumbles upon Schweick’s ravaged remains and is promptly killed for it as a moldy hand releases him of a need for contact lens at it removes his eyes and this sets a string of bizarre and horrific events in motion that sees a rash of deaths claim anyone who is hanging around that bloody hotel.
Local doctor John McCabe joins Liza in order to try and get to the bottom of these seemingly random mutilations that’s seen the plumber’s wife burned to death by acid, Liza’s architect paralyzed and eaten alive by tarantulas and Schweick’s body repeatedly turning up in Room 36 even though it’s supposed to be at the morgue. But stranger still is the appearance of blind girl named Emily, who seemingly knows what’s actually going on and why everything is apparently connected to an old book, intimidatingly titled Eibon. Can Liza and John unravel the mystery of the Seven Doors Hotel before the Gates Of Hell open and the dead rise? To be honest, they haven’t got greats odds, not in a Lucio Fulci film….
While I have to admit I personally sometimes prefer the pulp schlock of Zombie Flesh Eaters or the gothic silliness of City Of The Living Dead, there’s no denying that The Beyond is Fulci’s most accomplished horror flick as he takes his usual talent of just slinging in random, gruesome set pieces just for the hell of it and uses it to a storytelling advantage. Fulci has attacked a logic free plot before (I’m still not entirely sure what Manhattan Baby is supposed to be about), but never has he managed to do it so well as he does here as he somehow gives all the disparate bloodletting a weird coherence that his other movies doesn’t have quite as strong a grip on. Simply put, it actually makes sense that nothing makes sense due to the fact that reality has decided to go do one thanks to the Gates Of Hell being inadvertently thrown open by a plumber named Joe (way to go, Joe) – thus Fulci is given free range to go utterly nuts with a selection of ghastly sequences that can helpfully be explained away with a shrug and a hastily muttered “I don’t know… Gates of Hell, innit?”.
Also helping with matters is the inclusion of the mystery blind chick, Emily, who, it is revealed, has escaped from the great beyond to give Liza the 411 about all the hell-related shit that’s about to go down and adds a more overt sense of the old-school macabre – especially when she has her throat torn out by her own pooch when the evil force decides it’s time to call her back.
But what naturally makes the movie stand out are those showstopping, logic defying, set pieces that the filmmaker based the latter part of his long career on and Fulci gives us some bangers here. Aside from the standard eye gouging, we have a seemingly bottomless jar of acid pouring onto the face of an unconscious woman while her horrified daughter watches and that truly nightmarish sequence where spiders suddenly appear in a library and eat a man’s face to pieces (one of the archnid bastards even crawls into his mouth and takes chunks out of his tongue), we also get what could very well be the director’s best zombie work to date.
During the surreal climax, when time and space seem to be breaking down and all the dead bodies in the hospital morgue decide to do the Fulci shuffle all over the place, Lucio forges the usual crusty/gooey look that Italian zombies usually had and has the far creepier look of the recently embalmed – the scene even includes a fist pumping, jaw dropping moment where a little, redheaded girl succumbs to the evil and then has a bowling ball sized hole blown through her skull for her efforts.
Fulci regulars Fabio Frizzi and Gino De Rossi work their individual magic in the score and special effects respectively and they’re joined by Catriona MacColl, who chalks up the second of her Fulci hat trick that saw her appear in all three movies that make up the director’s Gates Of Hell Trilogy. Meanwhile, David Warbeck, after being broken in to the world of Fulci with The Black Cat, gives good, stern, rational hero who has to resort to some trigger happy retaliation in the bonkers climax that never bothers to explain exactly why a doctor would have a loaded gun in his desk at the hospital where he works.
If any more proof is needed that The Beyond is a sterling example of 80’s Italian horror cinema, it’s the fact that it’s a rare movie of it’s kind that actually sticks the landing and the final sight of MacColl and Warbeck with milky white eyes after finding their way into a supernatural wasteland with no way back sticks with you like the remnants of an upsetting dream.
By mixing his usual fever-dream aesthetic with a healthy dollop of Southern Gothic, Fulci managed to pull out a career best that is a winner, regardless of whether you embrace it as the classic it is or even in a ironic, Garth Marenghi sense.
To hostility, and Beyond.