The Beyond September 17, 2015
Bava (who were true filmmakers, photographically daring and confident in their craft), figuring that Fulci, Europe’s answer to Herschell Gordon Lewis, would be a close enough counterpoint to their masterful shocks.
The Beyond’s release came years after Argento and Bava’s prominence came to an end — their specialty, giallo (sumptuously photographed stalk-and-slash thrillers that combined beauty and barbarousness), waned in the late 1970s — and so it’s less giallo and more splatter, so in love with its gore effects and its atmospheric lensings that it forgets how to be an actual film when it isn’t agitating us. Fans of The Beyond applaud it for its carnage, its nightmarishly incoherent atmosphere, and its haunting score. But while all those aspects are agreeably strong, they aren’t quite strong enough to make for a horror movie anything more than an above-average B-movie.
The film opens in 1927, depicting the brutal killing of a “warlock” by an angry mob. The death is disturbing and disquieting — imagine what Jesus Christ went through on that godawful cross but with acid thrown in his face in addition to all the savageness. The scene sets the tone of the film, fairly ludicrous and fairly vomit-inducing.
Cut to 1981 and beautiful blonde Lisa Meddle (Catriona MacColl), a New Yorker, has inherited the very same hotel where the aforementioned warlock met his end. Crumbling and in no shape to shelter guests, Lisa is in the process of some serious cleanup — little does she know, though, that the property is much more than what she bargained for. Because horror film characters enjoy making bad decisions for our enjoyment, it turns out that the hotel is actually built on one of the Seven Gates of Hell; it doesn’t take long before employees begin meeting gruesome (and bizarre) ends and Lisa starts to realize that it might not be such a good idea to renovate after all.
Of course, The Beyond’s famed incomprehensibility makes this storyline seem minor in the face of so many imaginative slayings. Fulci’s goal, you see, is not to deliver a plot worthy of our time but to instead present us with a series of macabre images meant to unsettle. The mystifying nature of the story is supposed to make the film scarier: the objective is to take a nightmare directly from the mind of a child’s brain and throw it onto the screen for us to endure.
Such an ideal has worked before, the example being Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Suspiria, which burns in the memory the second it ends, was, yes, unintelligible, but the imagery, so gothic, so Technicolor, so hellacious, actually does feel as if it were taken out of a nightmare. It helps that the stalk and slashes are lined with suspense, hard-hitting once blood is drawn.
Fulci, always jealous of Argento’s successes, isn’t as gifted a visual storyteller, figuring that an abundant usage of fog machines, close-ups of Cinzia Monreale’s pupil-less eyes, and slow-moving terror are good enough by way of concocting a hair-raising ambience. It mostly works, in a chintzy, Halloween haunted house kind of way. But Fulci’s speciality has always been gore, and the bloodbaths don’t disappoint: best of all is the scene during which a zombie wrestles the creepy hotel maid (Veronica Lazar), slams her into a wall, and, horrifyingly, gets her eyeball punched out by an unruly piece of wood.
The sequence is only the finest, though, because it is the only gore showcase with a hint of nail-biting during the entire film. The other bloody points come by with laughable incongruity — one man falls off a library ladder only to get his face eaten off by an army of tarantulas, and another woman, later on, is, one minute, sitting by her dead husband in the hospital, and is, the next, unconsciously lying on the ground as a gallon of acid tips over by itself onto her poor face, ketchup fizz pooling through the room as her pigtailed daughter looks on.
It’s not so much that I don’t appreciate The Beyond’s carnage-based inventiveness; it’s just that its overall goal seems to involve copying what giallo legends did best during their heyday. Fulci’s reputation as a hack seems fairly agreeable, but he’s a talented hack. The film has its moments, but I can hardly say I did more than cringe in disgust or sit in boredom. There’s no such thing as an in-between throughout its quick 87 minutes, except for the moment when I noticed that a hospital door sign cautions guests to “Do Not Entry." Then I breathlessly laughed. Perhaps that was accidental? C-
Maria Pia Marsala
1 Hr., 27 Mins.
f The Beyond is a horror masterpiece then I must also be an aardvark named Tim who somehow got ahold of a MacBook Pro. To call Lucio Fulci’s cult classic anything but trash would be a ridiculous proclamation, far-reaching and implausible. Though it’s divine trash, inventive with its low budget and entertaining in its schlock and its gore, the widespread acclaim by Italian horror fans, who put it in the same category as Dario Argento’s Deep Red and Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood, is nearly impossible to understand. Perhaps gorehounds couldn’t accept the fact that the only masters of Italian horror were Argento and