I can’t remember the first time I saw SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH (the US title that THE BEYOND was first released under). It was a while ago, when I first delved into the wasteland that was Italian horror cinema. I wound up in that place thanks to Asia Argento. I first saw her in a film in 1994 called QUEEN MARGOT and upon searching her back catalogue I happened upon her Father’s film TRAUMA. From there it was a rapid downward spiral of Giallo murder mysteries and—as horror scribe Chas. Balun describes them—chunkblowers. All of that lead to a dismal VHS bootleg borrowed off a friend. Truth be told, the film really didn’t blow my mind back when I first saw it. Through a haze of Bava, Argento and their ilk it was just another in a succession of spaghetti splatter flicks that I was barreling through and compartmentalizing in my subconscious—I was ODing on grue just to get it all crammed through my ocular cavities and wedged into my cortex. It took Quentin Tarantino and Grindhouse Releasing’s 1998 re-release to make me really sit up and take notice. When they released THE BEYOND to DVD through Anchor Bay a decade ago, I sat there—a few years removed from my orgy of Italian horror cinema—transfixed by the imagery that Director Lucio Fulci was parading across my television screen. It’s the closest film comes to a living, breathing surrealist nightmare—the perfect companion to Don Coscarelli’s PHANTASM and Dario Argento SUSPIRIA. I recently heard someone say that thanks to J-Horror, the scariest movies don’t have to make sense anymore. Obviously that person never saw THE BEYOND!
Set in New Orleans, THE BEYOND is the story of a decrepit hotel that houses one the seven gateways to hell. When a new owner Liza Merril (portrayed by Fulci regular Catriona MacColl—credited as Katherine MacColl) takes over the property she soon discovers strange goings-on. Aided by local doctor John McCabe (David Warbeck) and seemingly haunted by the presence of a Blind Girl (Cinzia Monreale) Liza tries to uncover the mystery surrounding the abandoned home and its cursed room 36. Meanwhile dead and undead bodies are piling up all around her.
…or something like that!
In reality, a plot synopsis is the least effective method of conveying what THE BEYOND is actually about. The film defies logic—both linear storytelling logic and common sense logic. THE BEYOND is spectacle pure and simple. It provides no simple answers, which is OK, since the film is often so puzzling that many viewers would find it difficult to formulate questions apart from “Huh???”. Scenes exist as show pieces to highlight the gruesome effects work of maestro Giannetto de Rossi (ZOMBIE) and the atmospheric, dreamlike cinematography of Fulci favorite Sergio Salvati. Simplistic concepts like the idea that a New Orleans home would have a basement (when the whole city sits at an average of 8 feet below sea level) are irrelevant to the story. The world of THE BEYOND exists only in our and Lucio Fulci’s imagination. It’s hell on earth, or rather, the unleashing of hell on earth. Even the film’s final moments echo the underworld dreamscapes of Nobuo Nakagawa’s 1960 classic JIGOKU. Like PHANTASM and SUSPIRIA, THE BEYOND demands that the viewer give themselves over the cinema as escapism. If you keep your feet grounded in reality, it will wrack your brain to no end. Of course even if you can’t get over the structure of the film, Fulci breaks up all the nonsensicalness with a virtual smorgasbord of eyeball trauma and outrageous gore. With tarantula attacks, severed tongues and a pair of acid baths that leave literal rivers of blood flowing across the sets. So, gorehounds can at least rejoice that THE BEYOND is exceptional in the amount of sticky stuff that is sprayed across its celluloid—even if they don’t know what the hell the movie is about when the credits finally roll.
It always seems obvious to tell people that some films just aren’t for everyone. But Lucio Fulci seems to be the most dividing of all horror moviemakers. I can break down entire sections of the genre populace based on their love or hate of Fulci. In reality, the man was a maverick workhorse who hammered out some 60 films in 40-years. When he passed away in 1996 he left a legacy that was only just being discovered. NEW YORK RIPPER, THE BLACK CAT, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING and of course ZOMBIE (or ZOMBIE 2, depending on who you ask). THE BEYOND stands as the apex of a Fulci film—incorporating his trademark Zombies and (ahem) eye-popping effects work inside a framework that allowed him to exploit those excesses without compromising the story (if only because there is so little story to compromise). In the liner notes of the DVD re-release author Chas. Balun calls THE BEYOND “Fulci’s blueprint for horror in the third degree” I would go so far to say that were it not for SUSPIRIA, THE BEYOND would likely be considered the crowning achievement in Italian horror cinema.
DVD Special Features
Having been out of print for several years, Grindhouse Releasing has opted to bring the film back to DVD shelves themselves (as opposed to licensing out the film such as they had before…with the Anchor Bay special edition) All of the Bonus Features from that old Disc are ported over to the new one. Specifically the audio commentary by Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck. Warbeck recorded the commentary track just a few weeks before his death in 1997 from cancer. He and MacColl are exceedingly chatty and having a rather good time on the audio. Unfortunately, as anecdotal as they are, the pair can’t really offer much in the way of cold hard facts and insights into the production.
A series of interviews with key crew members are also collected and help to paint a generous picture of Fulci as a commander-in-chief. But the most fun comes of an on-set interview with Fulci himself and a humorous outtake from a screening appearance that he and Warbeck made in the early 1990’s, where Fulci reveals that he “loves all of his films”, even though he can’t remember them.
The disc includes numerous still galleries with set photos and promo materials including the previous Anchor Bay release. An alternate opening credit sequence (in color) is included, as well as a new introduction to film by MacColl.
The DVD has been re-mastered and looks absolutely stunning and the audio commentary has been amped up to a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. Of course purists can still get the Original Italian and English mono tracks for fun.
Loved by many, surly hated by more, THE BEYOND truly lives up to its name. Superseding expectations and delivering unexpurgated horror to those brave enough to venture into its realm. With this new DVD release, there is no longer any excuse to keep this classic from the shelves of your collection. I think that Grindhouse Releasing has proven that despite his death a dozen years ago, Lucio Fulci does indeed live!
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