Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Beyond (1981)

Country: ITALY

E tu vivrai nel terrore - L'aldila
Seven Doors of Death

Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond is a frustratingly divisive horror movie. It represents everything that is both good and bad about the horror genre. Part of the appeal of horror movies (to less talented writers at least) is that the plotting and characterisation can take a back seat to the stylistic creation of terror and suspense. It is perhaps the only genre that can entirely do away with linearity, cause and effect, logical character arcs, and still make some kind of sense. The purpose may not necessarily be to tell a story, but to create a physical and emotional response. If a horror film can achieve this (depressingly few do), then it has at least succeeded on one level. The Beyond works extremely well on this level. Critics of the film are right to dismiss it as senseless, irrational, and absurd. But it is vital that those who attack the film recognise that, partially at least, this film is a roaring success. But The Beyond is also not the masterpiece some horror fans would have you believe. The Beyond is one of several films appropriated by those with an agenda too acclaim Lucio Fulci is an auteur, something that is truly absurd. The reality is that this movie is both a great horror film and meaningless trash.

The film opens with a strikingly mounted prologue atmospherically shot in saturated sepia tones. The setting is an eerie and fog enshrouded hotel in late 1920’s Louisiana. A hollow eyed artist by the name of Schweik (Antoine-Saint John) works with feverish intensity on a portrait of an inhospitable and hellish wasteland in Room 36 of the Seven Doors Hotel. Unbeknownst to the obsessed artisan a posse of hard faced superstitious locals believe him to be a warlock and are on the way to mete out their own brand of brutal vigilantism. What follows is the type of harrowing torture set piece for which Fulci would become notorious. Schweik is chain whipped, nailed to the wall, and eventually doused in corrosive quick lime. This vicious and unexpected sequence echoes a similar chain whipping in Fulci’s earlier Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) and is made all the more distressing by the lack of explanation offered by the artists tormentors. It sets the film on an unrelentingly grisly path and is a fitting way for Fulci to set out his stall. Although the model work is highly unconvincing, the lingering and unflinching gaze of the camera as it picks out torturous details is both nauseating and compelling.

The plot inconsistencies really begin to build when the action switches to the same locale in 1981. We are swiftly introduced to Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl) a New Yorker who has inherited the dilapidated hotel from an obscure relative. In her attempts to renovate the decaying building a number of perplexing tragedies occur; a painter falls to his death from a scaffold, and a plumber vanishes in the flooded basement. It turns out the basement is inconveniently situated on one of the seven gateways to hell - a fact that assassinated artist Schweik was only too aware of. As the film lumbers along, this outlandish dimension begins to bleed into Liza’s reality. One particularly notable side effect of this is that the recently dead return to life. Aided by a resourceful doctor (David Warbeck) and with portentous proclamations from a mysterious blind girl (Cinzia Monreale) Liza watches on with impotent horror as her world unravels.

By the time we finally get to the secret at the black heart of the Seven Doors Hotel, the bonkers screenplay by Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Maurizio and Lucio Fulci has generated an hallucinogenic atmosphere from the nightmare depths of a twisted soul. Events lack any kind of discernible logic (this sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t), and characters behave in inconsistent ways and deliver bizarre lines of dialogue that make no sense. The editing by Vincenzo Tomassi progressively distorts time and Fulci’s compositions constrict space. This creates a palpable sense of dislocation and confusion, which is exacerbated by a number of wholly exaggerated set pieces that exist far beyond their narrative justification. The most eccentric a scene in a library in which an architect discovers the secret of the hotel and is devoured by a hungry troupe of tarantula’s who appear out of nowhere and vanish in the same way. The scene would be laughable were it not for the revolting sound effects.

Other elements of the film are more predictable - scenes of eye trauma (one character has her eye poked out by a rusty nail in a chilling echo of the notorious splinter in the eye scene from the far superior Zombi 2), the rampant clichés of gothic horror, and the hackneyed but still impressive synthesised soundscapes of Fabio Frizzi. Other layers of atmosphere are borrowed from the feverish cosmic horrors of H. P. Lovecraft - the Book of Eibon is a clear stand in for the fabled Necronomicon - and a parallel dimension to our own harbouring unspeakable abominated monsters resonates with the Cthulu Mythos stories. Endless shots of zombies shuffling around hospital corridors waiting to be picked off feel tacked on and are directed with such a singular lack of inspiration that they feel as though they have been spliced in from another movie. Fulci is on much firmer ground when his camera prowls menacingly though the rooms of the Seven Doors Hotel. The Beyond’s challenge lies in its seamless marriage of gothic horror conventions and the surreal. It is not the horror masterpiece supporters of Fulci may have you believe, but it is an excellent example of how unique and idiosyncratic Italian horror could be.

© Shaun Anderson 2010


  1. This one is special to me, I mean, there are certain moments that work so well, for example, anything involving the blind girl is awesome, specially the scene with her dog.

    Her house is so eerie, the scene where she appears in the bridge, amazing. I also love the extreme gore. If you ask me, this was Fulci's crowning achievement. I dont think he ever made a better film then this one.

  2. The blind girl...you can tell she's not really blind...specially when she runs out the room near the start..she runs down thoes stairs with ease..if she was blind she'd have gone arse over tit.
    and sadly that and the weird scene in the white room are about all i remember of this film.
    really should watch it again and i might have something vaguely mature and interesting to say about it, like your good self..hehe ;)


  3. This movie put me off Lucio Fulci's films for years. I've only just now decided to give him another chance. In fact it pretty much put me off 80s Italian horror. Along with Lamberto Bava's Demons.

  4. Thanks for the comments guys - most appreciated.

    @ The Film Connoiseur - I can understand why people like The Beyond, and see it as Fulci's best film, but personally I've never really got on with it. Either Zombi 2 or Don't Torture a Duckling I'd nominate as his best.

    @ Amy - Dont you remember the ridiculous Tarantula scene? - I never really understood the role of the 'blind' girl in the film anyway - if anyone has a theory as to what her purpose in the film is, please let me know.

    @ dfordoom - It would take a lot to put me off Italian horror, but like yourself im not overly keen on this film or Demons. I have to be in a very specific mood to appreciate any Fulci film, a mood that is increasingly rare these days.

  5. Fulci has some sort of animal sequence in a lot of his horror films, everything from bats, to tarantulas, to sharks, to maggots, to dogs (like the one in The Beyond)...he used animals a lot in his horror movies.

    I guess you have to be in a specific type of mood to watch an Italian HOrror film from this era, they have a lot of things that can drive a person used to american movies mad! I guess you have to get used to the non sense, the red herrings, the dubbing...

  6. The Zombie/Shark battle in Zombi 2 is one of my favourite Fulci scenes. I also remember the bat scene from House by the Cemetary. Without a doubt bad dubbing is particularly damaging, for Fulci films in particular. They never had the strongest dialogue, so delivery becomes all the more important.

  7. The most annoying piece of dubbing I have heard in a film comes from a Fulci movie. Its that little kid in House by the Cemetary, his voice is so squeaky, and so obviously not a little boys voice.

    Every time he said: "Mommy, mommy" drove me nuts!

  8. Ha ha, that kid in House by the Cemetary was awful, plus he was named "Bob." Children in America just do not go by the name "Bob."

    But yeah, The Beyond is quintessential Italian horror, and I think the one film I'd recommend for people who had no familiarity with it. There's nothing else like The Beyond!

  9. There's a 'Bob' in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD as well - clearly Fulci and Sachetti had a thing for 'Bob's'

  10. Great write up! I think you’ve uncovered what it is that makes this film work so well despite its flaws. I was surprised and overjoyed one day to notice Lovecraft mention THE BOOK OF EIBON at the beginning of his short tale THE DREAMS IN THE WITCH-HOUSE.

  11. The Beyond is perhaps Fulci's most visually arresting film and certainly one of his most ambitious. It's all atmosphere and style over sense and plot, with plenty of gore and shocks, that will please Fulci fans and lovers of Euro-horror. I recommend it.

  12. Yes highly stylised, especially the atmospheric prologue. I agree, I think it's his most interesting formal exercise. But I don't think he ever quite got the balance right between sense and plot and surreal stylistics.

  13. eddie lydecker21 May 2012 at 20:22

    "AND YOU WILL FACE THE SEA OF DARKNESS AND ALL THERE-IN THAT MAY BE EXPLORED", arguably one of the greatests endings to a film in the entire history of cinema.


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