A simple scan of the Internet quickly reveals that Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond ranks among his most appreciated films. The Beyond serves as the second offering in what would be called the “The Gates of Hell Trilogy”. This trilogy includes such titles as City of the Living Dead (1980) and House by the Cemetery (1981). To be honest, The Beyond demonstrates a multitude of deficiencies. In other areas, one could understandably call the film ridiculous. However, in standard Fulci fashion, Lucio manages to pull together enough over-the-top visuals and jaw dropping exclamation points that this film easily sticks to the ribs of ravenous horror fans.
A gateway to hell opens in the bowels of a Louisiana hotel
Fulci begins his story in 1927 at Louisiana hotel tucked behind a nostalgic sepia filter. Slowly, two row boats full of gentlemen slowly row up river. Their purpose remains unclear, but one suspects that their intentions are not good. Inside the hotel, a young woman watches a storm brewing outside. Her gaze shifts to an ancient book that sits beside the sofa titled “Eibon”.
In another room, a man known only as Schweick, paints a hellscape in a dimly lit room. His art depicts a barren field of stones and hardpacked dirt. Dispersed throughout this barren landscape lie the bodies of the dead. Over his shoulder, the number on the door reads “36”. Outside, the men lands their boats on the shore, torches in hand. Several more men carrying chains and clubs arrive in cars. The woman reads from the “Eibon”:
In this book I collected all of the prophecies of Eibon,
handed down over more than 4000 years
The marauders burst into room 36 with accusations of witchcraft. Promptly, they begin their brutal assault on the artist.
The seven dreaded gateways are concealed in seven cursed places
Woe be unto him who venture near without knowledge
The men drag Schweick down to the basement of the hotel. They wrestle him through the dank, dark caverns of the basement to a rock wall where they crucify the man with steel spikes through the wrists. The men proceed to cover his face and body with a caustic substance that liquifies his flesh as he dies a slow and miserable death.
Woe be unto him who opens one of the seven gateways to Hell,
because through that gateway, evil will invade the world
54 years later, a woman named Liza Merril (Katherine MacColl) inherits the hotel. Quickly, she learns of its dark history and evil secrets that lay hidden in the basement.
Mildly Incoherent, Visually Stunning
Lucio Fulci foregoes a strong narrative structure in favor of a trip through visually surreal vignettes. These individual pieces fortunately add up to enough substance to carry the film. The film spends little time developing the backstory of any of the main characters. In addition, Fulci haphazardly pulls to together a few disparate character actors into the fold with tenuous and uninteresting relationships. Its hard to criticize this approach as many, if not most, horror directors use similar techniques to short-track to the gore. The horror tipping point occurs when Joe the Plumber unwittingly re-opens the gateway to hell as he troubleshoots a water leak in the basement.
I tell you, Lucio Fulci hates eyeballs
Certainly, this would not be Lucio Fulci’s first foray into the wanton destruction of eyeballs. Fans of Lucio Fulcio certainly remember cringing as a rogue splint of wood slowly pierces a woman’s eyeballs in slow-motion and exceedingly graphic fashion in the 1979 classic Zombie. He would go on to provide a triple eyeball feature in this film. It makes one wonder what the motivation of this could be. I could not possibly be an accident that Lucio Fulci would continue to ravage the eyeballs of his characters for years to come.
Undoubtedly, the man is master of ocular ruination and this trait serves as a trademark for his films.
Stunning Imagery and Shocking Special Effects
One of the more striking images from The Beyond is the image of Emily (Cinzia Monreale), the blind harbinger of hell. Her eyes are blind and she stares blankly from ghostly white irises. Strangely, she meets Liza on a desolate stretch of highway spanning Lake Pontchartrain. Even more strange, Liza makes friends with this strange blind woman. Emily takes her to Liza to her home where play a creepy tune on the piano composed by frequent Fulci collaborator Fabrio Frizzi. She warns Liza to go back to where she came from and to leave this place.
Cinzia Monreale steals every scene with her obvious beauty hidden behind these horrifyingly opaque eyes.
On of the more memorable scenes from The Beyond comes when the family of Joe the Plumber arrive at the medical center to prepare his body for burial after his autopsy. I am not sure that this is how this process usually works, but we’ll go with it. As she gingerly tries to dress he deceased husband, she see something that causes her to scream. As her daughter bursts into the room, she finds her mother lying on the ground as a jar of acid falls from a shelf onto her face.
Her daughter watches as the acid slowly liquifies her head into a rolling sea of pink foam that threatens the daughters feet. While awesome, the scene plays out like one of several horrifying asides in the film. Minimally, it serves as an abrupt, if not awkward introduction of the daughter who plays a minor role in the rest of the film. While it had been many years since Malevolent Dark first witnessed this movie, yet these images remained seared into our brains.
And Some Ridiculous Effects
At some Lucio Fulci looked at his work of art and determined that he needed more gore. Some poor sucker looking for building plans for the hotel gets a surprise when a bolt of lighting strikes outside. He falls off of a ladder and lies unconscious to the floor. Then inexplicably, an army of spiders, some real and some clearly fake, emerge from under the bookcase to finish one of the more overly indulgent and completely unnecessary gore scenes in Lucio Fulci history. The squeaking, crunching and gnashing of the spiders teeth is deliciously comical, if not totally asinine.
As a fun fact, Lucio Fulci has a cameo role as the librarian who assists the man just before his eight legged demise.
The Beyond – Production Values
While Lucio Fuilci’s film lacks a strong narrative in which to weave his tale, technically Fulci pulls out all of the stops. Fabio Frizzi’s soundtrack matches the mood and the tone of the film perfectly. Malevolent Dark will reserve the claim that it’s Frizzi’s best work, but many critics of the film believe it to be so. Additionally, Sergio Salvati delivers one of his most impressive photography assignments in a Lucio Fulci horror movie.
As with all cinematography, there are two critical aspects. First, Fulci had a crystal clear plan and a vision for each shot. Second, Salvati capably thrusts that vision into the visual realm through his awesome camera work. While Don’t Torture a Duckling often gets a cinematography nod with its sprawling shots of the Italian hillside, the photography in The Beyond proves to be much more dynamic and far more interesting. Everything from simple shot framing during dialog to the dolly shots exploring the entrance to hell work extremely well.
The Legacy of The Beyond
Only a visionary director like Lucio Fulci can create a great movie from stock that isn’t really that great. As said before, the Fulci’s story is half-baked at best. Character interactions are trivial and strained. Plot development are nearly non-existent. Still, through fantastic visuals and dreamlike sequences, Lucio Fulci manages to create a masterpiece of horror. The Beyond really pushes the limits of pure horror style. It’s not the disco-horror stylings of Argento, but rather something more visceral and pure.
Malevolent Dark highly recommends this gem from Lucio Fulci. For those investing in Fulci’s catalog, The Beyond is a must. For those just looking for a great horror flick on a weekend, The Beyond still delivers the goods.
The Beyond (1981) - Another Gate to Fulci's Hell - Malevolent Dark
Director: Lucio Fulci
Date Created: 1981-01-01 00:00