Saturday, May 7, 2011

REVIEW: The Beyond

The Beyond
Director: Lucio Fulci
Year 1981

The Beyond is a morbidly delightful journey into a world that blurs the divisions between the realm of the living and the barren landscapes of Hell. Set in Louisiana, the films tells the story of a woman named Liza Merril who has recently inherited a rundown hotel that, through a sorted past, has opened up the very gates of Hell within its rotten structure. Strange occurrences and unexplained deaths begin happening at the hotel, propelling Liza into a surreal struggle for her very soul as she is plagued by glossy eyed beings as they spill out from the gates of hell.

What a lovely house of death.

This film is an absolute delight if your characteristic preferences for the perfect horror film run extremely gory and atmospherically rich. Taking a few pages from his previous works, Lucio Fulci mashes up some stark and worthwhile elements from his two horror efforts, Zombie and City of the Living Dead, to create a film that is so entrenched in its own lore and visual implications that it literally sucks the viewer into the story even if its logical integrity is a bit scatter brained.

The illogical and dream like potentness of the film is what makes it so memorable and different from the majority of horror movies of the era. During a time when slasher films were king and the formulaic plot of teen horror began a rampant all out attack on cinema goers, the italian maestro contrasted the norm and created films that went above and beyond the usual celluloid fare. While not the only director of the time to maneuver in this surreal like direction, Fulci's style was unprecedented and uncompromising as it boldly rejected convention while solidifying his place among the top of phantasmic horror cinema connoisseurs.

Don't mess with the MacColl!

Relying on haunting and disturbing images to portray the world that he has created within the film, Fulci demonstrates that he is the master when it comes to setting a tone that is overwhelmingly present and substantial, without being cumbersome. He basks in the surreal as he uses all of his locations for all they're worth. In this mind set, he is able to bring the abandoned hotel, which is the center piece of the story, to life and make that morbid architectural wonder a character in itself. It's a creepy place in general, but seen through the eyes of Fulci, it becomes a place of nightmares. In all honesty, you believe that this place is the opening of Hell and anything you see after the point of the hotel's introduction and back-story becomes believable and tangible within the confines of the film. Now that's atmospheric filmmaking at its finest.

How many fingers am I holding up?

The nightmare quality and credibility of the film world is not only highlighted by the locations and expert compositions by Fulci, but also from the subdued performances by the movie's key actors. Catriona MacColl plays the role of Liza, the newfound hotel owner who has just moved in to the literal hell hole of horrors. Being no stranger to Fulci's style having survived his previous film, City of the Living Dead, MacColl shines as the doomed heroine with a penchant for attracting the attention of the inhabitants from the world beyond. Both City of the Living Dead and Beyond are quite similar in tone, both relying heavily on building a cinematic universe drenched in mystic and haunting overtones.

Get out of the middle of the road you damned blind moron!

The films each feel as if we are viewing the events on screen through a warped lens of logic, never knowing what is real while conveying the notion of being stuck in a dream within a dream to perfection. MacColl's two roles are almost mirror images of each other and one could say that her character Mary Woodhouse of City of the Living Dead fame, was just experimental for her portrayal of Liza Merril. Each heroine must confront death in one way, shape, or form, resulting from an opening to Hell being ripped unto our world. I enjoyed both of her performances, but I'm always finding myself more drawn to her innocent and kind natured presentation of Liza Merril.

I've got a splitting headache.

Another unforgettable asset this film has is the mysterious presence of the ghost like Emily, played by the under-appreciated italian horror vet Cinzia Monreale. She has a cinematic aura in this film, that imbues the entire frame, commanding your attention. Her origins are unknown and her arrival in the film occurs in such an otherworldly way, that you're instantly intrigued and captivated by her simplicity. Even at such a base level of complexity, her character thwarts the confines of its primitive shackles and begins to unravel what comes to be an immensely lavish and supernatural premise.

Shout! Shout! Rip my throat out!

The character of Emily even has a moving moment in the film, where she is confronted by an awful truth. This emotional performance brings to light her origins and it is quite a shocker and unsettling to boot. In the scene, we come to realize that she has escaped the binding imprisonment of Hell or purgatory and is adamant in not returning when confronted by a group of ominous beings from the beyond. The scene is morbidly curious and inspiringly disturbing, quickly morphing into sheer terror as an unexpected turn of events savagely brings the character of Emily to her finale fate. Like most of Lucio Fulci's memorable moments in horror history, it's bloody and gruesome, never holding back from showing the viewer all the gory details. Though her role in the film is short lived, Cinzia Monreale brings a substantial dose of the surreal to her hauntingly disturbed character of Emily.

When this house is a rockin, don't come a knockin.

Emily's brutal death is just one of many gore effects that splash onto the screen in expressive detail. In the film's total runtime you'll come across some vivid portrayals of eye gouging, head explosions, tarantula bites, ripping flesh, and that's just to name a few. All of the effects are pulled off with that sleazy style of italian filmmaking that just works wonders for these types of movies. I absolutely love it.

There's something savage about this approach, that if viewed by someone outside of the sub-genre of horror films, would find quite offensive and unappealing. I've always found a certain kind of charm with the effects of this nature as they always seem to fit inside the cinematic worlds that Fulci creates. It is raw and powerful, even if not completely realistic and genuine. Combined with the atmosphere that Fulci embraces and wraps himself in, it is a match made in heaven for obscure horror fans. With The Beyond, we get to see the master of gore in one of his most pinnacle of a achievements.

Let sleeping corpses lie.

Just like his gore effects, Fulci's zombie makeup is right on par with the overall atmosphere of the film. They fit in the universe and gel along with everything else created for that world. Done in simplistic fashion, but wholly effective, the walking corpses of this film are similar in function to his previous zombie outings. I have to say, Fulci knows how to do zombies right. These creatures are slow lumbering shells of human beings, moving on instinct and void of any kind of rational thinking. They're believably dead and soulless beings and that's just the way I like them. The only downside of these zombies is that they aren't on the screen for a terribly long time, only making an appearance in the later moments of the film. It's a shame, but I'll take what I can get when the overall end result is this good looking and decrepit. Even if the lovable walking dead isn't visible for a good majority of the movie, we still feel their presence in every aspect of the story and that is a great accomplishment on Fulci's part.

Dr. John's got a problem solver and its name is revolver.

Closing out all of the elements that make this film such a masterpiece of surreal horror cinema is the haunting music provided by Lucio Fulci's right hand man, Fabio Frizzi. Having collaborated and composed an excellent catalogue of Fulci's films like Four of the Apocalypse, The Psychic, Zombie, City of the Living Dead, and Manhattan Baby, Frizzi gives an outstanding audible tension to The Beyond. The soundtrack runs a large gamut of spectral horrors from his unsettling tonal cues to his uproarious final ballad filled with operatic singing and heavy beats, this music infuses a sense of style that gives life to the outstanding visuals. It's hard to imagine how the film would come off if it didn't have Frizzi's imaginative compositions to accompany it, but thankfully that's an experience that none of us have to go through. Top notch soundtrack for a top notch film.

Faced! Scratch moded!

The Beyond is a masterpiece of horror cinema that really shows the power of Italian horror cinema at its epoch. Matched in scope and accomplishment with his other undead epic, Zombie, Lucio Fulci proves that both substance and style can coexist even at such highly atmospheric levels. The pulsating tension of the film and the foreboding nature of the entire piece is just outstanding, giving way to a movie that really has a life of its own.

With a story that's lost in obscurity and drenched in mysterious circumstances, The Beyond comes out the other side resulting in a film that truly is in a league of its own. Saturated in a haunting and dreamlike stupor, the film elects to throw you into a world that is like no other, where reality mixes with the real world and the difference between the living and the dead is blurred into obscurity. I highly recommend this film to anyone that is interested in diving in to the grotesque wonders of Lucio Fulci's demented mind and to anyone that wants to view a film that goes beyond the normal atmospheric presentation, opting for a surreal ride that asks you as the viewer to experience the film rather then just watch it.

5 out of 5 stars       An Italian Horror Masterpiece!


  1. Great article/review. Thank you. I just discovered Fulci yesterday and downloaded this film. I'd always seen the alluring picture of the decaying skull used in the promo still for the film "Zombie". I mentally filed it in the back of my mind to eventually track down that film to see what it was all about. Then I saw a link to this film. I read your paper above before I watched it. Thank you for the signposts to guide me.
    I recently discovered Italian Horror and the dozens of awesome flicks it has in the genre. Ive been diving head first into it as well as Spanish Horror. y God, they're sooo much better at it than Americans are. Too bad Americans are so oblivious of anything made outside our borders.

    It's nice to come across a guy who appreciates the same thing I've recently found. Not to mention one who can actually write at length about it.

    Thanks again.

  2. Thanks for the praise pewsterbaby and I'm glad I could bring you some Italian flavored horror goodness to your doorstep. That's one of the main reasons I started the site, so that people can be aquatinted with some outstanding films that they might not have knew existed. It pays off when someone can be introduced to an entire sub genre that's outside of the mainstream film scene.

    You've got quite a journey ahead of you, because there are some amazing films out there, with substance and style to boot. Just grab up anything Lucio Fulci related and you won't be disappointed. Have you been able to see any of Dario Argento's work? Both Argento and Fulci are italian horror legends and both have a great collection of classic films.

    It is a shame that most americans shy away from these obscure masterpieces and it is even sadder that the italian era of horror filmmaking isn't as inspirational as it was during Zombie and The Beyond's hayday, but what can you do. At least there's plenty of hidden italian gems to stumble upon and I envy you on the exploration you're about to take.

    I actually just finished my first feature film, that is heavily inspired by the works of both Fulci and Argento and I had a blast trying to reinvent their style within my own sensibilities. There really isn't anything like these films now a days and that's a damn shame.

    Thanks for stopping by and checking out the review. I'm really happy I was able to bridge the gap so to speak, in helping you find this film and hopefully many more in the future.