‘The Godfather of Gore’ Lucio Fulci follows his cracking (and completely bonkers) City of the Living Dead (COTLD) with another ‘Gates of Hell’ film, piling on another substantial layer of blood and guts.
This is the second in the Gates of Hell trilogy, with the final part being The House by the Cemetery.
Fulci opts for a bit more of a narrative in this instalment, particularly if you compare it to the likes of City of the Living Dead which seemed to play out more as a series of tenuously linked gore splattered sequences. Although by the sounds of it, that wasn’t really Fulci’s intention, as a re-write was apparently forced on him to capitalise on the popularity of zombies at the time (1981), zombies in films that is, not to hang about with down the pub.
So we end up with The Beyond, a film I took great enjoyment in watching and surely one of Fulci’s best horror films.
Our tale begins as all good stories should start – with a lynch mob hell bent on whipping some good old southern justice into some creepy looking painter. The locals don’t take too kindly to this artistic wizardry and frame him as a warlock. Every good southerner knows the cure for man-witchery and that’s a damn good flogging, a nailing to a wall and then a liberal dousing in quicklime. Unbeknownst to the foolhardy mob is that in their act of murder, they have unintentionally opened one of the Seven Doors of Death!
In what appears to be an out of sorts exercise in self-censorship, Fulci presents this early sequence in black & white or sepia (depending on your copy – more on this later) cruelly denying us the full glory of chain ripping through flesh, geysers of arterial blood and the melting face of the misunderstood painter. Out of apology, he makes up for it in spades throughout the rest of the film.
Now in the modern day we find our heroine Liza (Catriona MacColl – yes, again, but not as the same character as she played in COTLD), preparing to renovate the house she has newly inherited and the scene of the lynch mobbing and murder just witnessed. In a mysterious meeting with a blind girl Liza learns of the curse on the house and malevolent nature of spirits that dwell within. Being of sound mind Liza poo-poos all this nonsense and proceeds with the renovation work. But what’s this!? The blind girl was right! Liza and her meddling has re-opened the Door of Death and the dead now walk the Earth!
What follows is a surrealist horror fantasy punctuated by some truly gruesome death-carnage. There are scenes in this film I am still struggling to comprehend. Eyeballs are popped out (twice!), faces are melted (twice!), dogs rip out throats and eat off ears, heads explode and in the films crowning moment someone gets attacked by flesh eating tarantulas! (this scene officially goes on too long and made my skin crawl, but is no less brilliant for it)
The tone throughout the film is ominous but never particularly scary, and the film goes out with an action-packed shoot-out with the zombie hordes at the local hospital. Some of the music is great, although hardly mood setting, and you’ll get terrifically annoyed by the ‘haunting’ piano music in the early half of the film.
As with almost all of the European horror films of this generation you get your fair share of bad dubbing but I just think it adds to the charm. And while some of he special effects are also a little shabby you can’t fault the imagination and sheer gung-ho nature of the carnage meted out on some of the victims. I also must applaud the ending, no one really gets away and there is no real resolution, but I found it a satisfying conclusion.
I would recommend The Beyond to anyone who enjoys good, if a little bizarre, horror. This would also be a perfect place to start for anyone who is not familiar with Fulci’s work. While it is the second part of a trilogy, it is a trilogy in the loosest possible sense, the Gates of Hell films only linked in theme, not in overall narrative, so skipping one is not going to effect your enjoyment of another. The Beyond is even a good place to start for European horror of the 70’s/80’s in general. While I would always go for Dario Argento first, I would not hesitate in throwing Fulci and The Beyond in particular in there too. It all depends what you’re after, if you want something more chaotic and a whole lot more crimson, Fulci’s your man.
Until now The Beyond has been quite an elusive film to get hold of, particularly fully uncut.
Arrow Video, as they have done with a range of great horror films, have come to our rescue with a fully uncut and extras laden double disc DVD/Blu-Ray package. I can’t fault the package and some of the extras are great, the transfer quality is also good and pretty consistent throughout.
But be warned, if you get a copy of The Beyond with a black & white opening rather than a sepia one, you have got a faulty disc. Arrow Video has set up a returns policy for which you ca exchange your copy should you wish. It doesn’t make a huge difference but it’s supposed to be sepia.
You’re not going to get a better horror film from Fulci than The Beyond. It’s a hearty and fun gore splattered romp which I have only described as such in order to use the word ‘romp’.
The Beyond trailer: