‘And you will face the sea of darkness,
and all therein that may be explored.’
The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981)
Look, let’s get this out of the way first – The Beyond might just be my favourite horror film ever. It’s a masterpiece of grand guignol gothic horror, combining sinister atmosphere and full blown gore freakouts into one perfect package. The plot, if you really need one, concerns Liza, who has inherited a Louisiana hotel. Naturally, the hotel is built on one of the seven gateways to hell (bet they don’t put that in the brochure) and Liza, along with her doctor friend John, find themselves centre stage of a miniature zombie apocalypse.
It’s a film where everyone involved seemed to be at the height of their powers. Sergio Salvati’s photography is some of the most evocative the genre has ever seen, capturing the sweaty terror perfectly, the earthy browns that dominate the colour palette contrasting with the red blood of Gianetto De Rossi’s extreme splatter sequences. Special mention has to be reserved for the score by Fabio Frizzi, heavy on the mellotron and squishy bass noises. If you don’t get chills when that first choral score kicks in over the opening credits as flames erupt from the book of Eibon, then you may be reading the wrong blog.
Even the casting, so often a weak point, is spot on. David Warbeck is the ideal macho manly-man and Catriona MacColl carries the film in what could otherwise have been a thankless damsel-in-distress role. Try and imagine this film with Zombie Flesh eaters alumni Tisa Farrow and Ian McCulloch in the lead roles and shudder in fear at what could have been!
Everything about the film is deliciously off-kilter. People seem to walk around in a daze, speaking only in doom laden tones of ominous portent. There’s no room for small talk here. The characters for once seem to have backstories, which are alluded to but never explained. Why does Arthur seem so concerned about Joe The Plumber? Did Joe and Martha used to be a couple? Why does everyone keep exchanging strange, nervous glances? And why does no one seem concerned at all the corpses floating about in the basement?
There are several surreal touches that push The Beyond out of the realms of the standard zombie movie and into nightmare logic territory. When Liza meets Emily, the odd blind girl with all the answers, Emily gets frightened and runs away. In a truly avant-garde moment, the sequence replays five or six times, with Liza gradually coming to the realisation that Emily did not have footsteps and may in fact be a ghost. It’s something you might expect to see in an Alain Robbe-Grillet film, not an Italian exploitation picture. Then there’s a scene about halfway through that seems to sum The Beyond up perfectly.
Joe The Plumber’s daughter is waiting in the morgue while her mother goes in to see the body. There’s a bone chilling moment where a squeaky gurney goes past her, followed by a scream from her mother. The girl goes in to investigate and finds her mother lying on the floor with acid pouring on her face. A vaguely funky piece of horror music starts to play as the girl is chased around the morgue by a gelatinous pile of goo, until she opens a door and a corpse falls on her. None of it makes a lick of sense, but it’s carried out with such devil-may-care aplomb and skill that the lack of logic becomes a plus for even the most level-headed viewer.
There’s almost too many great moments to talk about – the choreography and staging of Martha’s death, the abandoned hotel coming to life with zombie silhouettes in the window, the entire hospital sequence, it just goes on and on.
All this good stuff is easily enough to make you overlook the film’s occasional flaws, like the preposterous pipe cleaner spiders or the hospital sign that reads ’DO NOT ENTRY!’, although Al Cliver hooking a decomposed corpse up to brainwave machine may be too much for some to swallow.
But if all this talk of surrealism and experimental cinema is too much for you, then know this – The Beyond is one of the goriest, most spectacular films of the 80s. Eyes are routinely gouged or popped from sockets. A throat is torn out by dog in a scene that looks at Cujo’s canine carnage and laughs. A man’s face is torn apart by spiders, and a child gets a magnum blast right to the face.
Fulci would never top The Beyond – I doubt any director ever could – but at least he had one more masterpiece in him, the delirious The House By The Cemetery.