The Beyond is the closest thing to a nightmare ever captured on film. Poetic, gory, and haunting, the story focuses on a New Orleans hotel built over one of the seven gateways to hell. A young woman named Liza inherits the hotel from her family, is determined to restore it to it’s former glory and make a bunch of money. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen for her or we wouldn’t have much of a movie. Sixty years previous to Eliza’s arrival, a lynch mob murdered Schweick, a painter, for fear he was a warlock and would open the gateway. During Eliza’s renovations, Joe the plumber ends up opening up one of the gateways and unleashing the vengeful Schweick. And a bunch of horrible things happen to a lot of good people.
I’m not going to go into anymore of the plot. Either you’ve seen the film or you need to stop reading this review right now and buy the new blu-ray from Grindhouse Releasing (and in any event there isn’t any more plot to go into even I wanted). I have a very hostile relationship with Lucio Fulci films. I love the atmosphere and gore, but the plots are absolute garbage and a lot of times so are the performances. Like I said in my brief review for Zombie, my main problem with Fulci films are “It (Zombie) suffers from what plagues most Fulci movies — the majority of the characters suffer from some sort of mental disability that shuts down entirely their fight or flight capacity to the point where they stare at the camera incoherently at the monster coming to rip out their guts and seems surprised when the event actually transpires”. Thankfully, this is one Fulci film where characters don’t suffer from “Fulci-syndrome”. As always though, the atmosphere is spot-on. The hotel is full of grimy rooms like at your one relatives house who doesn’t care about housekeeping. And in the The Beyond, these rooms are filled with dead people that arise to gouge out eyeballs.
The script is paper thin (basically a two page outline of events as evidenced in the special features on the new blu-ray) and intentionally so. Screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti and Fulci wanted the focus of the film to be the emotional feeling rather than having an actual narrative. Sacchetti’s script focuses the source of the evil as the Book of Eibon. The Book of Eibon is a fictitious narrative device used in the works of Clark Ashton Smith and features into the Cthulhu mythos he created with H.P. Lovecraft and other weird fiction writers. In an interview featured on the new blu-ray of The Beyond, Sacchetti reveals he honestly thinks The Book of Eibon is a legit tome and and on par with the Bible. Yeah.
Anyways, The Beyond is one of the films where the attempt at nightmare logic is actually fulfilled. This is thanks to cinematography by Sergio Salvati. Italian cinematography, from horror films to western, are usually impressive and The Beyond is no exception. There is an amazing shot early on in the film where Liza meets the blind ghost girl Emily, and her dog, on the abandoned Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. The bridge is almost twenty miles long and the film crew managed to secure the bridge for filming this one scene. The symmetry and loneliness of the scene is what makes it so strange, effective, and iconic.
And of course there is the amazing film score by Fabio Frizzi. Frizzi’s score, based loosely on Dies Irae includes the haunting and epic Sequenza Coro E Orchestra, one of my favorite pieces of music from a film ever. The score to The Beyond is just as iconic and important to the film as Suspiria’s Goblin soundtrack is to that film. If I had to choose between the two, I’d give the win to Frizzi by a large margin.
Full disclosure: this is one of my favorite films ever. But it didn’t start out that way. Let me back track a bit here. Lucio Fulci was a man whose work I read about in Fangoria and I always wanted to see. The summer of 1996, I read about Fulci’s passing that March in Fangoria and felt like I had missed out on something by not seeing his films. Also, he died a month after my father did, which made me feel a kinship for emotional teenage reasons. Unfortunately, the only VHS tapes I could get a hold of at the time were Gates of Hell and The New York Ripper (which I watched when I was about 17 and I’m still trying to get over). The quality of the transfer on both of those were horrible and I think they were put out on one of those less reputable VHS companies, like Video Treasures. Then in 1999, Quentin Tarantino re-released The Beyond via midnight showings courtesy of Rolling Thunder Pictures. Grindhouse Releasing got a hold of the distribution rights, and released the film on DVD in the early 2000s. The Beyond for me was a blind buy in the summer of 2001, and upon first viewing, I didn’t like this film. It’s methodical pace and just general oddness didn’t work for me at all. There were certain scenes that stuck with me, such as the spider attack, and the head shot near the end, and these things cause me to re-evaluate the film. The music and atmosphere found their mark upon repeat viewings and I found myself in love with this film. The Beyond became to me what a blue quilt is to Linus during a very difficult period of my life where I battled against a few mental health issues. The darkness and hopelessness of the film echoed my own sentiments at the time, and acted as a sense of catharsis.
I had the pleasure of seeing this in 35mm a few years ago in a theater with quite a few people who’d never seen it before. I’ve seen The Beyond more than a few times and it was neat to see it through fresh eyes with a modern audience. There was plenty of laughter at some of the more hokey sequences and voice overs, but there was also a general sense of unease that started from the brutal opening and this increased through each of the surreal and violent set-pieces. By the time of the spider scene, one girl who obviously suffered from arachnophobia, was having a very audible (and obnoxious) breakdown. At the end, where John and Eliza find themselves trapped in the world of Schweick’s painting, they were silent. The power of the film is still alive to this day.
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