The undoubted masterpiece of Lucio Fulci, a crazed and surreal
gorefest that’s irresistible, even if it doesn’t make much sense.
1981’s THE BEYOND (original title: E TU VIVRAI NEL
TERRORE--L’ALDILA, or AND YOU WILL LIVE IN TERROR: THE BEYOND) is a
companion-piece to Lucio Fulci’s previous film
CITY OF THE
LIVING DEAD (1980), an atmospheric zombie-fest with oodles of
gore and a largely incoherent narrative. THE BEYOND is quite similar,
but even gorier and less coherent.
Back in the eighties the film was released in heavily
cut and rescored form on VHS in the U.S. (as SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH). For
years the uncut BEYOND was a sought-after legend among horror mavens,
and one of the key titles of the greymarket underground of the 1990s
(with VHS dubs of the Japanese laserdisc version of the film
proliferating). In 1998 THE BEYOND was given its first-ever U.S.
theatrical run by Sage Stallone’s Grindhouse Releasing and Quentin
Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures, and was a hit, briefly reviving
the then-moribund midnight movie circuit--and in 2000 was finally
released on DVD.
You may think there’s little point in transcribing the
narrative of a film as scatterbrained as this one, and, frankly, you’d
be right. But anyway…
A young blonde named Liza has inherited a New Orleans
hotel where, unbeknownst to her, a surrealist painter was whipped and
crucified decades earlier. Before dying the painter informed his
tormentors that the property was constructed over one of the seven
gateways to Hell.
Upon moving into the place Liza discovers that the
basement has been flooded. She calls in a plumber who breaks through a
wall in the basement, behind which the corpse of the aforementioned
painter is interred--before the plumber can report his finding, however,
his eyeballs are gouged out by a zombie. Liza for her part nearly runs
down a blind, moon-eyed woman who for some reason is standing in the
middle of a bridge with her dog. Said woman lives in an old house near
Liza’s hotel, and warns that the gates of Hell are about to be opened.
Liza investigates her hotel and discovers an old book
entitled “Eibon”--and experiences a vision of the crucified painter.
When she turns back she finds the Eibon book has mysteriously
disappeared. It turns up the following day in a nearby bookshop, whose
owner says it’s been there “for the past two years.” Meanwhile, a man is
searching an antiquarian bookshop for a map of Liza’s hotel, which he
finds in a book accessible only by a tall ladder; from it he falls and
cracks his head on the floor, where several tarantulas literally crawl
out of the woodwork and devour him.
Back in the hotel a woman caretaker is attacked by the
zombified plumber, who pushes her head onto a stake that pops out the
woman’s eye. The aforementioned blind gal fares even worse, getting
harassed by a gaggle of zombies and then having her throat ripped out by
her beloved dog--not that this matters much, because Liza is later
informed that the woman’s house has actually been deserted for years.
It seems Hell’s gates have definitely been opened, as
zombies overrun Liza’s hotel. She and her boyfriend head off to the
local hospital, where more zombies await. The only way out is a dash
(literally) into one of the paintings by the artist who lived in the
hotel originally and started the whole mess…
Anyone curious about what made Lucio Fulci a singular
filmmaker needs to see THE BEYOND. Its combination of eerie atmospherics
and sheer outrageousness is quite unique, with beautifully lit and
composed widescreen visuals juxtaposed with, among innumerable other
outrages, a close-up of a spider’s tendril reaching into a man’s mouth
and yanking out his tongue. Other striking elements include a woman
getting her throat ripped out by a dog, with Fulci’s camera
characteristically lingering on the gushing blood, as well as the rather
poetic sight of a (never explained) bleeding wall and the richly
atmospheric scenery of eighties-era New Orleans, where much of the film
There’s enough gore and slime here to fill several more
conventional splatter films, all of it impressively rendered by special
effects ace Gianetto de Rossi, yet the artfulness of the enterprise is
undeniable. Credit must go to cinematographer Sergio Salvati and editor
Vincenzo Tomassi, as well as Fulci himself, a far better filmmaker than
most people (including many of his so-called fans) give him credit for.
The film is also colorful and fast-moving, and at 89 minutes never
overstays its welcome.
Narratively, the templates for THE BEYOND appear to
have been Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA and
INFERNO, with their successions of
tenuously connected horrific set-pieces. The present film is even more
disconnected and incoherent than Argento’s, although it must be said
that THE BEYOND’S wonky non-narrative is one of its primary charms: the
film is genuinely dreamlike and surreal, more so in some respects than
the work of arty auteurs like Lynch, Greenaway, etc. Not too many films
can get away with a final scene in which the protagonists literally find
themselves trapped in a surreal painting, but in THE BEYOND such a
development seems entirely appropriate.
THE BEYOND (E TU VIVRAI NEL TERRORE--L’ALDILA)
Fulva Film/Rolling Thunder Pictures/Grindhouse Releasing
Director: Lucio Fulci
Producer: Fabrizio de Angelis
Screenplay: Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo, Lucio Fulci
Cinematography: Sergio Salvati
Editing: Vincenzo Tomassi
Cast: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Sarah Keller, Antoine Saint John,
Veronica Lazar, Anthony Flees, Giovanni de Nava, Al Cliver, Michele
Mirabella, Gianpaolo Saccarola