Sunday, March 29, 2009

You Are Now Entrying The Beyond

Firstly, a big thank you to the fantastic Final Girl for sending out the Film Club invite to cover The Beyond. I know I’m not alone in considering her blog the best in the otherworldly realm that is horror cyberspace. Stop by her site at and check out the other Film Club goers reviewing Fulci’s messy masterpiece this week.

If Lucio Fulci were alive today, I imagine his favorite store would be Target. Like the films of the late Italian director, most of these ubiquitous shopping centers are filled with bright-but-not-quite primary colors and incredible value on just about everything you could ever want. The only thing missing for the late Godfather of Gore is the synthesized music, so aggressively present in much of his films but oddly absent from the pseudo classiness of corporate style.

The Beyond is Fulci’s glorious attempt to please just about every possible horror fan with a particular fetish by including oozingly grotesque scenes of every sort. Terrified of tarantulas? Here’s an extended cut of a fuzzy arachnid feast. Zany for zombies? See last twenty minutes. Scenes of acid dissolving human bodies? They’re on sale. Eye gougings? Take three. Children’s heads being blown apart? Do you have to ask? Incredibly enough, the only standard missing from this 1981 goretastic classic is nudity.

Quick Plot: A down-on-her-luck New Yorker named Liza inherits an abandoned hotel in Louisiana. Aside from the leaking pipes and flooded basement, the gothic mansion has a minor location problem in being built over one of the seven gateways to hell (and here I thought the American portal was a drive away in New Jersey). Despite the warnings of a blind Purgatorian refugee and the odd quadruple coincidence of four house employees dying in freak accidents, Liza continues her renovation because giving up would mean going on relief. We all have our pride, but personally, I’ll take bankruptcy and food stamps over the possibility of having my face eaten off by precariously placed sulfuric acid or hungry spiders that chew more noisily than false teeth crunching on high fiber cereal.

Heavily influenced by the Theatre of Cruelty pioneered by Antonin Artaud, Fulci’s The Beyond remains a uniquely icky, occasionally frightening, sometimes laughable but inherently lovable piece of surreal wackiness. Once you accept the unrealism of the film’s setting and stop applying human logic to the characters’ actions, the ride is kind of a blast. Yes, it’s silly that a clearly intelligent doctor with great aim would not realize that shooting a zombie in the head is the only way to kill it after blasting his way through a horde, but you know what? If he figured that out, there would be less zombies. That would make me sad. Would most rational humans start scanning the classifieds after watching every one of their co-workers die a disgustingly painful and improbable death? Probably, but the majority of us are also not dubbed actors basking in baths of latex and fluffy liquid foam. Give in or get out.

If I have one major complaint about the film, it’s the obnoxiously prevalent scoring of electro-instrumental music that Fulci uses to overstate nearly every moment of tension. This is a stylistic choice of the time and one that can be seen in his other works, but it’s hard to find true fear in any scene when it feels like the filmmaker is simply pressing the play button. It's telling that the one scene with a true jump scare (to avoid spoilers, I’ll just call it puppy love) has no music. While I still admire Fulci’s work, I can’t help but wonder how the film would feel with a different soundtrack.

High Points
The sepia-hued opening sets a nice stock footage/old-time movie-esque mood

Many scenes, such as Emily’s first appearance on a lonely road, have a quiet and understated beauty that helps to make later visions of hell so much more terrifying

I love how Joe the Plumber is almost exclusively referred to as “Joe the Plumber.” It helps that his speaking voice sounds vaguely like Elvis Presley

Low Points
Because I can never resist an opening-scene-of-Point Break reference: Why is Joe the Plumber’s resurrected corpse wearing what appears to be an oversized Richard Nixon mask?

I’m pretty much just surrendering any plot holes to the acknowledgement that The Beyond is not meant to make sense, but allow me one random pick...let’s see, I’m closing my eyes, picking out of hat...okay, how was the Little Red-Headed Girl filling her time following the death of her parents/possession of her body for several days in the natural world? Eh, I’ll move on since the payoff is so rewarding.

Lessons Learned
Hell’s guarddog tarantulas could use some oil in their joints

Carte blanche has a different definition in Italian-translated-English

If there’s one thing that defines New Yorkers, it’s not being afraid of ghosts

Satan has an awesome sense of humor; note how the blueprints for hell were written in disappearing/reappearing ink

Winning Line
“This man needs to get to a hospital.”
Whew, thank goodness the doctor arrived to tell us that the house painter who had just fallen three stories, landed square on his back, and is now bleeding profusely needs professional care.

Appropriately enough, The Beyond spent a good deal of time in movie purgatory before being rescued and restored by the likes of Quentin Tarentino and Anchor Bay. I own the 2000 release which offers a nice selection of extras, including a warm and casual commentary by stars Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck. The most recent repackaging adds a few new interviews, but as long as you have the unedited 89 minute cut, any DVD should have enough content to keep you grossed out and content. Whatever you may think of Lucio Fulci and his oeuvre, the man knew how to put on a show. Unabashedly repulsive, colorful, gooey and ridiculous, this is one of a kind to rewatch whenever your life is feeling too darn normal.


  1. Great thoughts! I especially loved your line about the spiders needing oil in their joints.

    One scene I always love is when the little red-headed girl is about to be eaten by zombies (after watching her mother's being eroded by acid) and she just screams, and we're off to the next scene...but wait, she didn't die??? Oh well, like you said, her death is worth the incoherent moment in the plot.

    As maddening as Italian horror can be, I actually prefer their loose structure to the more contrived and banal plots that were being pumped out by the American slasher machine of the 80's. Is it all non-linear and incoherent? Yes. But I think that only adds to the otherworldly feeling so rightly attributed to Italian horror.

    Once again, great thoughts.

  2. Thanks for your compliments, Kevin!

    I agree about Italian madness beating American banality. I can get a tad annoyed at films that defy any logic (oh, David Lynch, you wacky wacky auter you), but I feel like The Beyond is consistent enough in its inconsistency that I just have to accept and enjoy its oddities. And I'd certainly prefer seeing a little girl's head blown off to watching another nameless teenager stabbed in the chest. I guess that's why I often find myself overly excited by films like The Ruins, which take the standard stereotypes and twist them a little. I'd even take something unimpressive but at least mildly imaginative, like Rest Stop or The Butterfly Effect, over the latest F13 installment.