I’m like a giddy little schoolgirl because I get to review Lucio Fulci’s masterpiece, THE BEYOND. Well…perhaps I should call it a horror masterpiece as it’s no GONE WITH THE WIND (I use that as a popularly understood reference, I don’t necessarily agree with it) type of masterpiece. But for me, for my world, THE BEYOND is a cut above the rest.
Fulci was an Italian film director whose work spanned from 1959 through 1991, followed by his death in 1996. There are three directors who are considered the most influential for Italian/European horror: Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Lucio Fulci. I’m not going to go into the first two, we’ll cover that later, at length, when we get to their films (which I nearly own all of). However, Fulci got his start doing spy films and comedies before stumbling into the horror genre. Throughout the rest of his career, he would still do the occasional sex comedy, but he focused more on horror films. Although THE BEYOND is, in my eyes, his best film, he is probably known most popularly as the director of ZOMBI 2 (or, ZOMBIE as it was released in America).
This does require a little bit of backstory. George A. Romero made a sequel to his brilliant film, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, called DAWN OF THE DEAD. The film was insanely popular, but when released in Europe, it was just given the title ZOMBI. Lucio Fulci, who was like a hired gun for a section of his career, was set to tackle a sequel to ZOMBI, which he called ZOMBI 2. ZOMBI 2 was so popular that it got a US release, but they called it ZOMBIE, as there was no film titled ZOMBI in the US at the time. Make sense? Good, now let’s return to THE BEYOND.
THE BEYOND (or as it was named when it was released in the US, THE SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH) is part of a somewhat official trilogy of FULCI films, the other two being CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (or GATES OF HELL, as it was called when it was released in the US), and HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. All three films center around an area built over one of the seven gateways to hell. In HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY it’s…a house by the cemetery. In CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD it’s an entire town. In THE BEYOND it’s an old hotel being renovated to be a new hotel. The other four gateways, we’ll never know where they are because he never completed the series.
The film begins with a scene of mob justice many years in the past, townsfolk brutally murdering a supposed necromancer who was living in the hotel where the story mostly centers around. They beat him and tore his flesh with chains, then nailed him to a wall, then poured some sort of acid/concrete on him (as far as I can tell). All of this is, in Fulci fashion, very gorily depicted, unflinchingly. This opening sequence is not shown in color (except for a fully colorized opening that ran in Germany, which is available on recent special editions of the film). All of this plays out while a woman reads from a Necronomican-esque text called The Book of Eibon.
Then it cuts to the present (well…its present, 1981), where our first protagonist, Liza, is renovating the old building to make it a new hotel. It seems the renovations stirs up some bad vibes as a painter falls from a platform, which is when we meet our second protagonist, Dr. McCabe. The painter dies, and not much later, so does a plumber who is unfortunate enough to stumble upon the still hanging corpse of the necromancer from the opening of the film. That’s when everything goes to hell. From a friendly blind ghost, to full blown zombies (which, funnily enough, were added to the film because—at the time—the German movie-goers were going crazy for zombies, and Fulci added them in at their request), and an unforgettable death-by-spiders sequence in a library, all take place because the gate to hell has been opened. How do Dr. McCabe and Liza close it? Do they even close it? For that answer you’re going to have to watch the movie, as its ending is pretty memorable.
The film also has a great score by longtime Fulci collaborator Fabio Frizzi (which, comes with the special edition blu-ray that just went on sale the end of March of this year). Lots of Fulci-isms are in this movie, but most notably, his obsession with eyes.
Whether doing an extreme close up where the frame is filled with just the eyes of a character, or the gory removal of the eyes from a character, this is one Fulci-ism that is constant throughout all his horror films. But why? There’s one thing I always have hated about reading books in school, the part where the teacher interprets what is popularly believed as the meaning of parts of the text of the book. I’ve always hated this because how much is genuine that’s-what-the-author-meant interpretation, and how much is scholars and such creating what isn’t there?
Well, I don’t KNOW this for a fact, but I’m aware that it’s popularly believed that eyes are the window to the soul. I believe Lucio Fulci also believed also believed this, because of his constant extreme close ups of just a characters eyes during important moments of dialogue, or character revelations. It makes sense, but I don’t want to claim this as fact. It very well could be something else. The only person who will ever know this for sure is Lucio Fulci.
This film is notorious for its gore, and actually had never been released in USA fully uncensored and uncut until 1998, over 15 years after its initial release. Quentin Tarantino played an integral part in this. The film has also inspired several films and numerous filmmakers. A brief snippet from the film was used in the 2002 film SPIDER-MAN, Quentin Tarantino has borrowed elements of Fulci’s style (as he has with about a million other influential film directors) and Fulci pretty much inspired the entirety of the cult classic THE DEAD HATE THE LIVING. The film references Fulci multiple times, and in particular, THE BEYOND (even going so far as to pretty much copying its ending). Also, fun fact, the sand covered people on the ground at the very end are actually homeless people who were—no joke—paid with alcohol. So if you want to see one of the ultra-gory films of yesteryear, there are plenty to choose from, but THE BEYOND is one of the best, and it’s finally been released on blu-ray with some great special features, the film’s score, and a 1998 commentary with David Warbeck (who played Dr. McCabe in the film) recorded just two weeks before his death. If you love THE BEYOND, this blu-ray is a must for your collection