Monday, 24 October 2016

Halloween 31 For 31: The Beyond (1981)

Director: Lucio Fulci
Screenplay: Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo and Lucio Fulci
Cast: Catriona MacColl (as Liza Merril); David Warbeck (as Dr. John McCabe); Cinzia Monreale (as Emily); Antoine Saint-John (as Schweick); Veronica Lazar (as Martha)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #48

To enter the world of The Beyond is to go into one of Lucio Fulci's least conventional horror films. Ironically this is his most well known film yet it is very unconventional, a story of a gateway to Hell under an abandoned hotel but one which slowly jettisons the entirety of logic bit-by-bit as the narrative goes along. Especially when able to view it in a pristine form, it's a deceptively alluring and haunting horror movie, its sepia prologue in 1920s Louisiana, when a sorcerer keeping the gate closed is horribly murdered by a mob, starting the events decade later, evoking a classical horror movie with its pace and music only for the prolonged nailing of hands to a wall and melting with lime to force you to remember this is an ultraviolent Italian film from the eighties. Paradoxically, like many of Fulci's horror films, this manages to be amongst the most lurid of Italian genre cinema at this time, prolonged scenes of sloppy practical effects gore for its own sake, like a Herschell Gordon Lewis shocker, yet amongst the most artistically beautiful from that era too. It confuses one's perception especially as its semblance of plot - an English woman Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl) gaining the cursed hotel by inheritance - becomes infected by the more nightmarish content immediately after a construction worker renovating the hotel falls off a scaffold from fright.  

Many aspects of The Beyond are utterly silly if scrutinised by their own. The "realistic" spiders which crawl out from under a library archive shelf and eat a man's face very slowly. The 'Do Not Entry' sign in the hospital which belies the Louisiana on-location shoot with its palpable sense of dread for the rest of the time. Many things in another content, where there's no clear sense of irrationality as in The Beyond, would be ridiculous but, whether its fully planned out or includes accidents, inside this film they make sense still, Fulci in his films possessing a tone of real nightmares where nothing is entirely in control. Events inexplicably happen, an unconscious body perfectly placed under where a glass of acid will fall slowly on them, the dead in a hospital morgue rising up, and the small snapshots of people in the town the film is set in all eventually disappearing when Liza and doctor John McCabe (David Warbeck), the later dragged into the events around the hotel, find themselves eventually isolated in desolate corridors with only the dead as company.

It's clearly deliberate as much as its the result of Fulci's unconventional directorial style - very volatile and angry on set, a tendency to go off-script completely - an empty road in the middle of real life Louisiana haunting with only a blind woman with her dog, the ghostly Emily (Cinzia Monreale), in sight for Liza to have to stop her car. An occasional distortion of the visual medium which disrupts time clearly shows this, a moment of slow motion of a glass of acid falling out of reality, or when Liza repeats the image of Emily running out of a house over and over again, the film gladly able to break physical logic as it goes along with clear intentions. When the heroes find they've gone through a hospital door and end up back in the water drowned basement of the hotel, it's clear The Beyond is going further than even City of the Living Dead (1980), Fulci's previous film, did in being irrational.

Even as a gory film with prolonged shots of eye trauma and injury, the sense of immense decay and death is far more unsettling, the obvious practical effects in Fulci's films always evoking sickness in a slow burn mood. Fabio Frizzi's score adds a sense of the grandiose to this material but its severely, painfully even, melancholic and depressed; even by the standards of Fulci's nasty films this is nihilistic as the results don't bode well at all for those who try to escape the curse of Hell opening up.

Abstract Spectrum: Expressionist; Grotesque; Mindbender; Psychotronic; Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): High

Likely the extreme of all of Lucio Fulci's career - A Cat In The Brain (1990) is another contender but one of the other spectrum of the bizarre content in Fulci's filmography next to The Beyond as his most dread inducing. Only the second of his unofficial Dead trilogy, the slow grower The House By The Cemetery (1981) capping an incredible triptych of Italian horror films for any director, The Beyond is somehow, when you stop to think about it, a film which manages to get away with countless things that shouldn't work in films (one note characters, silly prosthetic effects, a lack of explanation for what exactly the curse that devours the world is or any sense of its scope) but is entirely disturbing and powerful nonetheless.

The reality of The Beyond, to match City of the Living Dead's teleporting zombies, allows the dead to spring from any place, to rise from bodies of water to slaughter the living, for a ghost to even die again through a horrible moment of man's best friend turning on its owner. In many ways, a feint scent of Lovecraftian horror in its view of irrational horror is here, the hotel only one of seven gates to Hell, but entirely in the realm of religious dogma where anyone can be silenced whether they are by the layers of death under the earth in its own realm.

Personal Opinion:
Even by the standards of Italian genre cinema, and how gonzo it could be, The Beyond manages to be even more unpredictable on multiple viewers, still strange and compelling as a result. What was once a film of acquired taste is now something a lot more special to me. 


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