A word of advice: never, ever, attempt to eat dinner while watching a Video Nasty.
That may be the most obvious statement in the world, but up until this point I’d quite happily whiled hours away watching Axe or even the autocannibalistic Anthropophagus while having bolognese, or the occasional pie and chips. The Beyond however, has broken new territory in terms of gore, effectively putting me off the film/food combination for the foreseeable future. The revulsion I felt while trying to have cottage pie during the first ten minutes of this film almost put me clean off Video Nasties all together. Faces covered in acid, melting and bubbling away does not good dinner company make.
Aside from the ridiculously stomach-testing gore, Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond stands out from the morass of films on the DPP list (covered so far) as a rock solid horror in its own right. A passable script which harks back to Lovecraft, a spectrum of decent actors who know how to look terrorized when necessary, and a budget bigger than cost of an average car. Throw in some location shooting in Louisiana, and you have a thoroughly shocking film. Perhaps most satisfyingly of all, it has a cinematographer who knows how to use his camera, creating shots which give the carnage beyond chucking red paint around. After the flat camera work of The Beast in Heat and the sub-art-school student shooting of Axe, The Beyond proves to be a visual feast.
The premise of a young and successful woman acquiring a haunted hotel in Louisana is pretty workaday in terms of haunted house films. The over-reaching blonde, destined to be terrorised into submission, and eventual victory, blah-di-blah, heard it all before. The Beyond goes one step further by placing the hotel on one of the seven gates to Hell, and consequently hordes of the shuffling dead end up stumbling into disrupt our poor ladies renovation plans. Absurd as it sounds, the premise gives the film a bonafide hellish overtone, mixing unspeakable horrors with the restless damned crawling out of limbo. These are not just corpse-puppets, animated by some obscure Macguffinesque virus, but the product of something larger and far more sinister. It is, quite simply, the tagline of Dawn of the Dead come true: “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth”
Following the tremendous success of Zombi II (unofficial sequel to the very same Dawn of the Dead) and City of the Living Dead, Fulci had established his name internationally as a director of top drawer zombie flicks. Wary of being tied to such a narrow niche, Fulci sought to strike out in a new direction of horror with his next film. The first script of The Beyond was initially penned as a straight haunted house film, but under pressure from his zombie-hungry German financers, Fulci was convinced to include zombies to help provide a physical presence of horror. The combination was, and still is, tremendously effective.
The terror of the subjective is explored in full, with the film’s heroine is constanly uncertain of what she is seeing and hearing. An eerie blind young girl and her German Shepherd repeatedly warn Liza away from the hotel, and their warnings might be heeded if they didn’t constantly appear to her in the most dreamlike of sequences. Clinging mist, clipped dialogue and numerous doubletakes lend these sequences a truly uncanny edge. Liza is told that she’s just a figment of her imagination, yet the poor blind girl ends up getting mauled by her own dog. A physical and gruesome end to a weirdly ethereal character.
The gore is really testing, even for the most hardened blood’n’guts fiends. While the sequences leading up to the burst of violence are grippingly shot, the piercing/popping/ripping/bubbling moments in question are unflinching, more often than not in extreme close-up. Is it gratutious? In part yes, but the horror of it all has such an impact that it cannot be dispelled as frivolous. One sequence of a man’s face getting ripped to shreds by massive (dummy) spiders is particularly hard to shake off, and I’m not even that much of an arachnophobe.
The last ten minutes of the film turns into a slightly ridiculous rollercoaster, lurching from the hotel, to an explosive yet straight-laced zombie shoot-out in the hospital, to a bizarre relocation back to the underbelly of the hotel again. Before your head’s had a chance to stop spinning Liza and her last minute knight in shining armour have stumbled into the underworld. Stunned by the unspeakable and unseen ‘things’ they witness, the film ends with them blinded, glaring horrified back at the camera. A brilliant Lovecraftian flourish to end on, and a bleak and satsifying end to a brilliant horror film.