Considered by some to be the Lucio Fulci's best work, ever better than more well known Zombie (off the kedge, shark on corpse fans!), The Beyond began to cement its modern popular midnight movie status in the mid-90's, when it hit the American home video market with a vengeance. The man most responsible for putting the film on your pop culture radar is Sage Stallone, late son of Sylvester Stallone, who helmed Grindhouse Releasing (an early god send for Eurogore fans). He personally visited Fulci in Italy to secure the rights to release the film uncut in America. Since that 90's release, The Beyond has never been out of print in America, which has made it an infinitely available, reputable doorway into the imaginative gore of Italian Splatter cinema.
This is the kind of kaleidoscopic nightmare where normal sized tarantulas can overpower a man, then slowly tear the flesh from his body with gruesome precision, while his eyes scream the agony his paralyzed body cannot express. It's the kind of adventure that only barely contains a linear link between horrific happenstances. And it's the kind of film that is so masterfully crafted that, although it was not conceived as a zombie film, executes that sub genre in legendary fashion.
If you've never seen The Beyond, it details the events around one of the seven gates to hell, which just happens to be located below an old hotel in Louisiana (which happens to be named "The Seven Doors Hotel"). The caretaker of the gate is an artist named Schweick, and he's tasked with making sure it stays closed. As it's 1927, and Schweick is a bit weird,a local redneck lynch mob breaks in, crucifies him to a basement wall, then (as though that wasn't enough a statement of "we don't take kindly...") they shower him in quicklime. This murder allows the gate to open just a bit; it's also the first amazing showcase of that legendary Fulci gore, with the poor artist's face melting away via glorious practical effects. The other, later in the film, involves an enormous open beaker of hydrochloric acid placed precariously on a high shelf. That one is even more spectacularly amazing for Fulci's ability to work in the colors of the Italian flag amongst the foamy soup that was once a human face!
Time passes until we're now living in the early 80's. Liza (played by the beautiful Catriona McColl- who is still active and has films coming out this year) inherits the hotel and moves from the modern amenities of New York City to the swampy morass of Louisiana. She begins fixing the property up with intentions of reopening it, but soon accidents begin to befall the work crew and staff. Even more unusual is Emily (Sarah Keller), an odd blind girl whom Liza befriends. She's strangely prophetic, yet not completely honest. The scene where Liza comes across her, standing in the center of a bridge road with her dog, is wonderfully composed and immediately conveys a overbearing sense of unease. There is one particular sequence however, where she full speed flees the hotel (dodging through offset doorways she shouldn't be able to see) that is so goofy that my friends and I used to rewind and watch it repeatedly.
Assisting Liza in her quest to uncover the true history of her new property is roguishly rugged doctor John McCabe (David Warbeck, who sadly died two weeks after recording the commentary track for that Grindhouse Releasing DVD). Between the sparks of potential romance between them, John and Liza track evil Book of Eibon, in whose pages they might find salvation. But the is no happy ending to be found beyond The Beyond, which only allows us to settle for a not quite bad ending. Still, it's far less obscure than the end of City of the Living Dead, where the supposedly successful protagonist emerges from under the cemetery and her son runs laughing toward her. All of a sudden, they scream at nothing and the screen shatters into little pieces of the child's visage. In fact, The Beyond and City of the Living Dead are related, being the second and first films of Fulci's unofficial "Gates of Hell" trilogy (the third film being House by the Cemetery).
The Beyond occupies a special spot in my heart for it's amazingly broad appeal. Despite it's long drawn out scenes of messy gore, many of my non-hardcore horror fan college friends grew to enjoy this flick. We'd call out lines from this like normal folk quote The Hangover. It's hard to really put a finger on the reason why this film in particular could endear such a retraction. It might be the intelligent story, which is so very different from contemporary American slashers. Maybe it was the odd ball quirkiness of some of the characterizations, since most of them where Italian and dubbed. If pressed to find an answer, I'd say that a good film, no matter how gruesome, is bound to rise above the (societally imposed) limits of it's genre. The Beyond is a great film and its enduring cult popularity if proof of that.
Grindhouse Releasing is currently working on a Blu-ray release, remastering it and including all the bells and whistles. For my money though, the home market high water mark is held by Arrow Video with their 2011 release. Weighing in almost three quarters of a pound, this region free Blu-ray goes so far above and beyond that it's a massive blow for it to be out of print. Boasting a 32 page booklet, 4 reversible covers, multiple commentaries, an entire second disc of special features, and a reversible poster, this is a hard set to top. Score it on EBay if you can, you won't be sorry.
If you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famousColonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.