They say if you’ve seen one Italian horror film set in an old Louisiana mansion you’ve seen them all, but is that because there’s only one? No one knows, and if they do they’re not talking, but whatever the case it would probably be difficult to top Lucio Fulci’s late career entry into the sub-genre, The Beyond.
Louisiana, the late 1920s, a man works silently before a canvas as an angry mob approaches outside. They burst through the door, drag him down to the hotel’s basement, and crucify him to the wall. He’s accused of being a warlock and quickly punished for his presumably wicked ways. Decades later a young woman named Liza (Catriona MacColl) inherits the old hotel and begins renovations, but not even multiple viewings of Tom Hanks’ The Money Pit could have prepared her for the hell this remodel is about to put her through.
“Whoa be unto him who opens one of the seven gateways to hell, because through that gateway evil will invade the world.”
Her hotel was apparently built over a doorway to hell, and while it’s sat dormant for sixty years her presence has alerted the tenants below that there are new souls in need of ravaging. The first to feel the wrath is Joe the plumber who ventures into the basement and oblivious to the odd symbol carved into the wall begins to dig around. His curiosity is rewarded with a ghoulish finger to the eye that digs in and pops the orb from its socket.
It won’t be the first eyeball forcibly evicted from someone’s face.
Fulci and screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti add a few more characters to the mix including a mysterious blind woman and her German Shepherd, a doubting doctor, and the loser of a Pippi Longstocking lookalike contest, but they and the details of the hotel’s history really aren’t the main draw here. Character and plot are rarely the central appeal of Italian horror films of course, but while it’s not the focus the plot still manages to work in its simplicity. It’s as effective and serviceable as it needs to be without ever getting in the way of Fulci’s real skills.
Like the aforementioned eyeball violence.
But Fulci doesn’t stop there as his characters endure far worse including an excruciating spider attack scene. A man falls paralyzed to the ground as several tarantulas approach slowly from across the carpet. Sure some members of the arachnid onslaught are clearly fake and wobbling on a string, but others are real enough to unsettle viewers. Especially as they reach the immobilized man and begin to tear at his flesh. His lips, his tongue, and yes, even his eyeball are wrenched apart by spider pincers. As graphic as the visuals are it’s the audio that proves most painful as each flesh tear and spider chortle (?) is blared loudly into your brain.
Faces are melted with acid, heads are blown off (see Pippi above), and throats are torn out resulting in bright crimson showers of blood, and most of it is accomplished with solid-looking practical effects. Fulci even tries to match his undead vs shark fight in Zombie with a ghoul vs German Shepherd throw-down.
While he steps up his game in the bloody mayhem and frightening atmosphere departments, Fulci’s film suffers a typical fate when it comes to the script. Some of the explanations and assumptions seem to come from nowhere, but Doctor John (David Warbeck), perhaps the most doubting bastard ever to grace the screen, is walking ridiculousness. “No, I’m a doctor, and I won’t accept irrational explanations,” he says even after facing off against zombies. And a rational man would quickly learn that these shambling undead only go down with head shots and would therefore stop shooting them in the torso and arms, but not our good doctor whose only direction seemed to be “squint! and don’t believe a single thing you see!”
Even with the film’s faults, both expected and otherwise, this is probably Fulci’s finest hour. The mix of graphic gore and occasionally creepy atmosphere overshadow the lightweight plot and often ridiculous dialogue. If you only see one Italian horror film set in an old Louisiana mansion make it Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond.
The new Blu-ray from Arrow Video is region-free and features the uncut film remastered and beautified for your viewing pleasure. Special features include a collectible booklet, multiple cover options, commentaries, Q&As, and more.
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