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Gazing into ‘The Beyond’: Lucio Fulci’s Cosmic Horror Masterpiece

One director stands above the rest when it comes to embracing the horror of the unknown.
The Beyond cosmic horror
By  · Published on October 21st, 2020

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video about the cosmic horror of Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond.

Cosmic horror is a tricky sub-genre to get right on film. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve giddily opened a list of “best cosmic horror movies” only to be disappointed with results that miss the mark.

So, to make sure we’re all on the same page, let’s talk about what cosmic horror is and what it isn’t.

Cosmic horror is indelibly associated in the popular imagination with horror’s embarrassing racist uncle, H.P. Lovecraft. In a letter to Weird Tales‘ editor, Farnsworth Wright, Lovecraft defined cosmic horror as “the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large.” 

That’s a pretty solid description. And given the prominence of Unknowable Terrors in Lovecraft’s work, you’d be forgiven for lumping the two in together by default.

But the reality is that Lovecraftian horror and cosmic horror are not always the same thing. (For instance, Lovecraftian horror makes room for xenophobic campfire tales like The Shadow over Innsmouth.)

It is also not true that all cosmic horror is, well, cosmic. While outer space is certainly fertile ground for the incomprehensible, there’s a clear difference between a monster mash like Alien and the maddening peek beyond the veil of Event Horizon.

The struggle of coming up with a clear definition of cosmic horror (which is all about how horrifying it is when definitions fail us) is very funny. But when you get a better grip on what cosmic horror is actually all about, it can open up the subgenre beyond its traditional confines.

Case in point: it never occurred to me to connect the dots between cosmic horror and Italian splatter master Lucio Fulci. And yet, one of the things that makes Fulci’s films so appealing is that they regularly disavow logic in favor of more chaotic, nightmarish rhythms. The purpose and origin of malevolent forces are rarely explained.

And Fulci’s overall attitude toward “making sense” tends to be an intentional hearty shrug. To boot, there is always a latent implication that the presiding bloodbath is part of some larger unknown conspiracy.

The Beyond, the second film in Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy, is perhaps the best example of this. And the video essay below explains why, from the film’s ties to the writings of cosmic horror pioneer Clark Ashton Smith to its stylish commitment to being more of an experience than a text that can be parsed and understood.

P.S. If you do want a good list of cosmic horror films, this one isn’t so bad.

Watch “Exploring the Cosmic Horror of The Beyond“:

Who made this?

In Praise of Shadows is a video essay channel run by Zane Whitener and based in Asheville, North Carolina, that focuses on horror, history, and retrospectives. You can subscribe to their YouTube channel here And you can follow them on Twitter here.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.