The Beyond Review
Italy’s Lucio Fulci worked in numerous genres over a career spanning nearly 50 years, churning out dozens of scripts, along with directing comedies, police thrillers and spaghetti westerns. While arguably his finest work came in the early seventies, with lurid giallo like Lizard in a Woman’s Skin and Don’t Torture a Duckling, Fulci’s international breakthrough didn’t come until much later with a cycle of ultraviolent zombie shockers that emerged between 1979 and 1981. Mostly made under the auspices of frugal producer Fabrizio De Angelis and written by prolific screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, these films brought Fulci legions of fans – not to mention a degree of notoriety. Best of the bunch is The Beyond (aka L’Aldila, 1981), which remains a cult favourite, once even championed by Quentin Tarantino.
The film opens with an evocative sepia tinted prologue, set in Louisiana during 1927. Within room no. 36 of a grand hotel, a restless artist named Schweick (Antoine Saint-John) is busily preparing a wide canvas depicting a desolate wasteland. He has learnt that the establishment is built over one of the seven gateways to hell, fully realising what horrors could potentially be unleashed if it were to be opened. A lynch mob suddenly turns up at his door, ready to deal with this “ungodly warlock”. In a gruesome sequence, Schweick is lead to the basement, brutally chain whipped, nailed to a wall and covered in quick lime. In another room, a young woman reads intently from the strange Book of Eibon, which forewarns of unimaginable terrors, before dramatically erupting into flames.
Flashing forward to 1981, ambitious Liza (Catriona MacColl) has just inherited the rundown Seven Doors hotel in Louisiana, which she desperately needs to get renovated and open again to the public. Yet just as the repairs are underway, the workman start having inexplicable accidents, with one plunging from scaffolding. In the flooded basement, Joe the plumber (Giovanni De Nava) has pummelled a hole in the wall, inadvertently disturbing something extremely nasty. Local blind girl Emily (Cinzia Monreale, billed as Sarah Keller) tries to warn Liza of an impending evil that dwells within but, naturally, this shrewd piece of advice is ignored. Stalwart Liza declares that she’s from New York and doesn’t believe in any such nonsense about ghosts. An amusing exchange, since we are privy to the fact that Emily is the girl glimpsed in the opener, still looking the same several decades later - except for her eyes.
Dependable Dr. McCabe (David Warbeck) is on hand to support Liza, even though he initially doubts the strange phenomena she later claims to have witnessed. Nobody seems to have heard of the decidedly odd Martha (Veronica Lazar) and Arthur (Giampaolo Saccarola) who “came with the property”, and why indeed does the bell to room no.36 keep ringing? It’s only when the cadavers back in the hospital morgue become restless that McCabe fully appreciates the gravity of the situation - and realises that he’s going to have to take some decisive action.
The Beyond borrows brazenly from numerous other supernatural films, notably Michael Winner’s The Sentinel (1977), while significantly ramping up the gore quotient. This is not a film for anyone seeking an intricate plot or any degree of logic, instead it simply serves up an onslaught of horrifying set pieces, which is exactly what Fulci and screenwriter Sacchetti intended. We’re expected to believe that once the door to evil is opened, absolutely anything unpleasant can happen. Rather like experiencing a disturbing nightmare that doesn’t necessarily make a great deal of sense when scrutinised in the cold light of day.
The director gets to indulge in his obsession with eyes, whether they are shown in his customary close-up style, gouged out, devoured or covered with opaque lenses to signify that a victim has been claimed by The Beyond. Giannetto De Rossi’s grisly make-up effects are variable, while some ably stand the test of time, others were never particularly convincing even when I saw this on the big screen many years ago. There’s no denying that his putrid zombie creations are memorably revolting, as they appear sometimes at random, or later seen shuffling menacingly down hospital corridors during a tense climax.
Warbeck and MacColl work brilliantly together, managing to rise above the trite dialogue and make this infinitely better than it could have been. Despite many scenes being completely ridiculous, their reactions are always spot-on, as their characters experience a range of emotions. Kiwi actor Warbeck deserved to have become a bigger star, instead carving out a niche for himself in European exploitation.
What makes this film a cut above a zillion others is its unremitting macabre atmosphere, with Fabio Frizzi’s magnificently haunting score complementing every scene perfectly. DoP Sergio Salvati’s sublime lighting and skilled framing of shots also add to the overall creepiness. Inspired scenes include a young girl frantically trying to escape from a hospital room, as a river of acidic crimson gloop edges across the floor – her subsequent fate would become one of the film’s most infamous moments. Even when Fulci is being more subtle – never high on his agenda – there are some highly effective little sequences to savour. I liked the eerie silhouettes at the hotel window as our protagonists make their escape, or Emily’s surreal departure after an early encounter with Liza. Lest we forget a bold, unforgettable final shot.
Shameless Entertainment's release of The Beyond is presented in HD from a new 2K-scanned and restored source. The widescreen 2.35:1 ratio has been preserved and, like all previous UK releases on disc, this is the full uncut version of the film.
First the good news: having seen The Beyond on various formats over the years, this is definitely the best I have seen it look. The image boasts vivid colours, excellent levels of contrast and plenty of fine detail throughout. Fulci's rotting zombies have never looked more disgusting! The only audio options available are DTS-HD MA 2.0 English, or 2.0 Italian (with English subtitles). The absence of an impressive 5.1 mix that accompanied earlier releases is a real let-down. I'm also sad to report that there is a rather annoying echo on the audio tracks of this edition, which is particularly distracting during scenes of dialogue.
The supplementary content provided is disappointing compared to a stacked deluxe three disc edition that came out a few years ago in the US from Grindhouse Releasing (region A locked).
I recall attending The Festival of Fantastic Films in Manchester during 1996, when stars David Warbeck and Catriona MacColl both provided wonderful interviews on stage. Warbeck was clearly not in the best of health and sadly passed away the following year. It's a shame that this interesting recording couldn't be included, as I understand it did appear on the recent US edition.
There are four different versions of the prologue, seamlessly branched, enabling the complete and uninterrupted viewing of the film. Choose from the now accepted standard sepia, the original colour camera footage, a B&W version or a new alternative using for the first time the colour footage as a base on which toning is applied – with reference to DoP Sergio Salvati’s known thinking. With this fourth option, visuals are more vivid: reds of the gore strikingly visible and the light of torches & car headlights are more luminous.
A selection of interviews in Italian are included (with English subtitles), the first two of which are ported over from a recent French disc from Artus Films (produced by Freak-O-Rama):
Emily’s Eyes (2017, 16:55) – the amiable and remarkably well-preserved Cinzia Monreale (who played Emily) describes Fulci as bright, full of life and whose "bark was worse than his bite". They first met when she was cast in his earlier spaghetti western Silver Saddle (1978). The actress talks about her character of Emily, revealing how uncomfortable the special contact lenses were to wear. Apparently she also revisited the filming location in Louisiana decades later, describing how it has changed. Other roles are briefly mentioned, including her later part in Fulci's TV movie Sweet House of Horrors (1989)
Arachnophobia (2018, 28:30) – Michele Mirabella worked as a theatre director and was also a well-known Italian radio personality before meeting Fulci, who cast him as surveyor Martin Avery in The Beyond. Mirabella is full of amusing tales, such as his alligator encounters on the Louisiana location and filming the infamous scene where his character is attacked by tarantulas. Apprehensive by having real spiders crawling over him , he was reassured that they had just been fed, but had newspaper stuffed under his clothing as padding just in case. He also talks about wearing the uncomfortable zombie make-up, plus the fact that some of the actors didn't even recognise each other. He is full of admiration for Fulci though, whom he describes as being funny, intelligent and a tireless conversationalist who loved anecdotes.
Murder, They Wrote (2018, 12:59) – Scriptwriter Giorgio Mariuzzo provides his recollections on working with the director, describing him as easy-going, but also difficult on occasions and bad tempered. They met in the sixties when Fulci was making commercials and TV shows with comedian Franco Franchi, later becoming firm friends. Mariuzzo worked on several of the director's films, co-writing The Beyond with Fulci after Dardano Sacchetti provided a story outline and ideas. He claims that working with Fulci was great, because it provided an opportunity to "come up with outrageous nonsense".
Archival feature-length audio commentary with DoP Sergio Salvati dissecting the film (Italian, with English subtitles), and a further commentary track with MacColl and Warbeck which is a very entertaining listen from the film's two stars.
Lucio Fulci Speaks (1:47): A short conversation on the set of Demonia, recorded during 1990, which is of poor quality and doesn't add any real value.
The Beyond prologue four-way comparison (2019).
The first pressing comes with a numbered limited edition sleeve. This has been designed to be partially translucent, allowing artwork that depicts a landscape of hell to reflect on the mirrored disc beneath, giving an impression of depth.