The Beyond

a.k.a.: E tu vivrai nel terrore: L’aldia (And You Will Live in Terror: The Beyond), 7 Doors of Death
Year: 1981   Company: Fulvia Film   Runtime: 87′
Director: Lucio Fulci   Writers: Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo, Lucio Fulci
Cinematography: Sergio Salvati   Music: Fabio Frizzi  Cast: David Warbeck, Catriona MacColl,
Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint-John, Veronica Lazar, Anthony Flees, Giovanni De Nava, Al Cliver
Disc company: Arrow Video   Video: 1080p 2.34:1    Audio: DTS-HD Master 5.1 English,
DTS 2.0 English, DTS 2.0 Italian   Subtitles: English   Discs: BD25 (All Region) + DVD (PAL Region 0)
Release Date: 03/14/2011   Product link: Amazon.co.uk
The Beyond is reviewed here from a screener provided by Arrow Films.

In 1920’s Louisiana a man suspected of witchcraft is brutally lynched and buried in the basement of the Seven Doors Hotel.  More than half a century later the hotel is inherited by washed-up New Yorker Liza (MacColl), whose efforts to restore the property to working order are undermined by bizarre and violent happenings and the strange cryptic warnings of blind associate Emily (Monreale).  Liza sets about investigating the history of her hotel with the help of local doctor John (Warbeck), only to discover the shocking truth – that her property is situated on one of the seven gateways to Hell…

An experience like few others, The Beyond is the culmination of themes explored in Zombi 2 and City of the Living Dead and, by my estimation, the best horror film director Lucio Fulci ever made.  Originally conceived as a ghostly mystery in New Orleans The Beyond was caught in the burgeoning European zombie craze (for which Fulci, himself, had served as a prime instigator) before production began, ensuring a place in the production for Fulci’s mystical variety of the undead.  The result is a gruesome exercise in horror both visceral and existential, and a fantastical and hallucinatory vision of a literal Hell on Earth.

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City of the Living Dead

Year: 1980   Company: Dania Film – Medusa Distribuzione – National Cinematografica   Runtime: 93′
Director: Lucio Fulci   Writer: Dardano Sacchetti, Lucio Fulci   Cinematography: Sergio Salvati
Music: Fabio Frizzi  Cast: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Giovanni Lombardo
Radice, Antonella Interlenghi, Daniela Doria, Fabrizio Jovine, Venantino Venantini, Michele Soavi
Disc company: Arrow Video   Video: 1080p 1.85:1    Audio: DTS-HD Master 7.1 English, DTS-HD Master 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Monophonic English
Subtitles: None   Disc: Dual Layer BD50   Release Date: 05/24/2010   Product link: Amazon.co.uk
Be sure to visit the Cult-Labs forums to have your say on this and future Arrow Video releases

Though it was the genre with which he would find the most acclaim, with his gruesome chillers earning both critical praise and substantial profit in international markets, Lucio Fulci’s personal relationship with horror was uneasy and bittersweet. With the success of his 1979 effort Zombi 2 came hope that he would gain stature within the Italian industry and more freedom in his work, but neither came.  By the middle of the ’80s Fulci had become typecast within the genre, and dwindling budgets, advantageous producers and a marked decline in his physical well being would lead his later work to become increasingly dreadful.  A proposed collaboration with Dario Argento may well have put the ailing director back on top, ending his career on a much-needed high note, but he died before production began.

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The Beyond

postera.k.a. E tu Vivrai nel Terrore – L’aldila / Seven Doors of Death
company: Fulvia Film
year: 1981
runtime: 87′
country: Italy
director: Lucio Fulci
cast: Catriona MacColl,
David Warbeck,
Cinzio Monreale, Antoine Saint-John,
Veronica Lazar, Anthony Flees,
Giovanni De Nava, Al Cliver
writers: Dardano Sachetti,
Giorgio Mariuzzo, and Lucio Fulci
cinematographer: Sergio Salvati
order this film from Amazon.com

Plot: Young New Yorker Liza (MacColl) inherits a rundown hotel in New Orleans and decides to re-open it.  Strange events surround the renovations, and Liza, with the help of doctor friend John (Warbeck) and a strange blind woman named Emily (Monreale), soon discovers that her inheritance is built atop one of the seven dreaded doorways to hell.

This long-time favorite has somehow escaped coverage on this site in any of its disparate forms over the years, but with a review of the astoundingly dreadful demi-Fulci opus Zombi 3 now up for mass consumption I figured it was high time to rectify that gross oversight.  The Beyond is part two of the thematically similar but narratively distant non-trilogy of supernatural horrors Fulci directed between 1980 and 1981, bookended by the Lovecraftian gore fest City of the Living Dead and the Freudian The House by the Cemetery.

Previously known for sex comedies (The Eroticist), spaghetti westerns (Four of the Apocalypse), and a spate of violent gialli (Seven Notes in Black), Fulci’s freshman horror effort was the competent if intellectually barren Zombie – a project that earned him considerable name recognition within the genre and gave new direction to his waning career.  For the next several years Fulci would be at the top of the Euro-horror food chain, allowed to persue whatever intellectual interests he wanted with his pictures provided they came packaged with the ludicrous gore setpieces he was known for.

Artist / actor / writer / philosopher Antonin Artaud and his “Theater of Cruelty” had long been an inspiration for the director, and The Beyond owes its perceived incoherence to the concept.  Believing that the imagined was as much a part of reality as the tangible, Artaud’s concept was to reveal truth, and shatter what he saw as the false reality audiences were expecting, through production and performance.  For Fulci this meant focusing on image and atmosphere to evoke strong reactions in audiences, narrative coherence be damned.  The Beyond may begin as a simple haunted house yarn, but it veers into the bizarre early and powers down the rabbit hole from there.

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The plot, very loosely detailed above, is calculated for confusion.  The basic narrative, in which Liza tries to uncover the history of the haunted house she’s inherited, is never completely derailed, only invaded from all sides by the unknown.  Like Fulci’s earlier City of the Living Dead, The Beyond presents audiences with a reality in the process of being torn apart.  Much like Lovecraft’s own, Fulci’s unknown is an intangible yet malevolent force just waiting for a chance to come crawling out of the woodwork (or a hole in the basement) to wreak unimaginable horror on the world at large.  The Lovecraftian inspiration backing Fulci’s work here is obvious, and he throws a mysterious text titled The Book of Eibon into the proceedings as homage to the author.

The script, by Dardano Sachetti (Zombie), Giorgio Mariuzzo (The House by the Cemetery), and Fulci, is populated with strange side characters – two housekeepers that came with the hotel, a doctor investigating post-death brain activity, a potentially possessed little girl, and others – with occasionally questionable and frequently unknown motivations.  Housekeeper Arthur seems perpetually sweaty and nervous, and rummages around Liza’s bedroom in his spare time.  Housekeeper Martha just behaves creepily, wandering around a flooded basement with an oil lamp and giving knowing glances to the plumber who comes to fix the mess.  The potentially-possessed girl seems relatively harmless until after a funeral, when she suddenly presents with the same blind and shattered eyes as Emily.

The blind Emily is obviously a denizen of Fulci’s hell, though her purpose on Earth is unclear.  After hinting at awful things to come and confusing poor Liza into a state of panic she is confronted by the undead painter / warlock Schweik (Antoine Saint-John, Duck You Sucker) and his swiftly growing mob of the recently deceased.  She is quick to let him know that she’s done what she was supposed to do, though the audience is left in the dark as to just what that may be.  None of the side characters serve much in the way of narrative importance, they’re just intriguing stepping stones between the outrageously violent gags that serve as the meat to The Beyond‘s potatoes.

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Fulci must have had a field day conceptualizing the multitude of horrendous ways in which the supporting cast is dispensed with.  Liza’s property manager is gruesomely devoured by talkative tarantulas while the aforementioned potentially-possessed girl is chased by the malevolent red goo that’s left of her mother, whom she saw dissolved by a conveniently placed (and ludicrously full) canister of acid just moments before.  The blind Emily survives the onslaught of Schweik and his zombie minions only to be ripped to pieces by her once faithful German shepherd.  In perhaps the best gag of them all, a zombie is seen rising from a bathtub to attack Martha as she cleans a bathroom.  He grabs the poor woman by the face, taking careful aim before planting the back of her head on a nail and sending one of her eyes popping out of its socket.

Make-up effects man Gianetto de Rossi (The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue) is in top form here and his fine craftsmanship merges perfectly with Fulci’s eye for detail, elevating the Techniscope terrors of The Beyond to a strange sort of art.  Rarely has explicit violence been rendered with such aesthetic prowess, and there’s beauty to be had among the liters of expended stage blood.  Perhaps more interesting to me after the dozens of times I’ve seen the film is the uniquely cruel Fulcian humor that constantly bubbes just below the surface.  That the gateway to hell under Lisa’s hotel is opened by a nosy plumber (named Joe, of course) is on the verge of being parodic, and the sight of Emily fumbling about in a circle of unseen assailants feels like a particularly malicious prank.

The Beyond has seen a huge resurgence in popularity in the USA since the 1990’s, thanks to a theatrical reissue from Grindhouse Releasing and Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder and subsequent releases on home video through Anchor Bay.  Those home video releases are now long out of print, but Grindhouse Releasing filled the void by re-releasing The Beyond to DVD, with a newly remastered transfer to boot, in October of 2008.  I’ve not seen that disc (am waiting on the eventual jump to Blu-ray since I already own the OOP Anchor Bay disc), but online reviews attest that it is up to the high standards Grindhouse has set for itself since the 2005 special edition of Cannibal Holocaust.

Heralded by many as Fulci’s masterpiece, The Beyond is one strange customer.  It asks many questions in its 87 minutes and answers almost none of them, and the ambiguous ending will surely leave many scratching their heads.  But no one has ever captured the vision of all literal hell loosed upon the modern world like Fulci did, and The Beyond is a showcase for an underrated director at the height of the second wave of his career.  Highly recommended.

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Jigoku

a.k.a. HELL / THE SINNERS OF HELL
Shintoho Co. Ltd [1960] 98′
country: Japan
director: NOBUO NAKAGAWA
cast: SHIGERU AMACHI, YOICHI NUMATA,
cast: UTAKO MITSUYA, KANJURO ARASHI

Contradictory to what a plethora of Chick Tracts and so-called “Hell Houses” (haunted houses featuring abortions instead of ax murders) may lead you to believe, the belief in hell by the various peoples of the world is in decline. A lot of that undoubtedly has to do with the dwindling popularity of a place of eternal damnation since the 18th century Enlightenment and the fact that people are, largely, becoming more tolerant of beliefs alternative to their own. Still, fictional representations of hell are quite popular in film and have been since the inception of the medium (George Melies offered early viewers a variety of amusing shorts on the subject, including 1903’s THE INFERNAL CAKE-WALK).

Produced in 1960 by the failing Shintoho Studios (it would rise again shortly thereafter as a producer predominantly of pink films), Nakagawa’s JIGOKU presents viewers with one of the most stylishly disturbing visages of the underbelly of the afterlife ever committed to film.

Shiro Shimizu (Amachi) seems to have a happy life ahead of him – he’s doing well in college and has just become engaged to one of his professor’s daughters. All of that changes after his supposed-friend Tamura (Numata) hits and kills a young yakuza while driving Shimizu’s car. Against his better judgment he says nothing of the accident to the police, but his guilt leads to a series of unfortunate incidents. First his fiance Yukiko is killed when her taxi, which Shimizu demanded she take, hits a tree. Her family is destroyed by the incident, which drives the mother mad and Shimizu to drink, leading to a fling with a stripper who just happens to be the lover of the yakuza killed in the earlier hit-and-run . . .

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