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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Arrow Video wants YOU to live in terror – The Beyond headed to blu-ray!

That’s right, folks! Lucio Fulci’s masterpiece of surreal horror is headed to high definition courtesy of Arrow Video, the UK cult video company known for their lavish special editions of films like Battle Royale and Fulci’s City of the Living Dead.  Details of Arrow’s upcoming The Beyond can be found below the break, but the quick facts are as follows: the Blu-ray will be region free, and the feature and extras will both be in 1080p (disc 2 will be a PAL-coded region free DVD).

The Beyond 2-disc Blu-ray and DVD sets are due for release on March 14th (a month delayed from the original February 14th) and can be pre-ordered through Amazon.co.uk at considerable savings.  The full details of the package, copied directly from the Cult-Labs forum, are below:

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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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Zombi 3

postera.k.a. Zombie Flesh Eaters 2
company: Flora Film
year: 1988
runtime: 95′
country: Italy / Philippines
directors: Lucio Fulci, with
Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso
cast: Deran Saradian, Beatrice Ring,
Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, Massimo Vanni,
Ulli Reinthaler, Marina Loi
writers: Claudio Fragasso
and Rossella Drudi
order this film from Amazon.com
single discboxed set

Plot: A rag-tag bunch of soldiers and college kids try to survive a zombie apocalypse in the Philippines and the hazmat-suited death squads sent out by the Army to contend with it.

There was at least some potential for decency, if not greatness, to be had with ZOMBI 3.  Producer Franco Gaudenzi, looking to tap into the post-RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD popularity of the genre by creating a name sequel in the unofficial ZOMBI franchise, at least had the courtesy to bring in horror maestro Lucio Fulci to oversee things.  It’s unfortunate that the project went downhill as quickly as they apparently did, leaving whatever potential the film had woefully untapped. “I don’t repudiate any of my movies except ZOMBI 3,” Fulci said in a 1995 interview.  “It has been done by a group of idiots.”

What idiots, you ask?  Fulci mentions three by name – directors Claudio Fragasso and Bruno Mattei, who took over the completion of the project after Fulci abandoned it (due to health concerns some say), and production manager Mimmo Scavia, whom the director says was more interested in chasing Filipino girls than in his job on the film.  It is reported that only fifty or so minutes of the footage Fulci directed remains in the film.  The rest is the work of Fragasso and Mattei, the pair previously responsible for the mind-numbing HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD.

While Fulci seems content with his usual gore gags, including a marvellous flying zombie head that pops out of a refrigerator and mauls a young man to death, and a few self-referential moments, Fragasso and Mattei seem confused as to what earlier films they should mine for ideas.  RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD was an obvious inspiration – talking zombies appear from time to time (many in scenes derived directly from the Dan O’Bannon film) and the contagion is spread in the same manner (through the cremation of an infected body).  Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD seems to have been as well, inspiring a long running scientists-versus-Army-men subplot.  Even the hard-rocking Lamberto Bava flick DEMONS is pillaged, leading to a number of ZOMBI 3’s titular monsters sporting claws!

The end result is a tremendously weird undead opus with absolutely no internal logic and an uncanny ability to entertain for all the wrong reasons.  The script by Fragasso and co-writer Rosella Drudi, apparently still being revised when Fulci flew the coup, is an awful mess that undoubtedly sounds even worse dubbed as ZOMBI 3 was dubbed.  The lengthy dialogues between the head scientist of the “Death 1″ project and the General in charge of cleaning up the zombie mess are particularly poor in conception, a problem made ludicrously worse through the performances of Robert Morius (forever accenting with his hands) and Mike Monty in those respective roles.

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The focus throughout tends to be more on action than horror, in spite of a bevy of Franco Di Girolamo [NIGHTMARE CITY, THE NEW YORK RIPPER] gore effects, and ZOMBI 3 sports both an exploding gas station and plenty of macho-men with machine guns.  Even the zombie scenes are more kinetic than the usual, with the contaminated / undead bursting out of corners with machetes or hopping off of rooftops and the like.  Occasionally the action-oriented approach works well, as when a soldier is attacked by zombies (including his newly legless female companion!) by a bubbling pool.

The rest tends towards pure hokum.  Zombies leap off pillars and lie in wait behind cabinet doors, in the rafters, or even ‘neath abandoned pregnant women (!).  There are a couple of attempts at seriousness, as in a few stylized slow-motion shots of the ongoing death squad massacre (coupled with a “trust the government” speech from blind DJ Blue Heart), but they are few and far between.  Fulci takes to filling the screen with fog and shooting with considerable diffusion, perhaps to save his audience from the idiocy he knew was playing out before the camera.  It’s a pity he never thought to direct it with the same comic sensibility he brought to so many of his pre-horror films (THE EROTICIST, et al.).

ZOMBI 3 is undeniably awful, but its terribleness may just be its saving grace.  It certainly adds to the overall recommendability.  If you’re interested in seeing doofuses in hazmat suits fist-fighting two army men when they all have perfectly good machine guns available (at least one of which is wielded as a club!) or watching pesky clawed zombies push unsuspecting girls out of windows (or even leaping out of them themselves!) then ZOMBI 3 is clearly a film for you.  It has all of that and more, and that aforementioned flying zombie head to boot.

This one suffered handily at the hands of censors but was restored to its full 95 minute running time for the 2002 Media Blasters / Shriek Show DVD release.  The composite job looks pretty dreadful all around, with numerous switches between film-sourced and tape-sourced elements, but it’s the best I’ve seen the film look to date.  It’s recommended to fans and the curious alike and can be had quite cheaply as part of The Zombie Pack, a three disc combo package that also includes two proto-sequels (Claudio Fragasso’s entertaining AFTER DEATH and Joe D’Amato’s KILLING BIRDS, the latter of which was produced a year before this film), or much more expensively as an individual release.

Inarguably idiotic and a complete failure in the fields of both horror and action, ZOMBI 3 nevertheless has the potential to be one of the most entertaining of Italy’s many many flesh eating fiascoes.  It’s all about expectations.  Personally, I loved it.  Recommended.

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Zombi 2

a.k.a. ZOMBIE / ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS
Variety Film Production [1979] 91′
director: LUCIO FULCI
cast: TISA FARROW, IAN MCCULLOCH,
cast: RICHARD JOHNSON, AL CLIVER

ZOMBIE is one of those films that, regardless of your age, sex, or walk of life, manages to evoke a powerful reaction in viewers by virtue of its title alone. Equally praised as a classic of visceral horror and derided as a tried and tired exercise in excess, the project that put director Lucio Fulci back on the map has no shortage of opinions surrounding it. Still largely dismissed as a feeble attempt at knocking off the 1978 George Romero opus DAWN OF THE DEAD, ZOMBIE has received more than its fair share of criticism over the years. In reality, Fulci and Romero couldn’t have been more different in either their purpose or style of execution – as such, their two films are very different monsters.

Romero’s undead were literally the all-consuming alter egos of ourselves and his film an indictment of man’s inability to deal with itself – the shambling corpses there prove to be considerably less trouble than the variety of entirely human obstacles that crop up along the way. DAWN is a satirical and character-driven fantasy essay on American consumerism glued together with traditional horror trappings. Fulci delves into baser human instincts with his offering, with ZOMBIE being a slow and aesthetically charged tangent on the near-universal fear of the unseen and creeping unknown.

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