a.k.a. E tu Vivrai nel Terrore – L’aldila / Seven Doors of Death
company: Fulvia Film
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
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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.
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.
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.