The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981)
[originally posted 1Feb2002]
Many hardcore fans of Italian horror cinema consider The Beyond to be Lucio Fulci’s best film; more than one will likely opine, if you ask, that The Beyond is the finest Italian horror film ever made. While that’s probably stretching the case more than a little (I still prefer Fulci’s raw, almost unbearably campy Zombi 2), there’s a whole lot to be said for The Beyond as loads of fun. Without doubt, it is one of Fulci’s brightest moments. (Note that all description below is from the uncut version on the Anchor Bay limited edition DVD, and as I’ve never seen the cut version released to theaters, some of what is described below may not sound familiar to those who have already seen the movie, which had a theatrical re-releases in 1998 as Seven Doors of Death.)
The Beyond takes place in the Louisiana bayou country. It opens with a scene in 1927 detailing the brutal lynching of Sweik, an eastern European of some sort who the natives believe has placed a curse on the town. During his lynching, Sweik protests that, in fact, he’s the only person keeping the town from falling under the curse. Needless to say, they mob doesn’t listen to him, or a very short film we’d have. We then skip to 1981, as our heroine, Liza (Fulci regular Catriona MacColl, seen most recently in the well-received 1998 film A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries), inherits the hotel where Sweik was staying at the time of his unfortunate demise. The place is haunted, especially Room 36, Sweik’s room. As well, the basement is constantly flooded, and no one can figure out why. A plumber is dispatched to find the source of the water, and in his attempt he instead finds the source of the hauntings. Complications, as they say, ensue.
The Beyond works in no small part for the same reason that John Carpenter’s contemporary film The Fog works—the events are presented with absolutely no context. The filmmaker hands up a plate of hot, steaming horror and raises no questions as to why any of this is happening. This is an important distinction; whether the film itself raises unanswered questions is often the difference between the success and the failure of a venture like this one. Fulci doesn’t raise the questions, and The Beyond works. Argento doesn’t raise the questions, and Suspiria works. (Argento tried to raise the questions in Inferno, and boy, did it ever not work.) Fulci throws us an extra bone, however, in allowing one character to raise one question that no one in the film is capable of answering. Very nice touch, that.
Beyond (no pun intended) the film itself, the DVD release falls apart a bit, which is somewhat surprising in any Anchor Bay release, and is especially troubling in such an expensive, limited disc. Most of the extras that come with the release are either soundless (which is quite annoying when the extra is, for example, an interview!) or have a harsh soundtrack overlaid onto them. Might have been nice to use Fabio Frizzi’s score for the film, which is up to the usual Frizzi standard and even surpasses it in places.
The film itself is definitely worth watching, both for fans of Italian horror specifically and the more general horror-fan population alike. However, you may want to wait for a non-limited release from Anchor Bay or Elite before picking it up on DVD. **** for the film, ** ½ for this particular release of it, so we’ll compromise and say ***.