The Beyond (1981) (Video Nasty review #7)

The Beyond posterDirector: Lucio Fulci

Starring: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale

Also known as: Seven Doors Of Death (USA)

“Be careful what you do, because this hotel was built over one of the seven doors of evil.” (Schweik, The Beyond)

Though Italian director Lucio Fulci may be best known in the UK for his video nasty Zombi 2 (better known as Zombie Flesh Eaters), it’s another video nasty that most horror fans worldwide associate with him. It’s understandable, because The Beyond is easily one of his better films.

After starting with a flashback in which a poor sod in New Orleans is crucified in a cellar by a mob who think he’s a warlock, we fast-forward to the present day (well, 1981) where we meet Liza (MacColl), who’s moved from New York to New Orleans to inherit, refurbish and re-open a decrepit hotel.

The Beyond
Here’s a joke for you love, what do you call a blind… oh Christ I am so, so sorry

It becomes clear very quickly that, as luck would have it, the hotel is built on a gateway to Hell, and as such there’s a whole load of shit going down in the basement including the zombified remains of the lad from the flashback. That’s Hell, not Hull, mind – though I appreciate it’s hard to tell the difference. It’s up to Liza along with her friend John (Warbeck) to try to figure out how to stop this from happening.

I should probably make it clear that Italian films of this era can only really be judged among others of its ilk. If you’re treating it like any other film released these days then much of it is laughable – the acting is atrocious and the dubbing is absolutely abysmal – but we’re talking here about movies that were so low-budget they were shot silent and the soundtrack was cheaply dubbed in later.

The Beyond
Here’s a joke for you mate, what do you call a rotting, zombified… oh Christ I am so, so sorry

Almost all of Fulci’s films (as well as those of other Italian filmmakers at the time) used this technique and though snobs will say it completely ruins the films, more open-minded sorts will agree with me that it gives them a vintage charm. In fact, this clear zero-budget vibe only makes the film seem more impressive when it actually pulls off something memorable, because it’s clear it had to have been achieved with next to no cash.

This being a Fulci film, and one of the films that ended up on the video nasty list, it should be fairly apparent what most of these “memorable” scenes were – gory death scenes. Many of the deaths in this film are the stuff of horror legend, and some of them still look surprisingly realistic to this day – a true testament to the special effects work of Fulci and his effects guru Germano Natali.

The Beyond
Hey, what do you call a spider… meh, fuck it, it’s not like you’re listening. You’re an ignorant bastard, spider

Of course, much as with the fake scenes in Faces Of Death, the added clarity of today’s prints (I watched the film on Blu-ray) does expose a lot of scenes as far less realistic than they seemed back when fourth-generation VHS copies provided a titillating blur that helped disguise the imperfections and made the viewer’s mind fill in the grisly details. It’s one of those rare situations where sometimes seeing isn’t necessarily believing.

Because of this, the infamous scene in which a paralysed man has his face eaten apart by spiders is weakened a little when it becomes abundantly clear that some of the more active “hero” spiders are about as fake as you can get, and when his now-clearly latex nose is peeled off it’s almost comical.

With this in mind, that only makes it all the more impressive when the effects are convincing. While the spiders and the chap’s fake nose won’t fool anyone these days his tongue being torn off might, and when a helpless blind woman has her throat ripped out by her possessed guide dog you’ll marvel at how Fulci and his crew managed to make it look so darkly realistic given their budgetary constraints.

The Beyond
I’m sorry, I don’t have any jokes about exploding heads. I’ve got a fucking beauty about a spider though

Somewhat unconventionally for a horror film, the final twenty minutes in The Beyond are actually the best. Ironically, this wasn’t actually anything to do with Fulci. In these twenty minutes a hospital is overrun by zombies, but Fulci had never planned to have zombies in it at all. The German distribution company who owned the rights to his films put pressure on him to add them however because his previous film Zombi 2 had been so popular.

The resulting happy little accident is a film that starts like a haunted house movie and ends as a zombie movie, and it’s considered by many as one of Fulci’s best works as a result. While its excessive gore and terrible dubbing may not be to everyone’s tastes, for those not bothered by such qualities it’s one of the finest examples of Italian horror of that era.

Although it was a banned video nasty back in the 80s, these days The Beyond is readily available uncut in the UK. Luckily, the lovely folks at Arrow Video have released a cracking print of it in Blu-ray and DVD flavours, complete with a couple of commentaries and some great documentaries about Fulci. It currently isn’t available on either Netflix or LOVEFiLM’s streaming services.

If you enjoyed this review and would like to read more, here’s a complete list of reviews on That Was A Bit Mental.

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