Looking into “The Beyond”

The season of Samhain and All Hallow’s Evening has come and gone, and I find that my pen has been long neglected, due in part to my recent journeys to South Korea to experience the cultural (and culinary) flavor of that nearby nation. And so, what better way to make a comeback than to discuss one of my favorite films of all time, Lucio Fulci’s 1981 masterpiece of the macabre, The Beyond (…E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà)!

Considered by many to be Fulci’s maleficent magnum opus, this follow-up to City of the Living Dead saw its first US release in heavily censored format from Aquarius Releasing under the title of Seven Doors of Death. Not only was much of the blood and gore lost to the cutting room floor, Fabio Frizzi’s haunting musical compositions were also completely replaced as well. One particularly egregious case of tampering even inexplicably credited the director of the work as one Louis Fuller! In spite of such wanton butchering (and thanks to the circulation of bootlegs from abroad), The Beyond maintained a cult following into the nineties, eventually culminating in its release on DVD under the auspices of Grindhouse Releasing and Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Production Company in 1998. A Blu-ray version was made available earlier this year, much to the devilish delight of horror aficionados the world over.

Attempts to describe the plot of this particularly grisly slice of Italian horror often come off as mere exercises in futility, and querulous individuals who repine over incoherent storylines are advised to quit before the opening credits have ended. Those who are willing to be carried away by the raging gyres of Fulci’s cinematic storm, however, will find a phantasmagorical and oneiric haunted house thrill ride that takes viewers through surreal and metaphysical vistas that continue the themes introduced by City of the Living DeadCatriona MacColl, the previous installment’s female lead, takes on this time the role of Liza Merril, a young woman who has recently inherited the old Seven Doors Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana, which she decides to restore and open up for business. What she doesn’t realize is that the hotel was built upon one of the seven doors of death described in the mysterious Book of Eibon (the Lovecraftian tome invented by Clark Ashton Smith), and that it was the scene of the violent lynching and crucifixion of an artist named Schweick (Antoine Saint-John) who had become aware of the hotel’s secret and thus labeled a warlock by the surrounding townsfolk. As violent deaths and unexplained occurrences increase in frequency around the ill-fated location, Liza is aided by pragmatic and skeptical local doctor John McCabe (David Warbeck), while also receiving cryptic warnings from an enigmatic blind girl named Emily (Cinzia Monreale), who seems to have some unspeakable connection with the hotel’s darkly shadowed past. The eldritch happenings and gruesome murders continue, eventually culminating in a final shootout against the undead (Fulci’s grudging concession to the zombie craze that was sweeping across Europe) who begin pouring through the steadily opening hell-gate. The ending is much too good to give away here, but I will say that the director doesn’t disappoint, and leaves audiences to form their own conclusions about the nature of life, death, and what lies beyond.

Bringing in regular collaborators like Dardano Sacchetti (screenplay [co-writer] and story), Sergio Salvati (cinematography), and Fabio Frizzi (music), The Beyond stands as one of the most technically brilliant and artistically pure visions to come from the wonderfully twisted mind of Lucio Fulci, who pays homage to French playwright Antonin Artaud through his own surrealistic “Theatre of Cruelty.”  If you haven’t already, be sure to check out this chilling classic, now available on DVD and Blu-ray.  You won’t regret it…or will you?

In other (somewhat unfortunate) news, my interview with Japanese actress Eihi Shiina in SCREAM magazine has been pushed back to the January issue due to circumstances beyond my control. For now, pick up the newest issue for the latest in all things horror, out now! Until next time, unpleasant dreams…