It’s hard to describe the feeling you get the first time you see The Beyond. Obviously it’s as fucked up as the day is long, with no rhyme or reason for much of its running time. But the deaths are sublime - man-eating spiders, crucifixion, acid baths, impalements, facial melting with quicklime, etc. Fulci never backed away from gore and in fact relished its use. The Beyond is kind of a hot mess, but is near and dear to not only this horror fan but countless others.
The Beyond starts in 1927, with a blast from the past in which we observe a lynch mob tracking down a New Orleans artist (Antoine Saint-John) thought to be a warlock. They find him at the Seven Doors Hotel, and as a young girl reads from an occult text in the background, the mob busts into his house, quickly subdues him, and drags him to the basement to kill him in as horrific a manner as possible. All the while our man Schweick denounces witchcraft and tries to plead with the men, warning them that the basement is one of the seven gateways to hell. (Yeah, if it were me that would have given me reason to pause, but not our big tough men.) They first beat him bloody senseless with chains, then nail him to the cellar wall with spike nails and throw quicklime acid on his face. Naturally his face all but melts away (in a gruesome style not unlike Raiders of the Lost Ark) and they seal him into a hole in the basement, all but forgotten.
Years later a young woman named Liza (Catriona MacColl, a staple in several of Fulci’s films) comes to the house by way of an inheritance. She hires several handymen to fix the place up with intent to put it to its original use again as a hotel. Plumber Joe (Giovanni De Nava) heads to the basement to find the leak that is keeping the cellar full of water and stumbles upon said gateway. He is viciously attacked by the spirit of Schweick and dispatched of in a gruesome manner, with a ghoul’s hand scooping out his eyeball (another of Fulci’s famous constants). Soon after, the maid searching for Joe gets impaled on a nail and out pops her eye as well. (Sensing a trend here.) My favorite death in the film is a man who is eaten to death by giant tarantulas. It's totally fake-looking but you can't help but love it. Another eye gets taken out in that scene. Obviously Fulci has some sort of gore fetish about eyes.
Meanwhile, Liza meets a young doctor named John (David Warbeck) who is called when a workman mysteriously falls off her roof. They in turn, are warned about the gateway to hell by Emily, a blind psychic (recognizable as the young girl reading from the occult book in the beginning of the film) whose seeing-eye dog eventually turns on her by ripping out her throat. Liza and John become determined to find out what is going on at the hotel and after finding said occult book in a local bookshop, work together amidst zombies and irrational supernatural events to try to close the portal to hell.
Gore is the main event in this and most of Fulci’s zombie adventures. The Beyond is the second film in the “Gates of Hell trilogy” (tucked neatly between City of the Living Dead and House by the Cemetery) and is thought to be Fulci’s best film by many in the genre. It must be mentioned that the great Fabio Frizzi provides one of the most chilling scores of his well-received career, and the fantastic, atmosphere-inducing piano solos easily rival Argento favorite Goblin’s scores as some of the best in Italian films.
Despite having poor narratives and even worse linear form, it still shines as a stellar example of the gruesome zombie films of the early eighties and gives a gore-happy fan exactly what they want. While the ending is more confusing than satisfying, it is open to interpretation and will have genre fans discussing it for years to come.
Christine Hadden is the creator, editor, and head writer of the blog Fascination with Fear. Addicted to trashy vampire novels, she also loves Argento films, listening to the score from Psycho while showering, sitting alone in a darkened theater, and above all - yearns for a good ghost story. She is a contributor to Fangoria and has written for the excellent genre magazine, Paracinema.