The Beyond

cast: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, and Antoine Saint-John

director: Lucio Fulci

84 minutes (18) 1981
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Arrow DVD Region 2

RATING: 7/10
review by Mark West

The Beyond poster

Lucio Fulci – director

Lucio Fulci (1927 – 1996)

The Beyond

In a black & white prologue, it’s 1927, and a lynch mob descends on Louisiana’s Seven Doors Hotel. They’re after a man called Schweick (Antoine Saint-John) in number 36, who’s creating bizarre paintings that all centre around a book titled ‘Eibon’. When they catch him, they flay him with chains, and then throw quicklime on him.

Cut to the present day, and Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl, credited as Katherine) has recently taken over the hotel, where’s she’s assisted by her housekeeper Martha (Veronica Lazar), who has brought along her handyman son Arthur (cue much laugher on the commentary track), and architect Larry (Larry Ray). When the basement is discovered to be flooded, Joe the plumber (Giovanni De Nava) is brought in to find out what’s causing it. He discovers a fake wall and, when he opens it, Schweick’s zombified corpse is waiting for him and much ocular mayhem occurs. Dr John McCabe (David Warbeck) is summoned from the local hospital and, together, he and Liza try to figure out what’s happening in the house.

I haven’t seen a lot of Fulci films, though this has long been on my list to catch up with and I wasn’t at all disappointed.

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For a film that appeared on the DPP’s original ‘video nasties’ list, this is stunningly put together and full of beautifully composed images. Yes, there is gore and yes, even 30 years on, some of it is quite shocking, but this isn’t a cheap knock-off, there’s a lot of thought and attention to detail inherent in every frame.

The acting, I found, was generally good (my wife watched the film with me, she thought some of the performances were hammy), with MacColl and Warbeck particularly good. Some of the lesser characters – all Italian actors – were perhaps hampered by performing in a language that wasn’t their own, but I didn’t feel there were too many mis-steps. Particularly good, I thought, was Emily (played by Cinzia Monreale), who plays blind in every scene, apart from the prologue (and she has beautiful eyes, but they’re hidden behind hideous contacts), and really gave off a sense of otherworldliness.

The direction is assured, with steady shots and a good sense of action and framing. Fulci focuses on eyes a lot (there is plenty of eye-based injury too), uses depth of field well and includes some wonderful set pieces (the bridge, where Liza first meets Emily, is exceptionally good). The cinematography is, quite simply, beautiful with really deep and lush colours. The music, mainly an insistent piano theme, is nicely used and there are snippets of New Orleans’ jazz, which makes a nice change.

With the action, suspense is handled well and there’s a real sense of menace to a lot of it, especially in the morgue sequences. But with a Fulci film, the gore is a big part of the attraction, and Giannetto De Rossi does not disappoint. From a person flayed with chains, to acid burns; from attack by tarantula (and the aforementioned eye trauma) to a shotgun blast to the head; the special effects are in your face and superbly handled (with one exception, involving a doctor and some flying glass). A couple of the sequences made me squirm, so it’s not hard to see how, almost 30 years ago, the censors got their knickers in such a twist.

The film has its own sense of logic, with strange little repeated sections (such as Emily and her guide-dog leaving the house), sequences that don’t appear to have a link to the story (Emily’s demise) and other quirks, but it does have a rhythm. Using suspense and gore, plus the disbelief of Liza and McCabe, the audience is never quite sure whether it’s watching real life or reel life, and this works all the better for it.

Towards the end, there’s a section in the hospital, featuring McCabe and some zombies, that didn’t particularly work for me – because, a) it wasn’t really necessary and, b) if a character sees that a head-shot will stop a zombie, why wouldn’t he shoot all of them in the head – but this leads on to the proper ending, a devastating reveal in a bleak, terrifying location that hangs together so well, it makes you wish Fulci had got proper funding.

A superb piece of cinema, maddening and fantastic, mundane and beautiful, corny and majestic, this is well worth a look. It’s highly recommended (though not for the weak of stomach!).

DVD extras: as far as 30-year-old, admittedly cult, films go, Arrow have really pushed the boat out with the extras on this and leading the charge is genre journalist Calum Waddel and his High Rising Productions outfit. On disc one, there’s a commentary by Warbeck and MacColl, recorded for the (Anchor Bay) laserdisc release of The Beyond in 1997 (only a little while before the actor’s death).

This is a really engaging commentary. Warbeck and MacColl obviously got on really well and, although she’s more keen to keep things moving whilst he takes the piss out of himself, and a lot of the things he sees, you get a real sense of old friends catching up. Neither had seen the film for ages, so they occasionally try to second-guess what’s about to happen, but that just adds to the ambience of it. When discussing Fulci, both are blunt about him and his working methods (apparently, he had a less than stellar reputation with actors), but both seemed to get on well with him and remember him fondly. This is probably one of the better commentaries I’ve ever listened to.

There’s also a commentary track by Antonella Fulci (moderated by Calum Waddel), which is a good listen (Antonella says this is probably the 100th time she’s watched the film) and very engaging, though she understandably struggles in parts. It’s good fun though. The Beyond Q&A, with Catriona MacColl – Glasgow Film Theatre, 13th March 2010, is a 20-minute video-taped Q&A, following a screening of the film. This has MacColl and moderator Waddel fielding questions from the unseen audience. Some good questions yield thoughtful answers from MacColl, as she remembers the time and the film, Fulci and her co-stars. She’s full of praise and good humour for Warbeck too, which is nice. There is some cross-over with the commentary, of course, but it’s good to see the actress basking in the admiration for her work.

‘AKA Sarah Keller: Cinzia Monreale remembers The Beyond’ (24 minutes) is a locked camera interview with a subtitled Monreale (who still looks very good), which follows her career through Italian exploitation cinema up to the present. The actress is bright and insightful, full of praise for her co-stars but very straight with how things were. (Note: High Rising Productions have produced some superb extras on this package but they do suffer from a similar fault. The Q&A and Monreale interviews are clearly videotaped, with a quality that suggests and it would have been nicer to have had a clearer image. It’s a minor gripe, certainly, but it’s still a gripe.)

On disc two: ‘Beyond Italy – Louis Fuller and the Seven Doors Of Death’ (20 minutes), an interview with Terry Levene, of Aquarius Pictures, who released the film in the US as The Seven Doors Of Death. This is a fascinating documentary, not just because of the light it sheds on how the Fulci picture was packaged and sold in the States, but also as a glimpse of the 42nd Street/ grind-house cinema circuit as it was, back in the 1970s and 1980s, as told by someone who actually helped to shape it. Levene is candid and blunt (he doesn’t like Quentin Tarantino, who picked up a lot of credit for apparently re-discovering the film, when his Rolling Thunder distribution re-released it) and very upfront about the business – he bought The Beyond for $35k, spent $10k making changes and then saw it gross $700k for him.

One Step Beyond – MacColl remembers a spaghetti splatter classic (29 minutes) is a detailed, in-depth interview with MacColl (who still looks very good), running the gamut of her career in Italian cinema. As is to be expected, there are some overlaps with the commentary and Q&A, but she’s such an engaging interviewee, you’re willing to sit through anecdotes you might have heard part of in the past. A highlight this time is the Arthur and Martha business (which she and David Warbeck have such a laugh about in their commentary). MacColl comes out of this as a very intelligent and warm lady, who’s proud of being a horror movie queen.

Butcher, Baker, Zombie Maker – the living dead legacy of Giannetto De Rossi (30 minutes) has De Rossi, special make-up effects man extraordinaire, interviewed about his work on Fulci’s films whilst sitting on a comfy sofa in a nice cardigan, coming across like the worlds nicest grandfather. His English is very good and he’s very self-effacing, especially since a lot of his effects (“it is eggs, use eggs”) are still works of genius today. If only all low-budget horror had someone of this man’s calibre working on them. The interview moves along at a good pace and De Rossi is fun to listen to and full of anecdotes, about how he created his effects, and on working with Fulci.

Fulci Flashbacks – reflections on Italy’s premier Paura protagonist (25 minutes), is a series of interviews – with Roberto Forges Davanzati (cameraman), Daria Nicolodi (leading lady), Antonella Fulci (daughter), Dario Argento (director), Giannetto De Rossi (effects whiz), and Sergio Stivaletti (effects man) – talking about Fulci and his place in the genre. All of them speak highly of him (as is expected) and the interviews are interspersed with clips from various Fulci film trailers.

There’s also an alternative pre-credit sequence (which isn’t bad, but doesn’t have the same impact) and the international trailer.