GORE IN THE STORE
THE BEYOND *****
Directed by Lucio Fulci.
Starring Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Sarah Keller (Cinzia Monreale), Antoine Saint-John, Veronica Lazar, Larry Ray, Giovanni De Nava, Michele Mirabella, Giampaolo Saccarola, Maria Pia Marsala, Al Cliver. Italy 1981 Certificate: 18 92 Mins
Released on Blu-Ray by Shameless on January 13th 2020.
Often regarded as Fulci’s masterpiece – though there are credible arguments to be made for earlier, more disciplined works like DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING and BEATRICE CENCI – this beguiling descent into Hell revisited the zombie rampages of his career-shifting smash-hit ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS while aping the free-wheeling structure of CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD in its fragmented accumulation of loosely linked horrors. As with all of Fulci’s latter-day horror movies, it borrows heavily from then-recent major American genre releases- the core story is a variation on Michael Winner’s THE SENTINEL (itself a collection of bizarre and grotesque set pieces and non-sequiturs) while THE AMITYVILLE HORROR’s combination of the supernatural and economic realities is reflected in THE BEYOND’s heroine feeling a need to put up with horrific events in an era of double-digit inflation.
THE BEYOND has a familiar Fulci ensemble of fussy eccentrics and mystifying oddballs, including Giampaolo Saccarola as Arthur, a suspiciously sweaty cleaner who hangs around the heroine’s bedroom like a successor to Giovanni Lombardo Radice’s Bob in CITY, and the just plain weird Martha, as played by Veronica Lazar – memorable as the Mother of Darkness in Argento’s not dissimilar, nightmarish INFERNO a year earlier. As significant to Fulci in this era as his loyally returning cast members was the presence of FX artist Giannetto De Rossi : everyone remembers what may be the finest, most diverse collection of Fulci splatter set pieces, here lent a disarming visual beauty by cinematographer Sergio Salvati, who worked on all the major Fulci horror works for several years after his collaboration on FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE (1975).
Salvati’s gorgeous tinted 1920’s prologue, probably the stand-out sequence of the whole movie, has never looked more beautiful than in this new 2k Blu-ray restoration – and the disc gives you four different ways to watch it, from black and white to full colour. Either way, the fate of painter / accused warlock Schweick (Antonine Saint-John) is still a wince-inducing tour de force of sustained dread and close-up sadism, while concisely delivering the required exposition : the mist-enshrouded Louisiana hotel in which he is staying is built on one of the seven dreaded gateways to Hell. The sequence introduces Fulci’s most enigmatic harbinger, the portentous and gravely beautiful Emily (Sarah Keller), who returns in the present day scenes as a blind, Beyond-based Basil Exposition while the alleged warlock, like many of the film’s victims, is revived as a shambling zombie striving to drag the living into “The Beyond”. In one of Fulci’s most evocative transitions, the fabled book of “Eibon” from which Emily has been narrating, catches fire, segueing beautifully into a title sequence accompanied by Fabio Frizzi’s alternatively melodic and post-OMEN batshit-chanting score.
When the action shifts to Louisiana in 1981, the script doesn’t hang around in the fashion of the more leisurely ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS and, later, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. New Yorker Catriona MacColl, in the second of three Fulci jaunts in three years, inherits the hotel from a rich uncle and, despite a workman plummeting to his near-death on day one and the dead painter still (intermittently) nailed to the wall in Room 36, is not willing to give up this kind of opportunity. Doctor David Warbeck – a valuable presence in Fulci’s underrated Gothic THE BLACK CAT – shows up for valuable support and odd couple Arthur and Martha amusingly “came with the hotel”.
Conscious of the impact of his most iconic scene in ZOMBIE, Fulci subjects hairy plumber Joe to a close-up eyeball poking at around the 18 minute mark. (Head pushed onto a nail in a grimly dragged-out fashion, Martha also suffers bravura ocular trauma later on as part of the two-for-one eyeball horror deal). In a typical Fulci touch from around this period, it’s not enough for a character to find the luckless Joe with his peepers gouged…he also spews viscera from his mouth. In between the scenes of people foolishly venturing down to the basement and the graphic carnage interludes, light relief includes the director himself popping up for a trademark cameo and innocuous secondary characters like the book store owner with “Eibon” on special offer and a disarmingly mad giggle.
The show-piece death scenes hold up extremely well in HD, though it’s no surprise that the protracted demise of pipe-puffing oddball Michele Mirabella, which never quite got away with it in the fuzzy VHS days, emerges as the hokiest. Suffering a high fall in a library, Mirabella has his tongue, nose and eyes ripped apart by big, hairy, squeaking spiders; these marauding arachnids feel like a holdover from the 70’s revolt-of-nature cycle and prefigure grisly later Fulci sequences with bats (HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) and, ahem, snails (AENIGMA). Half played by real tarantula performers and half by long-missing occupants of your 1980’s toybox, it’s a scene that would be easy to scoff at if it weren’t so unpleasantly dedicated to wallowing in the excruciating detail of Mirabella’s face being ripped apart.
THE BEYOND’s other Grand Guignol set pieces are more effectively realised, with the filmmaker revelling in cruel misdirection: suitably haunted-looking pigtailed young redhead Maria Pia Marsala watches her mother’s face dissolve and successfully outruns an oozing, BLOB-like pile of red / white goo…only to bump into a lunging zombie behind Door Number One like some sadistic modern gameshow. Emily is menaced by denizens of the undead keen to return her to “the beyond”, her devoted guide dog Dickie successfully fending them off – but, just as things seem to be OK, Dickie turns on his owner (a direct lift from SUSPIRIA), tearing out her throat in a torrent of gore. Al Cliver, a Fulci holdover from ZOMBIE and THE BEYOND (and so dedicated he turned up in MURDER ROCK), gets an OMEN-esque face full of glass from an imploding window. The show-stopper for Gino De Rossi’s FX, however, is the briefest: Marsala’s shotgun-blasted head during the climactic zombie hospital attack is one for the ages and is perhaps only rivalled by the exploding husky in John Carpenter’s THE THING and Phoebe Cates at the swimming pool in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH for 1980’s VHS freeze-frame over-usage.
Elaborate gore aside, the smaller, quieter moments lend THE BEYOND considerable eerie power. Amidst all the surrealistic splatter, Fulci injects jarring doses of reality. The abrasively squeaking hospital gurney pushed by a spaced-out orderly past a bereaved child – while her mother carefully dresses her father’s corpse – is a rare affecting moment capturing both the everyday banality of death and that strange, disorientating post-mortem period of paused grief. The haunted piano randomly playing Frizzi’s main theme, and the subtly disturbing sequence in which Emily seems temporarily stuck in time, repeatedly exiting a room via jump cuts, add to the sense of the regular world fragmenting and prefiguring the doom facing everyone on screen.
If the denouement descends into repetitive “shoot-em-in-the-head” shenanigans as Warbeck and MacColl face a modest zombie horde in the deserted hospital, their plight provides the most haunting sign-off in Fulci’s canon. “We’re back to the hotel…” they lament as a drive around deserted Louisiana streets paves the way for their ultimate fate. A fleeting but terrifying visual of the empty, accursed hotel suddenly coming to life (so to speak) with numerous, ominous shadowy figures at the windows, signals the beginning of The End. The unforgettably eerie punchline retains its power after all these years (nay, decades), though the movie is old enough now to ensure that it’s a warm nostalgic glow – rather than shock and revulsion – that’s generated by another opportunity to face the sea of darkness…and all therein that may be explored.
Extras - Shameless’ 2019 release offers a good-looking restoration of the main feature that outstrips the (very satisfying) earlier UK blu-ray from Arrow Video, while offering viewers the choice of branching one of four versions of that atmospheric prologue into the main feature : decide for yourself how you prefer to watch the ill-fated Schweick perish – in old fashioned black and white, original colour, sepia monochrome or sepia on colour. The disc also ports over one of the loveliest laserdisc-era audio commentaries – a deliciously informal, sometimes saucy chat between the very sweet MacColl and David Warbeck (who died in 1997). The reunited star duo have a lot of fun trying to remember on-set nuggets and chattering over the extreme gore, with an extra bittersweet undercurrent provided by Warbeck alluding to (and, true to form, joking about) his then-recent hospital treatment. Sergio Salvati’s audio commentary is also revived from previous releases.
The new extras include “Emily’s Eyes”, a 16 minute interview with Cinzia Monreale (aka Sarah Keller) in which she speaks affectionately about working with the notoriously temperamental Fulci at the age of 19 on SILVER SADDLE, while acknowledging his oft-cited temper (she subsequently worked with the filmmaker on SWEET HOUSE OF HORRORS). An interesting trivia nugget is THE BEYOND’s use of the same New Orleans location as Louis Malle’s PRETTY BABY. The longer, juicier “Arachnophobia” (28 minutes) is a highly entertaining chat from Michele Mirabella, who speaks enthusiastically about Fulci’s sense of humour, his propensity for anecdotes and an amusing case of accidental groping. BEYOND fans will particularly enjoy his account of filming the tarantula sequence with the tarantula-handler’s reassurance of “Don’t worry, they’ve just been fed”. The actor conveys a rather touching fondness for a small part that so many remember within a long career: “I was fed to the tarantulas but they helped me pay the mortgage” is a tombstone quote if ever there was one. Additionally, “Murder They Write” is a 13 minute talk with screenwriter Giorgio Mariuzzo, who enthuses about the joy Fulci garnered from the gory scenes in movies he made for economic necessity…while pondering over the filmmaking career that Fulci might have had if his professional path had led in a different direction.