Director: Lucio Fulci
First released: 1981
Current status: Supposedly available in the UK uncut, although the region 1 release by Grindhouse Releasing is the fullest version.
Lucio Fulci is a bit of a legend in the horror world, starting his life as a med student, he soon gave that up to help out on films as a writer and assistant director. After working on comedies, musicals and westerns, Fulci made his first thriller in 1969 called One on Top of the Other and suddenly a great career was born. Moving on to a personal project and true story called Perversion Story (1969) Fulci was able to express both his political views and his extreme hate for the Catholic Church, a move that jeapordised his career until he followed this with two excellent Giallo’s, one of which got the director “black-listed” and despised in his homeland due to its anti-Catholic nature. Fulci then spent years getting whatever he could to stay in the business including some TV work and some comedies, and it wasn’t until Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) that his career reached a new high and with the Beyond, City of the Living Dead, House By The Cemetary and the New York Ripper he was finally able to rival his competition, one Dario Argento! Sadly, Fulci passed away in March 1996 when he was due to be collaborating with Argento after forgetting to take his diabities tablets. Some say it was a suicide, but never the less, he left behind a legacy few can challenge and The Beyond was his masterpiece. For the BBFC to remove this from the shelves there must have been uproar from fans. Thankfully the film did not stay on the banned list for long, it was removed from the shelves in November 1983, and released as the cut cinema version in April 1985, with the cut version missing a mere 1:39 seconds. This cut version was released by Elephant Video in 1987, and then by Vipco in 1992, and a further uncut version was released for the 2002 Protected/Vipco dvd release. However, I have been told that the true fully uncut version is the Grindhouse Release which is only available on Region 1.
Watching the film now, there are certain scenes which are, for want of a better word, repulsive and I think that word is the key to Fulci’s legendary status as the “Godfather of Gore”. Whereas like-minded director’s like Argento make their scenes of nastiness into art, Fulci’s are depraved scenes from the darkest depths of the human mind and they truly are horrific, even by todays standards. His scenes of carnage are just so dark, and he takes his time in showing them to you in all it’s glory. The opening of the film see’s the famous Louisiana Hotel in 1927 and show’s how the locals believe the hotel to be a gateway to Hell. They arrive to capture the owner and torture him in the hope it will keep the Demons away.All the stories about the Hotel’s prophecies are kept in the “Book of Eibon” which the locals have sourced. The book itself is based on the creation by American pulp fiction writer, poet and artist Clark Ashton Smith and is associated with the “Cthulu-Mythos” cycle of literature. The book itself is supposedly filled with black magic and the like, and was given to Eibon by the ancient Devil-God Tsathoggua. Anyway, the locals break down the door of the “un-Godly Warlock” and proceed to batter the poor guy with a large metal chain. In true Fulci style we hear every thud and tear of flesh, we witness the whole damned thing in extreme close up and it is not an easy watch, and yet it gets worse. The poor guy is nailed to the wall, with the nails going in so we can see it very clearly, and he then has acid thrown in his face and we watch as his face slowly melts away. If you haven’t witnessed a Fulci film before, you sure as Hell are getting your experience now.
This is all in the first five minutes, and as with all great Giallo’s the film now leaves the gore alone for a brief moment to let the viewer get involved with the story, and thankfully with Fulci it isn’t gore just for the sake of it. The guy had a talent for telling a story, and the Beyond draws you in to it’s dark and mysterious world and, believe it or not, you REALLY want to get involved. Liza Merril (Katherine MacColl) has just inherited a hotel, the same hotel as we saw in the opening credits and she has plans to renovate the place and have it ready for business very soon. The hotel comes with it’s own plumber and strange woman, and unknown to Liza, has been built over one of the seven Gates of Hell. The Beyond is actually part of an unofficial trilogy based around the Gates of Hell, with the other two films being House By the Cemetary and City of the Living Dead. Anyway, once Liza starts renovating the hotel things start to turn nasty as zombie’s, very slowly, start to burrow through the incredibly damp walls in the basement. Joe the Plumber is the first to meet them in the first death since the opening scene. I actually find his death incredibly unsettling as it’s filmed using lots of shadows and darkness as the plumber quite literally has his face ripped off and his eyeball popped. Its a savage scene of sickening violence that does not suffer from poor effects due to the nature at which it has been filmed. Even more disturbing is how Joe the Plumber appears a second time as the hotel’s maid goes in search of him, falling out of the wall and again in glorious darkness and shadows it is the kind of sight that could easily give those of a nervous disposition nightmares.
Poor Liza has no idea what is happening until she meets a mysterious blind woman stood in the middle of a misty road at night.Her name is Emily (Sarah Keller) and she and her trusted dog become friends to Liza and warn her of the hotel. The blindness is something which is touched on later on in the film but there is a huge suggestion that had you crossed over to Hell and come back, you lose the sight of your normal eyes and see things in a whole new way. Liza does not know, or indeed believe this but takes Emily in as a friend anyway. Liza has also met another friend, local Dr John Mcabe (David Warbeck) who brings a bit of sanity to proceedings. Fulci continues to masterfully tell a tale which is fast becoming clear and obvious but somehow continues to be incredibly intriguing and interesting. The mood never really rises above incredible doom and vicious bleakness, and Fulci lacks one element that make his films so incredibly dark and intense and that is comedy. There is not a shred of laughter or even actor’s doing things out of place that could be mistaken as funny. Granted there is a scene near the end where the Dr loads his gun in the lift, and as the lift doors close he realises he has loaded them the wrong way and begins to laugh, but this is a mere mistake, not intentional. Fulci hasn’t got time to waste with cheap laughs and silliness, here is a serious man wanting to take you to your most intense nightmares and he achives it with style! A build up in the mortuary where a young ginger girl waits outside for her Mother to identify a body is almost too intense to bare. Whilst inside the room things are starting to get a little freaky, the simple actions of a Dr wheeling a trolley past the girl is almost frightening. Not many director’s can conjure up such fear out of something so simple.
Later the ginger girl is put through her own Hell, and as blood runs across the floor toward her the damned stuff growls! In any other film this would be laughable, but not in Fulci’s sick world, no, here it is utterly nightmarish and it won’t make you want to laugh for a second. Fulci is clearly proud of his work, and even has the almost creepiness to appear in the film himself as a reflection as Dr Macabe answers the phone in a Jazz Saloon. Fulci has every right to be proud, what he has made here is one of the finest horror films in history, and it has some superb acting to go with it, much better than a lot of horrors around during the Video Nasty saga. The film continues it’s slow building pace, and I mean slow building in a nice way because this is one horror that truly does get right under your skin. You follow the plot with baited breath, and the introduction of Room 36 in the hotel brings all of poor Liza’ nightmares to the fore of the film. She soon has visions, like seeing Emily run out of the room before it has happened in a trippy moment that see’s the same scene played over and over. It’s up to you to figure out what it means, personally I believe it’s a brief glimpse of Hell and things to come, a brief cross-over into another world for Liza and it is here that the connection is made.
The infamous spider scene is not far off, and clips of the scene were actually used in the Spiderman movie during a nightmare sequence! If you have never witnessed the spider scene then God help you if you suffer from a fear of spiders. Some have said it looks tacky and cheap and you can clearly see that certain scenes do not use real spiders, however, it’s the whole idea and the use of sound effects that make it one of the most horrific scenes ever put to film. A guy paralysed from falling off a ladder suddenly finds large tarantulas crawling towards him and they climb on his face and rip it apart in a truly sickening and horrendoues scene. You cannot deny that it is uncomfortable and incredibly nasty, with some of the most bizarre and downright unsettling sound effects you will ever hear. It is not a pleasant scene and is testament to Fulci, and for me, this scene more than any is all you need to watch to understand what this film maker is all about, being repulsive. But let’s not forget a vicious dog ripping someones throat out in a wonderfully extended and again close up scene that rivals Argento’s dog attack in Suspiria, or the final zombie attack which, honestly, rivals Romero’s Dead Trilogy, even though it is brief.
It was the German film distributor’s who forced Fulci into adding the famous Zombie attack in the hospital, and to be fair I find it one of the weaker aspects to the film, but the German’s were seeing a bit of a Zombie craze at the time and so demanded it. Still, the Beyond shows one of horror’s finest director’s at the very top of his game and using every resource available to deliver one of the finest horrors of all time. Speaking of using resources, he used homeless people for the final scene involving people coming out of the sand, and paid them in alcohol!! The Beyond is superb, and even though the focus is not entirely on zombie’s, it is one of the best zombie films of all time, and one of the finest examples of a great horror story and mystery being brought to the screen with perfection, care and astonishing skill. Fulci is indeed the Godfather of Gore!
Did this film deserve to be on the Video Nasty List? In places yes, it’s pretty damn extreme.
Thankfully it was only off the shelves for a few years, but there is far too much quality on offer to warrant this classic being banned.