E tu vivrai nel terrore - L'aldilą (The Beyond) Reviews
This is highly recommended for the gorehounds, as others may be slightly put off by it all.
"The Beyond"'s release came years after Argento and Bava's prominence came to an end - their specialty, giallo (sumptuously photographed stalk-and-slash thrillers that combined beauty and barbarousness), waned in the late 1970s - and so it's less giallo and more splatter, so in love with its gore effects and its atmospheric lensings that it forgets how to be an actual film when it isn't agitating us. Fans of "The Beyond" applaud it for its carnage, its nightmarishly incoherent atmosphere, and its haunting score - and while all those aspects are agreeably strong, they aren't quite strong enough to make for a horror movie anything less than an above-average B-movie.
The film opens in Southern 1927, depicting the brutal killing of a "warlock" by an angry mob. The death is disturbing and disquieting - imagine what Jesus Christ went through on that godawful cross but with acid thrown in his face in addition to all the savageness. The scene sets the tone of the film, fairly ludicrous and fairly vomit-induing.
Cut to 1981 and beautiful blonde Lisa Meddle (Catriona MacColl), a New Yorker, has inherited the very same hotel the aforementioned warlock met his end. Crumbling and in no shape to shelter guests, Lisa is in the process of some serious cleanup - little does she know, though, that the property is much more than what she bargained for. Because horror film characters enjoy making bad decisions for our enjoyment, it turns out that the hotel is actually built on one of the Seven Gates of Hell; it doesn't take long before employees begin meeting gruesome (and bizarre) ends and Lisa starts to realize that it might not be such a good idea to renovate after all.
Of course, "The Beyond"'s famed incomprehensibility makes this storyline seem minor in the face of so many imaginative slayings - Fulci's goal, you see, is not to deliver a plot worthy of our time but to instead present us with a series of macabre images meant to unsettle. The mystifying nature of the story is supposed to make the film scarier: the objective is to take a nightmare directly from the mind of a child's brain and throw it onto the screen for us to endure.
Such an ideal has worked before, the example being Dario Argento's "Suspiria". "Suspiria", which burns in the memory the second it ends, was, yes, unintelligible, but the imagery, so gothic, so Technicolor, so hellacious, actually does feel as if it were taken out of a nightmare. It helps that the stalk-and-slashes are lined with suspense, hard-hitting once blood is drawn.
Fulci, always jealous of Argento's successes, isn't as gifted of a visual storyteller, figuring that an abundant usage of fog machines, close-ups of Cinzia Monreale's pupil-less eyes, and slow-moving terror are good enough by way of concocting a hair-raising ambience. It mostly works, in a chintzy, Halloween haunted house kind of way. But Fulci's speciality has always been gore, and the bloodbaths don't disappoint: best of all is the scene during which a zombie wrestles the creepy hotel maid (Veronica Lazar), slams her into a wall, and, horrifyingly, gets her eyes punched out by an unruly piece of wood. The sequence is only the finest, though, because it is the only gore showcase with a hint of nail-biting during the entire film. The other bloody points come by with laughable incongruity - one man falls off a library ladder only to get his face eaten off by an army of tarantulas, and another woman, later on, is, one minute, sitting by her dead husband in the hospital, and is, the next, unconsciously lying on the ground as a gallon of acid tips over by itself onto her poor face, ketchup fizz pooling through the room as her pigtailed daughter looks on.
It's not so much that I don't appreciate "The Beyond"'s carnage-based inventiveness; it's just that its overall goal seems to involve copying what giallo legends did best during their heyday. Fulci's reputation as a hack seems fairly agreeable, but he's a talented hack, to say the least. The film has its moments, but I can hardly say I did more than cringe in disgust or sit in boredom. There's no such thing as an in-between throughout its quick 87 minutes, except for the moment when I noticed that a hospital door sign cautions guests to "Do Not Entry" - then I breathlessly laughed. Perhaps that was accidental?
In typical Fulci fashion, the movie makes no sense whatsoever, and is watchable solely for its second rate special effects and nothing more. In fact, on a technical level, The Beyond is abysmal, loaded with garish double (and sometimes treble) takes, wandering frames and a soundtrack which quite frankly has a mind of its own.
Redeeming factors lie in slightly superior dubbing to your average Fulci feature, genuine ickiness and an embarrassing face-chewing spider sequence that can only be described as a must-see scene. Ridiculous rubber-limbed fun.
Though it stays true to the body horror roots of its predecessor, The Beyond falls more into the genre of a haunted house film. The narrative of the film is still a thin one which mostly exists to throw together many uses of clever blood and gore effects, but at least it ties things together better and ensures that there is more consistency in the feature. The Beyond is still a far from great film because it adheres to its limitations and thin narrative, but it shows director Lucio Fulci taking another step in the right direction which is a fairly significant improvement over the preceding film in the trilogy, City of the Living Dead. This time around, the concept feels more claustrophobic because the setting is less ambiguous and more singular as to fit into the haunted house type context of the narrative, and so it makes the plot easier to keep up with. It doesn't have complex characters, brilliant dialogue or even flawless dubbing for that matter. But for what its worth, The Beyond stays true to its roots well enough to stand up as a strong film for its genre.
The success in The Beyond is predicated on the role that Lucio Fulci plays as director. While the script of the film is basic, it does contain some mildly interesting concepts which Lucio Fulci is able to find creative ways of exploring. Following the same sort of visual style he put into City of the Living Dead, The Beyond features some traditional Italian cinematography techniques as well as a really intense use of zooms. The interesting elements of the cinematography fall into the fact that the imagery of the film tends to be a lot of intricate little elements which push beyond the boundaries of their size in the way that Sergio Salvati puts such an intense focus on them. The imagery of the film is mostly highlighted during the gory death scenes of the film, but there are times when it goes beyond that and captures a sense of artistic appeal in many artefacts used as props. The editing on this is all gentle as well, so the cinematography in The Beyond is composed mostly of extensive shots of creepy visuals.
When I say the visuals are creepy, I mean they are either haunting or sickening in a manner which does not make the viewer want to look away. With The Beyond, Lucio Fulci turns blood and gore into an art form, taking the concept of exploitation from shock factor to artistically shocking. That sounds strange, but it is the truth. With the importance in The Beyond resting on predominantly the death scenes in the film, Lucio Fulci puts all his passion about filmmaking into them more than anything else. Stepping things up from City of the Living Dead, The Beyond features a superior quantity of kills in them which are all done in darkly creative ways. With all kinds of dismemberments in the film, The Beyond is not a film which is easy to stomach. But if you can appreciate the merciless exploitation nature of the blood and gore then The Beyond is certainly a film for you. I tend to find that horror films that rely on blood and gore instead of an intense atmosphere are shallow, but The Beyond is a somewhat strong balance of the two which largely compensates for the lacklustre nature of the plot. Of course, the best part really is the death scenes. Notorious for them, The Beyond makes a creative use out of various forms of death which are shocking to behold, ranging from having one's eye torn out by a nail or face dismembered by spiders. With a slow burning atmosphere filled with horror, the death scenes in The Beyond jump out at the viewer with eye popping imagery, literally. This is built mainly upon the incredibly detailed makeup effects of the film which capture a detailed sense of blood and gore. It is so gleefully sickening to watch because of how realistic is seems at times, while at others it is both creepy and hilarious with a sense of deadpan humour that has come with the age of the film. For exploitation cinema fans, The Beyond is easily a treat on the eyes, and it doesn't get too caught up in its plot to forget that this is where the importance lies.
The atmosphere in The Beyond is powerful. Instead of succeeding strictly as an exercise in blood and gore, The Beyond is a very atmospheric feature. Making use of its simple setting but finding clever ways to expand on it, there is a sense of claustrophobia that comes with the film. The fearful nature of impending deaths is what brings the tension to the film, and this combines with the shock factor of the blood and gore to exact its full effect down on the viewer. The Beyond not only looks scary, but it genuinely feels that way too. The musical score of the film is a key factor in this because it captures the eerie sense of horror as the film progresses to its more climactic moments and then emphasizes them with pieces heavy on bass energy. The music in The Beyond is not just intense, but it is also nostalgic because it is music iconic of the low budget Italian horror film genre which I continuously find myself fascinated by.
So The Beyond is a large step up from City of the Living Dead from director Lucio Fulci. With a loose but improved narrative, and increase in blood and gore and a continued sense of atmosphere, it proves to be an effectively intense horror film and a clever exercise in exploitation which is appropriately excessive.