The Horror Honeys: Exploring the sea of Darkness: Lucio Fulci's The Beyond.

Exploring the sea of Darkness: Lucio Fulci's The Beyond.

A Guest Honey review by Kat Ellinger of Stigmatophilia Horror Blog 

The Beyond / L’aldila / Seven Doors of Death (1981) - Lucio Fulci 

Imagine taking a copy of the latest horror film you just bought out of the cover, only to find you have the police banging down your door, and then you get arrested and charged for owning what is essentially a fictional piece of entertainment. Imagine having to hide your collection and watch films in secret, or going to prison for distributing a horror film, or being branded as akin to the worst type of satan worshipper who burns sacrificial victims to death and spits on their burning embers by the general media, just for being a horror fan. This may all seem a bit archaic to us enlightened modern day audiences, although that is not to say that everyone understands horror fans even now, but for those who grew up or honed their love of horror during the dark old times of 80’s Britain this was the reality, I know because I was one of those fans.

My other half was one of those people busted and arrested for owning films. Let me make this clear, we aren’t talking snuff, this was stuff like The Burning (which warranted a half hour grilling by police) and The Evil Dead, a film which incidentally just found itself wading into mainstream cinema via the means of a (much gorier) ‘prequel’. It all seems a bit ridiculous now. Worried that the moral fibre of 80’s youth was being corrupted by all this gratuitous gore and violence that had found its way into the hands of impressionable innocents, via the home video market, the government set about prosecuting the films they deemed unfit under the Obscene Publications Act. The Government fuelled by one man MP Graham Bright, that ludicrous individual that once warned the public that the films concerned did not just affect people, they affected dogs as well; this was a guy who really knew what he was talking about, obviously. To take this further an entire list was drawn up and the films involved were dubbed ‘video nasties’. Of course it just told us horror fans where to find the good shit, but there were some curious additions to that list, some of which have since been released as 15 rated certificates. Now there is a lot more to this story which I could go into but I digress, so I will stop there and just say for a really good insight I suggest Jake West’s Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape (2010) documentary (which comes with a fabulous set of trailers for all the films involved).

So why bring up the video nasties? Well it is because of this film Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, being one of the films that was on that list; as were his titles House by the Cemetery and the infamous Zombie Flesh Eaters (Zombi 2), while his ultra-violent New York Ripper (which still remains unavailable uncut in the UK) did not even make it to the list because the print was given a police escort out of the country. It is fair to say there was something about the man who has been dubbed ‘The Godfather of Italian Gore’ that seriously got up the UK censors noses. I have to confess to having a deep affection for any of the films that made it onto that list because at the time it made tracking them down all the more enjoyable and illicit, and so part of my enjoyment for retro gore and splatter is born from these early experiences.

I have chosen The Beyond over Zombie Flesh Eaters, another of my favourites, simply because even though it is considered one of Fulci’s best films it always seems to stand in the shadow of its more scandalously titled cousin, Zombie Flesh Eaters. The title ‘The Beyond’ does not really capture the essence of the film, and does little to inspire the deliciously gruesome and grotesque imagery contained within. The story is quite a simple one; Liza inherits a hotel in New Orleans which just so happens to be the same spot a painter found one of the seven gates of hell some 60 years before. Angry townsfolk who discovered his secret broke into the house and nailed him to the wall, killing him by melting him to death; we know this because it is displayed in all its gory glory in a fantastically explicit opener. Liza arrives later on and is unaware of this, of course, and so the story unfolds with the big mystery of the hotel and the opening of this secret door. Without going into depth this plot lends itself to all manner of things such as zombies, unexplained murders, creepy ghosts, all of which are displayed in Fulci’s own inimitable and graphic style. Throughout The Beyond we are treated to some of the most outlandish and tastily crafted practical effects ever committed to celluloid, (courtesy of Giannetto De Rossi who also worked on ZFE) like throat ripping, masses of eyeball violence, and people getting their faces eaten by spiders (ok some of those spiders are made from pipecleaners but the grue is there in copious amounts so who gives a shit, right?).

Another Fulci classic - City of the Living Dead
You would think by my aforementioned description The Beyond is some high energy splatstick affair in the vein of Bad Taste, but this could not be any more further from the truth, it is brooding, and atmospheric; all this is helped along by some luscious New Orleans locations and a creepy old hotel, and of course the score. Fabio Frizzi’s haunting score, one which I listen to on a regular basis, just drips life into the images on screen, and compliments it perfectly. There is one thing you can say about Italian horror, they may not have had much money, but they knew how to make films; from the talented effects artists, to the music (again this is seen in the work of Dario Argento who regularly used prog rockers Goblin and today is heralded a pioneer in horror cinema), to the cinematography, these were people who knew what they were doing, and cared. Lucio once famously said ‘violence is Italian art’ and if you look at The Beyond this is testament to a man who was true to his word, despite the dubbing and strange scripting, there are true moments of cinematic genius in the film. The entire piece is crammed full of a sense of foreboding and dread, and while some have criticised the script as nonsensical (and yes there are bits which make no sense whatsoever; for example why would you hook up a 60 year old corpse to a brainwave machine, rather than just plunge into an autopsy?), the fact that indeed anything is possible is what gives it so much appeal. It is also the little moments of nonsense which appear from time to time, outtakes which have become intakes, hospital signs which say ‘do not entry’ and inexplicable behaviour by some of the cast that gives it the feeling of true entertainment. While some of the outstanding camerawork in the close ups, and especially the iconic bridge shot where Liza meets Emily, a blind girl, is mind blowing and leaves you with a sense of wonderment. It is rare to see this level of technical brilliance in low-budget horror from other parts of the world.

For the cast, well we have the wonderful David Warbeck (now sadly no longer with us) who started his career in British horror working alongside names such as Peter Cushing and Joan Crawford (you might remember him from Hammer’s epic Twins of Evil playing the romantic lead), before crafting out a lucrative career in Italian horror and action films. Warbeck provides a strong hero in this piece in the form of the sceptical Dr. John McCabe. Cult icon Catriona MacColl is Liza Merrill, the woman at the centre of the hotel’s mystery, who inherits what seems like a dream come true after ‘nearly having a career as an unsuccessful fashion designer’ (words of the script, not mine!), but then later discovers she might just be a bit out of her depth. Helped along by some of Fulci’s trademark close ups MacColl manages to portray a vulnerable and frightened, yet on the other hand strong woman, who is trying to make sense of the horror which surrounds her. British actress Catriona worked with Fulci in three of his films including this, the others being House by the Cemetery (another banned film) and City of the Living Dead. It is also worth mentioning those three films add up to Fulci’s Gates of Hell Trilogy. Fulci was notoriously hard to work with and prone to tantrums, but it is interesting that Catriona in interviews always speaks very highly of him, and insists that he was mostly respectful toward her; although admitting that he did make her cry once on the set of City of the Living Dead (which is again mentioned in her commentary for the Arrow blu-ray edition of this movie).

Of course when talking about the cast of The Beyond it also has to be mentioned the performance of Cinzia Monreale – credited as Sarah Keller, as the blind girl Emily, who incidentally had to endure some nasty contact lenses throughout the production but features in many of the iconic shots throughout and one of the best scenes. Emily provides a brilliantly spooky air to the film with her glowing white eyes and sidekick guide dog Dickie. For the supporting cast there is a myriad of strange and assorted characters; the painter Schweick we see at the beginning is played by Antoine Saint-John, who was in Luigi Cozzi’s brilliant The Killer Must Kill Again, the weird hotel servants Arthur and Martha ( Gianpaolo Saccarola, Veronica Lazar), both equally sinister and bizarre, the odd little girl Jill who was played by an older girl Maria Pia Marsala, an actress who according to Warbeck on the Arrow commentary Fulci did not warm to, and last but not least the amazing Joe the Plumber (Giovanni De Nava)- I cannot say why I loved Joe the Plumber without giving away anything, so I am just putting it out there that he was one of my favourites amongst the cast, even if I can’t say why. 

If you haven’t seen this I want to leave the really delicious bits for you to discover all on your own, like opening up a juicy box of gore filled liqueurs and letting them drip down the back of your throat while you savour the flavours. Watch, enjoy and revel in the art that is Italian Violence.

Guest Honey Kat Ellinger is a self professed purveyor of gore and sleaze, cinephile, lover of subtitles, horror obsessive, writer, tea addict, and general sarky mare. A woman on a mission to convert everyone in her path to the dark side of cinema, and always willing to get on her soap box to defend some gratuitous sex or violence.  Kat currently runs the Stigmatophilia Horror Blog and is a regular contributor to Diabloique Magazine and Scream Horror Magazine.