1/18/10

The Beyond [L'aldilà] (1981): Lucio Fulci Throws Open the Gates.... To HELL!

I was thinking of an appropriate film to celebrate Martin Luther King day with, and of course the first thing that came to mind was Lucio Fulci’s film E tu vivrai nel terrore - L'aldilà, or The Beyond. The reason it sprang to mind is simple enough. King had a dream, and much of The Beyond felt like a dream. Are you buying that? No? Well, I figured as much. Ok, so maybe I forgot it was King Day, but I didn’t forget to check out the second in Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy. Having seen the first part, City of the Living Dead, and the final film, House by the Cemetery, a while back, I’m glad I finally saw The Beyond so I could get the whole, clear, straightforward narrative arc. Are you buying that? No?

So maybe there’s not a clear story that comes from seeing the three films, but the trio is only loosely connected as a trilogy in the first place. In fact, of the three films, The Beyond is probably the least plot driven of them, and that is saying something. It begins in 1927 when an angry mob attacks and kills Schweick, an artist who they believe is a warlock, who lives at the Seven Doors hotel. Years later in 1981, Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl) inherits the hotel, and she moves in intending to renovate the property. Her renovations disturb one of the seven doors of hell on which the hotel was built on, and it begins to allow the dead to pass over to the land of the living. Soon Liza and anyone connected to the hotel is beset by ghosts, zombies, flesh eating spiders, and the artist Schweick back from the dead and ready for revenge.

I don’t know what kept me from seeing The Beyond for so long as it is both a well-regarded Fulci film and set in Louisiana, and I have an affinity for both things. Filmed partially on location in Louisiana, Fulci even got his film into New Orleans for a few shots. Unfortunately, there are only a few recognizable locations to spot, but there are a few recognizable New Orleans landmarks, such as the Cornstalk Inn, that can be spotted. All of the location footage looks great, but perhaps Fulci should have asked around about a few details on the area. What sticks out most is the appearance of a basement in the Seven Doors hotel. Louisiana and the New Orleans area sits below sea level and basements are definitely not de rigueur. However, without it then Liza’s pal, Joe the Plumber, wouldn’t have someplace to go get jacked up by a zombie. It’s a little thing really, and fact checking The Beyond is not going to get me very far anyway.

Unlike the other two parts in the unofficial trilogy, The Beyond is much less interested in a coherent storyline than in images and atmosphere. Fulci even admitted as much when he said, “My idea was to make an absolute film, with all the horrors of the world. It’s a plotless film, there’s no logic to it, just a succession of images.” Some of the images rank among the best I’ve seen in Fulci’s catalog, but a few fall short. While the blind girl who is attacked by her guide dog looked great (though reminiscent of Argento’s Susperia), the scene of the flesh-eating tarantulas leaves a lot to be desired. Fulci wisely wrangled up a few real spiders, but filled out the shots with some of the worst fake spiders I’ve seen in a while. Also, I didn’t know that spiders would eat your face, but hey, you live and learn.

Catriona MacColl, who starred in all three of the Gates of Hell films, performs admirable as usual, but she was not Fulci’s first choice. He wanted Tisa Farrow who had starred in his film Zombi 2 and D’Amato’s Antropophagus, but after the latter film, she had quit the business. As much as I like Farrow in both of those films, having MacColl star in all three gives them a connection even if the narrative doesn’t have much cohesion. The other star of the film was David Warbeck as Dr. John McCabe. Warbeck had also starred in Fulci’s 1981 film The Black Cat, and he gives a solid performance in The Beyond though he is less memorable than Christopher George in City of the Living Dead or Paolo Malco in House by the Cemetery.

The cinematography was handled by Sergio Salvati who collaborated with Fulci on nine other films, and as usual, Salvati nails the dreamlike, or should I say nightmarish, vision that Fulci intended. The Beyond relies so much on images, and it carries the film in such a way that the lightness of the plot really didn’t bother me at all. Enhancing the images was another frequent Fulci collaborator, composer Fabio Frizzi. The Beyond features some of Frizzi’s best and most memorable work since his score for Zombi 2, and his score really props up moments like the march of the fake tarantulas.

The Beyond is defiantly one of Fulci’s best films that I’ve seen, and of the Gates of Hell trilogy, it was the most engaging of the three. While it was much weaker in the plot department than the other two films, the imagery really made up for a lot of it. From beginning to the ethereal ending, Fulci takes the viewer on a trip deep into his supernatural world. The Beyond is really the perfect melding of the grind house feel with the art house style, and though I don’t think many fans of Goddard are going to love this film, the horror fans will find a lot to like here.

Bugg Rating

11 comments:

  1. Great review, man. You know how I feel about Fulci, and there's not really much I can add here. It is one of his best horror flicks, without a doubt.

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  2. I love Fulci, and this is my favorite. I even own a VHS copy with the original title of The Seven Doors of Death. Convoluted plot and some bad effects - but with the imagery and Frizzi's score...magic.
    Super review.

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  3. "AND YOU WILL FACE THE SEA OF DARKNESS AND ALL THERE-IN THAT MAY BE EXPLORED" arguably one of the greatest endings in the history of cinema.

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  4. Awesome review...I love The Beyond and I was lucky enough to see it in theaters when Tarantino had it re-released. It was one of the best times I ever had at the movies and I even was one of the first five people in line that got a badass free The Beyond eyeball! Eye still got that shit too!

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  5. Good ocular trauma in this one. The spiders eating the face has gotta be the most WTF moment in all of Fulci's flicks...oh wait...sorry forgot about zombi vs shark

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  6. I, also, have this under the title The Seven Doors of Death. Great review and great film. I feel that a four is quite fair.

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  7. Love the movie, love the review. The pipe cleaner spiders have a slight resemblance to the death in Frogs, but damnit, I love them and their crunchy crunch sounds anyway. Surprised you didn't mention the best death scene of an ugly little girl in cinema history, but I love you anyway.

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  8. Love the movie, love the review. The pipe cleaner spiders have a slight resemblance to the death in Frogs, but damnit, I love them and their crunchy crunch sounds anyway. Surprised you didn't mention the best death scene of an ugly little girl in cinema history, but I love you anyway.

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  9. I am always torn between this and GATES OF HELL as my fav Fulci flick, love the gore in GATES, but the mysticism of THE BEYOND makes for a difficult choice

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  10. Wow this one blew up. Sorry I'm a little late getting back to you all. Let's see...

    Rev- that's one reason that we're both Knights in Fulci's army. I'm always happy to wave the flag.

    C.L.- I'm jealous of your VHS gold, but under the Seven Doors title the film is cut down some. (I think around 7 min or so)I've seen a DVD copy like that, and there's not much difference. Check out the Grindhouse DVD release for a nice cleaned up full release.

    Teddy- agreed.

    Matt- Two things, I'm so mad you got to see this in a theater that I could hit you with a brick. Conveniently then i could make off with the eye.

    Jaded Viewer- I forget to mention the eye trauma. Interesting that in Zombi 2 the eye gets spike in and here the eye gets popped out on a spike. Least he's varied.

    Fran- That's me I'm fair like the Solomon of genre films

    Emily- Ugh there's so much I wish I had mentioned. I'm glad people liked this review because I kicked myself for not putting in more. The little girl death is quite good, and the pipe cleaner spiders walking on Frosted Flakes always works for me.

    Carl- I have to say while I love so many of Fulci's films I still love Zombi 2 the best. It was my first and broke my Fulci cherry. I wanted to to be special it was.

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  11. The Beyond is perhaps Fulci's most visually arresting film and certainly one of his most ambitious. It's all atmosphere and style over sense and plot, with plenty of gore and shocks, that will please Fulci fans and lovers of Euro-horror. I recommend it.

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