The Beyond (L’aldilà, AKA Seven Doors of Death)
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale
Review by Jordan
I’ve heard it stated that were it not for Dario Argento’s masterful Suspiria (1977), the enthusiastically nonsensical, outlandishly Gothic yet contemporary and gory cult film The Beyond (1981) would be the crowning achievement of Italian horror.
While there are a number of titles that seem determined to dismiss this theory (Michele Soavi’s outrageously entertaining Cemetery Man, Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace and perhaps even Lamberto Bava’s influential Demons to name a few) I find it hard to disagree…
With a story that’s joyfully convoluted and inexplicably hard to explain in detail, it is truly the macabre and imposing feeling Fulci cultivates from the opening sepia-tinged shots of a riled mob brutally murdering a proposed Warlock to the closing passageway to Hell that gives The Beyond its resonance. Nothing seems natural, grounded in reality, instead events seem to unfold as a fluctuating nightmare of interposing horrors; as if the viewer is in partial control of their dreams and moves on from one scenario to the next when it becomes too menacing or they die. Assisting in achieving this outcome is the dizzying and profoundly Italian score, over-the-top makeup FX and numerous narrative, as well as writing and directorial flaws (a sign outside a morgue that reads “Do Not Entry” being my personal favourite, followed closely by a character’s decision to attach a dead body to a heartbeat monitor) that coupled with some strange Texan dubbing constitutes downright craziness, or brilliance.
The plot is self-explained by a blind, German Shepherd-owning psychic as follows: The seven dreaded gateways to Hell are concealed in seven cursed places… And from the day the gates of hell are opened, the dead will walk the earth. This means bad news for Liza Merril (regular Fulci collaborator Catriona MacColl), whose recently inherited motel is built on one, leading to the fulfillment of the above catastrophe. MacColl is always a pleasure to watch, and her partnership with the often maligned director produced two other true classics of not only Italian horror cinema, but genre film-making worldwide in the accomplished City of the Living Dead (1980) and The House by the Cemetery (1981).
He is often seen as the lesser maestro when compared with his renowned peers, but with other forgotten gems including giallos such as Don’t Torture a Duckling and A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, plus the oft-referenced and worthy-of-its-reputation Zombi (AKA Zombie Flesh Eaters) the enigmatic Mr Fulci undoubtedly does deserve more credit, and if like many you are yet to set foot inside his blood-soaked world, this is your invitation and introduction.
So, a young girl gets a hole blown in her face (see above), a paralyzed man is eaten alive by tarantulas and another has his eyes popped out of his skull… and in picturing these you’re only scratching the surface of what’s on offer. The Beyond isn’t highly esteemed because of its nuances or crisp quality, but because of it’s endeavor: to be a waking nightmare on celluloid that earns longevity through sheer haphazard abandonment.
Fine with me.
4.5 acid spills out of 5