Anyone who plans on watching Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond is advised not to eat beforehand or plan on eating right after the viewing. The Beyond is a Zombies Attack film made by the same man who gave us Zombie, one of the more spectacular Zombies Attack pictures I’ve seen in recent memory. And like Zombie, the gore and blood flows quite freely here, so you’ve been warned.
The Beyond opens in 1920s Louisiana, at a hotel in the outskirts of town that is currently being overrun by angry villagers carrying (what else?) torches and weapons. The lynch mob’s intended target is a painter name Schweick (Antoine Saint-John) who is staying at the hotel doing some weird paintings. The mob quickly kills Schweick in a most horrible way and buries him in the hotel’s basement. Fast-forward to 1981 (the year of the movie’s release), where we find Liza (Catriona MacColl), a New York sophisticate who has just inherited the hotel from a long-dead Uncle and is renovating the place for business. Unfortunately for Liza, the hotel is sitting over one of the 7 gates of Hell, which isn’t the kind of thing you put on a brochure to attract customers!
If you like lots and lots of gore then The Beyond is your movie. If you’re a little squeamish and prefers your gore and bloodletting to be a little more subtle and tasteful, then The Beyond is your worst nightmare. Director Lucio Fulci has obviously been given a bigger budget and better technical crew, and the result: The Beyond is a good-looking film. The scenes are all well staged; the cinematography is crisp when it should be, dark when it needs to be, and appropriately moody and somber when it wants to be. It should be noted that Fulci probably does the best “Zombie Rises from the Grave” sequences in the business. In this film alone, I counted over a dozen sequences of zombies rising slowly from (various versions of) the grave. Fulci has the technique down to a science and no one does it better.
Despite superior technical craftsmanship, The Beyond does manage to annoy me with its lack of coherent storytelling. Unlike the last Fulci film that I saw, Zombie, The Beyond has a muddled and very odd narrative, which is to say the movie doesn’t make sense for large stretches of its 87-minute running time. Mind you, expecting Zombies Attack films to “make sense” is like asking Michael Jackson to not be such a freak. You’re just asking for trouble and it’s never going to happen, at least not completely. And yet, you do expect some kind of coherent sequence of events to happen. For instance, A should lead to B, which should set C in motion, which should then conclude with D, or continue onto E. Get the idea?
There is more than one sequence in The Beyond that has no rhyme or reason and made me scratch my head. For example, after a character is brutally killed (his face has been melted off) and found in the basement of the hotel next to a 60-year old corpse that has been buried there for all this time, there is no semblance of a police investigation into the matter. Instead, the two corpses are magically transferred from the hotel’s basement to the city morgue (or as the movie calls it, the “hospital”) in the very next scene. At the morgue, the first victim’s wife arrives to dress her husband (don’t ask), and is herself found on the floor being doused with acid that melts off her face. The person who locates the woman’s body is the woman’s daughter, who in the very next sequence starts to turn blind! Why? I don’t know. But I can understand why Fulci did it — it looked good, but the entire 10-minute sequence makes absolutely no sense at all.
The above is just one example, there are countless others. Pay attention to the subplots involving the blind girl, the book, and Liza’s friend the designer. They are all involved in other “this makes no sense” sequences that “look cool” and all ends with groovy kill scenes. Everything looks great, even highly inspired, but they are baffling when considered as part of the movie’s story.
Despite a muddled and highly unrefined plot, The Beyond does achieve what it set out to do — that is, make you flinch. The acting is subpar, although actress Catriona MacColl is extremely attractive, if just a little bit unsure about which accent she’s supposed to have — she goes from British to American to some kind of southern accent, sometimes in one sitting. The rest of the cast was hired for their ability to look good as zombies or as the dashing hero or a clueless peripheral character. No one distinguishes himself or herself, and who expected them to in this kind of movie?
There are enough flesh tearing, blood spurting, and faces being melted by acid to satisfy any gore hound. For those of you who don’t like that sort of thing, make a wide berth around this film. Only the hardcore fans need apply here.
Lucio Fulci (director) / Lucio Fulci, Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo (screenplay)
CAST: Catriona MacColl …. Liza Merril
David Warbeck …. Dr. John McCabe
Cinzia Monreale …. Emily
Antoine Saint-John …. Schweick
Veronica Lazar …. Martha