One from the re watch pile…
The Beyond (1981)
Film: When I was a teen, my first job was manning the counter of a small video shop in the southern suburbs of Sydney, and let me tell you, I loved that job. Every Sunday I worked from 12 until 4 pm without fail, and I never asked for a day off in the entire time I worked there I would show up at twelve, unwrap my sandwich and stick The Beyond (I think it was a Palace Explosive tape) into the in store player. For that 90 odd minutes, no one was allowed to rent that tape. They could come back after I had finished watching it, but until then, it was verboten (if you are interested, the second feature was always Dawn of the Dead, which they let me keep when the shop closed down, unfortunately, The Beyond had gone missing, so I couldn’t take that as well).
The Beyond is a film by Lucio Fulci, the other Godfather of Gore and was one of the films that was banned in the UK’s ‘video nasty’ witch hunts.
This film is a part of the Fulci’s unofficial zombie trilogy, also known as the Gates of Hell trilogy, which also includes House by the Cemetery and City of the Living Dead, and as far as this reviewer is concerned, isn’t just the best of these films, but is the best of his career, even though the plot line is confusing and open to the individual’s interpretation, and at times the effects are somewhat lacking in realism. Unfortunately, the sharpness of the Blu-ray image is even less forgiving and a few of those effects are even less convincing.
Onto the story…
The Beyond opens in Louisiana in 1927, where a mobs of local townsfolk are making their way to the 7 Doors Hotel, where an artist named Schweik (Antoine Saint-John) is painting a rather disturbing picture that depicts the barren-ness of Hell while a copy of the mysterious Book of Eibon sits close-by. The townsfolk accuse him of witchcraft, which he claims was to keep a gate to Hell that exists within the hotel shut, but the mob ignore his cries, nail him to a wall, and cover him in quicklime.
Many years later, a young women named Liza (Catriona MacColl) inherits the hotel from her uncle, and almost as soon as she starts work on renovations, the trouble begins. First a painter falls from a scaffolding from which he should never have fallen, and soon after a plumber is butchered in the flooded basement, after which Liza strikes up a friendship with a local doctor, John (David Warbeck). A strange girl Emily (Sarah Fuller aka Cinzia Moreale) warns Liza that the work she is doing on the hotel is dangerous, but Liza chooses to ignore her, even though she is spooked by her words, and the accidents that have happened. Strange things happen around room 36 as well (get it? 3 x 6…666) which is the room Schweik was dragged from to his death, and Liza thinks she sees both the body of Schweik and the Book of Eibon as well, but once John turns up, it appears to be a fantasy.
More and more deaths occur and it would appear that Liza has accidentally reopened the gate to Hell. Can Liza find a way to close the Gate… will she even bother?
The fact that the film is so open to the watcher’s interpretation is the main thing I like about The Beyond. Whilst ‘regular’ film goers probably would have trouble with unconvincing special effects and gore, horror fans can (and in my experience, will) talk for hours about the meanings behind the film, and what the actual plotline is! It is dreamlike and nightmarish, and has this feel of a real horror film, one which I think many horror filmmakers no longer attempt to match as perhaps today’s movie goer requires more literal storytelling.
The Beyond has some spectacular gore scenes that may look a little fake but are executed with gusto! In this film Fulci has taken special attention to the face, and it’s parts, and celebrates their destruction in a way that will repulse most, but will inspire a “Cool!” from those who like it.
This film also has a great legacy of Italian and international horror stars: Catriona (Catherine) MacColl who also starred in House by the Cemetery and City of the Living Dead, David Warbeck of The Black Cat and Hunters of the Golden Cobra, Cincia Moreale from Buio Omega and The Stendahl Sydrome, Antoine Saint-John of The Killer Must Kill Again and A Fistful of Dynamite, Giampaolo (sic) Saccarola of Tenebrae and the House By the Cemetery and Veronica Lazar from Inferno and Last Tango in Paris.
Format: Those of you who wander the wild land of the internet will know of the initial problem that scarred this release, that is, the incorrect black and white instead of sepia toned opening. When I purchased this disc, I received one of these flawed copies, but after contacting the people at Arrow Films, I received a corrected version within a week, which considering I am in Australia and they are in the UK, is quite commendable. I should point out that according to Arrow films, this error was on the first batch released, so all subsequent releases should be the sepia version.
The film is presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 image that’s looks pretty special, especially when you consider the age of the film. Really the only bad thing about this film is that occasionally in some of the darker sequences there is a small amount of film speckling, which is completely excusable. The amazing soundtrack is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with the options for either an English or Italian mono track for the purists as well. I am not one of those purists so I instead enjoyed the 5.1 only, and found it to be incredible.
Extras: There is HEAPS of extra features on this 2 discer!
Before the film starts, Cinzia Moreale introduces the film, and her broken English is bound to bring a smile to your face.
Aka Sarah Keller: Cinzia Moreale Remembers The Beyond is a nice look back by the actress who portrayed Emily in the film. She discusses her career and her work on this film, all with great poise, I must add.
The Beyond Q & A: Cartriona Maccoll is a fairly informative question session with MacColl which took place after a screening of the film. Unfortunately this is marred by two things; the first is the fact that some scrotum in the audience starts to eat a bag of chips, making crinkling noises all through the piece, the second is the fact that the film notes it with a subtitle referring to it. It is noted several times through the piece, and really the annoying bastard only needed to be pointed out once, as I found the subtitle detracted from what MacColl had to say.
There are also two commentaries on this disc. The first is an older commentary found on previous laserdisc and DVD releases by David Warbeck and MacColl, recorded before Warbeck died in 1997. It is a charming and friendly commentary that has some dubious recollections from the two. The second is with Antonella Fulci and hosted by Calum Waddell, which is a fascinating and personal look at Fulci’s work by his daughter.
Beyond Italy: Louis Fuller And The Seven Doors Of Death is an absolutely brilliant feature which has the president of Aquarius Films, Terry Levene talk about his career in exploitation films, and what was done to sell Italian films to the states. Those interested in the whole 42nd Street/ Grindhouse thing will find this fascinating, and detractors of Quentin Tarantino will appreciate his comments as well.
One Step Beyond: Catriona Maccoll Remembers A Spaghetti Splatter Classic is recollection from MacColl about her time filming The Beyond and her own career. As with all these sorts of ‘complete’ set of extras, some stories do overlap with disc 1’s Q & A and her commentary with Warbeck, but she is so charming it is easily overlooked.
Butcher Baker Zombiemaker: The Living Dead Legacy Of Gianetto De Rossi looks at the work of special effects artist De Rossi through his own eyes. Through a gravel voice that would make Lawrence Tierney sound like Shirley Temple in comparison, he discusses all the joys and woes of pre-CGI splatter filmmaking.
Fulci Flashbacks: Reflections On Italy’s Leading Paura Protagonist is a series of fond (sometimes) recollections of Fulci and his career from his associates and family.
Alternative Pre-Credit Sequence is just that! An alternative opening of the film, but with one of it’s many alternative titles. Interestingly, this one features a full colour version of the sepia opening of the usual release!!
There is also the International Theatrical Trailer.
The extras don’t just stop at what’s on the two discs either, with Arrow presenting the film in a box that contains a choice of four different covers, (The 7 Doors fo Death, the original title of L’aldila (or more correctly, according to the onscreen title ‘…E Tu Vivrai Nel Terrore! L’Aldila’ translated as ‘..And thou shalt live in terror! The Afterlife’.) or even Die Geisterstadt der Zombies (in English ‘The Ghost-town of the Zombies’), along with a two sided poster and a booklet with two articles by English horror journalist Calem Waddell and an introduction to The Beyond by Cabin Fever director, Eli Roth.
Since this edition was released, and pictured above, there has also been a steelbook version of the film with some amazing new art!
WISIA: I flat out love this film, it was a favourite when I was a kid, I loved it when I first grabbed it on DVD, and this BD version makes me simply burst with excitement. Arrow films have created a master film disc that is a suburb addition to any Blu-ray collection. Grab it now!