Thursday 19 May 2011

The Beyond

To Infinity And The Beyond

The Beyond Italy 1981
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Arrow Films Region 0

Right then. Next movie up in my series of discoveries that Lucio Fulci might have been a better director than I gave him credit for is the second in an unofficial trilogy which started with City Of The Living Dead (reviewed here) and finishes with The House By The Cemetery (which I’ve not yet seen at the time of writing this, but hope to rectify that sometime soon). I use the term trilogy in it’s loosest possible sense because the only elements that I can see that connect these three films uniquely is the fact that all three star Katherine MacColl in them and all three are concerned with entrance ways to hell... thus it’s sometimes collective title of The Gates of Hell Trilogy (depending on whether you buy into the whole trilogy argument or not).

This one starts of with a sepia pre-credits sequence (if your DVD from Arrow only has the pre-credits in black and white, find the receipt and follow this thread here) as a torch and pitchfork maddened mob of people... well I say maddened but for the most part they are quite sedate... kill a local artist in New Orleans because he has found an opening to hell and brought “icky goings on” to the local population... and probably because he does weird paintings too.

I have to say that this scene is quite brutal to watch, especially in its sepia tones, as the ugly mob first “chain-whip” the gentleman in question, opening deep lesions in his skin on various parts of his body, beginning with his face. This is the second chain-whipping sequence I’ve seen in a Fulci film and I don’t much like them to be honest... the first and more infamous one being the sequence of “village-mob” violence inflicted on Florinda Bolcan in Fulci’s giallo Don’t Torture A Duckling. I didn’t know that the one at the start of The Beyond was coming and I’m surprised to find that it’s not considered as infamous... or at least that’s the way it seems. Maybe it’s because this particular sequence in The Beyond is inflicted on a man instead of a woman?

Anyway, I digress. Once said artistic fellah has been given a good seeing too with the chains, his wrists are then hammered into a wall (right by one of the Gates Of Hell) and then he is given a good dissolving with acid (or possibly quicklime)... and then the credits roll!

After the credits are played out we are back in modern day (that is to say, in a time contemporary to this films original release date) and the film goes into colour and we find ourselves following Katherine MacColl’s character Liza, who has purchased the same house the painter was killed in... it’s a bit of a fixer upper to be honest with you. Liza has various people trying to do said “fixer-upping” but they keep getting killed off by undead zombies and so her source of handymen is dying out. She comes across a blind woman called Emily, played by Cinzia Monreale, and her Alsatian. Emily has white contact lenses to show the audience that
a) she’s blind and b) she’s probably also one of the undead come back in that “supernatural” way that only ghostly beings can... to warn Liza to leave her new house. One point I’d like to throw in here though... it seems that in a Fulci film, be you ghost, apparition or zombie, you’re just as likely to bleed from a gory denouement as any other character. I guess that kind of non-logic is kind of par for the course for the kind of film which seems specifically tailiored to people who like the spectacle of violence and have a morbid curiosity about it almost regardless of its context.

And there is quite a fair bit of gore here on show with lots of eye gouging, blood pumping and various acid-pourings thrown into the mix. Added to this is an absolutely laughable scene where Liza’s chief interior decorator gets stunned and eaten alive by a large number of tarantulas... this gets so over the top and goes on for so long that I defy you not to collapse in hysterics or at the very least chuckle enthusiastically at both the absolute unnecessariness of the scene and also at the bad prosthetic effects. Don’t get me wrong, these special effects guys did wonders with the limited resources and budgets they had... but sometimes it just doesn’t work and I’ve noticed that Fulci’s films in particular seem to be prone to bad “splatter effects” for want of a better term.

Things get really gory when Liza’s doctor friend John, played by cult horror star David Warbeck, starts shooting at zombies. Anyone else would be a quick learn but good ol’ John will shoot a few in the chest and then shoot one in the head... and still not twig that the head shots are the only things which are taking these creatures down. I mean seriously, this character is mentally challenged. He wastes ammo like tic-tacs and just keeps on shooting bullets into parts of zombies other than their heads for absolutely no apparent reason. Except when he runs out of bullets and corners himself in a room just so we can see his friend sliced up with flying glass. When the zombies finally get into the room he’s holed up in though... his gun magically has bullets back in it!

What? What the -?

So what does he start doing again? Yeah, that’s right, you guessed it... shooting zombies in the chest. Hello! Earth to Fulci, earth to Fulci. Squib effects lose their effectiveness after you’ve seen a few! We don’t need to see that again at the cost of a characters intelligence.

All this probably makes The Beyond sound like a bit of a laugh fest and, to be honest, in some places it is... but, like his excellent City Of The Living Dead before it, the film scores big on atmosphere... such as the moody and perhaps a little less ambiguous ending than people might have led one to believe, or the sequence with a little gorehound gag (and in this case I do mean gorehound) which twists around the expectations of the "line of attack" in a sequence which is very much a dead steal (um... yeah homage... right) from a similar famous sequence in Dario Argento’s Suspiria.

Ultimately, this film is quite moody when it’s not trying hard to be bloody and although I wouldn’t quite rate it as highly as City Of The Living Dead, it does avoid that one element that made that earlier film a lot weaker... the zombies in The Beyond don’t magically teleport all over the place! This is good news.

Still, a very good entry into the Italian horror cycle and one which I’m very glad to have seen. My Fulci “hit” pile is starting to even up with my Fulci “miss” pile.

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