This week, I've had the pleasure of trying to decode Lucio Fulci's masterpiece, 'The Beyond
' and I urge you to do the same. However, as said in my last review of Fulci's, 'House By The Cemetery
' - for both films the director is quoted as saying, "my idea was to make an absolute film... there's no logic to it, just a succession of images..." And here is my play-by-play...
The film opens up in sepia-toned Louisiana, circa 1927 at an old hotel - and cuts between three scenes happening simultaneously. A crew of torch and chain-wielding men in row boats make their way across a lake on this very stormy night. Enter a mysterious young woman (Cinzea Monreale) alone in her home. After a few lightening strikes, she sees a strange book on the floor entitled EIBON (pronounced ay-bon)
. Back at the hotel in Room 36 is a man (Antoine Saint-John) named Schweik (pronounced Svike)
who is painting what looks to be a great sea of bodies. The woman reads aloud: "In this book are collected all the prophecies of Eibon, handed down from generation to generation, over more than 4,000 years..." Meanwhile, the lynch mob raids the hotel in droves and reach Room 36. The painter knows... They break into his room and corner him. One man speaks out, "YOU UNGODLY WARLOCK!!" and strikes the painter in the face with a fistful of chains. "Because of you this hotel (STRIKE!) and this town (STRIKE!!) will be cursed forever! (STRIKE!!!)" The mysterious woman continues reading: "The seven dreaded gateways are concealed in seven curs-ed places... Woe be unto him who ventures near without knowledge..." The mob drags the painter into the hotel's basement, as the painter pleads with them to reconsider. "Be careful what you do... because this hotel was built over one of the seven doors of Evil - and only I can save you!" The men take him to the end of the basement's corridor and continue to chain whip him. They then prop him up against a stone wall and crucify him; hammering nails into his wrists. Even though this entire pre-credit sequence is still in sepia, the gore is never spared. They then throw buckets of "acid" onto his face and body as we watch poor Schweik melt away. The camera pans to a nearby wall onto an image that resembles a sideways 21 inscribed into the stone. Okay, pause right here. I went to a baptist school for about 10 years (which explains my love for horror) and I distinctly recall being cattled into an auditorium where preachers "educated" us and showed images of evil. One of these images was the sideways 21 that the film uses - now I was around eight at the time, but according to them, it has to do with chapter 21 in the last book of the Bible; Revelations. That said, the woman's voice is then heard as she finishes the passage: "Woe be unto him who opens one of the seven gateways to hell, because through that gateway Evil will invade the world..." This is the start of this fascinating film.
A young woman named Liza (played by the talented Catriona MacColl) has just inherited the hotel from her rich uncle and is having it fixed up. Ahhh, thee old cliche! Now the hotel also comes with two very odd staff members, Arthur (Gianpaolo Saccarola) and his mother Martha (Veronica Lazar). It doesn't take but a minute for Fulci to kick things into gear. A house painter falls from a "six-foot wide" scaffold after being startled by a woman inside the hotel; the mysterious woman from 1927 staring back at him with milky eyes. Enter a doctor named John (David Warbeck) who arrives at the accident scene to check the man out. This scene is primarily constructed for the meeting of the two main characters, Liza and John. Since the hotel has been dormant for some time, there are major plumbing problems and even a flooded basement. Who do you call when faced with a tough gig such as this? Joe the Plumber (Giovanni Denava). I find the movie takes a cryptic turn for the best once he is taken down into the basement. Martha says that she has cleared a path just for him at the far end of the cellar. Joe looks at her as if he knows what must be done... "Thank You, Martha" - he says in a sexually sinister manner. Arriving at the end of the basement, Joe begins to dig away at the soggy, leaking wall and creates a hole. Suddenly, a hand grabs his face, penetrates his ocular cavity and scoops out good ol' Joe's eyeball! The gate has been opened and nothing from this point on is rational; but that is the beauty of this film.
Driving along, Liza finds a woman standing in the center of a dreamlike stretch of road with a seeing-eye dog at her side. Liza gets out of her of car and meets Emily, the woman with milky eyes spotted in the hotel earlier. Emily knows exactly who Liza is and tells of how she has been waiting for her. Strangely enough, Liza heads back to Emily's house - only to sit in her lavish home and listen to Emily play the theme from the movie on her piano. Meanwhile, Martha seems to care about Joe's whereabouts (maybe to make sure he acted as the martyr needed to open the gate). When she finds Joe, he is slumped over spewing an awesome concoction of blood and egg yoke. Just then Schweik the Painter makes an appearance as he floats to the surface of the flooded basement; all whilst Martha is as calm as a cucumber (minus the implied ZOOM of shock). In closing the scene with Emily, Liza asks why she suggested to give up her hotel, in which Emily replies, "I can't explain it to you, just take my word for it. Go back to where you came from and hurry!" If a strange blind girl says that she's been waiting for me and to ditch my new residence, I'd get the fuck out - but that's just me. The film switches to a hospital as we watch John stitch up Joe the Plumber's torso. John's co-worker, Harris (Al Cliver), hooks up a brain machine to Schweik to see if any waves still exist in this potato-looking corpse. Of course when Harris leaves, the machine registers activity... Joe's wife, Mary-Ann (Laura De Marchi) and child, Jill (Maria Pia Marsala) arrive at the hospital to dress him for the funeral. The wife trims a suit to fit his dead corpse as the daughter waits in the hallway. After the suit is placed on Joe, the wife turns around and sees something off-camera, then screams a gut-wrenching scream! An open jar of "water" begins to spill over from the top of a shelf in slo-mo. When the girl runs in, she sees her mother lying on the floor as this liquid spills onto her face. She begins to melt into green and white foam - save for when her eyes explode like bursting ketchup packets. As the bloody foam begins to envelop the floor, the little girl guns for a door and opens it to escape... only she finds a standing corpse falling towards her. More Screams!
In the next scene, we are at an old-fashioned New Orleans funeral, as friends and family of Joe the Plumber pay their condolences to the young girl. Afterwards, she walks with her head down in sadness, then looks into the camera with white, milky eyes... To me, these segments represent witnessing pure evil and being stripped of "color" or life. If our eyes are the windows to our souls then theirs has been taken from them. Back at the hotel, Liza finds Emily slouched in the corner of the lobby, sitting in the dark. "Why didn't you listen to me Liza?" she says in a daze, "I wanted to spare you, now I'll have to tell you everything." She goes on to reveal that everyone disappeared from the hotel sixty years ago and that Schweik the Painter found the key to one of the gateways to hell... So, Liza investigates, enters Room 36 and sees Schweik crucified to the bathroom wall (just like the cellar, only this time in the can). She has John check out the bathroom and sure enough, only nails are found in the wall - but I thought he was killed in the basement? Whatever the case, DO NOT LET YOURSELF GET HUNG UP ON THE IRRATIONAL!! JUST ENJOY THE RIDE!!!
The realtor of the Seven Doors Hotel, Martin Avary, (Michele Mirabella) wants to help spruce up the place - so he goes to the library and finds the blueprints of the cellar. Just when he sees something amiss with the prints, a rogue bolt of lighting flashes and knocks him off of his ladder to the floor. Evil plastic tarantulas spliced with live arachnids, crawl from underneath the bookshelf and make their way to the seemingly paralyzed Avary. They crawl up his body, rest on his face and begin biting away at his lips, tongue, nose and eyes. We are treated to this display of latexy gore for 4 minutes! Poor Mr. Avary... Now it's Martha's turn. She enters Room 36 to "clean" and finds Joe the Plumber chillin' below a dirty water line in the bath tub (I thought they buried him??) No matter, because he more than makes up for it when he SLAMS the back of her head onto one of Schweik's nails - in turn, Roto-rooting her right eyeball out of her skull by four inches!
The cat is out of the bag and Emily is next on the list of victims. She was once a proud supporter of Schweik in the 20's and "did what she was sent to do", but the legions of hell-spawned zombies come back to claim her. Her dog, Dicky, kicks some zombie-ass and saves Emily - right up until he rips her throat and ear off! More nonsensical business goes down in this skewed world of Fulci. John and Liza hit the hospital when hordes of zombie patients attack them. Joe the Plumber's daughter, Jill, is found hiding in the Autopsy Theatre and joins the cast. Harris is also found hiding and takes an exploding window to the face, as glass shards penetrate and make him POP! When getting cornered by the undead, John opens a door and finds Schweik awaiting them. After numerous bullets, Schweik enters the room. Little white-eyed Jill becomes crazed and attacks Liza as John is fending off zombies - but no one fucks with his Liza! Without hesitation, he shoots Jill in the forehead, taking it clean off! He grabs Liza and heads through the door that Schweik was housing. The next shot has John and Liza running down a spiral staircase... only to find themselves in the basement of the hotel?! Madness ensues and John and Liza walk towards the light. Suddenly they find themselves facing a barren land with bodies strewn about. They turn to go back only to find they are now in a horizonless environment or a "sea of darkness". Turning around once more, we see that their eyes are stark white. An ominous voice speaks out: "And you will face the sea of darkness and all therein that may be explored". The last shot is the two standing with their backs turned to us, looking at this barren land. They disappear and the image becomes identical to that of Schweik's painting...
Lucio Fulci's Gothic Zombie Trilogy Includes: 'City of the Living Dead
' (which I will review shortly), 'The Beyond
' and 'House by the Cemetery
'. I highly recommend purchasing this milestone in Italian Horror. Enjoy.
THE STORY: Creepy. Irrational. Brilliant.
THE GORE: Excellent Special F/X work by Gianetto De Rossi. Sometimes cheesy, but fun. Lots of it!
THE PACING: Fairly Strong.
THE DUB: Great. Only the realtor was pretty bad - and not humorous.
THE MUSIC: Fantastic score by Fabio Frizzi
THE ATMOSPHERE: Outstanding.