Saturday, 28 December 2013

Review - The Beyond (1981 - Dir. Lucio Fulci)

And so we reach the end of this mammoth zombie watching spree and what a film to finish with. This seems to have come at a perfect time after my review of Hell's Ground, a film that had lots of weaknesses, yet I couldn't help but like it. The Beyond takes that idea to the extreme.

Liza (Catriona MacColl) inherits an old hotel that funnily enough stands on one of the seven doors to hell. She teams up with Dr John McCabe (David Warbeck) and they investigate the mysterious occurrences. What follows can only be described as a disjointed nightmare that throws logic straight out of the window to its blood soaked death.

I could write a review completely slating this film. It has so many problems. In the excellent book Beyond Terror, Stephen Thrower manages to justify pretty much every aspect in a very convincing and academic manner. (Beyond Terror is well worth tracking down if you're a Fulci fan although it is a tad expensive: £175.98 for a used copy, and for a brand spanking one - £7,708.30.) I think the justification only works if you already love The Beyond though. If you don't it must be fairly easy to brush aside everything he says.

We come back to the all important special ingredients I mentioned in the Hell's Ground review. There is one moment that stands out as slightly nasty, when our hero shoots a girl in the head without thinking about it, (whereas the rest of the time he has a right ponder before killing anything). I think Fulci filmed it that way purely for the shock value of the effect. But apart from that the atmosphere and tone are nigh on perfect. The film gradually descends from having a lovely drink in a New Orleans bar into the fog shrouded bleakness of hell as it reaches its climax. 

The ending is my favourite of any film (just pipping The Wicker Man). I doubt many other people will, but I shed a tear without fail. Maybe it's the fact that David Warbeck is not with us any more that makes it all the more poignant. In this scene Fulci has created a stunning version of hell that is far worse than the usual fieriness and Satan sticking his red hot poker up sinners' backsides. Supposedly the corpses were all homeless people that Fulci talked into acting for him. The visuals are only half of the story though.

The music that kicks in at the end is stunning. Little snippets are heard at various points in the film, but just as the music in City of the Living Dead signifies the beginning of the final act, the soundtrack starts in full force as the zombies prepare themselves for an onslaught. When the music is revealed in all its glory, it always has a massive impact on me. I have to listen to it at a very loud volume, but goosebumps and prickly arm hair ensue on every listening. It fits the on-screen action perfectly and it's also one of the only times when I will sit through the credits just to get the full musical experience. 

Here are some of the things that I love about The Beyond, in no particular order:

  • The casting of Veronica Lazar (Mater Tenebrarum in Argento's Inferno) and all of the expectations that go along with that. Her conversation with Joe the plumber is a pure slice of red herring (and it's really funny).
  • The stilted dialogue (see the above conversation as a prime example).
  • The lighting in the scene between Liza and Emily. Beautifully shot and if it doesn't make a plot point completely obvious the next sequence where Emily runs out hammers it home. The first time I watched this I thought there was something wrong with the sound, but a minute later it all became clear. Clever stuff.
  • The baffling spider attack, complete with those shiftily moving pipe clean spiders in the background.
  • John McCabe sticking to his rational beliefs for virtually the whole film. Despite the fact that he can see that shooting them in the head is the only way to take the zombies down, he perseveres by shooting them in the torso, refusing to believe in anything supernatural.
  • The moment in the lift where David Warbeck tries to load his gun by sticking a bullet down the barrel end accompanied by a couple of frames of Catriona MacColl laughing at him.
  • The bloke in the book shop who can't stop giggling.
  • The fairly rank pile of matted hair that Martha pulls out of the bath.
  • The gorgeous shot of a very straight road with a car bombing along directly towards the viewer.
  • The way that Fulci lingers over inconsequential moments, for example, the characters walking up to Emily's house is dragged out for ages.
  • "Dicky attack!" Any film that contains a dog called Dicky can't be all bad.
  • The creepy piano soundtrack playing in the background only for it be revealed that Emily is actually playing it for her guest, Liza. (Most people put on a bit of Kings of Leon for their guests but not Emily.)
  • The gore.

Yep, the gore. The Beyond starts with a black and white scene that involves some rather nasty chain whipping. As usual, Fulci makes us watch this in intimate detail for a good long while. The film then never lets up. There's more of the trademark Fulci eye trauma, acid attacks and gushing neck wounds. Saying all that, it's not your usual zombie flesh munching spectacle. The zombies' mouths are pretty much unused (maybe this is due to the fact that zombies weren't originally going to be in it, but the German financiers insisted) even so, they are still very much a threat. The scenes in the hospital have to be my favourite scenes of zombie action. I don't think the Blu-ray format does The Beyond many favours as the gore probably looks better on old pirated VHS copies. Don't get me wrong, it still looks great, but that grainy distressed look suits the style far more.

If you've never seen this, don't get your hopes up. My rating is definitely a personal thing, although I know of other people who also hold this film in an equally high regard (and still other people who think it's rubbish). Watch it with the knowledge that it may well be a film that you'll come to love. 

Well that's it for our Year of the Dead (hooray!) and very soon we'll have some more information about the FA Cup of Actors. Happy New Year to you dear reader.


If you like this you could also try:
Zombie Flesh Eaters, The House by the Cemetery, City of the Living Dead.

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