The Beyond Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)
In 1927 New Orleans, a mob descends on the Seven Doors Hotel, capturing the caretaker, an artist named Schweick (Antoine Saint-John), and murdering him for the assumed crime of witchcraft. Over five decades later, in 1981, Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl) inherits the hotel from a rich uncle and begins renovations. Little does she realize that the building lies atop one of the seven gateways to Hell. As the repairs are waylaid by a series of freak accidents and mysterious deaths, Liza is visited by a spooky blind woman named Emily (Cinzia Monreale), who warns her to abandon the project. Meanwhile, Liza befriends a local physician named Dr. John McCabe (David Warbeck), who investigates Emily’s claims that re-opening the hotel will open the gateway.
Famed cult filmmaker Lucio Fulci had worked in movies since the early 1950s; first as a writer, then as a director, beginning with I ladri (The Thieves) in 1959. During the post-WWII era, Italian cinema was a fad-driven industry, so Fulci dabbled in a broad scope of genres, including comedy, pop musical, parody, peplum (sword and sandal), spaghetti western, Eurospy, historical drama, poliziotteschi, and giallo. But it was the explosive horror of his violent horror movies that came to define his later career. Known by fans worldwide as The Godfather of Gore, Fulci broke out of the Italian genre cycle and into the international spotlight with a 1979 cash-in on George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead known as Zombie, entitled Zombi 2 in Italy, in an attempt to trick audiences into thinking it was a direct sequel to Romero’s movie, which was released there as Zombi. Following Zombie’s surprise success (by some accounts, its international profits may have out-weighed Dawn of the Dead’s), he enjoyed a brief period of relative creative freedom – the type usually only enjoyed by the region’s arthouse darlings (Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni) and international superstars (Sergio Leone, Dario Argento). Italian producers asked for more of the same, offering him an excuse to experiment with increasingly surrealistic and esoteric successions of horrific images. It seems that the only real guidelines were a minimal budget and the guaranteed presence of more flesh-eating zombies. Grindhouse and drive-in fans didn’t care, as long as the maestro continued dabbling in taboo-crushing gore effects. He obliged in kind.
Fulci’s fanbase tends to consider The Beyond (Italian: ...E tu vivrai nel terrore! L'aldilà; aka: Seven Doors of Death, 1981) his masterpiece. It’s certainly hard to argue against the virtues of such an unrestrained, stylistic tour de force, even if, like me, you’ve grown to appreciate the director’s slightly more restrained and plot-heavy giallo efforts, such as Perversion Story (Italian: Una Sull'altra; aka: One on Top of the Other, 1969), A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Italian: Una Lucertola con la pelle di donna; aka: Schizoid, 1971), Don’t Torture a Duckling (Italian: Non si Sevizia un Paperino; aka: The Long Night of Exorcism, 1972), and The Psychic (Italian: Sette Note in Nero; aka: Seven Notes in Black, 1977). The Beyond is usually grouped with City of the Living Dead (Italian: Paura nella città dei morti viventi; aka: The Gates of Hell, 1980) and House by the Cemetery (Italian: Quella villa accanto al cimitero, 1981) as part of a loose “Zombie,” “Gothic,” or “Gates of Hell” trilogy. Perhaps Zombie might fit the concept better than House by the Cemetery, considering that the latter doesn’t feature any zombies, rather a self-made monster that kills so that he can harvest organs, but the trilogy as it stands makes sense given the vibe of the three films in question. The other problem with the canonical ordering is that House by the Cemetery suffers being placed after three of Fulci’s most indelible motion pictures. In comparison to it and every other movie Fulci made – regardless of your personal ranking – The Beyond feels like a thematic climax and creative apex to the second half of his career (noting that he directed between 15 and 17 movies, depending on your definition of shared credits).
In an interview for Luca M. Palmerini & Gaetano Mistretta’s Spaghetti Nightmares: Italian Fantasy-Horrors As Seen Through The Eyes Of Their Protagonists (Fantasma Books, 1996), Fulci described the construction of The Beyond as such:
My idea was to make an absolute film with all the horrors of our world. It’s a plotless film: a house, people, and dead men coming from The Beyond. There’s no logic in it, just a succession of images. We tried, in Italy, to make films based on pure themes without plot and The Beyond, like Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980), refuses conventional and traditional structures.
He often repeated the same basic message in regards to both City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, though he’d occasionally use the term Artaudian in place of absolute. As the quote verifies, other Italian genre filmmakers (like Dario Argento) had dabbled in delusory, surreal imagery, but, like Roger Corman’s earlier Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, it was often framed within the confines of a literal dream sequence. As directors fought to get more shocking and exploitative imagery into their formula-driven gialli, hallucinations became more common. Examples include an imagined zombie sex scene in Armando Crispino’s Autopsy (Italian: Macchie Solari, 1974) and a giant spider rape fantasy at the heart of Riccardo Freda’s Murder Obsession (aka: Murder Syndrome and Delirium, 1981). Fulci himself notched one of the earliest examples when he centered Lizard in a Woman’s Skin’s mystery around a mysterious nightmare.
Like the best of his Italian horror counterparts, Fulci didn’t only use gore as an excuse to titillate and shock his audience. Graphic violence also played a key role in the texture of his most Artaudian movies. Gore is rarely gratuitous, especially not in the case of The Beyond, where the bloody imagery serves the overriding theme of inevitable decay. Chemical and physical breakdown processes ooze from every pore of the film. The hotel itself rots alongside the people. Its basement impossibly waterlogged and its walls are crumbling into pulp. Dr. John’s hospital is supposedly a place of healing, but every room seems to be yet another morgue inhabited by yet another collection of impossibly decomposed cadavers. This accelerated disintegration is most vividly represented in Giannetto De Rossi & Germano Natali’s uniquely disgusting special effects, including the fizzy oxidization of the warlock Schweick via shovel-fulls of quicklime and the poor widow (Laura De Marchi) who has a bottle of sulfuric acid poured onto her face by some invisible force.
Short of other ways to deconstruct the human body without weapons, Fulci calls upon the power of spiders for a particularly bewildering moment. This scene, in which Liza’s friend Martin (Michele Mirabella) is paralyzed by a fall and ravaged by spiders, fits the Artaudian method more aptly than maybe any other moment in the film (aside from perhaps the arbitrary acid bath), but it also grinds the film’s undervalued momentum to a halt. It doesn’t help that it features the most ineffective special effects in the movie and often breaks the fragile suspension of disbelief in audience members not already attuned to the fluctuations inherent in Italian genre output. The appearance of string and wind-up-operated spiders that are meant to blend in with a couple of flesh & blood tarantulas and stretchy skin effects tend to elicit laughter and knocks the film down a peg to so-bad-it’s-good status for too many outsiders. It’s particularly regretful, because Massimo Lentini’s fastidious production design, De Rossi & Natali’s effects, and (especially) Sergio Salvati’s ominous cinematography otherwise constantly overcome the budget limitations while bringing Fulci’s ultimate nightmare vision to the screen.
The Artaudian Trilogy (that’s right, I’m calling it that now) is linked by this base creative staff, as well as lead performances from British actress Catriona MacColl (using the pseudonym “Katherine,” because her given name more or less translates to “Fat Cathy” in Italy) and screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, who wrote with and for Fulci from The Psychic in 1977, through Manhattan Baby (Italian: Il malocchio; aka: Eye of the Evil Dead) in 1982. Sacchetti was one of Italian horror’s unsung heroes, having worked with everyone from Mario Bava (Bay of Blood [Italian: Ecologia del delitto, 1971]) to Dario Argento (The Cat O’ Nine Tails [Italian: Il gatto a nove code, 1971]), Sergio Martino (Scorpion with Two Tails [Italian: Assassinio al cimitero etrusco, 1982]), Enzo G. Castellari (1990: The Bronx Warriors [Italian: 1990: I guerrieri del Bronx, 1982]), Lamberto Bava (Demons [Italian: Demoni; aka: Dance of the Demons, 1985]), Ruggero Deodato (Cut and Run [Italian: Inferno in diretta, 1985]), Antonio Margheriti (Cannibal Apocalypse [Italian: Apocalypse domani, 1980]), and Michele Soavi (The Church [Italian: La chiesa, 1989]). In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone important to the Italian genre scene of the ‘70s and ‘80s that he didn’t work with (Aristide Massaccesi is the only one that comes to mind). When Fulci didn’t call on Sacchetti’s services for his exceedingly weird barbarian fantasy, Conquest (1983), the two had a falling-out that eventually erupted in a legal battle. Neither man’s work was ever as good after the break-up, though Sacchtti managed to remain relevant in the industry much longer.
Before The Beyond, Fulci’s favorite brand of violence already hinged on eyeball trauma. This began with a bloody spike in the eye in period melodrama Beatrice Cenci (aka: The Conspiracy of Torture, 1969) and grew into his career-defining moment was a scene in Zombie, in which a hungry ghoul pulls actress Olga Karlatos by the hair, eye-first into a giant wooden splinter. City of the Living Dead continued the tradition with a demon priest who could make his victim’s tear ducts bleed just by looking at them. When asked about his eyeball fetish, Fulci pragmatically responded “(Eyes) are the first thing you have to destroy, because they have seen too many bad things.” Fair enough. In The Beyond, an unfortunate plumber named Joe (Giovanni De Nava) has his peepers pressed out of his skull while searching for the source of the catastrophic leak in the basement. He later reappears in zombie/ghost form and shoves housekeeper Martha (Veronica Lazar) into a nail, which pierces the back of her skull and pops out her headlamp (running out of eyeball synonyms, here) in a rush of blood. The slow motion tarantulas that attack Martin use their mandibles to pierce and pluck out one of his baby blues before also removing his tongue. The Beyond also treats the concept of eye trauma in a less literal sense. It is implied that Emily is blind because she sacrificed her sight in order to escape Schweick’s influence (maybe even hell itself). The film then ends with the protagonists inexplicably lost in Schweick’s painting. While running from their dread, their eyes turn milky white, just like Emily’s.
Further in the Spaghetti Nightmares interview, Fulci elaborated:
What I wanted to get across in that film was the idea that all of life is often really a terrible nightmare and that our only refuge is to remain in this world, but outside of time. In the end, the two protagonists’ eyes turn white and they find themselves in a desert where there’s no light, no shade, no wind, no nothing.
Schweick’s painting is worse than a vision of the Christian concept of Hell, it is nothingness, which is a concept difficult to convey in a visual medium. This inexplicable, nihilistic horror is conceptually similar to the existential dread often described by Fulci favorite H.P. Lovecraft in his horror novels. This is actually the basis of an ongoing argument concerning the futility of trying to adapt such stories to film, noting that both City of the Living Dead and The Beyond feature direct references to Lovecraft’s literature, including the fictional town of Dunwich and the Book of Eibon. But, even without a grand Hollywood budget or the benefit of digital effects technology (the mostly nude, zombified bodies in the photographic representation of the painting were famously portrayed by homeless men that the production staff paid in alcohol to lay still for the camera), Fulci is able to convey stark metaphysical terror in these final shots.
Author James Russell acknowledges another quote from Fulci in his book, Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema (FAB Press, 2005), that suggests the director’s discontent with his own crisis of faith (which likely stemmed from a longstanding depression following the death of his wife in 1969) plays into The Beyond’s frighteningly empty version of hell:
I think that each man chooses his own inner hell corresponding to his hidden vices. So I am not afraid of hell, since hell is already in us. Curiously enough, I cannot imagine a paradise exists, though I am Catholic. Perhaps God has left me? Yet, I often envisage hell, since we live in a society where Hell can be perceived. Finally, I realize that paradise is indescribable. Imagination is much stronger when it is pressed by the terrors of hell,
Grindhouse Releasing ran into some trouble while producing this long-gestating Blu-ray release. From what I understand, the release was pushed back due to packaging issues, not issues with the transfer. This is their third release of the film, following two anamorphic DVDs, one they put out in 2000 in conjunction with Anchor Bay and Quentin Tarantino’s now defunct Rolling Thunder Pictures (who also helped with the distribution of a ‘midnight movie’ theatrical run), and a self published version of that same disc. Before that, most stateside fans had only rare VHS copies from Thriller Video (a big box edition with illustrations ripped from EC Comics) and LD Video Productions (a singularly ugly box with a photo of Charles Gray, who does not appear in the film) or a budget, non-anamorphic DVD from Diamond Entertainment. These and most of the grey-market video versions (I remember renting one with a ghostly airbrushed image on the cover) were the censored, 80-minute US release version, released under the title Seven Doors of Death (or sometimes Seven Doors TO Death).
An fun side effect of the review copies being held off for a couple of weeks is that I was able to see a (different?) 35mm print of The Beyond that Grindhouse was touring for midnight showings. The tour print is not in great shape – it’s littered with artifacts and missing the occasional frame – but is also clean and bright enough to be a good representation of what the movie would’ve looked like in theaters. It helped give me an idea of Fulci’s and Salvati’s original intentions as far as gamma correction, color timing, and contrast. For this review, I am comparing my memories of the 35mm print to this new HD transfer (top images), Arrow Video’s older Blu-ray release (middle image), and Grindhouse’s original anamorphic DVD (bottom image). I don’t think there’s any question that both Blu-rays are a substantial upgrade over the particularly dark, noisy, and misframed (about 2.30:1?) DVD. What is surprising is how different the two HD versions are. I had expected only minor variations between the two.
I assume Arrow got their scan from the same Italian source that supplied them and Blue Underground with various horror, giallo, and spaghetti western movies. Those transfers were all marred by CRT noise and blobby gradations, as was this one, though to a lesser extent. The issue presented itself in the guise of smoothing effects (basically DNR enhancement), crushed black edges, and speckled dancing noise around some of the edges. Grindhouse’s transfer has some issues with compression artifacts (slight noise/cross-colouration, low level noise) and is a bit rougher than the Arrow release, but it doesn’t look as digitally processed. In terms of texture, grain structure, and blending, it is the more natural choice. The Arrow release appears a bit sharper in these screen-caps, because the harsher gradations create harder elemental separations and, on occasion, crisper lines. But, again, the Grindhouse disc features more complex grading, which leads to more delicate details.
The color-timing and gamma is completely different between all three releases. Needless to say, the DVD is too dark, to the point that one of my screen-caps looks like a blank, black frame. The Arrow disc, on the other hand, is too light and too yellow – another common side effect of those faulty Italian CRT scans. Grindhouse’s image offers a more eclectic palette with pinker flesh tones, richer reds (important for all that blood), and a cooler overall tone. The tweaked gamma and contrast seem like a comfortable middle-ground between the DVD and Arrow’s Blu-ray, which does lead to some detail loss in the darkest shots, but also maintains a better, more Fulci-esque ‘mood.’ Salvati’s photography contrasts the darkness with some really bright images – especially the fluorescent-lit, blue-tinted hospital interiors and the eerie highway bridge shots – so both companies are toeing a fine line when setting their exposure levels.
When Grindhouse and Rolling Thunder first prepared The Beyond for its theatrical re-release and original DVD release, they remixed the original mono soundtrack into 5.1. I am personally not a fan of this track. Despite the best efforts of Academy Award-winning sound designer Paul Ottosson (The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty), the additional effects, which are added to broaden the scope of the track, sound too ‘artificial’ to my ears. This Blu-ray offers a total of four audio options – the 5.1 remix in DTS-HD Master Audio, a 2.0 downgrade of that remix in Dolby Digital, the original English mono in 2.0 DTS-HD MA, and the original mono in Dolby Digital. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is the most intense and expressive of the four. The uncompressed nature allows for big volume without any distortion (I actually had to turn it down below my normal settings so as to not drive the neighbors crazy) and, despite the digital tinge to the audio, I have to admit that Ottosson remained true to the spacey, nebulous qualities of the original soundtrack. I still prefer the mono English version, which is also presented quite clearly on this disc. Some of the louder overlapping noises are slightly muffling without, but the issue doesn’t overwhelming the track. The addition of the Italian version is nice for the sake of comparison, but the film was shot without sound and the two leads dub themselves on the English track, so there’s nothing more authentic about the Italian language version.
The 5.1 version does wonders for Fabio Frizzi’s soundtrack score as well, likely because Ottosson was working from a stereo source. There are some off moments, like the spider scene, where music is tossed way into the back speakers, but the spread mostly works. Frizzi seemed to have a bigger musical budget with each successive Fulci movie and was able to call upon a Mellotron tape-relay keyboard to create pretty convincing orchestral arrangements. He also included a real human chorus, including, reportedly, famed pop singer Nora Orlandi. Orlandi worked in many spaghetti westerns and gialli throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s (one of her songs from Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh can be heard sampled in Kill Bill Vol. 2). City of the Living Dead was his spookiest, but I agree with the general consensus that The Beyond was Frizzi’s masterpiece.
This three-disc set (two Blu-rays and one CD soundtrack) features a mix of old and new supplements, but the new does outweigh the old, making it the most comprehensive and up-to-date collection available.
Commentary with stars Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck – This track was originally recorded for an unreleased laserdisc and was first heard on Grindhouse/Anchor Bay’s DVD.
Introduction by actress Catriona MacColl (1:00, SD, from the DVD)
Color version of the sepia pre-credit sequence in both German and English (both 8:20, SD)
International, German, and assorted US trailers
TV and radio spots
Memories of Lucio Fulci (23:40, SD, Easter Egg) – A series of interviews from Mike Baronas and Kit Gavin’s Paura: Lucio Fulci Remembered documentary
Looking Back: The Creation of The Beyond (48:00, HD) – New interviews with producer Fabrizio De Angelis, screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, cinematographer Sergio Salvati, Fulci’s daughter (and personal historian) Antonella, poster designer poster artist Enzo Sciotti, composer Fabio Frizzi, and actor Giovanni De Nava (Joe the Plumber). The discussion covers the scope of the director’s career with emphasis on his horror output, before focusing more directly on the production of The Beyond. Despite being little more than a series of talking heads and stills, this extended featurette moves along quickly and includes plenty of anecdotal nuggets that even fans like myself might not have heard – especially anything concerning sales, Sciotti’s art, or Frizzi’s music.
The New Orleans Connection: Larry Ray (44:30, HD) – An new interview with American actor Larry Ray, who only appears in the film for about 3 minutes (he’s the guy that falls off the scaffold), but also acted as translator, location manager, local casting director, and more. It’s a great outsider’s view of the enigmatically Italian production.
Beyond and Back: Catriona MacColl (34:10, HD) – A new and extremely personable interview with actress and three-time Fulci collaborator.
See Emily Play: Cinzia Monreale (22:00, HD) – A new interview with actress, friend, and Fulci’s favourite victim.
Making it Real: Giannetto DeRossi and Maurizio Trani (32:30, HD) – New interviews with make-up artist/designer Giannetto DeRossi and special effects artist Maurizio Trani, both of whom cover their long working relationships with the director.
Lucio Fulci interview conducted on August of 1988 (part one 20:10, part two 13:00, SD) – A two-part audio interview (with subtitles, naturally), parts of which were published in Spaghetti Nightmares.
Eurofest '94: Lucio Fulci and David Warbeck (46:00, SD) – Vintage Q&A session with Fulci and star David Warbeck
Eurofest '96: Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck (5:20, SD)
1996 Festival of Fantastic Films: Catriona MacColl (12:20, SD)
1996 Festival of Fantastic Films: David Warbeck (21:10, SD)
Beyond Italy: U.S. Distributor Terry Levene (19:10, HD) – An interview with the U.S. distributor, borrowed from Arrow’s Blu-ray release.
Still galleries including production stills, behind-the-scenes photos, and promotional images from around the world.
Grindhouse Releasing Prevues
“And You Will Live in Terror” music video by Necrophagia (5:20, SD, Easter Egg)
Then and now footage of the film’s locations, most of which were used for the interviews (1:30, HD)
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.