Among fans of graphic, visceral horror, there are few names as highly regarded as that of Lucio Fulci. Thirteen years after his death, Fulci is still considered one of Europe’s most important purveyors of cinematic terror and his greatest films are regular fixtures in fans’ and critics’ best-of lists. In a career that spanned nearly half a century, Fulci directed more than 50 feature films as well as a number of documentaries and had countless credits as screenwriter, producer, assistant director and special effects technician. His extensive filmography includes a variety of different genres, from comedies, musicals and Westerns to historical dramas and soft-core erotica. Although his efforts in these fields were occasionally excellent, Fulci’s best (and best-known) work was in the horror genre. It is there that he made his lasting contributions to international cult cinema.
The pinnacle of Fulci’s career came in 1981 with the release of The Beyond. The second part of a conceptually linked trilogy that includes City of the Living Dead (1980) and The House by the Cemetery (1982), The Beyond is the tale of an abandoned Louisiana hotel situated over one of the seven gates of hell. As the hotel’s new owner, Eliza Merrill (Catriona MacColl) must deal with the supernatural visions and manifestations that begin when she starts to renovate the old building. One of the workmen is severely injured after he sees something in one of the upstairs windows, while the plumber has his eyes gouged out by a thing in the cellar. Eventually the dead begin to rise, as the hotel expands its malign influence. With the assistance of the sceptical Dr McCabe - played by Italian cinema stalwart David Warbeck - Eliza must find a way out of the growing nightmare.
As this synopsis suggests, The Beyond features plenty of Fulci’s trademark graphic gore, including the notorious crucifixion scene and a Scanners-style head explosion, perpetrated on a young child, no less. Suffice to say, it is not a film for the squeamish. Not all of these episodes work as well as they might, most noticeably the ‘spider attack’ scene, in which the special effects are laughably poor, despite being generally excellent throughout the rest of the film. Like Dario Argento in Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), Fulci uses The Beyond‘s basic storyline as a means of connecting his increasingly grotesque and terrifying set-pieces, paying little attention to the overall structure of the film. This has led to a certain amount of hostility from first-time viewers, frustrated by Fulci’s refusal to maintain a linear progression or a solid internal logic. However, he does succeed in his primary goal of presenting the horror film as a nightmare, where little makes sense but everything is inherently frightening. He is ably assisted in this by Sergio Salvati’s excellent cinematography and Fabio Frizzi’s score, both of which help to establish the atmosphere of unease that filters through the entire film.
The chances are that fans of Euro-horror and cult movies - or just ambitious horror films in general - will already have sampled the alien delights of The Beyond, but anyone who hasn’t could do worse than pick up Arrow’s forthcoming Region 2 special edition. Wisely, Arrow have managed to include the extras from the earlier Grindhouse-Anchor Bay edition, including the MacColl and Warbeck’s commentary track, recorded shortly before the latter’s death. On top of this, we have a new and near-flawless print of the film itself, a commentary from Fulci’s daughter Antonella, new featurettes on MacColl, co-star Cinzia Monreale (a.k.a. Sarah Keller), SFX technician Giannetto De Rossi and Fulci himself. One final question remains, however: why is the opening sequence in black and white, as opposed to the sepia tones seen in the Sergio Salvati-approved Grindhouse edition?