Tag Archives: horror film

The Beyond

The Beyond

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 14 March 2011

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Lucio Fulci

Writers: Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo, Lucio Fulci

Original title: E tu vivrai nel terrore – L’aldilí 

Cast: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale

Italy 1981

87 mins

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?

Jim Harper



Format: DVD

Release date: 10 May 2010

Distributor: Icon

Directors: Banjong Pisanthanakun, Paween Purikitpanya, Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, Parkpoom Wongpoom

Writers: Banjong Pisanthanakun, Paween Purikitpanya, Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, Parkpoom Wongpoom

Original title: See prang

Cast: Laila Boonyasak, Maneerat Kham-uan, Kantapat Permpoonpatcharasuk, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk

Thailand 2008

111 mins

As with most horror anthologies, Phobia (or 4bia to give the film its alternative, gimmicky title) is a mixed bag. A quartet of ghost stories from Thailand that vary in stylistic tricks and genre clichés, they are united by the impression they give of being extended 10-minute shorts hastily jammed together with no particular format. Some of the stories are linked by references to other characters but there’s no common theme or central thread, and the title itself is misleading: this isn’t an exploration of different phobias, just a straightforward play on people’s understandable and natural fear of ghosts.

The first segment, Happiness, is throwaway. A lonely woman is trapped in her apartment thanks to a broken leg and begins a text conversation with an admirer from beyond the grave. With little dialogue and the girl constantly flipping up her mobile to check for messages, it seems to have been written by the cut-throat producers from the Orange ads and proves why interacting with technology just doesn’t make for good cinema, no matter how much the phone companies want it to happen.

This is followed by Tit for Tat, a jittery, flashy attempt to create a mythological villain in the style of Japan’s Ring or Death Note. The rushed story sees a school kid take revenge on a gang of bullies by invoking some sort of devilish spirit from a book, the gimmick being that whoever looks at the page is instantly killed. This results in some splattery deaths that would be vastly improved if director Paween Purikitpanya stopped his pop video editing and filter changes to give the characters some room to breathe. Tension is sacrificed for gore, perhaps to cram in the thrills lacking from Happiness, and it quickly descends into muddy and unnecessary computer effects that only prove why all successful horror movies employ the ‘less is more’ approach.

The second half is a vast improvement with In the Middle being the anthology’s stand-out, not because it’s particularly scary but because it keeps a tight, coherent plot, revolving around a group of lads on a camping holiday who are haunted by a friend after he’s drowned. It’s the most post-modern of the collection with the guys talking about twists in movies and ghost stories while being trapped in one themselves. Like Scream it’s self-referential, director Parkpoom Wongpoom even gives away the ending to his own film Shutter, and the humour is engaging until it reveals a neat little shock of its own.

Last Fright is the most technically accomplished of the bunch, a slow-burning chiller that doesn’t rely on ropey effects, just old-fashioned storytelling. It follows an air stewardess looking after the sole passenger on a plane who she inadvertently kills due to a food allergy. She must then make the return journey with the body, which, of course, comes back to haunt her. Thunderstorms and sheer panic evoke William Shatner’s desperate passenger in the classic Twilight Zone episode ‘Nightmare at 20000 Feet’ but Last Fright‘s slow start sums up the issue with Phobia as a whole; that at half an hour, each story stretches its concept thinly - except for Tit for Tat, which feels like a feature film stripped of its characterisation - and put together it’s a lengthy exercise, but one that does showcase Wongpoom’s skill as an accomplished horror director.

Richard Badley

Phobia screened at the Terracotta Festival of Far East Film in May 2010.

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror

Nosferatu 1
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror

Format: Blu-ray*

Release date: 23 November 2015

Distributor: BFI

Director: F.W. Murnau

Based on: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Original title: Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens

Cast: Max Schreck, Alexander Granach, Greta Schröder

Germany 1922

89 minutes

Hailed as a masterpiece of early German cinema and still regarded as one of the best horror films ever made, the 1922 classic Nosferatu has stood the test of time, despite a shaky start. Unable to secure the film rights to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, FW Murnau changed key aspects of the text in order to make his film. This subsequently led to the Stoker estate successfully suing the production company (Prana-Film) for copyright infringement, leaving them bankrupt. In spite of a court order for all copies of the film to be destroyed, worldwide distribution ensured copies would remain intact. Nosferatu has since influenced and inspired generations of filmmakers, spawning loving remakes and homages in the process.

Nosferatu stands independently from Dracula, yet the narrative structure is both true to the original and surprisingly complex. After cheerful businessman Hutter takes a seemingly innocent trip to the Carpathian Mountains to secure a real estate deal with the elusive Count Orlok, he falls ill, without ever suspecting that the cause might be the bite marks on his neck. Meanwhile Orlok embarks on a voyage across the sea to take up residence in Hutter’s town. The ship’s rat-infested cargo unleashes a plague upon the town, and though Hutter is reunited with his young wife Ellen, she realises she must succumb to the vampire in order to overpower him.

To consider Nosferatu simply as a key example of the German Expressionist style prominent in the early 1920s somewhat obscures Murnau’s leanings towards formal qualities, and his use of techniques heavily influenced by nineteenth-century gothic romantic paintings. Nosferatu‘s outdoor locations give a sense of realism, but camera tricks distort perceptions of time and space. Idyllic landscapes can quickly become fearsome, evoking the uncanny and obliterating boundaries between the real and unreal. Yet it is, perhaps, the expressionist elements that help make Nosferatu the iconic film that it is. Most striking is the now infamous image of the huge distorted shadow of the vampire; when he ascends the stairs to Ellen’s room his deformed figure calls to mind all incarnations of (childhood) fears, the terrifying ghosts and monsters which exist in the imagination.

Brought to life by Max Schreck, Count Orlok possesses an other-worldly presence not seen in cinema before or since. His features are grotesquely exaggerated: ears, nose and teeth protrude from a skeletal face, and his hands are claw-like as they delve at his prey: the bizarre physicality of Schreck’s performance complements the expressionist aesthetic of the film. Associated with rats and pestilence, Orlok is a world away from the charming and seductive Dracula depicted by Christopher Lee in the Hammer films. However, an undercurrent of perverse sexuality and desire runs through the film, and the predatory nature of the vampire is literally examined under a microscope by the scientists, as if it can be understood rationally. But this is to no avail.

Nosferatu was the first of many Dracula films, and its unique aesthetic reflects the level of innovation in the German film industry at that time. This definitive two-disc set is exquisitely restored, with painstaking resurrection of the original music and intertitles. With special features including a 96-page book and a making-of documentary, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into.

This review refers to the 2007 Eureka Entertainment ‘Masters of Cinema’ DVD release.

Lindsay Tudor

* Special features of the newly remastered BFI Blu-ray release include a video essay by Christopher Frayling and the two short films Le Vampire by Jean Painlevé and The Mistletoe Bough by early film pioneer Percy Stow, which features a new score by Saint Etienne’s Pete Wiggs. The disc also includes a fully illustrated booklet featuring film credits, film notes by David Kalat and an essay on Albin Grau and Nosferatu’s occultist origins by Brian J Robb.