The Beyond (1981)

*. Say what you will about the films of Lucio Fulci, the man knew how to talk the talk. Here he is defending The Beyond against critics complaining of its narrative incoherence: “People who blame The Beyond for its lack of story have not understood that it’s a film of images, which must be received without any reflection. They say it is very difficult to interpret such a film, but it is very easy to interpret a film with threads: Any idiot can understand Molinaro’s La Cage aux Folles, or even Carpenter’s Escape From New York, while The Beyond or Argento’s Inferno are absolute films.”
*. The notion of an “absolute film” sounds like Hitchcock’s “pure cinema” but that’s misleading. Pure cinema was a way of telling a story visually, but Fulci has no interest in story at all. “My idea,” he explains, “was to make an absolute film, with all the horrors of the world. Its a plotless film, there’s no logic to it, just a succession of images”

*. Those, then, are the ground rules. If you find The Beyond hard to follow then you just don’t understand that it’s a nightmare and isn’t meant to make sense. Don’t try to figure out what is going on, or why. Give up on trying to figure out who Emily is, what she’s doing, and why she has to be killed if she’s already dead. Or how that overturned bottle of acid just keeps pouring and pouring until it seems like it’s emptied a couple of bathtubs. Or how the doctor’s revolver magically reloads, and why he doesn’t understand, despite all the evidence he has in front of him, that you can only stop zombies by shooting them in the head. This film has nothing to do with such matters. Perhaps there are answers in the Book of Eibon, but good luck finding it!
*. We could even take this “absolute film” defence further. The Beyond is usually grouped together with two other movies — City of the Living Dead and The House by the Cemetery — as forming what’s been called the Gates of Hell trilogy. These three movies have little in common aside from dealing with very local outbreaks of zombies. But why even expect them to be connected? If The Beyond isn’t internally coherent, how could it function as part of a trilogy?

*. I’m not a big Fulci fan. I’ve mentioned before how I think he’s the least talented — and that by a long shot — of the big three Italian horror masters (the others being Mario Bava and Dario Argento). He has little skill when it comes to building suspense, preferring to wallow in gore and to throw a bunch of images up on the screen that should be scary but rarely are.
*. Maybe it’s the lack of any sense of pace. Damn but Fulci’s zombies move slowly. They’re just barely ambulatory. Other times they only stand around like mannequins. Then there are the big fuzzy spiders. They crawl about their victim here with a distinct lack of urgency. This seems to be Fulci’s default pace. Horror approaches very slowly and steadily, like the creep of bloody foam coming up to the girl’s shoes in the morgue. But it’s never very scary, or even threatening.

*. The slow pace and lack of a coherent story, with some help from bad dubbing and bad effects, make for some funny moments. I don’t laugh at Bava or Argento, even when they’re really bad, but I find myself laughing throughout a lot of Fulci’s movie, even, or especially, when he’s at his best. There’s something so wonderfully silly and surreal about them. Like Emily being shown running out of the house over and over. What’s going on there? Or is that another question not to be asked?
*. I just mentioned bad effects, and that’s a point I want to underline. After all, if you’re selling your movie as just a bunch of unrelated images, those images had better be good, right? Well, they’re not. The dog and spider puppets look terrible. The effect the film keeps going back to is having faces dissolve into sludge: with lime or acid dumped on them, or being torn apart by spiders. But the latex and goo just look fake. And look at the watery blood pumping out of Emily’s throat when it’s ripped open by her dog (a scene stolen from Suspiria, by the way). That’s just ridiculous. It clearly isn’t coming out of any arteries.

*. Fulci also has a thing about going after eyes, and this at least gives The Beyond it’s one “good” (if physically improbable) kill as the spike in the wall is driven through the back of Martha’s head and punches out her eyeball from behind. I’ll give him one point for that. But it’s not as good as the eye being impaled with a splinter of wood in Zombie.
*. By that time, however, The Beyond was so far behind on the score that it didn’t make any difference. For some reason this is considered a bit of a cult film, though I don’t think it even rates that highly among Fulci’s other work. I’d rather watch Don’t Torture a Duckling or Zombie or City of the Living Dead again than watch this. As always with Fulci there are a couple of standout scenes and some interesting sets (the morgue, the flooded basement, the moonscape of hell), but that’s it. All in all it’s a turgid, waxy mess that isn’t well put together or original in any way. It may be “absolute film” but that doesn’t make it any better.

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