The Beyond doesn’t have what you would call a great script. In fact, you could easily find fault in its pacing, its dialogue, and its very structure. But Italian goremeister Lucio Fulci’s movies aren’t exactly known for their tight writing. But what The Beyond smartly does in lieu of telling a compelling story is play to Fulci’s strengths: other-worldy creepiness and meaty practical gore effects. As such, the film forgoes typical narrative progression; the hope for resolution doesn’t crest and fall with act breaks. An overarching sense of doom is present throughout the film, like a thick fog that stubbornly refuses to dissipate.
Opening in Louisiana in 1927 (and subsequently squandering the opportunity to have a Randy Newman song in a Lucio Fulci movie, thematic appropriateness be damned), The Beyond starts hot out of the gate, as a torch-wielding mob ambushes a hotel and tracks down one of its tenants. This man, who appears to be a painter, also appears to be the guardian of one of the Seven Doors of Hell, which is located in the hotel’s basement. So they do what any reasonable mob would; they torture him by crucifying him, gouging out his eyes, and melting his skin. Fulci’s well-known predilection for ghastly ocular penetration is on full display here. If I were to pull a Joe Bob Briggs, I’d say that this movie has a total of about four wrecked eyeballs total, and is well-versed in sulfuric-acid fu, tarantula fu, and reverse-nail-through-the-back-of-the-head fu. Often the plot feels like a flimsy excuse to link these scenes of carnage together, but that sells short the film’s appropriate dirge-like pace. The Beyond doesn’t so much shift from scene to scene or genre to genre (in this case, from haunted house film to full-on devil-zombie movie) so much as it oozes into them. This queasy fluidity is reached in part by Fulci’s insistence on keeping shots together: where most people would cut, he prefers to to either pan, zoom, or rack-focus. It’s a strange but effective way to build a creepy cinematic world.
Further compounding the spookiness of the film’s universe is how it seems rigged from the very beginning to end badly for all involved. Every step forward the protagonists take to unravel the mystery of the hotel leads to a dead end, usually involving a corpse of some kind. Every action undertaken feels like a pull against the quicksand, an action doomed to sink the characters even deeper into the unfortunate situation they find themselves in. It’s a subtle form of hopelessness that fits snugly with the exploitation-movie carnival of horrors included herein. Every shock moment is milked for all of the squirms they’re worth, and the way they’re drawn out and put together amplifies The Beyond’s alien vibe. The previously-mentioned eyeball torture has a kind of thematic relevance here, though: Liza (Catriona MacColl) is continuously seeing things that may or not be there, including a blind girl (Cinzia Monreale) who may or may not see, or even exist.
As hinted at before, The Beyond doesn’t exactly run on narrative clarity. But it does have a flair for nightmarish imagery and atmosphere. The gooey effects only skim the surface of the phantasmagorical imagery of the film. Much is made of Hell in this film; the atrocities we can see and not understand pale in comparison to those we can feel. Death, possession, and mutilation are nothing when set next to an all-encompassing void. This metaphysical unease is the movie’s greatest strength. The parade of wet practical SFX certainly doesn’t hurt either.
The Beyond is available on DVD from Amazon.
Directed by Lucio Fulci; written by Lucio Fulci, Giorgio Mariuzzo, and Dardanno Sacchetti; starring Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint-John, and Veronica Lazar; 89 minutes.