Dir. Lucio Fulci (1981)
The second in the Gates of Hell Trilogy, this film focuses on a woman who is restoring a Louisiana hotel that is unfortunately positioned over one of the six portals to the underworld.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
It’s difficult to quantify this, or its predecessor City of the Living Dead, as straight-up zombie movies. It’s almost more of a supernatural/possession film, but it’s done in a way that is more evocative of Romero than Friedkin, so zombie movie it is. Like the first film in the trilogy, this one is well-produced, written, and directed, and the actors do a great job of providing the exact feel that Fulci was going for in this zombie gothic lovefest. It’s chock full of “dark old house” energy, and the crumbling façade of the house is effectively paralleled with the quickly decaying borders between our world and Hell. The milky-eyed seer is delightfully creepy and sets the stage for the blood-drenched events of the film.
I see white people.
Set in 1981 Louisiana, this film, like others in Italian cinema, is dubbed. Unfortunately, a few of the people who did the dubbing for various characters are clearly not from Louisiana, and the Southern accents come across more like Oscar’s in The Office during the hilarious Murder Mystery party episode. That being said, as a Southerner myself, I appreciate the effort, because most other films of this sort wouldn’t try in the slightest, and some of the accents actually work pretty well. Thankfully, the film pays great visual respect to its Louisiana setting, filling the scenes with gothic architecture and swampy aesthetics. Plus, it answers the age-old question: what if we saw the eyeball scene from Zombie, but backwards?
I do have to take an aside for a second and talk about the morgue scene, which is masterful horror in a film that is often tad sillier, or at least less serious, fare. A child hears her mother scream while on the other side of a morgue door, and she goes in to see her mother laying on the floor, an overturned bottle of acid dumping its contents onto her mother’s face. As what used to be her mom melts away, amongst the backdrop of dead, zombie-like bodies, a bloody puddle of acidic body fluids flows slowly towards the child’s feet. She stumbles backwards, eventually finding her way to the door behind her. When she flings open the door to make her escape, she runs headfirst into actual zombies, and what happens next is left to our imagination. It’s a perfect blend of Fulci gore with some actual suspense, and the entirely-white room is a perfect foil for the gooey effects. If Hitchcock did gore, this would be in one of his films. As it were, Fulci utilizes some magnificent suspense throughout this scene, and it’s one of the better scenes in the film.
Rather than a pithy caption, I’ll just point out what an amazing restoration this film received.
Much like Argento’s Animal or Three Mothers Trilogies, this trio of films is united by concept rather than story, with the titular Gates of Hell being the binding thread. The same actress appears in all three films, but as different characters in each, and though the filming locations were similar between this film and the first, they look as different as they were intended to look. There’s also a style to this film that can be seen echoed in modern horror, with some of the shots similar to a lot of our contemporary favorites. The aforementioned dubbing is jarring as usual, but you get used to it after a while, and it doesn’t take anything away from the film. While the plot in The Beyond is a tad more convoluted than the previous film in the series, it’s easy enough to follow without going down the path of so many other films in Italian cinema.
No one is going to favorably compare Fulci to the greater masters of horror in any other categories than gore, but with this film and its predecessor, he shows that he is more than capable of producing excellent films that work together thematically. While not a sequel in the traditional sense, Fulci is clearly coming into his own as a filmmaker with this movie, and The Beyond is rightly touted by many as his best work. It’s paced much better than City, and while it’s not an excellent film when compared to others, it’s the closest to an actual masterpiece that Fulci is capable of producing. As with pretty much every other Italian production that I’ve watched, you have to put on your “I’m watching an Italian horror movie” goggles to appreciate it, because they do things a bit different across the Mediterranean. Except for those already predilected to love the films, you would be hard pressed to find an American horror fan who thinks that the best of these films are better than middle-of-the-road American horror. For what it is, however, The Beyond is excellent, and a huge addition to the legendary slate of Italian gore horror films.
Who this movie is for: Italian horror lovers, Gore fans who like a supernatural bent to their films, Joe the Plumber
Bottom line: The Beyond is excellent for what it is, which is a sublime example of Italian gore cinema. It’s coherent, fast-paced, and filled to the brim with gruesome scenes of carnage, which is all that you can ask for a film of this stature and budget. It’s got some truly creepy elements and does a wonderful job of utilizing its gothic scenery, becoming every bit a haunted house flick as it is a zombie feature. For those looking for their zombie film with a supernatural edge, this one is a can’t-go-wrong classic. Fulci is at his absolute best, and for those familiar with his work, you know what that means: lots of body parts, blood, and viscera. Thankfully for more mainstream horror fans, this one has as much style as it has gooey substance.