The Beyond

The Beyond

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

When The Beyond was made, nobody expected many people to see it, and they certainly didn't think it would last. Banned for many years and still difficult to access in its uncut form, it has astounded everybody by becoming a cult classic. The plot is fairly standard stuff. The script is weak and much of what may once have seemed chilling now seems kitsch and amusing. But the inventiveness of the crew and Lucio Fulci's singular vision raise it well above most genre work of the period and make it well worth checking out.

The second in Fulci's Gates Of Hell trilogy (after City Of The Living Dead and before The House By The Cemetery), The Beyond mixes Lovecraftian ideas with infernal horror, traditional ghost story material, and a distinct hint of The Shining (which, at the time, the director denied having seen). Its heroine is Liza (Catriona MacColl, a woman whose fortunes depend on the sinister old New Orleans hotel she has inherited. Though it could easily have been reduced to screaming caricature, it's essentially a strong role for a woman in that period and MacColl makes it her own, turning her often unfortunate lines into something more convincing. Opposite her is David Warbeck as the local doctor in whose hospital strange things are starting to happen. He's the square-jawed, no-nonsense type, quick to dismiss feminine eccentricity and determined to solve the mystery rationally, but unfortunately for him, this is the sort of story that deliberately sets out to challenge the dominance of reason.

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The Beyond has some strong and philosophically interesting elements, throwing in a lot of popular gothic motifs (the brutally murdered artist, the mysterious painting, the creepy basement, the blind girl who keeps playing the same melody on the piano (badly)) but ultimately finding a voice of its own among them. A beautifully filmed sepia-toned prologue ensures that viewers are suspicious from the start. The story has its own dream-like logic and there's mercifully little exposition. leaving viewers to figure it out as the characters stumble through a succession of confusing incidents. Importantly, it provides them with the sense of vulnerability that comes of being robbed of the usual human intellectual advantages.

All this might have turned out interestingly in its own right, but Fulci then buries it under a veritable tide of gore. In the uncut version this goes to extremes that even some hardened horror fans will find hard to stomach. It's OTT, sure, sometimes to the point of being cartoonish, but there are plenty of moments that still evoke a visceral response. Arachnophobes may find the tarantula scene particularly hard going (though Fulci, typically, seems at least as interested in the visual appeal of the striped arachnids crawling across a patterned marble floor). There's eye-gouging and acid thrown on faces, chunks of bodies being hacked or shot off, skin being torn away, etc. If you can step back from the goriness of it for a moment, there's much to marvel at in terms of how these effects were achieved on a shoestring budget, working with, by modern standards, very primitive tools. It's inventive and, in its own way, witty, something horror fans generally appreciate; but you won't find much of the knowing humour here that often creeps into other such productions. As the story develops, things get pretty grim, the only laughs coming from failed effects and occasional incidences of bad translation.

If you want to see how much gory horror you can take, The Beyond is a great choice. If you like the creepier sort of horror and are ready to look away quickly from (usually well signposted) scenes that might be too much for you, it also has far appeal. There's certainly enough going on to hold viewers' attention despite the formulaic plot. And there are moments when Fulci reveals a gift with imagery that, had he worked in a different genre, would no doubt have seen him acclaimed as among the world's greatest directors.

Reviewed on: 14 Mar 2010
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The Beyond packshot
A woman inherits a New Orleans hotel with a sinister secret, and horror commences.
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Director: Lucio Fulci

Writer: Dardano Sacchetti

Starring: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint-John, Veronica Lazar

Year: 1981

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy


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