Following in the footsteps of City of the Living Dead, Fulci’s second film in his unofficial Gates of Hell Trilogy delves deeper into the spiritual and the surreal. Centering on a Hotel in Louisiana, The Beyond opens with the murder of an artist in 1927, whom a lynch mob believes to be a warlock. This wrongful killing opens up one of the seven gateways to hell, allowing for all manner of strange zombie/ghost shenanigans to occur. Liza (played by Fulci regular Catriona MacColl) inherits the accursed hotel decades later, and ends up being warned away from the property by blind girl Emily, following a nasty accident in the basement involving a plumber. With the help of local doctor John, Liza begins to uncover the truth behind her hotel’s past.
That plot summary makes this film sound simple, but it isn’t. Disjointed and dreamlike, The Beyond floats through its story with little regard for character development or coherence. Dealing with the age-old human anxiety of life beyond death, a deliberately erratic narrative and haunting ending make this more than just your average zombie movie. If City of the Living Dead suggested “another side” through its sudden disappearing and reappearing of its ghouls, then its successor flat-out paints a picture of this other realm (literally). The idea of the artist’s death being the trigger for hellish happenings is important, for it highlights the value of creativity and imagination in a world filled with horror. The painting is a gateway to somewhere beyond, somewhere at once terrifying and alluring.
Fulci’s penchant for blood and guts doesn’t let up here. There are a countless number of gruesome deaths that shock, and often defy logic (there wasn’t that much acid in the bottle for crying out loud!), with eyes being popped out left, right and center. The famous face eating tarantulas scene elicits an odd mix of both laughter and horror as you can’t quite shake the awareness that you’re watching pipe cleaner spiders munch on prosthetic features, but it is an inventive set piece nonetheless, deserving of praise. Unfortunately, certain moments in the film are guilty of making absolutely no sense, and in entirely the wrong way, such as the hospital doctors hooking up some kind of EEG machine to a hundreds of years old rotting corpse. Having John be able to take down five zombies in a row with perfect head shots, but then miss countless times against one in particular makes for frustrating viewing, and it is flaws in the script such as this which do let the film down, sadly.
However, these flaws can be forgiven when faced with such a bold mix of gore and existentialism. Emily’s white eyes make for some stunning shots, and the scene in her drawing room (does this room even exist?) with the zombies invading from all sides is gorgeously nightmarish. Some of Sergio Salvati’s camerawork is stunning, a good example being the shot of Liza driving along the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway to meet Emily and Dickie, which is enough to send chills down the spine. These images, strangely, are the ones that stay with you long after the credits roll, more so than the moments of bloody carnage. And this is ultimately what makes The Beyond worthy of its four stars: it’s staying power. It haunts the mind in a more potent way than many other modern slasher horrors and “torture porns”, and is almost poetical in its approach towards life and its many mysteries. With a budget of only $400,000, the film is essentially a splatter-fest with soul, a cheap horror with a heavy heart, and is a fantastically wacky mess from start to finish. I loved it.
FINAL VERDICT: ★ ★ ★ ★