I was thinking of an appropriate film to celebrate Martin Luther King day with, and of course the first thing that came to mind was Lucio Fulci’s film E tu vivrai nel terrore – L’aldilà, or The Beyond. The reason it sprang to mind is simple enough. King had a dream, and much of The Beyond felt like a dream. Are you buying that? No? Well, I figured as much. Ok, so maybe I forgot it was King Day, but I didn’t forget to check out the second in Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy. Having seen the first part, City of the Living Dead, and the final film, House by the Cemetery, a while back, I’m glad I finally saw The Beyond so I could get the whole, clear, straightforward narrative arc. Are you buying that? No?
So maybe there’s not a clear story that comes from seeing the three films, but the trio is only loosely connected as a trilogy in the first place. In fact, of the three films, TheBeyond is probably the least plot driven of them, and that is saying something. It begins in 1927 when an angry mob attacks and kills Schweick, an artist who they believe is a warlock, who lives at the Seven Doors hotel. Years later in 1981, Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl) inherits the hotel, and she moves in intending to renovate the property. Her renovations disturb one of the seven doors of hell on which the hotel was built on, and it begins to allow the dead to pass over to the land of the living. Soon Liza and anyone connected to the hotel is beset by ghosts, zombies, flesh eating spiders, and the artist Schweick back from the dead and ready for revenge.
I don’t know what kept me from seeing The Beyond for so long as it is both a well-regarded Fulci film and set in Louisiana, and I have an affinity for both things. Filmed partially on location in Louisiana, Fulci even got his film into New Orleans for a few shots. Unfortunately, there are only a few recognizable locations to spot, but there are a few recognizable New Orleans landmarks, such as the Cornstalk Inn, that can be spotted. All of the location footage looks great, but perhaps Fulci should have asked around about a few details on the area. What sticks out most is the appearance of a basement in the Seven Doors hotel. Louisiana and the New Orleans area sits below sea level and basements are definitely not de rigueur. However, without it then Liza’s pal, Joe the Plumber, wouldn’t have someplace to go get jacked up by a zombie. It’s a little thing really, and fact checking The Beyond is not going to get me very far anyway.
Unlike the other two parts in the unofficial trilogy, The Beyond is much less interested in a coherent storyline than in images and atmosphere. Fulci even admitted as much when he said, “My idea was to make an absolute film, with all the horrors of the world. It’s a plotless film, there’s no logic to it, just a succession of images.” Some of the images rank among the best I’ve seen in Fulci’s catalog, but a few fall short. While the blind girl who is attacked by her guide dog looked great (though reminiscent of Argento’s Susperia), the scene of the flesh-eating tarantulas leaves a lot to be desired. Fulci wisely wrangled up a few real spiders, but filled out the shots with some of the worst fake spiders I’ve seen in a while. Also, I didn’t know that spiders would eat your face, but hey, you live and learn.
Catriona MacColl, who starred in all three of the Gates of Hell films, performs admirable as usual, but she was not Fulci’s first choice. He wanted Tisa Farrow who had starred in his film Zombi 2 and D’Amato’s Antropophagus, but after the latter film, she had quit the business. As much as I like Farrow in both of those films, having MacColl star in all three gives them a connection even if the narrative doesn’t have much cohesion. The other star of the film was David Warbeck as Dr. John McCabe. Warbeck had also starred in Fulci’s 1981 film The Black Cat, and he gives a solid performance inThe Beyond though he is less memorable than Christopher George in City of the Living Dead or Paolo Malco in House by the Cemetery.
The cinematography was handled by Sergio Salvati who collaborated with Fulci on nine other films, and as usual, Salvati nails the dreamlike, or should I say nightmarish, vision that Fulci intended. The Beyond relies so much on images, and it carries the film in such a way that the lightness of the plot really didn’t bother me at all. Enhancing the images was another frequent Fulci collaborator, composer Fabio Frizzi. The Beyond features some of Frizzi’s best and most memorable work since his score for Zombi 2, and his score really props up moments like the march of the fake tarantulas.
The Beyond is defiantly one of Fulci’s best films that I’ve seen, and of the Gates of Hell trilogy, it was the most engaging of the three. While it was much weaker in the plot department than the other two films, the imagery really made up for a lot of it. From beginning to the ethereal ending, Fulci takes the viewer on a trip deep into his supernatural world. The Beyond is really the perfect melding of the grind house feel with the art house style, and though I don’t think many fans of Goddard are going to love this film, the horror fans will find a lot to like here.