The late 1970’s and early 1980’s were an era that supplied us with some truly memorable, and boundary-breaking horror cinema. A lot of noteworthy horror was coming out of Europe at this time and in large amounts, from Italy. Be it the work of Dario Argento, Mario & Lamberto Bava, Ruggero Deodato; They all pushed the envelope and showed what the genre could accomplish. Ground-breaking films the likes of Suspiria (1977), Zombi 2 (1979), Cannibal Holocaust (1980), and Antropophagus (1980) (to name a few), certainly shocked and tested our sensibilities . None however, I feel, more existential and nightmarish than Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond. The film celebrates its 37th anniversary today and is a true horror classic with a turbulent history of controversy and censorship.
An insidious witch-hunt was taking place in my homeland of the U.K. during the 1980’s. Horror films that dared push the envelope were given the term ‘Video Nasty‘, a frankly ridiculous, sensationalist term coined by the tabloid press. It was used to describe the enduring trend for more extreme forms of cinema in the advent of the home video boom. If anything the Video Nasty term stamped on a VHS tape almost became a badge of honour. It was akin to slapping a ‘This film is so gnarly they want it banned’ tag on the movie in question. Such a situation increased the manufacture of Pirated versions of the original film print, usually of poor quality and highly sought after if the film was unavailable by any other means. Pirated horror in this way built a mystique around these films that may not have occurred any other way. If anything, it was a help instead of a hinderance in the long-term. Films that may have slipped through the cracks of an already booming industry were suddenly gaining a lot of attention. One of those films was Lucio Fulci’s L’aldilà more commonly known as The Beyond.
The Beyond, the second part of Fulci’s Death Trilogy, book-ended by City of the Living Dead (1980) and The House by the Cemetery (1981), isn’t an easy one to summarize. For what Fulchi was trying to convey with the film, it’s plot wasn’t very important either but I will give it a try: In 1927, An artist named Schweick resides at The Seven Doors Hotel in Louisiana. The local townsfolk are a superstitious and distrusting type, finding Schweick overly strange and believing him to be a Warlock. One night the townsfolk storm The Seven Doors, apprehend Schweick and violently torture & murder him. This act, unbeknownst to them unlocks a doorway to hell, allowing the dead to pass over.
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There is very little that can be deemed conventional about The Beyond, in fact that was Fulci’s intention for the film from the very beginning. Inspired by the work of French surrealist playwright Antonin Artaud, Fulci wanted The Beyond to be less about having a standard linear plot, focusing more about symbolism and “cruel” imagery. Seen by the director as a “non-linear haunted house story” held together by the singular notion that the main setting for the film is built on one of the seven gates of hell. From that central premise, Fulci builds a tableaux of brutal, disturbing and absurd imagery to create one of the most visually arresting, and memorable horror films of the 1980’s. It wasn’t however exempt from that bugbear of any director: Outside Intervention. Known previously for his work in Zombie movies, Fulci was tasked by his financiers to include zombies in The Beyond, something Fulci begrudgingly included to appease his backers requests.
Demonism & Zombies? Check. Man-Eating Tarantulas & Face Melting? Check. Wonderful Alsatian? Check. That last one isn’t all that horrific really…until he mauls a blind lady to death. This is most certainly not a film for the faint of heart. It created an atmosphere like that of a nightmare or fever dream, you feel constantly uncomfortable and ill at ease watching yet can’t turn away, the sign of any great horror flick. The Beyond also combined, in my opinion, one of the most bleak, and disturbing depictions of hell ever put to celluloid. A desolate wasteland of prone bodies lying in the mud & swirling mists, where the only consolation is going blind and fading into nothingness.
It certainly pushed the limits at that time of what you could get away with in a film. Following its release in Italy, it would take until 1983 for the film to reach U.S. shores where it received a limited release under the alternative title 7 Doors of Death. On top of the title change it was heavily edited for violence, and the fantastic Fabio Frizzi score was replaced by a new Walter E. Sear score. In the U.K however, the film fared much worse. The Beyond was banned until 2001 when the BBFC finally passed the film uncut for certification.
The Beyond is considered in many circles to be one of the best of Fulci’s considerable horror output and it is certainly one of my favourite horror films. It is wantonly surreal, bleak, unflinching in its brutality, (at times infuriatingly nonsensical) and it stays with you long after the credits roll. The Beyond if anything showed that horror marketed to a mainstream audience could still afford to take risks, buck trends, confound expectations and challenge sensibilities. If you haven’t already, I would most certainly advise a trip into The Beyond.