Sunday, 29 November 2020

The Beyond (1981)

Lucio Fulci's thematic trilogy entitled 'The Gates of Hell' is fairly self explanatory. In each film some hapless mortals find themselves dwelling above an entrance to the big H, and wackiness ensues. The Beyond is the second, coming after City of the Living Dead and before The house By the Cemetery. 

The film has a simple plot that provides a pretext for a series of horrific set pieces. Some have right compared this film to a fever dream, in that the scenes almost make sense logically, but not quite - they are essentially horrific for their own sake, Yet the film is also visually striking at times in a way not normally found in Eighties horror. There's an art house feel, for instance, when the main character encounters a blind woman and her guide dog on a deserted road bridge. 

The story begins in Louisiana in 1927, with a nice sepia monochrome look for period fee. In boats across the bayou comes an angry mob, complete with flaming torches, the Seven Doors Hotel, where they corner an artist, Schweik. He is just finishing a picture of damned souls in hell, as it happens, when the locals - who believe he is some kind of warlock - drag him into the cellar, flay him with a chain, nail him to the wall, and kill him with quicklime. Practical effects are to the fore from the start, and very gory they are.

After the credits we leap forward to the present day, 1980, and Liza (British thesp Catriona MacColl), a New York girl who has inherited the long-disused Seven Doors Hotel. She is busy renovating, but a series of nasty accidents and weird events get in the way of her venture. A man falls from a scaffold after confronting weird face with white, blind eyes. Joe the plumber goes into the basement and encounters the corpse of Schweik, which proves livelier than you'd think and does Joe a mischief. 

Liza also encounters Emily, a blind girl with a guide dog called Dicky, who warns her to leave the hotel alone. Sensible Doctor John McCabe (another Brit, David Warbeck) is sceptical about the weird stuff, despite some horrific events occurring in his own hospital morgue. Joe the plumber's wife Martha dies horribly at the hands of her husband's corpse there, in fact, and then their daughter Jill suffers an even worse fate. 

Along the way one of Dr. McCabe's colleagues connects an EEG machine to the lime-encrusted corpse of Schweik and a brainwave appears. The architect helping Liza goes to look for the original plans of the hotel and suffers a mishap involving spiders - some of them obviously plastic. The body count mounts. Emily, who may be a ghost (I'm not entirely sure, but her footsteps are definitely inaudible) suffers a grisly fate.

For good measure, Liza finds the Book of Eibon, as invented by Clark Ashton Smith as part of the wider Cthulhu Mythos. The book, which vanishes and reappears again, clues up Liza and her doctor friend as to what is going on. But by then the power of the gateway to hell has manifest itself by raising the dead, in the form of some very slow moving but quite well done zombies. There's a shoot up in the hospital, then a denouement in the hotel cellar.

This film is wildly uneven but always great fun - it's not surprising Tarantino liked it a lot. This is the sort of film that might have been crafted to get a cult following. But watching it without prejudice suggests that Fulci was simply interested in making a genuinely scary film about hell and the disturbing possibility that we'll all end up there. In that, he certainly succeeded. A movie from the horror boom made on location in the Southern USA with definite Southern Gothic ingredients, but also with that giallo craziness, The Beyond is genuinely strange.

1 comment:

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