I've spoken about Lucio Fulci's great trilogy of zombie movies (Zombie, City of the Living Dead and The Beyond) but I feel the third one, The Beyond, truly deserves a more in-depth examination. Released in 1981 in Italy and 1983 stateside, it is a hallucinatory nightmare as only the Italians can do with spooky images, a very liberal sense of plot dynamics and tons of gore.
It was first released heavily cut in the U.S. by Thriller Video as Seven Doors of Death but in 1998, Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures helped get an uncut version put together and released in to theaters and on VHS/DVD by the great Anchor Bay Entertainment. I'll be looking at this version today, since it was the version Fulci intended for audiences to see. Let's take a closer look.
- The sepia-toned opening is a nice setup for the plot as a painter named Schweick suspected of being a warlock is ambushed in his Louisiana hotel room in 1927, horribly murdered and walled up in the basement. It's a nicely gruesome horror sequence that benefits from cinematography (love the lack of color here, it makes things even more horrific) that is typical Fulci at his best. The back story about the hotel being built on one of the seven doors to hell is also nicely woven in. Nothing too broad (apart from the hotel being called The Seven Doors), just there so you know it for later.
- Ah, gotta love the old angry mob cliche, complete with torches. This one is a little more nasty and sadistic, though. On a related subject, being whipped with chains, crucified and then doused with bubbling hot quicklime has just shot to the top of my "Ways I'd rather not die" list.
- Catriona MacColl makes for a likable heroine and David Warbeck is his usual quality self as the doctor hero of the film. Both actors did a butt load of Italian horror movies and always brought the goods.
- I also like the ghostly blind girl, though why her guide dog suddenly turns on her is anybody's guess.
- What I love about this movie is how vague it is. Not just that, but also how comfortable it is with that fact. Generally, that would be a maddening thing for a film to do but for some reason it works in Italian horror. Strange things begin to happen and it's sort of a slow burn for the first hour or so. For the most part, the film seems like your standard haunted house movie with some gooey dead guys, a ghostly blind woman and doom-laden atmosphere thrown in but that's just to lull you into a false sense of security so when the film reveals the hand it's really playing, your mind is blown...Providing you're digging it. The film takes its time in the best way possible.
- And yes, it does strike me as funny that a movie uses gut punch scenes of gore to lull the viewer into a false sense of security. That's just how Fulci rolls, folks. In the case of this movie, he uses eye gougings, cheesy fake spiders, and throat rippings to ease the viewer into the hallucinatory nightmare that is the final half hour.
- The thing about films dealing with hell on earth is that usually, it's stopped just in the nick of time. Not so here (or in Fulci's other movies) as Warbeck and MacColl have to wade through an army of the undead (that Warbeck keeps shooting them in the chest when he can clearly see headshots do the trick is one of the only gripes I can find with the film) and a creepy basement before the shock ending.
- The gore sequences are pretty damn good with the exception of the fake spiders (the amount of time the sequence takes only highlights the cheesiness). I especially like the plumber getting his eye pushed out as well as a nasty acid sequence. The highlight though is a really nasty head shot that takes out a ghoul. Bonus points for it being the plumber's young daughter. Not often you see a kid getting gorily dispatched like that.
- The film plays with time here as things don't seem to add up (in fact, on a basic level the film makes no sense) but for me that adds to the experience of watching the movie. As I've said, it's a hallucinatory nightmare that by its very nature defies rational explanation. Having time cease to have any relevant meaning only intensifies things.
- The ending is very effective as our heroes manage to elude the zombies but somehow end up in a wasteland, now blind and terrified before fading into thin air. It's a good shock and a thoroughly appropriate ending. Somehow it just would feel wrong if all we had seen up till this point was undone.