Editor's Note: I first saw THE BEYOND under the more straightforward title SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH back when it played Philly's Budco Midtown. I had no idea what it was but any flick with a blurb from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE scribe Kim Henkel was all the convincing I needed. What I saw blew my mind. This wasn't just another heaping helping of Spaghetti Splatter. No, Fulci had concocted something much more, a horrific dreamscape that was about as terrifying as gore cinema at that time could get. It wasn't long before I found out that the film was known – in its uncut version as THE BEYOND – and that a grey market bootleg of the Japanese laserdisc was available. For a price. A price I gladly paid. Fast forward twentysome years and not only is THE BEYOND available, uncut of course, on DVD but Turner Classic Movies is screening it in a week or so. I can't imagine waking up at 2 AM to find robotic flesh-ripping spiders on my tv screen as unearthly howls of "Ebon" wash over me. With that in mind we bring you Louis Fowler's review of this classic slice of Eurotrash horror.
It seems that, since just about everyone in the world of horror is so well aware of THE BEYOND, and, even more appropriately for me, everyone in the world of horror has already written their own opinions about it, that to add mine just seems, well, totally redundant. You might as well title this "Not Another THE BEYOND Review".
Keeping that in mind and having just watch Grindhouse Releasing's reissue, once again it strikes me just how – I need to capitalize this – TOTALLY FUCKING SCARY this movie actually is. I am a thirty year old man and it's one in the morning and I wish I could go sleep in my parents' bed. With the hall light on. With the night-lite on. With a gun, just in case.
Go ahead and laugh. I know that I'm supposed to be jaded and I know that, for most people, there's been scarier stuff released before and since, but, you know, serial killers and slashers and the like have never scared me. No-it's Hell that scares me. A Hell on earth; demons breaking through to our world, slaughtering us on an unholy rampage. Maybe it's the Catholic in me, but Satan, Hell, whatever, is really the only thing in film that truly terrifies me.
But you just can't through the Devil on the screen and expect me to be scared, otherwise THE DEVIL AND MAX DEVLIN would have made me urinate my shorts. Again. No, a truly scary, truly demonic film needs to have an aura, an atmosphere of evil, a sense of unholy dread, surrounding it to accomplish that. An otherworldly feel that has ideas and sequences that give off the impression that you are watching something wholly diabolical on-screen, something that wasn't meant for human eyes. A feeling of ominousness and pure fear that shadows the room when you watch it, causing you to turn the lights on half-way through and jump and any sound your house might make.
THE BEYOND is such a film. This is not some Italian cheese-fest; this isn't a Spaghetti joke. The images that Fulci puts on screen are nightmares-and I'm not talking about the gore. Gore is nothing special. It's the lovingly perverse way that he uses that gore, expelling all hope for the characters embroiled in it, that makes it all work. THE BEYOND is an extraordinarily hopeless film. It's a film that takes place in a world without God's mercy. It's a world that has forgotten God, allowing Hell to encroach and take root.
This loneliness from God and his salvation is pounded home in the final image when our main characters are left alone in a barren eternal wasteland, that I think is supposed to be Hell. It's the most shocking scene in the film and it doesn't have a drop of blood in it. It's the ultimate downer ending: the good guys have not only lost the battle but their souls as well and, because of their failure, have allowed Hell to claim the Earth. Cue credits.
I think the thing that really scares me is the way that Fulci, before I had even seen this film, had accurately captured many images from my own nightmares in this film. The desolate road with water on both sides and no land on the horizon; the way that even though there's light outside the inside of the house is very dark; eyes with no pigment; and a Hell that isn't made up of flame, but dust. Are these common dream images? I've had these images in my head for as long as I can remember; I dreamed them when I was as young as five. To me, this makes the film all the more foreboding.
This is part of Fulci's "Gates of Hell" trilogy, which included THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD. All three are so totally different than anything Fulci had really done, filled with such a sacrilegious fervor that you get the feeling that something must have had possessed him to create this trilogy, these pitch-perfect visions of Hell so perfectly. Were these the films of a demonic madman with a warning, or merely a vessel of dark visions, like say, a Hieronymus Bosch woodcut put to celluloid? Or, even worse, was it just the work of a guy trying to collect a paycheck?
In the end, we'll probably never know what made Fulci tick. We'll probably never know what was going on in his head to make his celluloid nightmares so potent. But, maybe the more we use them to interpret our own fears, the closer we'll get to an answer. Either way, it's time to get my ass to church.
You can read this review and hundreds more like it at Exploitation Retrospect: The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media.
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