The work of Italian schlock director Lucio Fulci can be quite uneven. For every City of the Living Dead there’ A Lizard in a Woman’ Skin, which to decode if you’re not familiar with the great man’ oeuvre means that for every work of elusive vaguely incomprehensible gore, there’ a work of completely insane mind numbingly incomprehensible gore. When he gets it wrong, you can marvel at his insanity as he ineptly attempts to build tension and wait for the over the top incredibly graphic murder scenes. It’s the kind of slasher gore you can easily check your emails along to, only looking up as the music begins to increase in volume. When he gets it right though, like he does in The Beyond it’s a surreal existential hyper graphic fever dream and you can’ look away.
The Beyond, released in 1981, is gothic gore, where Fulci gets the recipe exactly right. It helps that it looks beautiful, particularly initially with a sepia toned prologue set in Louisiana 1927, where a lynch mob crucify a painter who they believe to be a warlock and inadvertently open up a portal to the gates of hell. This is a truly tense scene that looks amazing in deep black and sepia – it’s both shocking and brutal. This is the closest we’ve seen Fulci to his adversary Dario Argento, where it’s clear that he had a little more money than normal at his disposal.
When a woman from New York, Liza inherits a hotel in Louisiana and begins fixing it up, strange things start happening, a worker falls to his death from scaffolding, his last words being ‘the eyes, the eyes,’ the plumber disappears, as does one of the caretakers. When a blind girl with a German Shepherd shows up by literally waiting in the middle of the road for Liza with a dire warning, our hero realises something is not quite right.
But really it’s not about the plot in a Fulci film; it’s about the murder. Here though he’ not only concerned with graphic death set pieces and the quirky and disturbing methods to be dispatched, but he truly appears intoxicated by the image itself. There are some truly remarkable images in particular the striking shot of the blind lady standing stock still on a long straight road as Liza’ car approaches. That said there are also some striking death pieces too, the most insane being in a morgue where a woman dressing her deceased husband inexplicably has acid poured over her face by some kind of invisible unexplained paranormal being and her melted flesh and blood creates a puddle that tracks her daughter. Then of course there’ the infamous tarantula scene, where our victim is in a library up a ladder looking at a book, appears to get hit by lightning before falling and knocking himself on the floor as a gaggle of tarantulas bite and tear at his lips and flesh.
It’s totally bizarre, strangely nonsensical, yet it doesn’t dilute the genuine drama and tension in The Beyond. If anything it elevates it. Fulci’ left nothing in the locker room; it’s all on the celluoid. Interestingly one of the most terrifying things about The Beyond is for most of the film you have no idea what is happening, or what’s going to happen next, and its remarkable his ability to continue hold the tension in 89 odd minutes of terrifying confusion.
The score is from regular collaborator Fabio Frizzi. With striking piano chords, bass, percussion, strings and a dark female chorus of chants, Frizzi crafts a compelling soundtrack that touches upon vague elements of funk and psychedelic rock whilst remaining menacing and highly atmospheric. Yet it’s a score that stands on its own, having recently been reissued by Mondo, selling out in record time and becoming something of a vinyl lovers fetish object.
If you’ve ever seen a Fulci film you know what to expect. Yet where he’s at times felt a little off, The Beyond is his masterwork, one of the few genuinely scary, elusive and beautiful gore films you will ever see. The existential finale in particular in particular will blow your freakin mind.