Sunday, 29 March 2009

Final Girl Film Club - The Beyond

Okay so it's that time once again, for us to all watch a film on mass and share our collective thoughts, an experience better known as "The Final Girl Film Club" which is just a small part of "Final Girl" Stacie Ponder's blog devoted to the slasher flicks of the 70's & 80's which of course is definatly worth a look if you havn't already.
For this latest edition of the film club, it's the turn of the 1981 Lucio Fulci flick "The Beyond"...please enjoy.

Title: The Beyond
Director: Lucio Fulci
Released: 1981
Staring: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint-John, Veronica Lazar, Anthony Flees
Rating: 4 / 5

Plot: Liza ( MacColl ) inherits a dilapidated hotel from her uncle and decides to restore it unaware of the secrets it hides including the fact that it happens to also be built on one of the seven doorways to hell.

Review: Fulci is a director who I’ve honestly not seen a great deal of his back catalogue of films, though like fellow Italian director Dario Argento, he commands a rabid fan base, who will no doubt be overjoyed by the recent ( if long delayed ) release of “A Cat In the Brain” (1990) and who also tend to get rather upset with anyone wanting to bash their Idol, still until I watched “The Beyond” my only experience with his work had been via “Zombie Flesh Eaters” (1979) which is better known to many fans as “Zombi 2” and remembered not only for its notorious “splinter in the eye” scene but also for being one of the first Zombie movies, to answer that infernal question as to who would win in a fight between a zombie and a shark! With these fond memories in mind I was keen to see what else he had to offer.

Originally released as “Seven Doors of Death” it has since been reborn as “The Beyond” now it’s been restored to its uncut form, after seeing a variety of cuts over the years as censorship restrictions have changed over the years since it’s original release.
Opening in Louisiana back in 1927, were we are forced to bare witness to a lynch mob not only flailing a man accused of witchcraft with a chain, which cause large bloody wounds to appear as the chain tears at his flesh, as they then proceed to crucify him, before covering him with what looks like boiling hot mud and this is all within the first ten minutes of the film! This opening is shot in a monochrome tinge, which did kinda make me think I was watching “Cold Case” if a slightly ultra violent one at that. This shocking opening gives you a good indication of what is to follow, as the film now jumps forward to present day ( or 1981 as the handy title card points out ) and to were the main story is set, as we now follow the new owner of the hotel Liza, as a series of increasingly strange events start to happen around the hotel, including her chance meeting with the blind girl Emily ( Monreale ), who really could have come straight out of “Silent Hill” especially seeing how every line of dialogue seems to have a real spooky tinge to it, often cranking up the tension in the scenes she appears and it’s this attention that Fulci plays with throughout, often finding a reason to boost it slightly in the few occasional moments he lets up on the pressure, often aided by Fabio Frizzi’s score, which switches from Jeff Wayne electro style to nails dragging down glass moments of scratchiness, none more effective than during the spider sequence, in which we are forced to watch the tide of spiders slowly making their way towards an unconscious Larry.

The plot is confusing at the best of times, with the audience left the majority of the time to figure out what is going on, stringing together the few pieces of information that we get, from the mythology that Emily frequently spouts, making this hardly a film that you can watch half heartily, as it commands your full attention, just so you might have some clue of what is happening, which at times did have me wondering if anyone knew where this film was going, especially when you are suddenly thrown into the zombie rampage finale, which was supposedly added at the insistence of the German distributors, who at the time were in the midst of a Zombie craze, though honestly any excuse for a Zombie rampage will always be welcome viewing. In it’s most stripped down form, the plot could also be viewed purely as a way of linking one gory set piece to the next, which fair enough is one of the main selling points of Fulci’s work, especially seeing how he portrays each gory set piece with an almost voyeuristic delight, happily showing flesh being torn and bodily fluids flowing readily. He also manages to keep the death scenes inventive to say the least, even if he does seem to take great delight in having his death sequences involve the victims eyes in some way, often exaggerating an overused means of death by the simple act of including a damaged eyeball, whether being chewed on by spiders or poked out on a spike rammed through the back of one victims skull, Fulci seems to find a way to include it. Despite being heavily in the gore department, Fulci does manage a few decent shocks without the gore with the Bathtub sequence being particularly memorable, even if these brief moments usually lead to something alittle gorier. Another point worth noting while on the subject of gore though, is how true to its poster which really is, something of a rarity for films which feature a painted poster (often the tell tale sign of a bad movie), but “The Beyond” pays off on each of the posters promises, no doubt much to the delight of the gore hounds, no doubt disappointed in the past by similar promises given by the posters for similar horror flicks.

“The Beyond” is a real throwback to the glory days of horror films, before they became their current watered down state, especially with the insistence of using CGI over old school effects. It’s also worth noting how frequently looked down upon this film is by certain established critic which I discovered while doing the background research fro this review with Leonard Maltin giving it a two star rating, while Roger Ebert giving it even less with a half a star rating critising it for many of it Schlocky moments, when he has openly praised the work of Russ Meyer, whose work could easily be categorised in the same grindhouse genre that Fulci’s films belong, but while these critics might have once carried weight with their words, in these days were E-Critics are in such abundance, these opinions come across as nothing more than silver spooned opinions to those who still care enough to listen and we shouldn’t expect critics of this kind to appreciate a film like “The Beyond” without nitpicking it to death, when it should be appreciated for the dreamlike journey that it is. True you might not fully understand were your going, but the ride more than makes up for it.

1 comment:

  1. One of the reasons critics hated this movie was because the only version released in the states was the butchered, watered-down version called "The Seven Doors of Hell". Not that it would probably change their minds on Italian horror, but it's a pretty big factor as it wasn't just the gore that was cut from the American version of these films; what ever little bit of coherence there was in the plot was made all the worse by the hack-job editing the studios gave these films with their theatrical runs. I think reviews may have been more ambivalent than negative if critics were seeing these things uncut.

    Just my two cents. Great review. I love your final assessment that the viewer need not nitpick Italian horror, but rather, "appreciate the dreamlike journey" the genre is known for. That's a great of saying it.


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