DVD region 2. Arrow Video.
Fulci has had a major career reassessment over the last couple
of decades, moving from being seen as a talentless hack to some
sort of horror visionary, and The Beyond is seen
as his finest work, a flawless masterpiece of terror.
Both opinions are wrong of course. While Fulci was a solid, efficient
filmmaker, he hardly deserves the entirely uncritical praise heaped
on him by some members of the fan scene who appear to look at
his films through rose-tinted glasses, unable or unwilling to
recognise the faults therein. He’s good – but he’s
not that good.
The Beyond was the third film in the loose series
of zombie films that Fulci made as a direct result of Dawn
of the Dead’s huge success in Italy, and like the
predecessor City of the Living Dead, it moves
away from the Romero influence to present a more atmospheric,
Lovecraft-inspired (in feel rather than content) series of shocks,
held together by a thin storyline.
The story here sees Fulci regular Catriona MacColl as Liza, a
woman who has bought a crumbling hotel in New Orleans, only to
find that it is located on a gateway to Hell (don’t you
just hate it when that happens?). Before long, her workmen
are meeting sticky, squelchy, gory ends, she’s being visited
by a ghostly blind girl and her burgeoning relationship with hunky
doctor David Warbeck is being hampered by a plague of zombies.
The Beyond is certainly Fulci’s best looking
film. There are some incredibly atmospheric visuals here, with
Fulci conjuring up a New Orleans that seems rooted in the past,
with swirling fogs, ancient buildings and swamp lands –
it’s one of the most gothic horror films since the heyday
of Hammer and Corman’s Poe films. But unlike those movies,
this has a decidedly modern (by contemporary standards) level
of graphic gore. Fulci’s reputation for graphic splatter
had been established by this point, and he certainly doesn’t
let his fans down, with some of the most remarkably gruesome visual
images ever caught on film – the little girl with her face
blown away being the most astonishing. But his best moments are
the more subtle ones, not least of which are the final scenes
that I won’t spoil for anyone who has yet to see the film.
to this another great electronic score by Fabio Frizzi and the
presence of Euro Cult regulars MacColl and Warbeck, and you should
have a film that lives up to its reputation. The reason it doesn’t
is entirely down to the leaden pacing. This is, unfortunately,
the most badly paced of Fulci’s films from the period. While
House by the Cemetery is slower, it does at least
build atmosphere, but The Beyond unfortunately
has a habit of grinding to a halt whenever a gore set piece is
bring played out. Perhaps overly influenced by praise for Zombie
Flesh Eaters’ eye-piercing scene, Fulci allows
the violent deaths to drag on interminably – the worst offender
being the infamous spider sequence, where laughably unconvincing
puppets eat a hapless researcher. It’s not the bad special
effects that ruin this scene – it’s the fact that
it drags on for ages, constantly cutting to shots of the pipe-cleaner
spiders wobbling slowly across the floor and the victim lies there
in terror. Scenes like this cross the line from building tension
and terror to simply becoming dull. And the story itself is too
thin to really develop during the incidental scenes, so the final
result is a film that seems a lot longer than it is – especially
if you watch it with someone who hasn’t grown up watching
these films and so can look at them rather more objectively than
most fans (believe me, I know from painful personal experience).
While I used to accept The Beyond as Fulci’s
masterpiece, these days I’m more inclined to be impressed
by Zombie Flesh Eaters – a cruder but more
effective effort – or his 1970’s giallo movies. That’s
not to say that there isn’t much to admire here, and if
you haven’t seen the film, you definitely need to; if you
have, you probably won’t care what I say about it anyway.
Arrow’s new release is – as usual – jammed with
extras, and – as usual – they are mostly really poorly
made efforts from a crew who I can only assume have some VERY
incriminating photos of the Arrow bosses to keep getting these
gigs. There are interviews with actors MacColl and Cinzia Moneale
and US distributor Terry Levene, FX man Gianetto Di Rossi and
Fulci memories from the likes of Dario Argento – it’s
a pity that they haven’t been made by someone using a decent
video camera and a light.
The disc also includes the alternative colour version of the pre-credit
scene (lifted from a German print), the trailer and commentary
track first heard in the US DVD.
The luxury packaging and supplementary content should be enough
to encourage fans to upgrade from whatever version they currently
own. If you are fresh to Fulci, it’s possibly as good a
place as any to start – just don’t believe the hype.
IT NOW (UK) DVD
IT NOW (USA)