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THE BEYOND
DVD region 2. Arrow Video.


The BeyondLucio 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.

The BeyondAdd 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.

DAVID FLINT

BUY IT NOW (UK) DVD BLU-RAY

BUY IT NOW (USA)

 

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