The zombie genre may well be enjoying a renaissance in the second decade of the 21st century, but back in 1981 it was strong than ever, especially in Italy where Lucio Fulcio stood as king of the Italian exploitation genre. The Beyond is by far his best film, and in my mind, still one of the best zombie films out there, even if it’s utterly demented and at times barely makes sense.
The Beyond marked the second entry in the director’s unofficial “Gates of Hell” trilogy, following 1980’s City of the Living Dead, followed by 1981’s House by the Cemetery. These films were connected by their metaphysical concepts, examining the world’s of the living and the dead and how they might intersect. That, and lots of gore of course.
Set in Louisiana, The Beyond centres round a hotel which contains one of the Seven Doors of Death; portals where the dead can cross from their world into ours and vice-versa. Inheriting the hotel is Liza (Catriona MacColl) who plans on reopening the hotel even though locals warn her of dark things happening if she does. After a series of gory deaths, Liza and John, her doctor friend played by David Warbeck, discover just what the hotel contains as they fight to stop the hordes of Hell spilling through into the world of the living.
Of course, that all sounds simple enough, but what sets The Beyond apart from typical Italian zombie fare? It’s almost an art film at times, as Fulci composes his camera to give us images that are both horrific and surreal and framed brilliantly. The film is stylish and it doesn’t take a genius to see why it’s become so inspirational outwith the zombies, gore and general insanity. The problem is that so intent was Fulci to create a stylish haunted house shocker that down the line any semblance of a coherent plot vanished. Add to that the fact the film’s producers demanded more zombies, so there are scenes where zombies just sort of turn up for no reason at all, which explains why the ending seems to tacked on; because it was. The producers demanded a Big Zombie Climax and Fulci slipped one in to appease their demands. Originally, Fulci wanted to create a surrealist haunted house story inspired by the works of Antoine Marie Joseph Artaud, himself a pioneer of avant-garde art and entertainment. But as zombies were all the rage following Dawn of the Dead‘s success, he had to compromise his vision.
The Beyond has a chequered history here in the UK at the hands of the BBFC as it appeared in the infamous ‘Video Nasties’ list the Tory government of the 80’s produced as part of the moral outrage over uncensored videos being easily available. It was never prosecuted, but it was very, very heavily cut so for years. I thought the film’s disjointed nature was down to the brutal cuts the BBFC had imposed upon it, but that was only part of it. Fulci meant this film to feel like a dream going into a nightmare and there’s clearly been some real care gone into making this (as opposed to shockers like the New York Ripper which was a cash grab) which made it a pity that, for 20 years in the UK, we couldn’t legally see the uncut film.
Today we can enjoy The Beyond in all its mentalism, all it’s gore and all of its zombie glory. Fulci was a master of his craft and it’s a film that still packs a punch. If you want a zombie film that’s different, then try this.