Puzzling...atmospheric...gory...original. There are some of the words that can be used to describe director Lucio Fulci's layered descent into the dark and lonely afterlife. Although the film may be frustrating to some viewers because it does not follow a linear path, it contains a series of classic horror moments and is one of the more thought-provoking entries in the golden age of Italian genre cinema. I still remember the first time I saw The Beyond and the mark it left on me and many other horror fans have echoed this sentiment. It never gets boring and crams many images into its short running time that have stayed with me ever since. From a tarantula attack in a library to the first meeting of Emily the blind girl on a seemingly endless bridge to nowhere to a zombie attack in a hospital, the scenes combine into a mesmerizing film even if it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
Catriona MacColl stars as Liza, a young woman who inherits an old hotel in New Orleans that happens to sit on one of the seven doors to Hell. It features an extremely large and wet basement where a warlock was crucified in 1927 while he was creating a painting of a bleak landscape littered with corpses. Liza brings in a plumber to investigate the cause of the flooded cellar but he is killed by the zombified warlock and his corpse is taken to the morgue. Soon after this, the plumber's wife and daughter go to the morgue to be with the corpse and the wife starts screaming when a bottle of acid falls over. She is then inexplicably knocked out under the acid stream causing her face to melt off while her daughter looks on. Meanwhile, Liza befriends a doctor named John (David Warbeck) who attempts to help her unravel some hallucinations she is having of the crucified warlock and a book called Eibon as well as the local legends told to her by the blind Emily (Cinzia Monreale - Beyond the Darkness). Eventually, they end up at the hospital where the patients seems to have died and become shambling zombies while our heroes try to escape a fate worse than death.
Like many European genre films, it is difficult to write a plot summary because there is more emphasis on the overall visual experience than plot and character development. This type of movie making usually drives me bananas because it can be seen as lazy, egotistical, and the director not understanding or caring about the experience of the audience. For whatever reason, the Europeans have a way of overcoming this by allowing the viewer to leave the experience with a lot to think about even though the scenes are somewhat random at times. The best of these films feature a number of over the top moments that will leave you either stunned, sickened, or a combination of the two. There are a few American directors that can pull this off (David Lynch comes to mind) but they are few and far between. Although I still cannot explain exactly what happens in The Beyond nor do I have any real connection with the characters, I keep coming back to it for the experience and have watched this movie many times.
My favorite Fulci moment occurs in this flick in a scene where the blind Emily is in a room surrounded by zombies. They are not doing anything but standing there and even though she cannot see them, she senses their presence and becomes increasingly hysterical. Fulci's decision to have the zombies standing silently waiting and showing the entire room in an overhead shot has stuck with me for years and I still think of it when I am alone in a large house. There is also a great shot of the hotel at one point where the lights slowly come on and and zombie silhouettes are seen through the windows that is simple yet effectively creepy. In addition to his many classic gore highlights, it is moments like these that have earned Fulci the reputation he has. I am not a patient viewer when it comes to 'arty' films as I like things to be somewhat straightforward. That being said, some of my favorite movies (Blade Runner, Cemetery Man) do not wrap things up in a pretty little bow for the viewer. Fulci films are not pretty but they are also not boring. The Beyond has its faults but is overall a movie that all horror fans should experience at least once. After that, you may be hooked. Look for Fulci in a small part as the librarian. (Josh Pasnak, 9/29/14)
Directed By: Lucio Fulci.
Written By: Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo, Lucio Fulci.
Starring: Catriona MacColl (as Katherine MacColl), David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale (as Sarah Keller), Antoine Saint-John.
aka: Seven Doors of Death.