“And you will face the sea of darkness, and all therein that may be explored.”
I’m a big fan of Italian horror. Specifically the works of a handful of comparable directors. Directors like Dario Argento, whose movie Phenomena I just watched, and who has been a favourite of mine since I saw his masterful film Suspiria. Someone like Mario Bava also belongs to this list. Blood and Black Lace is a seminal giallo film, and his non-horror comic book adaptation, Danger: Diabolik, is completely fantastic. Lucio Fulci, director of today’s viewing, in my mind, already utterly belonged on this roster. His movie, Zombi 2, so named in the hopes that people would confuse it for a George Romero sequel, is incredible. Instead of following just about every other filmmaker and imitating Romero’s grounded, gritty zombies he went back to the roots and added voodoo into the equation. Zombi 2 is atmospheric, beautiful, and spooky. Plus it has a killer bleak ending. It’s a really, really great zombie movie. One of my favourites. Now these Italian directors all belong to the same pantheon not so much for their nationality, but for their style. They all treat horror like formalist experiment, often disregarding characters and sometimes even story, for fun sets and interesting cinematography. None of the tone is a result of the writing; it’s all born from the filmmaking. If you’re interested in filmmaking or horror they make for great watches.
So I was exited to watch another Lucio Fulci movie often regarded as a genre classic. This time The Beyond, a sort of haunted house movie. Except not really. Actually in the end there are a plethora of zombies, a studio demand after the success of Zombi 2. The Beyond is about a New Yorker, Liza, who moves to Louisiana to inherit a hotel her rich uncle left her. First off workers on the house start dying. Then they start coming back to life. A mysterious blind woman who may or may not exist starts cautioning Liza against trying to use the hotel. And for good reason. It turns out it’s built on a gateway to hell. A lot of creepy spectres start showing up and offing people and it’s generally great.
The movie is wonderfully tonal. It opens with a dizzying sepia flashback depicting the beating and murder of one of the hotel’s past inhabitants. Great camerawork and wonderful lighting bring the rest of the movie to life, creating loads of spooky tone out of very little. Great use of focus, whipping camera movements, and extremely modern POV moments. It’s like a mixture of the wonderful Argento-esque reserved camera movements and less traditional dynamic moments.
But the highlights are the deliciously depraved murder sequences. A plumber is assaulted by a zombie, who plunges his thumb into the working man’s eye-socket until his eye pops out. Lucio Fulci is famous for his eye gauging imagery, and this movie singlehandedly brings more eye related gore than I’d ever seen before. The undead plumber attacks a woman and he pushes the back of her head into a nail stuck into the wall behind her. The dull end of the nail drives through her head and pops her eye out. A woman basically trips and gets her face dissolved by acid. A man trips and falls and has his eyes and tongue torn out by tarantulas (a brief shot from this movie actually appears in Spider-Man). It’s grim, unexpectedly convincing stuff for a movie that was so cheap. Like really cheap. Like there’s a scene with a bunch of frozen naked men and hobos were hired to play the parts and paid with alcohol.
It’s definitely a movie with a few slack moments, but none of them are long enough to kill the tone. Plus most of them are immediately followed by exquisite gore. There’s also a pretty nice Lovecraftian take on hell floating around the background of this movie. It’s not quite as pronounced or awesome as, say, Hellraiser, but it does have one very Jigoku-like image, so that’s something. Oh and Lovecraftian isn’t a stretch. The name of an ominous tome featured in the film is taken from a series of works written by someone else set in Lovecraft’s world.
Where the movie starts to lose points is the lack of story momentum. Basically this film has no connective tissue. It’s just a series of events, oftentimes featuring characters we don’t even really care about. For instance the plumber I mentioned earlier? His daughter becomes a character out of nowhere, and it’s far from necessary. Even if there is a scene where she tries to avoid the foamy blood that was her mother’s head. Note to moratorium workers: don’t leave face-dissolving acid on easy to reach shelves.
There are a couple of weird threads that don’t really go anywhere. The brain-scanner that gets hooked up to a zombie. This should naturally lead to a scene where someone else wanders in and the thingy starts to beep and no one notices it and tension is built. But nope. The Book of Eibon. This book seems super important, but then never goes anywhere at all. It serves as exposition for one character, and it’s info we already had. The artist who was murdered in the hotel way back when. Actually at least he starts the wave of zombie attacks, but that doesn’t actually lead to any resolution.
This all ends up not really mattering. The nutty gore and cool filmmaking manage to sustain this movie, despite its complete lack of proper plot. This lack of plot shockingly doesn’t prevent the movie from having a pretty great ending. Much like Zombi 2 the ending of The Beyond is sort of gibberish, coming out of nowhere and making very little sense, but it still has a great effect and acts as a great caper for the movie. This is definitely a movie you have to be willing to like, but if you go in with the right mindset there’s a ton to enjoy.
Next up: a movie often consider the pinnacle of the horror genre.