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DVD Review: The Beyond

Lucio Fulci began his career in the late 1950s, but not as a horror director. He built his career making comedies, dramas, and even a few westerns. In the early 1970s, he made a couple of giallos that have stood the test of time, most notably Don't Torture a Duckling. Then, in the late '70s, fate stepped in as producers were looking to capitalize on the success of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead (released as Zombi in Italy). Fulci was tapped to make an unofficial sequel. That film became Zombi 2 (released as Zombie in the US). The rest is history as fans took right to it and Fulci entered the most famous stage of his career, as the gore-drenched madman behind a series of bloody horror films.

Much like Dario Argento's "Mother" trilogy, Fulci has an unofficial trilogy of his own. These films are linked by the presence of seven gateways to Hell. In each film a gateway is opened with disastrous results. The Beyond (aka L'aldilà) is the middle film of the trilogy, released in 1981, one year past City of the Living Dead. It is also considered by many to be the crown jewel of Fulci's career, and there is no denying the effect it can have in the right environment. Do you agree with that assessment? I have not seen enough to make that call yet, but you cannot disagree with the mastery Fulci displays over the genre.

When you enter into a visual contract with this film, there are a few things you need to accept. The film is set in New Orleans, yet the central location of the hotel has a basement. No home in New Orleans has a basement due to the city being beneath sea level, but at least they shot in a local cemetery so the tombs are above ground. Next, you need to accept that the film will be paced slowly in between gore sequences. This is something I have noticed in the few Fulci films I have seen. Then you have to deal with the story and script; they are never that good. They bring in big ideas that you can fill in working from the outside in, but he is much more interested in atmosphere and surrealism than about a solid story. The script leaves a lot to be desired as the actors are left to do the bulk of the heavy lifting to make it watchable and give it meaning. It's sort of like trying to perform the poem "Jabberwocky."

The film opens in the past, 1927 to be exact. A man is painting a picture in his hotel room, a bleak, grey image. Meanwhile, men with torches arrive by boat and by car. They storm into his room, call him a warlock, and proceed to drag him to the basement, whipping him with chains before ultimately crucifying him, nailing his wrists to the cement walls — not to mention some other nastiness inflicted upon him.

Jump forward to 1981. We meet Liza, a New York girl who has just inherited the derelict hotel from a deceased uncle. She is working on getting the place back up and running, having all manner of construction workers around in addition to housekeepers Martha and Arthur, both of whom "came with the hotel." No sooner have we been introduced to Liza (Catriona MacColl) that strange things begin to happen. A painter sees a woman whose eyes have gone white, the plumber is attacked and killed in the basement, and Liza meets a blind girl she is told is not real.

What is going on? Well, according to the Book of Eibon (introduced in City of the Living Dead), the hotel is built on top of one of the gateways to hell. The murdered artist figured out a way of opening the doorway but was unable to finish prior to his murder. Apparently, his soul has haunted the hotel and the plumber's meddling in the basement finished the job. Now the evil forces are spreading their influence outward and upward making Liza's life a hell.

She teams with local doctor John McCabe (David Warbeck) to try and piece together what is going on. The problem is whether or not they can figure it out in time to stop the coming of the apocalypse. Knowing the way the first "gates" film ended, you have to assume the worst. These films are not exactly known for their cheery outcomes.

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