Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The Beyond (1981)

The middle chapter of Lucio Fulci's 'Dead' trilogy (which began with 'City of The Living Dead' and ended with 'House By The Cemetary'), The Beyond is quite rightly seen as something of a masterpiece. This is an accurate description, but the film is possibly enjoyed at its best when you've already seen it a couple of times. If you go into the film cold, then you'll have no idea what's going on, with scenes apparently occurring at random thanks to the delights of its non-linear structure.

That said, it is a feast of gore and atmosphere, which carries a genuinely unsettling ambience by the halfway mark. It loses its straightforward narrative and instead becomes a deliciously weird series of set pieces. A face melted by acid. A man devoured by tarantulas. Zombies. Carnage. It's fantastic, but possibly only to those who already have a taste for horror films of that particular era, and are aware of what Fulci's film has in store.

Fulci is an acquired taste, but once you have sampled him, you really can feast on The Beyond. The surreal mayhem on-screen is kicked off by the killing of a suspected warlock in 1927, at the Seven Doors Hotel, an incident which opens one of the seven gates of hell. A young woman inherits the hotel decades later, but once work begins to renovate the place, the gateway is activated, and here come the zombies, an unnerving ghost of a blind girl, the chilling and infamous wasteland scenes and all of the above-mentioned chaos.

Sounds simple, right? Not so. This is about as far as the plot goes before everything goes to hell and you're trapped in a frightening symphony of a film, packed with unforgettable sequences and imagery, and a structure that doesn't give the viewer an easy ride at all.

The cast, headed up by David Warbeck and Catriona MaColl, is of varying quality, with the Italian cast's painfully dubbed lines frequently making you cringe. David and Catriona are great in the film though, their performances increasingly frantic as their characters (and indeed the audience) try to stick with what's going on.

The final moments of the film are stunning in their power, the chilling atmosphere and surreal visuals reaching a very powerful and haunting climax. The experience is one that fans of classic Italian horror will ever forget. While not to everyone's taste, The Beyond is undeniably a milestone in horror cinema, a masterpiece from the intriguing figure of Lucio Fulci and a genuinely essential addition to your horror collection.

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