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The Beyond/Review 2

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

< The Beyond

Film Review

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A young woman Liza (Catriona MacColl) inherits an old hotel in Louisiana where a painter (Antoine Saint John) that was guarding the gateway to hell was viciously murdered by a lynch mob almost sixty years earlier. As handymen fix up the hotel for her, the crucified painter is accidentally unearthed, causing the gateway to hell to swing wide and allow the dead to rise and walk the Earth. With the assistance of a doctor named John McCabe (David Warbeck), Liza must find a mystical book that may seal the portal and finally set things right in the world. In their way though, stands a legion of zombies lead by the undead painter, who has all sorts of nasty surprises in store for those who stand in his way.

The Beyond is, most certainly, the late Italian horror film guru Lucio Fulci's masterpiece. The plot may initially sound like a rehash of the The Evil Dead trilogy, but make no mistake about its origins. This film was made just prior to the completion and release of the original Sam Raimi classic and contains more of a metaphysical slant than the more visceral cult trilogy (though the metaphysical nature of the film is upstaged by the mind-blowing ending of Michele Soavi's Cemetery Man). The film also contains little humor, which also sets it apart from Raimi's films.

We may not have been able to see this film the way it was intended if it hadn't have been for two fanatical fans of the film and the recent interest in Italian cinema. In 1995, Sylvester Stallone's son Sage and Army of Darkness editor Bob Murawski decided that there were some classic underground, horror, and gore films that had been released over the last twenty or more years that had not been getting the recognition they deserved. Thus was formed Grindhouse Releasing, a company specializing in the restoration and release of classic cult films theatrically and on home video (not to mention having the coolest logo of any releasing studio in the country). The first film they obtained was the Lucio Fulci gorefest, The Beyond.

When this film was initially released to US theaters it was titled Seven Doors of Death, and most of the traumatic footage of death and dismemberment had been edited out. This caused many to feel that the film's narrative was lacking and that the director had to be a hack. With the assistance of Quentin Tarantino and his own production company Rolling Thunder Pictures, a deal was struck that actually allowed Fulci's film to finally be shown in the US in its full uncut version.

And what an uncut version this film is too! Although it doesn't come anywhere near Peter Jackson's over-the-top gore circus Dead Alive (a.k.a. Braindead), The Beyond showcases some of the most revoltingly gory special effects ever seen in a film. The opening scene, shot in a sepia-tone coloration that gives it the feel of an old photograph, features a chain-whipping sequence lifted straight out of Don't Torture A Duckling (though the one presented here is far more graphic in its depiction) followed by a crucifixion and the scalding and melting of a man's face with quicklime. What follows is more bloody face melting, eye gouging, and exploding heads than many Italian films put together. The effects aren't top of the line, but they are very effective.

In fact, the only truly ineffective effect still packs a slight bit of a wallop. The scene entails a man named Martin (Michele Mirabella) researching the grounds that the old hotel was built on (featuring the basement where the painter was nailed to the wall... a virtual impossibility since Louisiana is below sea level and no basements exist throughout the state). Martin accidentally falls off of the ladder he was standing on while reading the old blueprints of the hotel and is immediately set upon by killer tarantulas. Many of the spiders in the scene are most certainly real, but a few are obviously fake. The fake spiders then proceed to eat the flesh off of the Martin's face, which looks very much like a dummy head rigged to spew blood and lose flesh. Where the scene does work though is a truly gross scene where one of the spiders is seen rooting around underneath Martin's eyelid, finally dragging the eyeball out with him when he backs out of the cavity.

Fulci makes his Hitchcock-like cameo during the aforementioned scene as a town clerk who allows Martin to do his own research while he takes a union-mandated early lunch break.

The Beyond was intended as the second film in a proposed trilogy of films called the Seven Gates Trilogy (the first film being the entertainingly graphic City of The Living Dead). In fact, The Beyond was actually supposed to be much different from the finished product and was re-worked to expand on the themes set up in the first film when the German distributors financing the project demanded there be zombies in the script (when there originally weren't any). The Seven Gates Trilogy was never completed although one of the stars of The Beyond, David Warbeck, wrote a treatment for an actual sequel to The Beyond itself that picked up right where the first film left off, but he passed away before it could come to fruition and the project was halted.

If the film alone doesn't satisfy your Fulci cravings, then the ultimate Fulci fans Blackest Heart Media (www.blackestheart.com) have a bit of a surprise for you. Well known for their excellent graphic novel adaptations of Fulci films, the gang don't disappoint again with a wonderful comic version of The Beyond. The Blackest Heart gang have mastered the feel of Fulci's universe and even expand on some of the character motivations, giving the film an even deeper subtext. Included in the comic are a forward by novelist Douglas E. Winter and three great essays centering around horror comics (written by Steve Bissette), the film itself (written by Blackest Heart owner Shawn "Smith" Lewis), and the film's excellent music conducted by Fabio Frizzi (written by Stephen Romano).

Speaking of the music, the graphic novel also comes with a remastered CD soundtrack for the film, exclusive to its release. The soundtrack contains the entire score, as well as great dialogue clips from the film ("You ungodly warlock!").

DVD Review

Anchor Bay Entertainment has outdone themselves with an excellent DVD special edition of The Beyond. The film is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (enhanced for 16x9 televisions) and is a wonder to behold. There are no visible scratches on the print used for the transfer and the film looks as if it were shot only a few short years ago, instead of almost twenty. Features on the disc include the international trailer, the German trailer, the US theatrical re-release trailer, a music video directed by Jim Van Bebber (of Deadbeat at Dawn fame) featuring clips from the film and a band that is apparently screaming lyrics based on the film, the original color version of the German opening credits (made because the German releasing studio didn't appreciate the artistic vision of the director), and a still gallery that also includes actual video footage of Fulci on the set of Demonia and footage of he and David Warbeck answering questions at a convention.

The most entertaining feature on the disc is a commentary track by stars Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck. The track had originally been recorded for the laserdisc release (and Warbeck was actually very ill during the taping and died soon afterwards, though you can never tell by his voice and attitude during the track). The two seem to have a blast reminiscing about the film and are actually surprised at the fans they have garnered due to it. All throughout, they crack jokes and discuss Fulci with a high regard for his talent and the stories they have to tell are fascinating and hilarious. MacColl does seem a little uncomfortable during the gore scenes (as she hasn't seen the film in many years), but she always re1mains professional. Commentary highlight: When Warbeck reveals that a joke he had made on set (reloading his gun by dropping bullets down the barrel) actually made it into the final cut of the film... along with MacColl's bemused on-screen reaction when she sees him doing it.

As an added bonus, there are a few hidden easter eggs to be found. The first hidden goody is located on the "Images from the Beyond" menu page. From the Menu icon at the bottom of the page, click over to the Mark of Eibon on the left to access an extremely gory trailer for the Fulci film Cat in the Brain. The second hidden goody is located on the Audio Setup page. From the Resume icon at the bottom of the page, click over to the Mark of Eibon on the left to access the original opening of the 1981 US version of The Beyond (entitled Seven Doors of Death and credited to director "Louis Fuller").

Note: Anchor Bay also has devised a most unusual and hilarious method of promotion for the film. Screener copies of the DVD were sent out inside a specially created vomit bag proclaiming "the intense and shocking nature of the film" and how "individuals with sensitive constitutions may experience stomach distress". The bag also asks "Can you take it?" and lists the day and date of the film's release on VHS and DVD. A funny message at the bottom of the bag warns against over-filling. Though few will actually get to see this promotional item, it is wonderfully inspired and was a highlight of receiving the disc.

Review by Pockets of Sanity

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