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THE BEYOND

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Sarah Keller, Antoine Saint John
Director:  Lucio Fulci
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, Dolby Mono
Video:  Widescreen 2.35:1 16x9 Enhanced
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  See Review
Length:  89 Minutes
Release Date:  October 10, 2000

Film ***1/2

Movies like The Beyond really take me back to my youth.  As a kid, I worked in my family’s video store.  We had one of the first stores in my home town back when VCR’s were still considered a novelty item.  Movies you could watch at home with no commercials or cuts…what a concept!  But what always thrilled me the most was our horror section—filled with menacing looking cover boxes that were both unsettling and intriguing to an 11-year-old mind.  These were the films I wasn’t supposed to even touch, much less watch.  It’s no wonder I grew up a horror fan.

One title I can remember clearly to this day was Seven Doors of Death (the original American release title of Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond).  The box cover was full of grisly images, and big words that promised “shocking” and “horrifying”.  It is indeed both of those things, but much more.  It is one of the quintessential horror films of the 80’s, with as much raw, unsettling power and atmosphere as gory, gruesome images.  For me, it always struck the right balance between the two.  A gore film is just a gore film:  it doesn’t automatically equate to real horror.  What Fulci tapped into with his film was the dark recesses of our minds where we might just harbor some kind of belief that the supernatural and evil are very real things…and out to get us.

Fulci is a legendary name among horror fans, and in the late 70’s and early 80’s he treated us to such shocking, twisted and fun gore fests such as Zombie and House By the Cemetery (another title I remember from my video store days).  He’s been considered a master at driving out the wrong audience members within the first ten minutes or so of his pictures.  Sometimes they left in droves, but they weren’t the people Fulci was looking for in the first place.  They were better off getting their money back and going to see E.T.

The movie takes place in New Orleans, and opens with a flashback to a once grandiose hotel.  The sepia toned sequence involves a large torch carrying mob (never a good thing in these pictures), who storm the building and invade room 36, where a painter (Saint John) is creating his bizarre, unsettling and other-worldly images.  They call him a warlock and condemn him for the curse he’s brought on the town.  This is followed by a rather stomach-churning execution:  after beating him with chains, they nail him to the basement wall and pour quicklime on him, and watch his body slowly dissolve away.

Cut back to the full-color present, when a beautiful young woman (MacColl) has inherited the dilapidated hotel, and is in the process of restoring it to its former beauty.  But strange things are beginning to happen.  One of the workers sees an inhuman pair of eyes staring back at him from an upper window.  He falls from his scaffolding and is badly hurt.  An antiquated call box at the front desk keeps registering a call from room 36—a glitch, or does this have to do with what we saw earlier in the flashback?  A plumber probes his way into the basement to investigate a water problem, and is grabbed and brutally killed by a strange hand from behind one of the walls.  Our painter friend, perhaps?

Fulci deliberately avoids any ready-made explanations for his horror.  It is enough for him that he suggests that certain segments link up with others.  We’re never sure if this is the actual case, but it keeps us in a heightened and surreal state of mind, which further allows Fulci to weave his unwholesome magic.

A mysterious blind girl (Keller) appears on the scene, and may know a little about what’s going on.  Her eyes are strange indeed, appearing as though they had been encrusted over.  When she speaks, there’s a strange, supernatural reverb to her tone.  She tells a tale about seven gates to hell, and reveals that this hotel is built over one of them.  The dead come and go through there.  Like in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, this film suggests that hell is full, and our world is about to take the overflow.

I don’t know how much I should go into describing the more grisly scenes in the movie…if that’s what you’re most after, you won’t be disappointed.  In addition to the opening sequence, you’ll be treated to scenes of giant flesh eating spiders, a dog that turns on its owner, eyeballs being forcibly removed in various ways, and much more.  This is not a mealtime movie.

But then again, I don’t want to limit perceptions of this movie to just another Italian horror gore fest.  Fulci uses his gruesome images to startle and shock, but only in the context of his storytelling and his creepy atmosphere.  In his picture, the gore is a tool.  It is not the sole point.  His visuals don’t always have to be graphic to convey his sense of horror.  The final shot of the two lost protagonists trapped in a never ending, dark, gray, enveloping hell is one of the genre’s most enduring and hypnotic images.

The Beyond is definitely not a movie for all tastes.  Those who appreciate a good, deep scare peppered with gross images and a great sense of visual style might do well to give this one a look.  If you scare or sicken easily, stay far, far away.

Video ***1/2

I am SO pleased to finally see this picture the way it was intended.  Anchor Bay has released The Beyond in its original scope ratio format, and with anamorphic enhancement to boot.  Fulci’s sense of visual composition across a wide canvas is terrific, and believe me, to see this film in pan and scan would be a travesty.  As I’ve mentioned, the visuals are important in this film, and this transfer is near perfection.  The colors are bright and natural looking, with no instances of bleeding that I could perceive.  Images are generally sharp, crisp and clear throughout, save for a few shots that appeared deliberately softened by Fulci for a more surreal effect.  The print is in amazingly good condition, with very little in the way of telltale marks, spots, scratches or other aging debris.  Even darker scenes, of which there are quite a few, survive intact with no loss of clarity and no evidence of compression, grain, shimmer or noise.  I’d say this disc does a better job at dark scene representations than the recent and much more lauded Jurassic Park DVD!  Overall, you really couldn’t ask for much better than this quality disc presentation.

Audio ****

With the release of their Evil Dead 2 special edition disc, Anchor Bay proved to be one of the more daring DVD producing studios as far as remastering a soundtrack for 5.1 sound.  They didn’t relegate the rear channels as replicates of the front stage, or just for a bit of music or background stage.  All channels got INVOLVED in the mix.  With The Beyond, they’ve gone even further.  This is an amazing, almost reference quality 5.1 mix that’s bound to please even the most stalwart of purists (plus a Dolby 2 channel surround mix and the original mono).  All audio in Fulci’s film was post dubbed, so which language you listen to doesn’t matter much—in fact, if you read lips, you can see that most of the actors are indeed speaking English on screen.  But I highly recommend listening to the English track just to see what a bang-up job Anchor Bay has done with this audio.  All channels are discreet, and their use adds to the eerie effect of the movie.  Sometimes, you hear a voice calling out over one of your shoulders, and I confess, I was often startled enough to turn around and look.  Voices and sound effects can come from any speaker at any time.  Sometimes even dialogue is mutli-dimensional in staging, as characters in the foreground will speak from the front channels toward a character who is off camera from behind, and the responses will therefore emanate from the rears.  This is also a clean and dynamic audio track, with no clarity or noise issues.  Simply outstanding.

Features ****

For starters, you get an audio commentary track by the two lead stars, which is both funny and informative.  Both express amazement and gratitude concerning the fans who have kept this film in memory, and who still find their way to the stars’ personal appearances and such.  Their warmth and humor actually makes for a nice contrast to the dark and horrific images often spilling across the screen in front of them, which helps take a little of the edge off.  There are three trailers, including an international and a German one, a music video that mixes a live performance with film footage, and a collection of extras in program format that includes production photos and behind the scenes looks, interviews and other clips with the stars, and a rare interview segment with the late Lucio Fulci himself.  All in all, a terrific package for a cult-status horror film.

Summary:

Anchor Bay has once again proven themselves the undisputed master of catering to horror fans, and I’m glad they were the ones to release The Beyond.  This is a surreal and unsettling macabre masterpiece, and it is presented here on an absolute top quality disc with a startling new 5.1 audio mix, anamorphic widescreen transfer, and a terrific package of extras.  Watch it only if you’re not squeamish.  Or afraid of spiders.

NOTE:  The Beyond is also available in a limited edition tin collector's box from Anchor Bay.