Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Beyond: Fulci's Masterpiece?

After seeing Zombie and enjoying it for what it was, I was motivated to see The Beyond (1981) by various comments on the Internet Movie Database and other sites describing it as Lucio Fulci’s masterpiece, or at least one of his best.  Of course, other comments from Fulci fans charitably referenced the “slightly incoherent plot” and stated that the acting is “what you’d expect”, so I knew what I was getting in to.

Louisiana, 1927:  Instead of Randy Newman or any mention of flooding, we get a sepia-toned flashback with stern men bursting into a hotel to lynch a demented painter, Schweick.  First they tongue-lash him (“you ungodly warlock!”), then they lash him with a chain, nail him to a wall, and spatter him with bubbling lye, all in Fulci’s blood-spurting, flesh-rending detail. 

One hopes for a Lovecraftian slant, especially when the Book of Eibon comes into play, but it turns out that instead of a portal to the Great Old Ones, the hotel is built over one of the seven doors of Hell.

The scene switches to the present day (1981), as Liza (Catriona MacColl, who appeared in other Fulci films) inherits the rundown hotel.  Liza meets the caretakers, creepy Martha (Veronica Lazar) and her slow-witted son Arthur (Gianpaolo Saccarola), the sympathetic Dr. McCabe (David Warbeck), and the original Joe the Plumber (Giovanni De Nava), who quickly meets an eye-gouging fate (a Fulci trademark) in the basement which is somehow pronounced an “accident”.

In one of the more memorable scenes, Liza runs across the blind Emily (Cinzia Monreale) and her German shepherd, standing on an eerily deserted Lake Pontchartrain bridge.  “I’ve been waiting for you,” says Emily, so Liza takes them in, no questions asked.  Was Fulci going for the surreal or just too lazy to craft a plot that made sense?

Assuming the former makes the viewing experience more pleasant, since the plot is slightly more than incoherent.  It’s also fairly uninteresting.  If the premise is a hotel built atop a gateway to Hell, one really wants to see all Hell breaking loose at some point; but this is not a haunted hotel movie of the caliber of The Shining.  Fulci does try, with a spiked skull, ripped-off ear, torn throat, and exploding foreheads.  There’s an inventive bit in a bathtub, and at one point inexplicable tarantulas manifest to eat a man; only a few are live, and the ones in the background are models which are waggled unconvincingly back and forth.  The “Do Not Entry” sign in one scene is a classic.   
The acting is in fact what you’d expect, but there are some enjoyable lines:

“I’ve lived in New York all my life, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned not to believe in, it’s ghosts.”

“I’m a doctor and I want to accept the rational explanations!” 

“Somehow the basement’s flooded” (not entirely surprising in south Louisiana).

Overall, The Beyond just isn’t cohesive enough to be engaging.  I found Zombie to be much more interesting.

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