Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Beyond

The Beyond (1981) has a classic setup for a horror story: a young woman inherits a cursed hotel that sits atop one of the gates of Hell (apparently, there are seven gates). It's the kind of premise Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King could have come up with and knocked out of the park. Instead, The Beyond (also known as Seven Doors of Death) is from the mind of Lucio Fulci, who gives us some memorable scenes, eerie atmosphere, and an unforgettable ending but who can't be bothered to give us much of anything else, like a plot, characters, or logic.

Fulci is the late Italian filmmaker known for his extremely gory movies such as Zombie (also known as Zombie Flesh Eaters and Zombi 2 because it was advertised as a sequel to Dawn of the Dead, which was released in Italy as Zombi) and City of the Living Dead (also known as Gates of Hell). He was insanely prolific; most filmmakers with decent track records of success make a movie every couple of years, sometimes longer. Fulci in his heyday made two or three movies a year, and IMDD credits him with having directed 56 titles. For fans of low-budget, violent, graphic shlock, Fulci is highly regarded.

The problem with Fulci's films is a complete disregard for narrative clarity. I can describe the basic set-ups of his movies I've seen, but explaining them is a futile endeavor that usually ends with me becoming dizzy and blood flowing from my nose. How one event relates to another is beyond my comprehension, and the behavior of the characters doesn't resemble humans so much as it resembles the behavior of lobotomized aliens who have no concept of survival or intelligence. The Beyond in particular plays more like a collection of nightmares Fulci had that he decided to film and have the same characters appear in them.

There are memorable set pieces, and Fulci has an eye for crafting creepy, horrific imagery. Early on, a plumber (named Joe, natch) is working in a flooded basement when he begins to knock away part of a stone wall. After he succeeds in creating hole, he leans in closer for a look when suddenly a rotting hand shoots out of the gap and grabs his face, gouging out his eyes. Another character pulls the plug out of a bathtub to drain filthy green water, and as the water drains, a zombie emerges from beneath the surface. A recurring set is this white autopsy room filled with naked corpses, wrapped in plastic sheeting and lying on slabs. Creepy.

But even these effective moments have nagging logical questions. This flooded basement resembles a dungeon, and it's hard to believe one plumber with a tool belt was expected to fix all of it. And why is no one bothered by the fact the plumber is clearly murdered? How did that woman, in feeling around for the drain plug, not notice a corpse in the tub (never mind that she would reach inside that filthy water)? And why does the autopsy room have an elevator in it? How can the plumber's widow walk in to see him, and why would she be the one to dress his body? Why is an open bottle highly corrosive acid left out in the open? And that's just those scenes; the movie's packed with so  many illogical pieces that you'd go crazy thinking about them

The other issue is Fulci's tendency to linger and zoom in on details. Horror movie directors usually obscure or hide their monsters or suggest their presence, let the audience fill in the blanks with their imaginations. Fucli likes to have everything out in the open and in close up and drawn out. There are only so many long takes of actors screaming (with badly dubbed voices) and scrunching up their faces in supposed fear before it becomes hysterical, and when you linger on the gore, the audience is very quick to clue in to how bad and obviously fake the makeup and special effects are.

All that said, the climax of the film is impressive and worthy of being enshrined in the genre hall of excellence. Our two protagonists end up at a hospital. It begins eerie and spooky because all the halls and rooms are empty, and it's so weird to see a hospital without any people in it. Then, slow, lumbering zombies turn up around every corner, and it all ends on the shores of Hell, literally, as the protagonists are blinded by the power of this unholy netherworld. No explanation is offered or needed. I just wish I could say the same about the rest of the movie.

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