The Film (5/5)
I have asserted for some time, that what the Velvet Underground and Nico was to late 60's garage bands, Lucio Fulci's Zombie was to horror fans. This was a film that met it's audience full force, and introduced them to splatter, Italian style. Zombie essentially reshaped the way entire generations of fans view the horror genre, Zombie was a primal film, and just the tip of Fulci’s workings in the horror genre.
When Fulci died in 1996 he left behind a legacy of work in film that was stunningly diverse, having worked in genres from comedies to westerns to historical drama. However, at the time of his passing he would be known by fans for his work in the horror and giallo genres above all else. After his success with the aforementioned Zombie he would continue with the genre for a number of years, and while Zombie would introduce Fulci to the world of horror, the trilogy of films he would undertake in 1980-1981 would solidify his reputation in the genre for decades to come.
The so-called "Gates of Hell" trilogy woud begin with 1980's Lovecraftian City of the Living Dead, and conclude with Fulci's Shining-esque House by the Cemetery. However, it's the middle film of the trilogy that got the most attention for the director, and possibly the most accolades he would receive from fandom during his career, The Beyond.
The Beyond begins in 1927 when a lynch mob descends on the Seven Doors Hotel. The hotel is currently the home of Schweick (Antoine St. John), a painter, whom the mob believes to be a warlock. Being that this crowd is more of the lynch first, discuss later variety, they take Schweick down to the cellar and essentially crucify him, nailing the alleged warlock to the wall by his wrist before melting the flesh off his body.
The story then picks up over 50 years later, Liza (Catriona MacColl) has inherited the hotel form a distant Uncle, and is restoring it with a plan to re-open it for business. Unfortunately for Liza and the townspeople the hotel is constructed on one of the seven gates to Hell, and apparently that gate was left open in 1927. Those that surround Liza in her attempts to get the hotel into shape begin to die in increasingly violent and bizarre ways, whether they are in the proximity of the hotel or not. Liza attempts to come to terms with the events happening around her with the help of a blind woman, Emily (Cinzia Monreale), who happened to be in the hotel 50 years earlier on the night Schweick was executed. She is also assisted by a skeptical local Doctor John McCabe (David Warbeck).
The Beyond has enough story to give the viewer something to latch on to, however, the film itself lives and dies by the powerful imagery Fulci has created. I have to paraphrase, as I cannot find the precise quote, but Fulci described the film as an attempt at "pure cinema". Fulci’s intent seemed to use the horror genre as a springboard to create some of the most daring and delirious imagery of his career. The term dreamlike gets thrown around a lot, especially with certain Italian and EuroCult cinema, and it certainly applies to what Fulci was doing here. The film doesn't even attempt to gradually bring the viewer into this, in the opening moments after the 1927 prologue we see a painter, fall from a scaffolding to his death, after catching a glimpse of a pair of supernatural eyes.. This moment has the most minimal of setup, no suspense (this is not a complaint), much like an event in a dream it just comes out of nowhere and occurs, and resolves.
The violence in the film, which is what lured me to the world of Fulci initially is some of the greatest the maestro would commit to film, and was created by the Special FX wizard Gino DeRossi who would work with Fulci prior to his work on the Beyond. The film's atmospheric visuals were captured by frequent Fulci collaborator Sergio Salvati, and quite possibly outside of the director's own vision, the most striking contribution to the film might possible be the score by Fabio Frizzi who brings a haunting operatic score to the film, that helps create a companion to Fulci's delirious and dreamlike imagery, and assists in bringing the viewer in with his hypnotic melodies.
Grindhouse Releasing have released Lucio Fulci's The Beyond with an excellent 2:40:1 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer. OK, so this one is a tiny bit complicated, but Arrow Video released the film on Blu-ray a few years back, and at first it was a mess. The prologue instead of sepia-tone was black and white, It was on a single layer Blu, with compression issues, and there was terrible DNR. They fixed up a few of those issues, most notably restoring the prologue to it’s original design.
The Grindhouse Blu-ray release is excellent which is to be expected. The colors are more natural, detail is excellent, and blacks are solid. There is some natural grain present offering a film like presentation.
There are 4 audio options English DTS-HD MA 5.1, English DD 2.0, and English Mono track, and Italian mono track. I stuck with the English mono track for my viewing, and the track was quite good with the dialogue, score, and effects coming through nicely. I did not detect any audio issues.
Grindhouse have packed their release of the Beyond so filled with extras that they've left nothing to complain about. The disc kicks off with an introduction to the film by Catriona MacColl, we also have the famed commentary track with Warbeck and MacColl that has been on prior releases. There are TV spots and trailers covering disc 1, and a colored version of the prologue in English and German. The second disc is filled with interviews and documentaries some new, some archival, with the cast and crew of the film. There is seriously hours of material here to explore. One of the biggest treats though is the third disc which is a remastered CD soundtrack of Fabio Frizzi's iconic score.
I have long considered the Beyond my favorite horror film of all time. The Blu-ray from Grindhouse is the best the film has ever sounded or looked, and will surely be the definitive version for this generation. The extras are so in depth, that Grindhouse have surely left no stone unturned in regards to the Beyond. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.