(warning: contains spoilers about all the best gory parts)
I haven’t seen enough of them to really know for sure, but I get the feeling THE BEYOND may be the masterpiece of unpredictable Italian horror sometimes master Lucio Fulci. It’s a simple, meandering haunted house type of story but with powerfully strange imagery and extravagantly staged incidents of jarringly brutal violence against rubber dummies.
Liza (Catriona MacColl, HAWK THE SLAYER, AFRAID OF THE DARK) is a New York fashion designer (with British accent) who inherits a small inn in Louisiana. It’s been closed for a long time and the basement is flooded, but she wants to get it running again. One important piece of information that has been kept from her: a dude was crucified in the basement in 1927 and renovating the place will open one of the Seven Doors of Death. And you know that song “Who Let the Dogs Out?”, well it will be exactly like that but even more horrifying because it will be who let the dead out to wander the earth and eat people’s faces off and crazy shit. I’m against it.
She hires a contractor literally named Joe the Plumber (Giovanni De Nava) who I think is supposed to be a hairy American working man, but looks more like a hippie in overalls. Trying to fix the flooding he breaks through some bricks and finds the railroad spikes in the wall where the guy was killed and it’s all over. Next thing you know Liza is driving and almost hits a blind lady named Emily (Cinzia Monreale, THE STENDHAL SYNDROME) standing fearlessly in the middle of the road with her dog Dickie. She has cool looking white pupils, knows alot about the weird shit going on around here, and is never seen or known of by any of the other people. But Liza becomes her buddy.
Of course there is a mysterious weathered book and a creepy painting that appear and disappear and are significant. And there’s alot of people not really believing in what’s going on. And eventually coming face to face with a bunch of zombies and having to shoot them. Like many Italian horror movies there are some dull stretches, and the characters feel a little bland and clunky, in part because of the non-sync recording/dubbed dialogue, but you’re watching it for the intense bursts of fever dream insanity. Nobody is safe here. After Joe the Plumber gets beyonded his wife and daughter (Laura De Marchi and Maria Pia Marsala) come to the morgue to identify his body, and then worse shit happens to them. Little Jill comes in to find her mother laying on the ground with her face melting from a giant jar of acid that fell off of a shelf. I know there was hell and curses involved here but I still wish this tragedy would’ve led to tighter regulation of open acid jars on shelves. That could’ve prevented the events of SLAUGHTER HIGH.
There are many issues surrounding those nails in the wall. At one point Liza sees the body of the guy that was killed by them, then it disappears and there’s not even blood or anything and she looks like an idiot. Shit like that. Most notably there’s the scene where a woman falls backwards onto one of them, and it punches right through her head and pushes her eyeball out the other side like a cuckoo clock. There are people who don’t like that type of shit and there are the rest of us. Obviously this movie is for the rest of us.
The only time I saw this before was in the ’90s at an all night horror festival. To me it’s a movie that works better in that setting, when you’re fighting to stay awake and the crazy parts – say, when one character justifiably blows the top of a little girl’s head off – will get your adrenaline pumping, and the audience responding. There’s more of a story here than in some, but there’s definitely a bit of that endurance test thing too, so it works good in that context.
To me the scene of the movie, and the main thing I remember from that night around 20 years ago, is what happens to Liza’s friend Martin (Michele Mirabella) when he goes to the town hall library to try to find the blueprints for the hotel for her. There is some great “oh jesus, what is going to happen to this poor guy?” foreshadowing when the librarian shows him into this private room and keeps assuring him that he’ll be okay there by himself (wait – why wouldn’t I?), shows him the very tall sliding ladder he’ll need to climb and then says “I’ll close the door, that way you won’t be disturbed.”
I’m afraid he will be very disturbed.
It starts with falling from the ladder for a serious head whack. He seems to be paralyzed by the fall, so he has to lay there as a bunch of tarantulas crawl out and onto him. They walk up his body and onto his face and they bite into his flesh and yank on it. Just rip him apart. You listen to their exaggerated clattering and squeaking and most of the time they’re on an obviously artificial face, but the real closeups of his real eyes made to seem in the vicinity of real tarantulas is enough to get me. I hate those fuckers. And one thing that’s odd about it is that most of them are real spiders but a couple of them, even before they start chewing, are obviously puppets. I know the hope had to have been that we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, but to me there’s something a little unnerving about the idea that they got a bunch of real tarantulas crawling on this guy and still thought that’s not enough, we need to spruce this up with some extras.
And it’s a long scene. A couple minutes of these little monsters slowly eating poor Martin’s face, set to groovin prog rock by Fabio Frizzi.
The part where the mythology really works for me is the last scene with Emily. A bunch of zombies are coming after her, but her reaction isn’t “oh no, zombies are after me!” it’s “I’m not going back!” So we had our suspicions and now it seems to be confirmed, that she is a dead lady who escaped back to the world of the living. And honestly it’s been okay, she’s been a good neighbor, I think we should defend her right to do this. Her plan is to set Dickie after the ghouls. I don’t know why, I really love that idea of an escaped spirit and they’re trying to pull her back to Hell but her attack dog protects her.
Or at least he does for a minute. Then he rips out her throat and one of her ears. Bad Dickie.
It never really occurred to me before that there’s a whole lot of hotel/motel horror. PSYCHO, THE SHINING, MOTEL HELL, VACANCY, 1408, THE INNKEEPERS, the best scene in NEON DEMON. (I won’t add the three HOSTEL movies since the actual horror takes place somewhere other than the accommodations.) I wonder if there’s something to that? Maybe because you’re away from your home, you’re in an unfamiliar place, where dangerous people could be on the other side of the walls, or any number of disgusting things could’ve happened here over the years and you wouldn’t know it. In this one, like THE SHINING, it’s empty and the protagonist is taking care of it, but it’s a place they are new to and don’t know the horrible history of.
Mostly it’s the fear of unleashing forces beyond our control or understanding. The things that happen in this place are not governed by science or reason. Even the place itself is impossible to understand; the blueprints fade to blank pages before they can be found. You are not safe because you’re not at home, your dog might betray you, you might get your fucking face eaten by tarantulas while you have to lay there and watch! As far as a story and characters, this is not my favorite type of horror movie. But it’s worth it for those potent doses of pure, illogical nightmare juice. Few movies carry that type of high.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.