In the 1977 film The Sentinel, a character played by Cristina Raines moves into a Brooklyn Heights apartment building that, as it turns out, sits above the gateway to Hell. But as Italian director Lucio Fulci shows us in the third picture of his so-called Zombie Quartet, 1981’s The Beyond (which picture followed 1979’s Zombie and 1980’s City of the Living Dead and preceded that same year’s House By the Cemetery), there are actually SEVEN gateways on Earth that lead down to the infernal nether regions! Here, a NYC-based woman named Liza Merrill (beautiful English actress Catriona MacColl, who stars in the final three films of the Quartet) inherits a run-down inn called the Seven Doors Hotel, in Louisiana. After a series of gruesome accidents transpires around the property, Liza is warned by a mysterious blind girl, Emily (Cinzia Monreale), to cut and run, as the hotel’s basement is a direct route to … well, you can imagine. And before very long, Liza and her new friend, Dr. John McCabe (David Warbeck), are playing defense against a lumbering mob of the recently awakened undead…
Those viewers who may have thought City of the Living Dead — with its plot concerning the suicide of a priest opening the gate of Hell — a bit on the incoherent side may be in for a tougher time with The Beyond, whose story line is even more of a non sequitur mess, if possible. But as in the earlier film, here, Fulci’s ability to engender atmosphere and combine it with jarring shocks and gruesome FX renders the picture’s illogic fairly moot. The film is certainly more than the sum of its grisly set pieces. As in City of the Living Dead, Fulci’s collaborators on The Beyond — DOP Sergio Salvati, FX master Giannetto De Rossi, composer Fabio Frizzi — turn in some truly inspired work here, and despite the head-scratching nature of the story, an effectively horrific experience is the result.
The film wastes little time in dishing out the gross-outs, too. Indeed, in the picture’s first five minutes, in an excellent, sepia-toned prologue that takes place in 1927, an accused warlock is chain whipped (reminiscent of the chain whipping that Florinda Bolkan suffered in Fulci’s 1972 film Don’t Torture a Duckling), crucified (try watching this without wincing!) and quicklimed; a ghastly sequence that sets the viewer up for the film’s later nastiness. For the gorehounds out there, Fulci delivers with a burst eyeball, a woman’s face melting after a dousing with acid (with the result that a hospital floor becomes flooded with bloody, acidic sludge), a horde of clacking tarantulas eating a man’s face in a gruesomely protracted sequence, another woman’s head impaled on a large nail, a horrible throat ripping by a demon dog, glass shards blown into a doctor’s face and, of course, loads of grotesque-looking zombies for our heroes to contend with. A feast for the gorehounds, to be sure, but still, nothing as memorable as the intestine-puking and power-drill-to-the-head sequences to be found in City of the Living Dead.
As for the film’s inexplicable elements, I don’t even know where to begin. Why does Joe the Plumber’s wife insist on putting a suit on her husband while he lays on an autopsy table? Why does their little girl, Jill, become possessed after her parents’ death? What is Emily’s story? An escapee from Hell, or what? Why do the architectural plans for the hotel fade from the page before our eyes? Why does that wall painting start to bleed? What is up with that “Do Not Entry” sign? And why was the film’s mystical 4,000-year-old Book of Eibon (an H.P. Lovecraft homage here) called the Book of Enoch in the previous film? All that’s left for the viewer to think is that once all Hell breaks loose, anything and everything can happen. And it DOES, in this crazy, nightmarish funhouse of a movie. The film is a Fulci-fan favorite, with the excellent reference book DVD Delirium going so far as to call it “his masterpiece.” I’m not sure I’d agree with that — I still prefer Fulci’s psychedelic giallo from 1971, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin — but will admit that it IS some very powerful filmmaking.
And one final word on its current DVD incarnation, the one from the good folks at Grindhouse Releasing: It is a superb package, with hours of extras (modern-day interviews with Catriona and Cinzia reveal the two to still be very beautiful, three decades later) and a gorgeous film print. The DVD also sports an insane 53 chapter stops for an 89-minute movie! Truly, one HELL of a deal!