Before he was interviewing movie stars or producing podcasts, horror fandom stalwart Tom Elliot was sharing his thoughts on the genre with the GeekPlanetOnline community. From grim 1970s slashers to modern CGI murder, if you need the opinion of a gorehound then Tom is your man...
In the last column I talked about a couple of my favourite releases from the eclectic horror and exploitation DVD producers Grindhouse Releasing. It just so happens that that column leads nicely into something I’ve been meaning to do since the beginning, before all of those pesky horror causes like the fight to restore Nightbreed, or the fundraising to make Antony Lane’s film Invasion of the not Quite Dead grabbed my attention. I’m going to welcome my first film inductee into…
THE HORROR THING HALL OF FAME!
That’s right. Consider it a column within a column, where occasionally I’ll recommend a horror film that I feel deserves perhaps a little more mainstream recognition than it currently has. You won’t find genre classics like Halloween, Hellraiser or Nightmare on Elm Street being inducted; you won’t even find the pioneers of the genre like Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, or Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein films being inducted. These films have their champions already. No, the hall of fame is for those films that fall below the mainstream radar. Horror buffs will probably consider a lot of these classics already, but I hope that those who don’t venture far beyond the mainstream, and are disillusioned with its samey output will find the hall of fame a helpful introduction to the many sub-genres horror has to offer. After all…when the darkness calls, it’s good to be prepared…
Directed by Lucio Fulci
“The seven dreaded gateways are concealed in seven cursed places. Woe be unto him who ventures near without knowledge.”
So begins the opening passage from Italian director Lucio Fulci’s masterpiece The Beyond. When the film opens we’re introduced to an artist, staying at a hotel in 1927 Louisiana. He’s carefully putting the finishing touches to a canvas depicting a vast wasteland, deserted, except for neatly arranged lines of corpses occasionally punctuating the dusty landscape. His concentration is disturbed when a gang of local townspeople burst into his room. “You un-Godly warlock!” growls one of the men, as he swings a chain, cutting a deep gash in the artists face, drawing first blood in a film that will get so much bloodier…and soon. The chain flogging continues, cutting deep gashes into the alleged warlock’s body as he lies helpless. The townspeople’s bloodlust is far from sated yet, and the artist is dragged to the basement of the building, where he’s crucified; large stakes hammered through his wrists. Hanging, close to death, in a final horrific act one of the mob fills a bowl with caustic lime, and throws it in the artists face, and as his flesh starts to bubble melting from his bones the films exquisite score kicks in and we’re left wondering whether Fulci can match this visceral masterpiece of an opening sequence. But don’t worry, you haven’t seen anything yet.
“Woe be unto him who opens one of the gates to hell because through that gateway evil will invade the world.”
Flash forward to 1981, and the scene of the horrors we’ve just witnessed is now a derelict hotel, being renovated by Liza Merril (Fulci regular Catriona MacColl). Unbeknownst to her, the hotel is built upon one of the seven gateways to Hell, and the spilled blood of the artist murdered all those years ago has opened it. Her renovations start to disturb the evil resting below, and “accidents” begin befalling the workers. The Beyond
As far as the whys and wherefores go, the two opening lines of narration quoted above are as much as we really learn. Any attempt by the characters to uncover the hotel’s history is met with more horror and death. The two leads hunt for the truth, only to end up hunted by the evil that the work on the hotel has awoken.
There are times in The Beyond when you may be wondering what’s going on. Characters who were in one place seemingly show up at random in other places without any explanation, but to try and make sense of The Beyond is to perhaps miss the point of what Fulci was trying to achieve. The Beyond is a nightmare, its non-linear plot perfectly mirroring the disorientation of a bad dream. It’s also Fulci paying homage to one of his heroes: surrealist playwright Anton Artaud. A cohesive story is secondary to the beautifully crafted imagery that shocks yet delights. Take for instance a scene where a man, looking for archived building plans for the hotel, falls from a ladder. As he lays in-capacitated, four tarantulas stride like giants across the floor, and dismember him chunk by bloody chunk. Sure the special effects are a little creaky at times, but damn it’s effective. In another scene that takes place in an autopsy theatre, a young daughter waits as her mother goes to identify the body of her husband. Startled by something off screen, the woman falls. Her daughter enters the room to find her mother unconscious, just in time to see a bottle of acid falling over on a shelf above and disintegrating her face. Horrified by the sight of her dead mother, the girl attempts to escape the room, but the bloody foamy residue from her disintegrating mother seemingly pursues her as she tries to find an exit.
While I might seem like a gore-hound just wanting to show off what a high level of tolerance I have for such things, believe me, that’s not the case. There’s a world of difference between how these effects are presented when compared to recent notorious gore flicks like Hostel or the Saw series. The Beyond doesn’t just present us with gore for the sake of it, there’s artistry at work here. Effects artist Germano Natali beautifully interprets Fulci’s nightmarish vision into practical effects that while not always one hundred percent realistic (although more often than not they are), are still so artfully done that the viewer may be horrified, but they’re still transfixed. Each death has some twist that raises it beyond the usual horror kill, there’s a peverse beauty to Fulci’s and Germano’s unique brand of death.
As with most horror classics, The Beyond is gifted with an outstanding score. Italian composer, and frequent Fulci collaborator, Fabio Frizzi crafts a series of pieces that are at times spine tingling, and at others inject you with a heart pounding shot of adrenalin. Frizzi’s score does what every good score should do, it raises the whole movie. Everything is just that little bit more effective when the music kicks in.
In fitting with the rest of the film, the ending will leave some scratching their heads as to what it all means, but Fulci’s explanation is easily found on the internet if you so wish, the secret didn’t go with him to the grave. It would be remiss of me to recommend this film and then reveal one of its greatest treasures, so I won’t. I only hope that if you do take my recommendation, you find it as breathtakingly beautiful an ending as I did.
There are cheap versions of The Beyond available if you look for them, a certain shoddy UK distributor that shall remain nameless released a version a few years ago which I wouldn’t personally recommend. Grindhouse Releasing’s 2008 edition is by far the best version to go for, or if you’re a collector of novelty packaging a nice version was released by Anchor Bay in 2000 in a limited edition tin, which is also a respectable release.
The Beyond is the middle film in an unofficial trilogy of Fulci films, that all deal with one of the seven gates of Hell. The first being City of The Living Dead and the last being The House by the Cemetery. Neither are as rich and consistently awe inspiring as The Beyond, both suffer from long stretches that are dangerously close to boring, but they also have moments of brilliance, and I’d still recommend them to anyone wishing to explore Fulci’s work.
I’ve been exploring the films of Lucio Fulci a lot lately, and have grown to have a real respect for him as an artist. Although inconsistent, there are enough treasures in his catalogue to place him high in my list of all time favourite horror directors. I’d like to close the column with a few words from Clive Barker (yes, I know, Barker again!) that I think speak volumes about Lucio Fulci, and others who choose to devote their artistic lives to the horror genre.
“I was friends with Lucio Fulci from 1984 to his death. One of the gentlest, sweetest men I ever met. It’s not a coincidence that creators of extreme stories like Lucio have an immense humanity. Horror heals. Sentiment sickens.”