The last Lucio Fulci film I watched was The Black Cat, and while it was a pretty decent horror film, I will say it didn’t quite get into Fulci’s reputation as an extreme gorehound. The Beyond, part of his “Gates of Hell trilogy” and one of the films to make the Video Nasties, on the other hand, definitely fits that criteria.
The Beyond is a film that isn’t entirely narratively coherent, but generally otherwise works. The premise is that in the late 1800s, an artist who paints really disturbing paints, and who is staying in the Seven Doors Hotel in New Orleans, is brutally murdered due to the belief of the locals that he has brought a curse upon the town, and then crucified and walled up into the basement of the building.
Cut to the then-present of 1981. Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl) has inherited the disused and decrepit Seven Doors Hotel from her late grandfather and is planning to remodel and rehabilitate the hotel in the hopes that at least she’ll be able to succeed at this career, after failing at so many in the past. Except that the workers she hires keep suffering horrible accidents, and a mysterious blind woman, Emily (Cinzia Monreale), warns her to flee the hotel, as it will only bring damnation.
Narratively, this is something of a mishmash, not helped by the fact that Fulci is reportedly a director who basically wings his films, often operating without a script at start of filming, instead taking a general story and then writing a script as he goes along, and then putting the actual film together in the editing room – and on top of that also not speaking English and having to direct actors who don’t speak Italian.
It makes for a film that is interesting, but not necessarily good. Visually the film is fascinating, and Fulci and cinematographer Sergio Salvati are great at creating visuals that provoke a very particular mood from the audience – as if the film was something of a waking nightmare. For example, one of the film’s iconic shots is on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, with Liza driving across the bridge only to come across Emily and her seeing-eye dog waiting for her in the middle of the bridge – a bridge that does not take pedestrian traffic, and which is completely empty.
The film’s gore effects are also incredibly vivid, and imaginative – from railroad spikes getting pounded into people’s arms, acid being poured onto people’s faces, eyes getting popped out of sockets, that sort of thing. It all looks incredibly gruesome, and just real enough to make you cringe, but still campy enough that you can keep rolling with the film.
It’s just that the cohesive whole of the film rides more on emotional reaction than narrative coherence, meaning that if you want a situation where the story of the narrative fits together more strongly.