If it's not obvious to some of you already, there should be no doubt by the end of this review, embarassing though it may be, that the only other Fulci film I've seen is "Don't Torture A Duckling". Fulci's penchant for showing as much gore and assorted viscera on-screen as possible was an absolute detriment in that film, as the micro-budget effects resulted in more laughter than chills. I enjoyed "Don't Torture A Duckling" quite a bit, but the low quality of the gore made it difficult to fully enjoy. However, "The Beyond", which also makes use of Fulci's love of eye-gouging and chain-beating, sports some effects that are...well, not top-notch, but definitely second-or-third-from-the-top-notch. Particularly in the later scenes in the hospital, the zombies appear more haunting than in any other film that I can recall. The tarantula kill, although overdone, had me recoiling in disgust for its duration, and not to give too much away, but I'll never look at seeing-eye dogs quite the same way again.
I suppose I should provide some sort of plot summary, although really, if you're looking for a plot, you might want to skip "The Beyond" and go for something a little more substantial. In room 36 of a N'Owlins, Leeziana hotel in '27, a painter, who for some reason is blamed for dooming the hotel and the sleepy little vigilante-justice-sportin' town, experiences the might of quicklime-fu and -- plop, plop, fizz, fizz -- dissolves. Hopping forward into the present day (well, 'present day' as in 'like, twenty years ago'), a down-on-her-luck woman named Liza inherits the hotel and sees it as her one last shot, oblivious to the fact that it's built over one of the seven gateways to hell. The hotel is a fixer-upper, and things get off to a pretty bad start when two hired workers suffer less-than-pleasant fates. Eventually the mystery of the hotel and its hellish nature are revealed, thanks to an extremely old book and a young blind woman who has literally been to Hell and back, climaxing with a confrontation with the undead at the local hospital.
The dialogue in "The Beyond" is laughable (and the fact that most of it was recorded afterwards makes the acting far more difficult to appreciate), and some of the situations are inexplicable. I have no idea why a woman dressed up a corpse in a hospital while her daughter waited outside, only to fall unconscious and have a small vat of acid spill on her. I watched "The Beyond" twice in a row, so you'd think I'd have picked up on why by now. Hmmm. "So, Adam," you may be wondering, "if it's so bad, why did you rate it as a 'Collector Series' purchase?" Because bad dialogue and a silly plot are inconsequential! Ask any fan of Italian cinema. The appeal of such films is less about plot and character development than it is mood, amazing visuals, spectacular direction, and, in some cases, extreme gore. "The Beyond" delivers all four of those in spades. It's a truly amazing film that undoubtedly belongs in the collection of anyone with even the faintest interest in Italian horror, and Anchor Bay's near-flawless presentation and exceptional collection of supplements (originally collected for a Laserdisc that never came to be) an even more attractive purchase.
Video: Although grain was inescapable due to the money-saving method of frame-doubling employed by Fulci, "The Beyond" looks spectacular. Actually, the grain is actually pretty light for the most part and rarely distracting, especially compared to other Fulci discs such as "Don't Torture A Duckling" (also from Anchor Bay). Personally, I feel that certain other DVD review sites grossly exaggerated the amount of grain in the video on this disc, but maybe my grain-tolerance-threshold-level-thingie isn't as exacting as theirs. The grain-o-meter was definitely on the move at a few points, but it's not the problem other sites make it out to be. Regardless, I can't imagine anyone being disappointed by the quality of the video. Colors and fleshtones seem very accurate, blacks are nice and deep, the image is nice and sharp, and although there are plenty of specks and dust, they're incredibly small and hardly a distraction. "The Beyond" is a visual feast, and Anchor Bay's disc does as spectacular a job at representing it as can possibly be done. The image is, by the way, enhanced for widescreen televisions and has an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.
Audio: A slew of different audio tracks are included on "The Beyond", which should leave no audience disappointed. The original English mono soundtrack, a Dolby Surround 2.0 mix, a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, and the original Italian mono soundtrack are featured, and English subtitles can be toggled. It'd be interesting to see more DVDs of Italian films include the Italian soundtrack, despite the fact that most Italian films of the time were shot without sound on the set. In the case of "The Beyond", the film was shot primarily in English, and around 80% of the dialogue was recorded after filming wrapped, according to the commentary. So, as for the Dolby Digital track (I know, if I were a true film lover, I'd watch it with the mono track. I admittedly suck.), this is one of the best remixes of a mono track I've ever experienced. The dialogue and sound effects come through amazingly well, although the music that kicks in around the 6 minute mark is mixed somewhat oddly...just doesn't sound right. Also awkward are some of the directional effects, particularly those where a character walks off-screen. The transition just isn't as smooth as it could be. These are all minor quibbles, though. "The Beyond" sounds incredible, no matter which of the tracks you select, from the rumble of thunder at the beginning of the film to the roar of the wind on the bridge to...you know, zombies attacking people.
Supplements: Too many studios put "special edition" on a disc that really isn't special, and Anchor Bay, bucking the trend as always, doesn't put any sort of trendy title on "The Beyond", a disc that is as special an edition as could be imagined. Included are three trailers (one for the U.S. re-release, the international theatrical trailer, and the German theatrical trailer), an extensive still gallery of promotional materials, behind the scenes photos, and a gallery indicating the status of David's popularity, an interview with Catriona Maccoll and David Warbeck, some on-set footage of Fulci filming "Demonia", footage of Fulci and David at Eurofest '94, the pre-credit sequence of "The Beyond" in color (and in English or German -- your choice), a laughably bad music video for Necrophagia's "And You Will Die In Terror" made from footage from the film and 'live' footage apparently shot with a home video camera, DVD credits, and (gasp!) a commentary, as always, my supplement of choice. The commentary with Catriona and David (recorded shortly before his death) is wonderful, quickly joining my all-time favorites. Catriona and David, sounding very much like old friends, provide a seemingly endless number of anecdotes about the film, about Fulci, and the legacy of "The Beyond". David's dry sense of humor keeps things interesting throughout. The limited edition tin also includes a 48-page booklet, some poster reproductions, and such, although the copy I'm reviewing is the standard edition. In either case, the disc is the same.
Conclusion: My interest in Italian horror is fairly recent, and my first Fulci experience, "Don't Torture A Duckling", was a little underwhelming. Having heard the hype surround "The Beyond" since its theatrical re-release a few years back, I had high hopes for this, my second Fulci film, and I'm happy to say I didn't come out disappointed. As is the case with most of Fulci's horror films, "The Beyond" is not for the faint of heart or easily offended. I'd recommend "The Beyond" even if it was just a movie-only disc. However, the number of supplements and the quality of the presentation make this a must-have for horror fanatics. The disc retails for $29.99, but if you're reading this review before the disc's release on October 10th, be sure to pre-order it online. The standard edition reviewed here can be found shipped for under $20, and the limited edition can be pre-ordered for just $6 more.