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Italian horror has its hardcore fans, and at the risk of pissing them off, I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of them. They are usually style-over-substance horror flicks that focus on a macabre atmosphere while pushing the boundaries of how much gore can be shown in popular entertainment.
Let's do one of those SAT word comparison thingamajigs: If we were to compare Spaghetti Westerns to Italian horror flicks, then I don't think it's far fetched to say that if Dario Angento is Italian horror's version of Sergio Leone, then Lucio Fulci is definitely its version of Sergio Corbucci. I adore Leone, and barely tolerate Corbucci. If I barely tolerate Argento, then what do I think of Fulci?
The screenplays for these films, and I'm using the term very loosely, are usually reverse engineered from original or interesting ideas for horror set pieces. The filmmakers basically come up with creative ways of killing people utilizing the most amount of gore imaginable, and then they flesh out the feature from there. Fulci's work is an extreme example of this approach, as he usually crams in completely unrelated elements for his death scenes, while not even attempting to find a way to stitch them together through even the thinnest semblance of plot and character.
His artistry for the genre, as well as his unique ability to genuinely spook and disturb the audience through the seemingly most absurd ways imaginable can't be disputed. Yet unless you're a big fan of his approach of putting together features by inserting laughably bad dialogue, acting and story in between impressive gore set pieces, the shtick grows old very quickly. The second part of Fulci's "Death Trilogy", The Beyond, suffers from the exact same predictable issues, as it sloppily tacks on a ridiculous and nonsensical story to "make it up as you go along" macabre death scenes.
It feels like Fulci came up with a bunch of completely unrelated gore sequences, one about tarantulas eating a man's face off, one about ghosts influencing a woman's dog to attack her (A twist that was done to much better effect in Argento's Suspiria), a ton of his trademark eye gouging gore effects, and a Romeroesque zombie action scene for good measure, and stuck them in an almost "so bad it's good" plot about a Louisiana hotel that rests on the seventh door of hell. In Roger Ebert's review of the film, he uses the paragraph he usually reserved for a description of the film's plot describing how much he laughed at even the mention of the word "plot" in relation to The Beyond.
I have to second that sentiment and go even a bit further by saying that whatever plot and acting exists in The Beyond is laughably bad. First of all, our protagonist Liza (Catriona MacColl) is worth at least five of those "Why don't white people leave when spooky stuff happens?" bit African-American comedians love to bring up. After Liza inherits the hotel from her uncle, two-thirds of her staff dies in horrendous ways over what feels like a weekend. Even a creepy blind woman (Cinzia Monreale) warns him of the hotel's evil, and begs her to leave. Yet she decides to stay, and her reason for sticking around? Because she doesn't want to go on welfare. Hey lady, isn't it better to be poor than dead? Besides, if Fox News is right, people on welfare are greedy rich fat cats who eat lobster for every meal.
Fulci's version of Horror ADD goes beyond (Pun intended) ridiculous levels as he introduces tarantulas and zombies to the third act, without even an attempt at explaining what they're doing in a gothic horror film about hell and demons. He gets so lost in his randomness, that he spends almost ten minutes on a very bloody death scene of a character we later find out has been a ghost for fifty years. So, did she grow a neck bone and veins just to get mauled for a couple of seconds?
No matter what anyone thinks of the quality of the film itself, Grindhouse releasing went above and beyond in not only restoring The Beyond, but also coming up with a collector's item Blu-ray that would make Criterion jealous. The 1080p video transfer is pitch-perfect and makes the film look more like it was made recently as homage to Italian horror films than a low-budget horror flick that's more than 30 years old. There are almost no scratches, dirt, or noise. The colors all pop, and when it comes to the heavy amounts of crimson leaking out of many a cracked skull, it can't get more vibrant than this.
The disc comes with DTS-HD tracks for remixed 5.1, 2.0, as well as a DTS-HD track for the original mono mix in 1.0. All of the tracks sound great when sampled. I watched The Beyond in 5.1, and it contains a surprising amount of depth and clarity. The audio highlight of course is whenever Fabio Frizzi's Goblin-like score takes over the speakers.
Holy cow, there are so many extras here, more than even the most hardcore fans would ever want or need. The interviews on the second disc alone probably clock in at around five hours.
Color Pre-credit Sequence: This is the color version of the black and white pre-credits sequence. The video quality is very poor, the audio comes in English or German.
Trailers and TV Spots: We get lots of trailers and spots, including those from when the film was marketed in the US as 7 Doors of Death.
Audio Commentary by Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck: The two stars of the film present a very loose and fun commentary, as if they were aware of the film's unintended camp value.
The Creation of The Beyond: This is a 45-minute documentary where we see interviews from the cast and crew. If you're only looking for a comprehensive making-of feature, just watch this extra and skip the rest of the features.
The New Orleans Connection: Larry Ray, a man who had two minutes of screen time in The Beyond, gets a 45-minute documentary made about him.
Beyond and Back: Catriona MacColl talks about her experiences making the film.
See Emily Play: Cinzia Monreale talks about making The Beyond. I'm starting to see a pattern here.
Making it Real: This is very interesting if you're a practical effects buff. The film's effects team talks about doing the gore effects.
Lucio Fulci Interview: Presented in two parts, this audio only interview has generic reel-to-reel footage and some stills laid on top of it.
Eurofest 94: A very poorly shot and transferred Q&A with Fulci.
Eurofest 96: Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck look drunk as they loosely talk about making The Beyond.
Festival of Fantastic Films 1996: Two different clips, one with Catriona MacColl, and another with David Warbeck, where the two talk about the film.
Beyond Italy: The US distributor of the film talks about the changes that he felt needed to be made to The Beyond's first release.
We also get a lot of Stills, as well as 14 Trailers for other Grindhouse Releasing films.
Apart from these two Blu-ray discs, we also get a Soundtrack CD with Fabio Frizzi's complete score. The beautiful packaging also comes with a Leaflet on the film.
The Beyond rides the line between unintentional hilarity and genuinely creepy horror, and the two kind of cancel each other out. It's impossible to take the horror seriously with such terrible acting and story. It's hard to point and laugh at it the way we do at disasters like Birdemic or Troll 2, because the horror can be really atmospheric and creepy at times. There's real intriguing and moody artistry here, there's no doubt about that. Despite my many issues with the film, for fans of Fulci and The Beyond, this is a tremendously respectful and passionate release from Grindhouse Releasing.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com