Monday, 12 January 2009

The Beyond (1981)

No! Bad dog! No biscuit!

The renovation of an old property is always full of surprises. Who knows what you'll discover? Rising damp, termite damage, even the occasional gateway to Hell. Our hapless renovator in this case is Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl), a big city gal who has come to Louisana with the hopes of reopening the crappy old hotel she has inherited from her rich uncle.

The story of the creepy hotel dates back to 1927, when everything was sepia toned and men wore hats and suits even when administering mob justice. Some painter in room 36 named Shweik has been giving everyone the heebie-jeebies with his creepy paintings, so a lynch mob pulls out some chains and goes Passion of the Christ on his ass. As if that wasn't enough, they drag him down to the basement, crucify him, douse him in quicklime and wall him up. The title music starts playing as the quicklime slowly melts his head, an effect which Fulci must have really loved because he uses it again later.

Unfortunately, the hotel was built on one of the seven gates to Hell, and their act of vigilantism opened it right up, ready for any curious zombie to go wandering in. I don't know why there are seven gates or where the other six are, but I'm sure it's all documented in the Book of Eibon, a musty old tome that some weird blind girl named Emily (Cinzia Monreale from Beyond the Darkness) reads from during the opening scene.

Liza's renovation plans get off to a poor start when a contractor gets spooked and takes a nose-dive off the scaffolding. After the hunky Dr MacCabe (David Warbeck) carts away the injured contractor, Joe the Plumber (no, not that Joe the Plumber, this guy is much more hairy) shows up to take care of the flooded basement. In his search for the mysterious leak he uncovers a hidden underground chamber and gets his eyes gouged out by Shweik, now a crusty old zombie. Also, a guy who goes to find the floor plans for the hotel falls of a ladder and gets his face eaten off by tarantulas. He finds something pretty shocking in the plans, but I don't know what because they're never referred to again.

If all this weren't enough to derail the renovation plans, the house also comes with two useless weirdos, Arthur and Martha. Much like Ann the babysitter in House by the Cemetery, they don't serve much purpose except to act weird and then die gruesomely. Martha dies while cleaning a bathtub that is full of muddy water. When she drains it she discovers that a zombie is hiding in it and I guess he's pretty serious about his bathtime privacy because he impales her head on a big nail.

Eventually Liza runs into blind weirdo Emily and her seeing-eye dog, and Emily gives her the usual cryptic warnings that blind people give in this kinds of films. Leave the hotel, it's evil etc. It's revealed that Emily may or may not be a ghost, but I guess her dog isn't because when Emily is accosted by zombies she gets her dog to attack them until they go away. I was ready to indict him into the hall of heroic horror film dogs like Nanook from Lost Boys or Beast from The Hills Have Eyes, but then he ruins it by turning on his owner and tearing out her throat and ear.

Back at the hospital morgue, Dr. MacCabe examines the bodies of both Joe the Plumber and Schweik. Dr. Harris (holy crap, it's Al Cliver, from 2020: Texas Gladiators and Endgame) decides to hook Shweik up to what appears to be a heart monitor (although they claim it's some sort of brainwave scanner). Who knows why, but he looks pretty dejected when nothing happens and leaves the room. If only he'd stayed a few minutes longer he could have seen the oscilloscope spring to life.

It's about now that Joe's wife and daughter wander into the morgue to dress up his corpse in his Sunday best. I guess they were too cheap to pay a funeral director. Joe's wife leaves her daughter outside, but when she enters the surgery she gets knocked over somehow and, in what is surely the result of poor OH&S practices, a huge bottle of acid tips over and pours all over her face. When her daughter comes wandering in she sits staring at her mother's melting face for a few minutes before rushing to escape the pool of bloody foam that threatens to ruin her new shoes. Unfortunately she wanders right into the freezer room which is full of zombies. She survives somehow, although she goes blind and later turns into a zombie and Dr. MacCabe shoots her in the head. Long story.

Liza ends up teaming up with Dr. MacCabe. They form a partnership where she has visions and freaks out while he shows up just in time to belittle her and be condescending. Dr. MacCabe finds the book of Eibon, and while it doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know, it does cause a big storm (in the basement) that sends them rushing to Dr MacCabe's hospital. By this stage it seems the gate to hell has let loose a whole bunch of zombies and the last ten minutes of the film is spent with these two idiots trying to escape all the zombies that are wandering around. Unfortunately neither of them have seen a zombie film because even after expending dozens of rounds and killing maybe half a dozen zombies with headshots he still doesn't get it. All of a sudden they find themselves in a weird endless ocean with bodies stacked up everywhere like stinky legos, just like in Shweik's creepy paintings. A voice drones on about an "ocean of darkness" like we are supposed to know what the hell that is supposed to mean, and the film ends.

It's typical Fulci, in that the pacing is off and nothing makes any sense. The script doesn't help either, but it's written by Dardano Sacchetti and he had three other films to write that year so cut him a break. However, this film is probably the most successful in creating a weird dreamlike atmosphere. I could kind of see it before in House by the Cemetery and City of the Living Dead, but now that I've seen The Beyond (considered his masterpiece), I think I finally get it. Out of his classic trilogy of supernatural horror films, this one is by far the best.

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