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The Beyond (1981,Italy)


Director: Lucio Fulci              Starring: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzea Monreale

One of the things I like most about blu ray, apart from the obvious picture resolution and colour improvements over DVD, is the way that it has encouraged a handful of studios who clearly care about film, sometimes even films that you wouldn’t imagine deserved so much care, to painstakingly restore what they see as classic titles for release on the format. I’m talking about the likes of Eureka! with their Masters Of Cinema series of collectors editions of highly respected classic films and the fanatical Arrow Video who channel their energies into producing the finest versions probably ever seen of some of the most demented, leftfield cult classics ever released.

It’s Arrow Video we have to thank for this blu ray edition of Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond. Like much of Arrow’s output, The Beyond was one of the films to fall foul of the Department of Public Prosecutions “Video Nasty” list on it’s original release in the UK and it took twenty years for it to finally become available uncut in good old ‘Blighty. As such it’s difficult to imagine it as anything other than an umpteenth generation VHS copy of fuzzy images, warped sound and bad tracking. It’s very easy to forget that initially it would have been committed to celluloid like every other film and so at some stage must have looked at least half way decent. What Arrow prove with this edition is that it not only looked half way decent but really rather beautiful in it’s own deranged, schlock horror way.

In a nutshell, New Yorker Liza Merrill (McColl) has inherited a delapidated hotel on the outskirts of New Orleans and sees it as the perfect opportunity for fresh start. Her attempts at restoration are hindered by a series of unfortunate accidents that befall the various tradesmen working on the building. Unbeknownst to Liza, the hotel has been built over one of seven doorways to hell, a tragic oversight that leads her, along with the dashing local doctor John McCabe (Warbeck) on a horrific journey beset by dark forces from beyond the grave.

It’s a spirited if somewhat convoluted story that blends elements of traditional haunted house scaremongering with zombies and a healthy dose of paranoia in the vein of Kubrick’s Shining. There are also nods towards the idea of a supernatural conspiracy a la The Omen or Rosemary’s Baby as Liza and the good Doctor try to get a grasp of what is going on with the house. The presence of The Book Of Eibon would also suggest a certain familiarity with Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, something further supported by Fulci’s conceptualisation of the hell dimension to which the hotel basement affords access. A mixed bag perhaps, arguably with too much going on but somehow it all seems to work together more or less in harmony.

Performance wise it’s pretty much what you’d expect from the genre. MacColl puts in a solid turn as Liza, getting more and more frantic as worse things happen and she feels more and more like it’s her that’s going insane rather than the world around her. Warbeck has decent chemistry with her and again puts in a competent if unspectacular turn as Dr. McCabe. It’s never really about the acting though, the emphasis very much being placed on the walking dead and multiple, gory deaths. In this respect, gorehounds will not be disappointed. While some of the special effects are anything but realistic they are certainly extremely entertaining. Eyeballs are gouged, faces dissolved with acid – at one stage someone manages (in a particularly wince-worthy moment) to have his tongue chewed out by tarantulas – all of which are handled with the emphasis on over the top, blood’n’guts splatter rather than being particularly realistic. The same can be said of the zombies, all of which are presented in various stages of decay (and with varying levels of authenticity) and all of which managed to satisfy the horror fan in me.

With everything set to a jarring Fabio Frizzi soundtrack (see also: City Of The Living Dead, Zombie Flesh Eaters) The Beyond really is a joy for horror fans. Sure, it lacks the glossy sheen of Hollywood horror and is far from subtle but who cares? It’s great fun with some genuinely squirm inducing moments nicely suspended from a detailed if somewhat rambling plot. The most staggering thing about it is the restoration job achieved by Arrow Video. I doubt the film ever looked this good at cinemas never mind on home video and the clarity and detail of the print is simply mind blowing. It makes me happy to think there are dedicated groups of people out there determined to preserve this kind of film and at the same time I am saddened that not all studios and filmmakers take this much care and attention over their discs, often happy to pass off shoddy, low res transfers to punters who have little choice in the matter.

The Beyond, then, is definitely worth watching in its own right, one of the better examples of early eighties Italian horror I’ve seen. If you are going to watch it though I urge you to check it out on this blu ray edition in order to get the best experience possible. After all, you wouldn’t want to miss any of those eyeballs getting popped out now, would you?

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