The Beyond on DVD

Injury to Eibon

This 1981 Lucio Fulci gorefest followed his success with Zombie, and can be seen as a companion feature to his City of the Living Dead (aka Gates of Hell), and perhaps even Dario Argento’s incomplete Three Mothers trilogy. While his other films remained relatively intact, for many years The Beyond was only available in America in a heavily edited form under the title Seven Doors of Death. Thus, its reputation as a “lost classic” was inflated among horror fans — a reputation that only increased in 1999, when Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Films restored and re-released the film for a series of midnight shows.

In truth, the film is more a catalogue of grotesque supernatural shocks than a movie — a nightmare in which any mad thing can happen at any time, usually the worst thing imaginable. I happen to prefer the insane antics of City of the Living Dead (which has different characters and situations all leading down the same road), but the re-release of The Beyond showed that the film is superior in a visual sense at least.

It begins in 1927, in Louisiana bayou country not far from New Orleans. In a seedy hotel room, a crazy artist named Schweik (Antoine Saint-John) works on a haunting painting, inspired by the prophesies within the eldritch Book of Eibon. Apparently he’s been up to more than painting, since the torch-bearing locals show up for a witch lynching, nailing him up in the basement catacombs and disfiguring the body. Unfortunately, this curses the hotel, which stands upon one of the seven gates of Hell, because Schweik is the only guy who knows how to keep the door closed.

Cut to 1981. Liza Merril (Catriona — billed as Katherine — MacColl) inherits the old Seven Doors Hotel, and has come to restore it. The spooky blind lady Emily (Sarah Keller), her eyes scarred by reading the Book of Eibon 60 years before, scares a workman off a scaffold. Dr. John McCabe (David Warbeck) is called in for his introduction as hero.

The creepy maid Martha (Veronica Lazar, in Argento’s The Stendahl Syndrome a few years back) is also on hand getting in the way, as is her demented son Arthur (Gianpaolo Saccarola). Joe the plumber (Giovanni De Nava, who enjoyed his experience here so much he came back as the monstrous Dr. Freudstein in Fulci’s House by the Cemetery) comes to help with the hotel’s huge water problems, and is quickly picked off by a demonic zombie (the revived Schweik) in the basement.

While driving into town, Liza meets Emily (and her devil dog Dicky), who warns her about the hotel’s history. Meanwhile, Martha finds gooey icky corpses in the basement. The bodies are taken to the hospital morgue (also the domain of Dr. McCabe apparently), where they frequently return to life.

Meanwhile, Dr. John woos Liza. She explains that she’s restoring the hotel out of financial desperation. Her efforts are doomed by the curse — the waters of the River Styx continue to pour into the basement, blood drips from ceilings, the call bell to the locked and empty Room 36 rings. Once freed from the basement walls, Schweik’s melted corpse keeps popping up in different places.

The architect investigates the hotel’s county records (helped by a clerk played by Fulci). During a wildly overdone scene lasting a full four minutes, he’s attacked and eaten by tarantulas, in a series of ultra-repellent close-ups! For emphasis, the hotel blueprints erase themselves.

A major subplot is centered on the fact that McCabe comes to believe that Liza’s supernatural encounters are all in her mind. Helping out, Dr. John tries to find this Emily woman she’s been talking about, and finds Emily’s house a shuttered wreck. He finds the Book of Eibon as well, and learns a few things from it. Just in time too, as Fulci’s trademark wheezing, moaning zombies begin to attack in earnest, in accordance with the prophecy. For some reason, these Hell-spawned living dead follow the rules of Romero’s zombies, but Dr. John never seems to catch on to the fact that only his head shots work, wasting countless bullets.

It’s a nightmarish film, but Fulci takes his sideshow theatrics too far to be taken seriously. Much is made of the wet and steamy New Orleans locations. But the real star of the film is the legendary eye-popping (literally) gore f/x by Giannetto De Rossi. Fulci’s attention to gruesome detail is so excessive it’s ridiculous, approaching blood porn. It becomes almost laughable how often a gratuitous injury-to-eye scene is worked into the picture, bordering on some sort of weird fetishism.

Anchor Bay provides a fine transfer of Sergio Salvati’s grainy, atmospheric imagery, with several audio options available. The English subtitles reveal some differences between the Italian and English dub, but not so many that it affects the film. The nicely designed menus lead to plenty of extras, including three different theatrical trailers. An extensive stills gallery (set to music) also includes ad art and video boxes for the film from around the world, and behind-the-scenes shots. Find two Easter Eggs by clicking on Eibon symbols when you find them.

A chatty audio commentary is provided by British actors Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck. The two have a jolly time watching the movie, and also manage to drop in a lot of information about the making of the film. MacColl was also in Fulci’s City of the Living Dead (which she calls by its British title Fear) and House by the Cemetery. With Warbeck’s resume, he should be more highly regarded by psychotronic fans. In addition to his Fulci pictures, it includes Trog, Hammer’s Twins of Evil, Sergio Leone’s Duck You Sucker, Russ Meyer’s Blacksnake!, and many others.

MacColl and Warbeck show up for some more recent convention interview footage, looking much the same as they did in the ’80s. There’s also some interview footage with maestro Fulci himself, both on location shooting Demonia in 1990, and at a retrospective of his films held in 1994.

Anchor Bay has also released this DVD in a limited edition which includes a 48-page color booklet and six postcard-sized poster prints in a tin box for an extra ten dollars. For those interested, the Seven Doors of Death version is supposed to be available on DVD for only $6.99. If you’re a Fulci fan crazed enough to buy the tin box, you might as well have this too, right?

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