The Beyond screens at the Roxy Fri., March 23, at 9 PM.
Fans of schlock horror and relentless gore are in for it this Friday night, when the Roxy Theater presents the 1981 cult classic, The Beyond, as part of its Deep Cuts film series. Lucio Fulci directs the picture, the second in his Gates of Hell trilogy (see also: City of the Living Dead and House by the Cemetery).
We begin in New Orleans, 1927, with an angry mob of villagers as they ascend on an unfortunate hotel. Complete with lit torches, the mob approaches by way of car and boat to confront the people inside about what they’ve got lurking in the cellar, namely one of the seven doors to Hell. “You ungodly warlock!” the mob cries, and then douses the gentleman in lye. This will become a repeated theme throughout the picture: characters dutifully standing still in order to be bested by face-melting chemicals. The opening sequence appears to us in unsettling sepia tones, and naysayers be damned, it’s good filmmaking. I felt assured that if nothing else, Fulci isn’t trying to bore me.
Jump to the early ’80s present, where we meet Liza (Catriona MacColl), the young woman who’s just inherited the cursed hotel. Before long, a spooky blind woman named Emily (Cinzia Monreale) with milky white spheres where her pupils should be shows up to cryptically portend a future doom. Later, Liza will tell her doctor friend (David Warbeck) about the woman who lives down the lane, and he’ll give her the whole, “but that house has been abandoned for 15 years,” bit. The ghostly timeline gets a little confusing; in fact, the blind woman is the same who perished in the 1927 prologue, I’m pretty sure.
My confusion doesn’t end there: I’m aware that different actresses play Liza and Emily, but to me they look and sound like the same person. And there’s a pigtailed child lurking around with the same milky eyes whose connection to the overall plot escapes me entirely. Scenes in The Beyond unfold one on top of the other with little narrative sense. And yet collectively, they add up to a genuine sense of dread, beyond what we usually experience in the typical, hastily made movies of the same time and genre.
I think The Beyond is a good film, but it’s not for everyone. Roger Ebert gave its 1998 re-release a paltry ½ star, for example. Great as he was, it’s worth remembering that Ebert could be kind of a stick in the mud about horror in general and was particularly against “gratuitous” violence (a word you will never catch me using: I think violence is what movies are for).
Friday night filmgoers should prepare themselves for Italian horror in ill-fitting American clothing, with unreal layers of not-great English dialogue. Get ready as well for revolting practical effects in which very obviously fake spiders eat away at human flesh. In perhaps my favorite scene, we see a German Shepherd suddenly turn on his owner, become a stuffed animal and rip a woman’s face apart. If you look closely, you can see the rubber valve poking out of the prosthetics over her ear as it spews out more and more blood. I for one like a bit of exposed wire now and then, and on the subject of old-school horror, I measure value in the number of times I want to throw up. As such, The Beyond earns a solid four out of five pukes.