Galaxy of Terror: DVD Review

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GALAXY OF TERROR is exploitation, pure and simple – I mean, if you’ve got a giant-maggot-on-naked-woman rape scene in your film it nothin’ but, baby.  And before going any further, it’s only fair to point out that this observer doesn’t normally go in for the likes of it.  Such is generally of the cheap, tawdry, banal, and even sleazy sort, so it’s not really my cup of tea.  GALAXY OF TERROR is all of the above; therefore, it stands to reason that I would find it particularly irritating.  But we’re a strange lot, we humans.  Thus, it is a curious state I find myself in when having to admit to you all that I found a certain degree of fun in watching it – both in 1981 and now via its new Blu-ray DVD release.  I can’t say I really stand behind it, but it does have its pluses.  It’s also perfect fodder for drive-in theaters (ah, the good ol’ days).
Aside from giggles, I remember very little from my first viewing of the film.  In fact, the only solid memories that have stuck with me over the years are:

  1. As a teenage boy I thought that Joanie Cunningham (Erin Moran) had grown into something kind of cute.
  2. Something no young boy would likely forget – the maggot rape scene.

Erin Moran
Erin Moran

Joanie had indeed grown up, but I didn’t find her quite as alluring this time around.  I noticed something else about her this time too: her performance wasn’t very interesting.  I saw too many moments in which she seemed to have trouble putting all those years of being on a television stage as Joanie Cunningham behind her.
The maggot scene, however, is still a wild & wacky concept, yet it too seemed tamer and less dramatic than my memory had put it.  Still, it probably remains the most provocative moment in GALAXY OF TERROR, and it is certainly the scene most other folks remember as well.  Without a doubt, the cast and crew find it most interesting to reminisce about.  The commentary (found on the Blu-ray edition) makes that quite clear.  Everyone seems to remember it humorously and even fondly.  Taaffe O’Connell, who played the maggot’s victim, was particularly jocular about it all and seemed to cherish her reflections of it and its cult status.
Aside from Moran and the maggot, however, there wasn’t a single thing about the plot or characters that I could conjure up in my memory.  A testament to the film’s somewhat forgettable nature, no doubt.  The plot itself is an easy-to-see-through rip off of ALIEN, which had made a huge critical and box-office splash just two years earlier.  Oh, sure, one or two crewmembers refer to it as an “homage,” but it’s a rip off.
Galaxy of TerrorWhile on an intended rescue mission to the planet Moganthus, the crew of the starship Quest finds itself being pulled down to the planet by an unknown energy force.  Now, not only must they search for survivors of a lost mission, but they must also find the origin of the energy field that pulled them down and disable it so that their ship may achieve a successful lift off (a la the Death Star’s tractor beam scenario in STAR WARS).  The next thing you know, the crewmembers start getting picked off one by one.
“Inspiration” aside, this much can be said for GALAXY OF TERROR: it does have a fairly intriguing psychological concept at its core.  The Quest’s crewmembers are supposedly attacked and killed by things drummed up from the fears within their own subconscious.  That’s all right as far as it goes; yet the script is sloppy and generally unimaginative, and the direction does little to improve on its weaknesses.  With a budget of only about $1,000,000 one could argue that the filmmakers could only do so much, and to a certain extent that is true.  Nonetheless, there are moments that counter or betray the psychological aspects behind the issues at hand.
Let’s just take two quick examples.  First, there is Taaffe O’Connell’s character.  Roger Corman is the one who actually came up with the concept for her demise (he knew it would generate buzz and help sell the movie both domestically and overseas).  In his mind, she was supposed to have personal psychological issues in connection to sexual intimacy, not to mention a healthy dislike for little slimy worms (based on a line she throws out somewhere in the script), thus the reasoning for her rape by the giant maggot.
Yet no where in the film does her character demonstrate any negative issues regarding sex or men.  In fact, when the ship first launches and a fellow crewmember (played by a pre-Freddy Krueger Robert Englund) doesn’t have a chance to buckle himself in she calls him over, pulls him into her open lap, and wraps her legs around him in a very suggestive manner.  The moment is supposed to be a bit of sexual innuendo joke (something that’s even light-heartedly brought up within the commentary), but it goes solidly against what is supposed to be a key psychological hurdle for O’Connell’s character.  We may just be talking about a B-picture here, but even B-pictures need to remain honest to their intended nature.
We have a similar problem with the conflict at the end of the film.  The late Edward Albert’s character (earnestly played by him, by the way) finally learns that everyone is being destroyed by their own fears and that once this is realized and one’s fears are controlled the plaguing dangers will vanish.  This allows him to “pass the test,” as it is put to him.  Yet, just a few minutes later he is confronted by the creatures conjured up by the minds of his fellow crewmembers who have met with grizzly fates and by the dead crewmembers themselves.  His only defense is to try to physically confront them and ward them off.  Again, this seems in direct conflict with what he just learned and the “test” that he just passed.
If you think I’m spending too much time concerning myself with what I see as weaknesses within a minor exploitation piece (and admittedly, I’m sure I didn’t care about them as a teen), I’ll do you a favor and stop there – except to point out that England’s character is simply forgotten about toward the film’s end, demonstrating more careless lack of concern.  Be assured, however, that there are many other points one could pick away at.  Even director Bruce Clark admits that the script is somewhat poorly fleshed out.
Ray Walston
Ray Walston

But hey, if you can set all that in the closet and if you can get passed a truly awful electronic score by Barry Schrader (he decided he wasn’t cut out for a life as a composer after GALAXY OF TERROR and wisely decided to step away from it), and if you’re in the mood to watch a low-budget sci-fi horror flick in which a crewmember’s head implodes (specifically a sitcom star’s), and in which maggots rape women, then this just may be the right bit of exploitation for you.  Besides, many of the visuals are better (and crisper on Blu-ray) than one would expect from such a small film from its era, so you should be able to have some fun with those as well.  Everybody’s favorite Martian (Ray Walston) is in it, too.  And as a footnote to you James Cameron fans, he served as the film’s production designer.  Word has it that he was quite inventive, intense, and worked day and night on it.
Some may think me a fool to make this final note, but given a smart, psychologically based script (I mean really handled so this time) and a solid studio budget and a good team behind it, the concept for GALAXY OF TERROR, dare I say it, could be well suited for a reimaging.  There, I said it.  Now you can watch it and see what you think.
The Blu-ray edition includes these special features:

  • A rather nice, in-depth making-of doc;
  • PDF version of the script;
  • Fairly extensive photo gallery;
  • Textual pop-up trivia facts on the movie;
  • Commentary by maggot rape victim Taaffe O’Connell, creature & makeup crewmember Alan Apone, creature & makeup crewmember Alec Gillis, and production assistant/commentary moderator David DeCoteau.

All in all, the features are a thoughtful, extensive look at this nearly thirty-year old exploitation picture.  They certainly add some extra welcome fun to this guilty pleasure. … Taaffe O’Connell definitely thinks so on both counts.
GALAXY OF TERROR (New World Pictures; 1981; 81 min.) Directed by Bruce D. (B.D.) Clark.  Screenplay by Marc Siegler and Bruce (B.D.) Clark.  Outline by William Stout (uncredited).  Produced by Roger Corman.  Co-produced by Marc Siegler.  Production Design by James Cameron and Robert Skotak.  Art Direction by Steve Graziani and Alex Hajdu.  Visual Effects Supervision by Tom Campbell.  Cinematography by Jacques Haitkin and Austin McKinney.  Music Composed by Barry Schrader.  Edited By Larry Bock, R.J. Kizer and Barry Zetlin.  Cast: Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Bernard Behrens, Zalman King, Robert Englund, Taaffe O’Connell, Sid Haig, Grace Zabriskie, Jack Blessing, and Mary Ellen O’Neill.  MPAA Rating: R for language, violence, gore, and one hell of an odd rape scene.
Galaxy of Terror Galaxy of Terror Galaxy of Terror: Robert Englund Galaxy of Terror-Picture1
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Beyond, The (1981) – DVD Review

Lucio Fulci’s Cult Classic is Back on DVD

The 2008 Grindhouse DVD

Lucio Fulci’s THE BEYOND (E Tu Vivrai nel Terrore – L’aldilà, 1981) may be the ultimate cult horror film, a strange, non-linear exercise in deliberately vague storytelling that depends on atmosphere and imagery instead of coherent plot – techniques that (also seen in Dario Argento’s INFERNO) probably inspired a later generation of J-Horror filmmakers like Takashi Shimizu, whose JU-ON movies feature fragmented episodes of horror only loosely tied together. Oh, and also THE BEYOND is loaded with more than enough graphic gore to please the most jaded horror-hound. Unfortunately, the film was wretchedly mangled upon its original U.S. theatrical release – recut, rescored, and retitled to 7 DOORS OF DEATH (with direction credited to “Luis Fuller”).* Although revamping foreign films for American audiences is nothing new, the treatment of THE BEYOND is a bit of an anomaly in that Fulci’s other gorefests from that era (ZOMBIE, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) made it to these shores intact.
The ill-treatment of Fulci’s film by its American distributors extended to the original home video release, which featured the altered 7 DOORS OF DEATH, which deleted most of the explicit violence that was a major component of the director’s style. However, THE BEYOND developed a cult following, based partly on Fulci’s reputation and partly on bootlegged videotape derived from an uncut Japanese laserdisc release. In the late 1990s, Grindhouse releasing made an effort to assemble some bonus features for an uncut U.S. laserdisc release, which never materialized. Instead, Grindhouse teamed up with Quentin Tarantino’s boutique label, Rolling Thunder, and gave the restored film a limited midnight movie release in June of 1998.
Anchor Bay's Limited Edition Tin Box DVD

Two years later, THE BEYOND finally reached home video in its intact form courtesy of a Limited Edition DVD in a collector’s tin box released through Anchor Bay; the DVD, minus the box and the 48-page booklet contained therein, was also available separately, through Aquarius Releasing. These discs contained the extensive bonus materials that had been gathered for the abandoned laserdisc project, and for all intents and purposes they seemed to represent the definitive home video presentation of the film. However, although used copies can still be found, these discs have been out of print for a few years now.
Fortunately, Fulci fans are in luck because Grindhouse recently released an updated edition of the DVD that duplicates all the old bonus features and adds a couple of new treats as well. The new DVD comes in a clear plastic clamshell case. When the box is open, the back of the wrap-around cover is visible through the clear plastic, revealing a Fulci filmography, accompanied by some poster artwork for PERVERSION STORY, ZOMBIE, etc. There is also a fold-out insert featuring poster artwork for the film, two pages of comments from exploitation aficionado Chas. Balun, and a list of chapter stops.
Pop the disc in the player, and the first difference from the old release becomes immediately apparent: the new disc takes you directly to the Menu instead of automatically playing the film. The Main Menu offers an option to begin the movie with a new introduction by actress Catriona MacColl (filmed in 2008), who looks pretty good nearly three decades later. She briefly expresses her amazement at the film’s longevity, calling it her favorite of the trilogy she filmed with Fulci (CITY OF THE DEAD, THE BEYOND, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) and praising it for its “decadent, macabre Italian poetry.”
I did not notice any differences in the transfer or sound mix; still, the anamorphic transfer looks great, and the audio is clear, allowing appreciation of Fabio Frizzi’s moody music. As with the 2000 DVD, Audio options include English Dolby 5.1, English Dolby 2.0, the original mono English track, and the original mono Italian track. (Shot partly on location in Louisianna, THE BEYOND features stars MacColl and David Warbeck speaking their dialogue in English, so this is one of those frequent cases where it is not quite right to consider the Italian track the “original” and the English track a “dub.”)

BONUS FEATURES

Most of the bonus features are carried over from the 2000 DVD, with one major addition: 

  • Aa section titled “Voices from The Beyond” features eleven video interviews with cast and crew who worked with Fulci. There is a Play All option, or you can select individual interviews with the likes of cinematographer Sergio Salvatti, composer Fabio Frizzi, actress Catriona MacColl, makeup effects man Gabrielle DeRossi, and others. Not specific to THE BEYOND, these interviews present a sort of mini-biography of Fulci. Although the details sometimes grow monotonous, these personal recollections offer a portrait of the director as a difficult and demanding filmmaker who was also a likable raconteur on and off the set. Screenwriter Girogio Mariuzzo tells an amusing story about Fulci flipping a coin to decide on camera placement: his theory was that where you put the camera is not important; it’s what you put in front of it. And co-writer Dardano Sacchetti reflects that he misses Fulci more than Mario Bava, who was a closed man, afraid to give up anything, unlike the gregarious Fulci. Finally, MacColl interprets a famous photograph of Fulci sitting on a bridge during filming of THE BEYOND, which she sees as symbolic of Fulic’s status as a filmmaker, alone and suspended between two worlds.

The remaining, extensive bonus features will be familiar to owners of the older DVD:

  • Images from The Beyond includes six galleries: four extensive slide-shows of stills set to music and two brief video interviews. The stills include images of the film, from behind the scenes, of Fulci (including one with him and Mario Bava), and of David Warbeck (whose long career in the Italian film industry apparently paid off, judging by the artifacts collected in his house). The first video has Warbeck and MacColl answering questions from an interviewer at a convention; the second has Warbeck and Fulci doing a Q&A at Eurofest ’94. The later has a hand-held amateur quality, but the picture and sound are good enough for the viewer to follow what is being said.
  • U.S. Re-Release Trailer: This one is in pretty good shape, having been crafted relatively recently for the 1998 release of the film. It more or less consists of the second half of the International Theatrical Trailer, which gives away the film’s climactic imagery.
  • International Theatrical Trailer: This one is somewhat grainy and worn. It highlights the film’s gore, including spider bites and gouged eyes.
  • German Trailer: This features the same images as the International trailer but dubbed into German (obviously). For some reason, the German dub adds quite a bit of narration. Even if you don’t speak the language, you will grasp the general thrust of the last bit, which  tries to sell the film on the strength of Fulci’s name.
  • German Color Pre-Credits Sequence: THE BEYOND opens with a prologue that is presented in sepia tones to suggest the 1927 setting. Apparently, the German release simply presented this sequence in color. You can watch it in either English or German.
  • Necrophagus Music Video: This piece of junk features live footage of Necrophagus performing “And You Will Live in Fear,” intercut with footage from THE BEYOND, including the infamous shot of the little girl getting her head blown off – show here about a dozen times.
  • Audio Commentary with Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck: Recorded in 1997 (shortly before Warbeck’s death) for the planned laserdisc that never materialized, this is the highlight of the bonus features, a friendly discussion between the two stars, who seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. In general, I don’t like “chatty” commentaries that scrimp on technical info, but MacColl and Warbeck’s amazement over continued interest in their weird little movie is engaging, and they do provide several amusing behind-the-scenes anecdotes. MacColl recalls pointing out similarities between the script for THE BEYOND and THE SHINING (both set in haunted hotels), which prompted Fulci and company to pretend they had not heard of Kubrick’s film. And Warbeck points out a hilarious moment that you might miss if your attention is not drawn to it: as an elevator door closes, you can briefly glimpse him moving to reload his gun – by dropping a bullet down the barrel(an action the prompts a smile from MacColl). 

EASTER EGGS

The Audio Set Up menu contains an Easter Egg: the opening credits from THE BEYOND’s first American release, under the title 7 DOORS OF DEATH. These credits feature bogus Americanized names, a new synthesizer score, and the U.S. distributor credits himself as the film’s producer. (What a guy!)
The Images from the Beyond menu page contains an Easter Egg: an English-language trailer for CAT IN THE BRAIN. This is a late, low-budget Fulci effort in which he plays himself, a director being driven mad by a psychiatrist who hypnotizes him into thinking his violence films reflect actual murders he is committing. The trailer features a notably phony cat puppet supposedly digging around in some human entrails.

BOTTOM LINE

A spirit from The Beyond

If you are one of the lucky few to own the 2000 Limited Edition collector’s tin, the Introduction and the Voices from the Beyond section may not be enough to make the 2008 DVD worth double-dipping, but it is good that THE BEYOND is once again available for all those who had not been able to add it to their permanent collection. This one’s a keeper, with more than enough bonus material to justify a purchase instead of a rental.
FOOTNOTE:

  • One interesting bit of trivia about the U.S. release: Newspaper ads for 7 DOORS OF DEATH featured a quote from Tobe Hooper calling the film one fo the best horror efforts he had ever seen.

Friday the 13th, Part 2 – A Retrospective Review

Friday the 13th Part 2Although this is the second FRIDAY film, it is really the first in what became the franchise. In a weird way, it is the A SHOT IN THE DARK of horror films – a sequel that reinvents the basic set-up, creating a launching pad from which the remaining  sequels take off. The methods employed are not particularly clever; in fact, they are sloppy and contradictory. But it’s hard to argue with success. In that regard, at least,  this sequel resembles the original FRIDAY THE 13TH: like its predecessor, PART 2 is a disreputable, unrefined effort that nevertheless sold millions of tickets.
The challenge facing any serious critic assessing the film is dealing with the fact that it became very popular even though it is not very good. The solution is to acknowledge that even crude techniques, when properly employed, can be effective, in a lowest-common-denominator kind of way. Taking the basics of the first FRIDAY, the sequel  places a group of camp counselors in an isolated location where they are stalked by a mostly unseen killer, who dispatches them in a variety of gruesome ways. Sophisticated? No. Scary? Yes.
Certainly it is easy to pinpoint flaws in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 – the most obvious being that its premise contradicts the previous movie in a way that is irreconcilable (although fans have certainly tried). Part 1 had been intended as a stand-alone film, its murderous Mrs. Voorhees neatly decapitated by final girl Alice (Adrienne King), precluding any chance of bringing her back for a rematch. With the killer dead, writer Ron Kurz had her son Jason step into the breach.
The problem, of course, is that in the first film Mrs. Voorhees was avenging the death by drowning of her son; if Jason is alive and well, she had no reason to kill all those camp counselors. Given a charitable frame of mind, one might imagine that the paths of Jason and his mother had somehow never crossed, leaving her in the dark as to his continued existence, but dialogue in PART 2 specifically tells us that Jason witnessed his mother’s death, indicating that he was close at hand during the events of FRIDAY THE 13TH (even though the only sign of him was a CARRIE rip-off in which he scares Alice by jumping out of the lake – a scene clearly meant to be a dream).
In short, PART 2’s premise is completely nonsensical; the only way to enjoy the film is just to ignore it and go for the gore. Even here, the film comes up a bit short. Howls of critical outrage had resulted from the carnage FRIDAY THE 13TH; Siskel and Ebert slammed the MPAA for givng the film an R-rating, and the organization reacted by clamping down on the sequel, ensuring that the body count, though as large as ever, was considerably more bloodless.
What the film has going for it is a certain competent professionalism. The original had been produced and directed by Sean Cunningham as a way to raise money to jump start some non-horror projects. Although Cunningham turned the film into a blockbuster, much of the success was due to the title and the advertising campaign; one cannot shake the lingering suspicion that he was in it for the money, sitting in the director’s chair only because he knew he could turn the film in on time and on budget. On the other hand, PART 2’s director, Steve Miner, is a bit more interested in the hands-on aspects of film-making, in using the camera angles and movement to elicit screams from the audience.
Even this is not enough to make the film really good, and Miner is not above stooping to some seriously lame shtick, as in the opening prologue that – gasp!– kills off the lone survivor from the original.1 Overlooking for a moment that the now-motherless Jason has lived his entire life as an uneducated imbecile lurking in the trees surrounding Crystal Lake – and, consequently, could not possibly have the means or intelligence to track down Alice in a distant city – there is the little issue of the spring-loaded cat that leaps through the window at Alice, providing the film’s first jump. It’s a cheap tacitc to achieve a cheap scare – made all the worse because the cat’s trajectory indicates that it is not leaping but thrown by some off-screen stage hand.2
Once the action shifts to Crystal Lake, things pick up considerably. The usual nonsense ensues (lots of hot young bodies eager for copulation, which serves as a prelude to violent death), but as much as the mind resists, the adrenalin responds to the manipulation – best exemplified by a scene of a lone character in a wheelchair. The editing alternates tracking shots from before and behind him; with both sides covered, it is impossible for Jason to be anywhere near the target without being seen, and yet each switch in angle unnerves the viewer further. It is as if Jason were somehow hiding behind the camera itself, which offers not his POV but our own; we are watching the victim, and feeling as if somewhere over our shoulder, Jason is lurking, ready to strike.
When Jason’s face is finally revealed, it is appropriately hideous; otherwise, the image of the character presented here, wearing a hood that makes him look like the Elephant Man, is hardly strong enough to have embedded itself in the public consciousness; it has long since been eclipsed by the familiar hockey mask he donned in the next sequel.  However, the depiction of Jason as a twisted, superstitious, murderous, but not completely inhuman man-child does yield some interesting results.
The film is notable for presenting a “Final Girl” who relies on something more than mere pluck to survive. Ginny (Amy Steel) is introduced – with all the subtlety of an exploding bomb – as a a girl majoring in child psychology. Since Jason’s psychology is that of a child (admittedly a homicidal one), this  leads to a fairly remarkable confrontation at the end, in which Ginny is able to use her knowledge to manipulate Jason. Trapped in a room that is obviously Jason’s shrine to his dead mother, complete with her severed head, Ginny disguises herself to convince Jason that she is Mrs. Voorhees, back from the dead and urging him to put down his machete now that his work is finished. The film here pulls off the neat trick of making Ginny seem clever and courageous under fire, while at the same time tossing just the tiniest bit of sympathy toward Jason, whose devotion to his mother is being used against him, creating a sense of betrayal.
Unfortunately, there was no doubt that FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 was going to be part of a franchise, so there was no way that the film would be allowed to work itself out to its logical conclusion – that is, Jason thinking he was being killed by his own mother (and the symmetry would have been appropriate, had he, too, died by decapitation). Instead, the film offers up the obligatory slasher cliche: Ginny, who up to now has shown signs of admirable intelligence, does not take advantage when the killer is down for the count, neglecting to deliver the death blow that will silence him once and for all.
Instead, there is another last-minute jump scare that is once again dismissed as a dream, leaving the audience not quite sure what has happened. (Exactly how much of the action is a dream is not made clear, leaving the fate of one victim up in the air – was he killed in “reality” or not?) Ginny, whose overall (though occasionally erratic) competence has earned her the right to dispatch Jason, is denied the opportunity. The film throws away a potentially satisfying ending, undermining its best sequence in favor of setting up a sequel.
Oh well, that’s show business. The nice thing about reviewing FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 decades after its original release is that, after the initial shock has worn off, it no longer seems like the work of a bunch of depraved sadists (not that it ever did -but the critics might have given you that impression at the time). It is a competently executed horror thriller that supplies the expected goods without apology for its own low ambitions and sloppy continuity.  Taken on its own terms, it is a success, and despite many absurdities (such as chick in tight shorts who grabs the wrong cheek when a horny guy sling-shots a pebble off her ass), there are even a few moments (e.g., the confrontation between Ginny and Jason) when you have to set aside your distaste for the cheesy slasher formula and admit that even a disreputable gorefest  can occasionally earn respect.

TRIVIA

Several critics have noted certain similarities between the FRIDAY THE 13TH films and Mario Bava’s 1971 giallo murder-fest, BAY OF BLOOD. The most obvious occurs in PART 2, when a pair of lovers are impaled upon a bed by Jason, their death gasps replacing cries of orgasm. Virtually the identical scene takes place in BAY OF BLOOD – although, ironically, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2’s version is much less explicit, because of cuts demanded by the Motion Picture Association of America.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981). Directed by Steve Miner. Written by Ron Kurz, based upon characters created by Victor Miller. Cast: Amy Steel, John Furey, Adrienne King, Kirsten Baker, Stuart Charno, Warrington Gillette, Walt Gorney, Marta Kober, Tom McBride.
FOOTNOTES:

  1. *One might charitably consider this the filmmakers’ way of brazenly stating that they are severing continuity ties with the original and boldly going off in their own direction. Or it’s just an easy way to work a kill in before the opening credits.
  2. There is also the issue of whether the cat, when seen leaping through the window, resembles what is supposed to be the same cat seen a moment later after having landed. Liz Kingsley at And You Call Yourself a Scientist, notes that “it is a much smaller animal.”

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Beyond, The (1981) – Horror Film Review

aldila_gr.jpgEDITOR’S NOTE: With Halloween around the corner, we thought it might be time to post some reviews of films that will be screening at festivals during the season, such as the Silent Movie Theatres “Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!” series we mentioned in this post.

There is a wall, an outer envelope like the sound barrier, against which horror films often hopelessly slam on their way to an inevitable crash-and-burn. This barrier separates what can be shown on screen from what can be sensed in the mind. True horror should have a metaphysical component that reaches down into the soul, but most horror films settle for simple suspense, based on the jump-and-scare tactics of who will survive and who will perish. Even HELLRAISER, which had its cenobites promise to “Tear your soul apart,” actually did nothing of the kind, instead opting for the sight of rending flesh.
Lucio Fulci’s undead epics, with their over-the-top depictions of graphic violence, fall squarely into this splatter category — or so it seems, at first. Actually, there is a little something more going on: a kind of demented, despairing metaphysical speculation. Working with meager resources in an exploitation genre that demanded strong appeal to a core audience, Fulci never developed his notions into something that could be called an unqualified masterpiece, but he did leave us with at least one film that struggles mightily to go Beyond the wall that stops so many other horror films. THE BEYOND is the third of three zombie films that Fulci made after DAWN OF THE DEAD, but it is equally inspired by Argento’s INFERNO: both films posit a series of buildings connected with a supernatural phenomenon (in INFERNO they house the three Mothers of Darkness; in THE BEYOND, they surmount the Seven Gateways to Hell); both portray the supernatural elements in ways that defy rational understanding; and both abandon traditional plot structures in order to disorient and confuse the audience into a state of unreasoning dread.
Despite the similarities, THE BEYOND manages to stand on its own — if not as a completely original work, then as an inspired entry distinguished by memorable touches of its own. In fact, the borrowings actually help Fulci overcome his limitations and emphasize his strengths. Anyone who has seen ZOMBIE or THE GATES OF HELL knows that the director could be lackadaisical in his handling of characters and exposition, but when the horror emerged, there was no one who could turn the screws so tightly on an audience. For instance, the infamous eyeball scene in ZOMBIE may be gratuitously graphic, but it is also one of the single most horrifying moments ever recorded on film, guaranteed to make even the most jaded genre fanatic squirm in his seat.
Truthfully, THE BEYOND has no single moment to match that scene; fortunately, it doesn’t need one. The gore effects by Gianetto DeRossi (which include slivered glass, burning acid, biting spiders, and – yes — more gouged eyes) come across with less impact — like an obligatory attempt to top previous efforts. On the other hand, the very arbitrary excess of the carnage serves a kind of larger purpose. It’s as if Fulci were destroying the flesh, burning it away in some alchemical process, in order to leave nothing behind but the spiritual essence of horror.
As far-fetched as this sounds, it works in concert with the intentionally fragmentary story line, which is almost devoid of plot development. Basically, once one of the dreaded Seven Doorways has been opened, Hell gradually encroaches on Earth, in ways the characters cannot begin to fathom. The lack of clear plot connections only increases the feeling of a Lovecraftian Crawling Chaos overwhelming life as we know it, until there is nowhere left for the characters to run, except into the bowels of Hell itself.
This finale, though obviously achieved on a low-budget, is nicely realized. With but a single set and a hazy effect above the skyline to imply an endless horizon, Fulci conveys an apparently infinite monotony of deserted nothingness; plus, the imagery comes full circle, dissolving back to a painting seen in the prologue, at last clarifying what the artist Schweik (Antoine Saint-John) was attempting to portray. Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that the characters who suffer this fate have done nothing to deserve it. (It’s not quite clear whether this Hell is personal experience only for the two leads or whether the entire world will soon follow.)

aldila.jpg
Emily, the blind prophet of doom

This is a film in which no power of Good presents itself, and there seems to be no way to stop the advent of Hell once the Gate has been opened. In an intriguing, climactic image, MacColl and Warbeck sport contact lenses similar to those worn by Antonella Interlenghi as the blind Emily. The apparent conclusion is that they have been struck blind; however, they are not acting as if blinded, but are continuing to stare at the Hellish landscape surrounding them. What is really happening? Earlier, Emily had made the cryptic statement that the blind “see things more clearly.” Perhaps her pupil-less eyes do not really signify blindness; perhaps this is what happens when one’s sight is blasted by a glimpse into The Beyond.
One small note of praise for the cast: In a film like this, not much is required of the actors in terms of characterization, so it helps to have some kind of inherent appeal or likability. Both Warbeck and MacColl fill the bill. Though hardly allowed to deliver tour-de-force performances, they nevertheless face the proceedings as seriously as possible, never descending into camp or winking at the audience (except for a memorable, briefly glimpsed joke, in which Warbeck pretends to reload his gun by dropping the bullets down the muzzle – a moment you’re likely to miss unless you’re looking for it, because an elevator door is closing in front of him).
Wretchedly mangled in its original U.S. release, THE BEYOND has long deserved a resurrection in restored form. I do not wish to extol the virtues of this film too loudly, because it is not perfect; in some ways, in fact, it holds up better on recollection than upon viewing, allowing the mind to free-associate between its disjointed elements. From this perspective, the film achieves an almost unique sense of metaphysical horror through its portrayal of disconnected, disastrous events beyond human control or understanding. THE BEYOND remains a graphic gore film that will put off squeamish viewers, but also it contains dark notions that are genuinely disconcerting.

TRIVIA

When first released in the United States, THE BEYOND was recut, rescored, and retitled as SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH. Most of the gore was removed, and the credits of the film were Americanized (e.g., the American distributor gave himself a producer credit, and director Lucio Fulci became “Luis Fuller”).
In 1998, Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder (a division of Dimension/Miramax) teamed with Grindhouse Releasing to distribute an uncut version of the film for midnight screenings in the U.S. This led to a subsequent laserdisc and DVD release of the restored version.

DVD DETAILS

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Click to purchase the Collector's Tin Box DVD.

Anchor Bay’s limited edition DVD, released in 2000, came in a metal, lunchbox-type tin that included six 5X7″ international poster replicas, plus a 48-page color booklet featuring photos and liner notes.
The film is presented in uncut widescreen, enhanced for 16X9 television screens. As a bonus chapter, there is a color version of the pre-credits sequence, as seen in Germany (the sequence is in sepia tones in other territories).
There are soundtrack options for English and Italian dialogue, plus an audio commentary by actors Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck that was recorded (for a planned laserdisc release) just weeks before Warbeck’s death from cancer in 1997. It’s a fairly lively and informative track.
Other bonus features on DVD includes an on-set interview with director Lucio Fulci; German, International, and U.S. trailers; a bad music video by Necrophagia that uses (and re-uses) footage from THE BEYOND; six galleries of stills, and more.
A separate, virtually identical DVD was released without the tin box packaging, booklet, and poster reproductions. After these two releases went out of print, a new edition was released in 2008, which added a section of bonus features entitled “Voices of the Beyond,” consisting of video interviews with cast and crew who had worked with director Lucio Fulci.

THE BEYOND (a.k.a. L’Aldila, 1981). Directed by Lucio Fulci. Screenplay by Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo, and Fulci, from a story by Sacchetti. Cast: Catriona MacColl (a.k.a. Katherine MacColl), David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint-John, Veronica Lazar.

Copyright 1998 by Steve Biodrowski. This review (in altered form) originally appeared in Cinefantastique Magazine.