Tuesday, May 25 offers a variety of horror, fantasy, and science fiction titles on DVD and Blu-ray. For fans of the HBO’s vampire show, there’s TRUE BLOOD: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON, which is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. For fans of Josh Whedon, there’s a Blu-ray release of DR. HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOD, starring Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion; this is the thing Whedon whipped up as an Internet series to keep busy during the writer’s strike. For fans of Lucio Fulci (and god knows, they’re out there, lurking in the shadows like Lovecraftian worshippers of Cthulhu), there is a new Blue Underground Blu-ray release of CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, also available in a special edition DVD. This is good news, because the previous DVD release was a bare-bone presentation, lacking bonus features.
THE ROAD, based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men) didn’t lead to huge box office success when it was released in theatres last year, but Cinefantastique’s Peg Aloi considered its bleak depiction of a post-apocalyptic world worthy of attention. Viggo Mortensen stars as a father trying to survive, along with his son, in a world seemingly without hope.
As for the rest, there’s BEYOND SHERWOOD FOREST, a fantasy take on the Robin Hood story, starring Julian Sands (Argento’s PHANTOM OF THE OPERA); TELL TALE, an alleged adaptation of Poe, starring Josh Lucas, Lena Headey (THE BROKEN), and Brian Cox (MANHUNTER); and an unrated director’s cut Blu-ray release of Troma’s CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH (1986).
A film that fulfills both the positive and pejorative definitions of “sleaze,” Lucio Fulci’s THE NEW YORK RIPPER arrived – believe it or not – on Blu-Ray last week courtesy of the 21st century keepers of the exploitation flame, Blue Underground. The disc easily outstrips all previous foreign and domestic editions of the disc, and should be an essential purchase for fans of both the wildly uneven filmmaker and European exploitation of the ’70s and ’80s in general – for all others, here be dragons. The film is obscenely violent, sexually degrading, and bitterly misogynistic, but it has problems as well.
The story follows NYPD Detective Williams (featuring another staple of the genre, the slumming British thespian, personified here by Jack Hedley) as he tracks a serial killer who is brutally slashing women across Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry to a live sex show on 42nd St, all while speaking in a high pitched, duck-like voice. Williams reluctantly accepts the aid of a Columbia University psychiatrist, Dr. Davis (Paolo Malco) to help form a profile of the ripper, just as the maniac takes to calling Williams both at the station and at the home of his hooker/girlfriend, Kitty (Daniela Doria.) When young Fay Majors (the gorgeous Almanta Keller) survives a nighttime assault, she describes the killer as having a deformed hand – the very same man who was also at the scene of the sex show murder on the ‘duce (Renato Rossini, here billed as Howard Ross, an Italian exploitation fixture whose Tony Musante-looking mug and steely gaze can also be found in WEREWOLF WOMAN and THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE.) Once the man is identified as Mickey Scellenda – a two-bit punk with a history of sexual assault and an apartment literally filled with drugs and porn – he becomes the prime suspect; the pleas of Dr. Davis, who doesn’t believe that Scellenda fits his profile, are not enough to convince he police that they’ve got the wrong man, especially after Scellenda attacks Fay in her home during the abscence of her physician boyfriend Peter (Andrea Occhipinti, billed here as Andrew Painter, who went on to work with Fulci again in 1983’s CONQUEST only to learn what real on-screen humiliation means the next year in John Derek’s snore fest ode to wife Bo, BOLERO).
Glanced at objectively, THE NEW YORK RIPPER is a careless mess of a thriller. While the film nominally carries on the tradition of the Italian giallo, a genre whose name comes from the lurid yellow covers that graced the crime and thriller paperbacks on which the films drew their inspiration, it’s also very abusive of the genre’s founding principles, throwing the trace elements of grace and logic out the window in favor of a tour of humanity’s gutter. While there were certainly great giallos being made featuring strong elements of violence and sex (see Sergio Martino’s TORSO) they were made with a degree of care and artistry that is wholly missing here. Fulci earned his paycheck aboring on Italian fart comedies and nondescript westerns before a creative spark and the script for DON”T TORTURE A DUCKING arrived simultaneously in 1972 producing a taught suspense yarn containing actual eroticism rather than simply copious amounts of T&A. Fulci’s real breakthrough would come in 1979 with the vivid, gut-munching undead epic, ZOMBI. What began as a DAWN OF THE DEAD rip off morphed into an outright horror classic, with Fulci exhibiting a firm control of his Technovision frame, and boasting an uneasy, dread-fueled pace and the outrageous gore effects of longtime Fulci collaborator Gino De Rossi.
Fulci found himself the toast of the exploitation world and struck while the iron was still hot with the New England-gothic infused CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. In between those two came THE BEYOND, probably the director’s finest hour in any artistic sense, mixing his familiar doses of sexuality and violence but bolstered with a haunting, ethereal quality that seemed to indicate the beginning of an exciting new phase of his career.
THE NEW YORK RIPPER certainly signaled a new era for Fulci, but after the release of four noteworthy films, this effort felt like the work of a desperate magician whose hand had reached into the sticky bottom of the tricks bag. The film is artless, ugly, deeply cynical, and it proudly displays a misogynistic attitude that is utterly breathtaking. At the head of the pack of WTF moments is the head scratching decision to have the killer taunt his victims and the police with a grade-school Donald Duck impression that is neither scary nor funny and nearly takes the mickey out of the otherwise effective murder sequences (even if there is a justification revealed late in the film.)
And good Lord, what sequences! De Rossi’s makeup team worked overtime to devise what have to be among the most grisly onscreen deaths ever seen, from the business end of a broken whisky bottle delivered angrily to a sex performer’s privates to an agonizingly slow razor blade death (featuring one ultra-disturbing shot of the actress staring in horror directly into the camera, almost as if she were pleading with Fulci to stop the scene).
That nearly all the film’s violent deaths are reserved for women is nothing new in the annals of horror history, but accusations of Fulci’s reported dislike of women can find no easier purchase than this film. Whether it’s the pathologist reporting that one victim had a knife “rammed up her joy trail” (thank you Dr. Giggles!) or the profoundly unappealing Det. Williams’ casually degrading treatment of both his own girlfriend and the husband of a ripper victim who was murdered during a motel room tryst. We’re not the least bit surprised to see a cop in a Fulci film flinch at the notion of an open marriage, but watching Williams strongly imply that she got just what she deserved while her grieving husband is on the verge of tears always catches us off guard.
Anyone even remotely familiar with genre conventions will know whom to instantly rule out as a suspect, as well as spot the real killer about ten seconds after they appear onscreen. Still, there is lip service paid to the notion of a ‘who done it’ – enough to keep the picture at least technically in giallo territory. But in Fulci’s world, unlikely coincidence reigns as the supreme story element; the mysterious man with the deformed hand appears at the scene of so many sexual assaults in the greater metropolitan area that you wonder why the police don’t simply follow him around! A search of his apartment (located in the Same Chelsea building that contained at least one of the area’s notorious S&M leather bars – you half-expect him to run into Al Pacino while shooting CRUISING) turns up a king’s ransom in pornographic magazines, shots of oiled bodybuilders, at least a dozen syringes, a penis-shaped hash pipe, and the coup de grace, a theatrical poster-sized print of himself – naked – pressed up against a giant image of Marilyn Monroe.
However, it’s these very outrageous elements that confirm the film’s status as a cult favorite (not for nothing is the screenplay credit buried halfway through the end crawl). There’s a scent of rapidly fading glory that permeates RIPPER and informs our appreciation almost 30 years later. Fulci (who cameos as a vague NYPD authority figure) was still regarded as an exciting filmmaker on a rapid rise up the exploitation food chain, but post-RIPPER his career nosedived into a mix of embarrassing trash that would make Jess Franco take an Alan Smithee credit (SODOM’S GHOST) or sad, faint echoes of prior glories (VOICES FROM BEYOND.)
One pleasure that does grow stronger in retrospect is the unprecedented tour of the fleshpits and grindhouses in and around 42nd St. THE NEW YORK RIPPER’s Manhattan has changed quite a bit since Italian directors like Fulci and Enzo Castellari scuttled about the island, using its natural grime and urban decay as gratis art and set decoration. It’s also hard not to get a little wistful at the numerous shots of the World Trade Center towers, reminding us of how often filmmakers used them as a means of instantly fixing a location. We’re still trying to figure out exactly where Det. Williams’ apartment actually is, with its distinctive circular fire escape (poor Hedley seems like he’s on the verge of cardiac arrest after climbing to the top floor), and those familiar with Greenwich Village will note that Peter and Fay’s apartment is located in the bucolic Grove Court, making for a surprisingly good match with the Rome-shot interiors. Of course, the city has changed quite a bit since then (a fact lovingly documented on a new extra on the new Blu-Ray edition) and how amazing is it that a loose team of Italian exploitation artisans would wind up as the prime chroniclers of New York’s bleakest 20th century period?
Very few low budget European films of this vintage were shot with live sound, particularly those with the sort of extensive location filming that THE NEW YORK RIPPER showcases. The bigger British and American stars were almost always contracted to provide their own voices during the dubbing process (as Richard Johnson had done in Fulci’s ZOMBI a few years earlier), but apparently Jack Hedley was not considered a big enough star to make it worth going outside the usual pool of voice over talent. Hedley’s résumé consisted largely of small roles in large productions (he appears in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA as the reporter outside St Paul’s and a has a featured role in the Bond picture FOR YOUR EYES ONLY), and it’s unlikely that schlepping permit-less around New York for Lucio Fulci did much for his subsequent career. It doesn’t help that ‘Detective Williams’ is one of the most unlikeable protagonists in eurosleaze history (a huge statement), whose character building moments consists mostly of stress smoking and calling his prostitute girlfriend a “stupid bitch”. Much better is Paolo Malco – a minor genre staple in the early ’80s who already appeared for Fulci the previous year in HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY and for Sergio Martino in SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS – whose Columbia professor is far more sympathetic (even though Fulci tries to pull the rug out from under him as well by showing him secretly buying gay porn mags from a newsstand – a hateful no-no in the director’s oddly Catholic world view).
Blue Underground presents THE NEW YORK RIPPER in a staggering 1080p image on the newest edition to their Blu-Ray catalog. Long consigned to the domain of fuzzy VHS bootlegs, the film was previously available domestically on a non-anamorphic (and out of print) DVD edition from Anchor Bay, which presented the uncut version in the US for the first time. The amount of detail revealed here will be a revelation to fans, occasionally even revealing some EFX makeup inconsistencies that had always escaped us. The image might be a bit too bright at times, though this could also be due to flat lighting playing havoc with inexpensive Technovision lenses. The negative also has instances of dirt that show up just often enough to remind you what a miracle it is that this nearly 30-year-old, low-budget Italian offering has no business looking as good as it does here.
As if the image upgrade wasn’t enough reason to quack like a duck, there are two new featurettes (presented in HD, no less.) Aside from the aforementioned “NYC Locations Then and Now short,” there is also a brief interview with actress Zora Kerova, who played the female half of the couple performing the live sex show.
Regarded as Lucio Fulci’s 8½, CAT IN THE BRAIN is a late-career film for a director whose best days were behind him. Fulci began doing yeoman’s work in the Italian film industry in the early ’60s, doing everything from lowbrow comedies to westerns. It was an undistinguished career, marked only by the occasionally interesting thriller like A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971) and Don’t Torture a Ducking (1972). But it was a cheapie rip-off of George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead that cemented Fulci’s name in the exploitation Parthenon, 1979’s Zombi. Something about the Caribbean-set gorefest inspired Fulci’s visual acuity, and the combination of atmospheric location photography, slumming British thespians, and outrageous gore hit a nerve with genre fans, and Fulci embarked on an interesting series of violently graphic gothics in the early ’80s, including House by the Cemetery, City of the Living Dead, and what is likely his ultimate expression, The Beyond. The thoroughly vile and misogynistic The New York Ripper showed a director becoming less and less interested in the mundane issues like narrative focus and characterization and concerned only with cramming his films with as much violence and nudity as possible (which, ironically, would up being cut from most release prints anyway).
Cat in the Brain was one of Fulci’s final films, a bizarre but unique effort in which the director appears as himself – a genre filmmaker being haunted by horrifically violent visions. Feeling like he’s losing his grip on reality and disturbed by the murderous impulses he’s beginning to feel, Fulci consults a therapist, who sees a chance to exploit the director’s visions to his own murderous ends.
Cat in the Brain (also known under the slightly more elegant Nightmare Concert) is certainly fun, but it’s also sadly inept and lazy. Fulci’s trademark gore effects are so shoddy that they’re likely to illicit little more than laughter from most audiences, and there’s also a heavy reliance on clips from Fulci’s previous films (and not the good ones, either – hope you like Ghosts of Sodom). Diehard fans will say that the humor is intentional and we’d love to think so – but it has always felt like the work of someone very, very tired.
We’ve no complaints about Grindhouse’s new 2-disc edition, however. The image is taken from a new HD master and looks remarkably good (having previously been consigned to the domain of the gray-market). If features both English and Italian audio options (though the majority of the language spoken before the camera appears to have been English). Extras include a long-form interview with Fulci (filmed just prior to his death in 1996) and footage of his only appearance at a stateside horror convention in 1996, another long-form interview with actor Brett Halsey (who appears in CAT IN THE BRAIN courtesy of archive footage from When Alice Broke the Mirror), numerous trailers for other Grindhouse releases, and a more substantial-than-usual insert featuring remembrances from Lucio’s daughter, Antonella, David J Schow, and Eli Roth.
CAT IN THE BRAIN (Un Gatto nel Cervello, a.k.a. NIGHTMARE CONCERT, 1990). Directed by Lucio Fulci. Written by John Fitzsimmons, Lucio Fulci, Giovanni Simonelli, Antonio Tentori. Cast: Lucio Fulci, David L. Thompson, Jeoffrey Kennedy, Malisa Longo, Shillett Angel, Brett Halsey (archive footage).
Lucio Fulci’s Cult Classic is Back on 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.
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.”)
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).
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.
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.
- 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.
EDITOR’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.)
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.
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.
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.
Keith Brown at Giallo Fever gives the run down on LUCIO FULCI REMEMBERED, VOLUME 1, a DVD consisting of interviews with cast and crew who worked with Lucio Fulci. The Italian director became a cult figure for such splatter-fests as ZOMBIE and THE BEYOND, but he also made some decent giallo thrillers like LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN, DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING, and THE PSYCHIC (a.k.a. SEVEN NOTES IN BLACK). Critical consensus is divided over whether he was a hack who hit it big with gore or talented artist who elevated his low-budget horror films with his own peculiar sensibility.
Crucially, there are […] moments of insight, such as Catriona MacColl’s reading of that famous picture of Fulci sitting, arms folded, in the middle of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway: a man between two worlds, isolated and defiant. (The image is on the back cover of the DVD.)
Overall, the picture that emerges is of someone who had a difficult life and was at times certainly a difficult person to get on with. Everyone also agrees that Fulci was an intelligent and cultured man, knowledgeable about the cinema and a solid professional.