(Release Date: April 29, 1981 [Italy])
(USA Re-Release Date: June 12, 1981)
In 1927 New Orleans a painter is deemed to be an "Ungodly Warlock", is dragged down to the basement of his Hotel, flailed with chains, crucified to the wall there and then his face is melted off. I think that was a little extreme, don't you? Generally I consider all crucifiers and face melters to be rather rude, and I often find myself disappointed in them as human beings. Gibson even left the Face Melting thing out of The Passion of the Christ. Man, when he walked in all he did was ask "Can you put me up for the night?"! He didn't mean that kind of "put me up!" Shit!
Still, that experience sure beats watching most Lucio Fulci movies! Because Italy is shaped like a boot, I can happily imagine that every one of Lucio Fulci's Zombies buried in that country's earth is getting its ass kicked for all of eternity.
Back to the lecture at hand... let's flash forward (don't all Italian Zombie films do this?) to 1981 as Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl) inherits that old New Orleans hotel. It's a dream come true that (once fixed up and remodeled) will save her from a life spent in-between careers and at last give her financial security. Guess she hasn't seen too many Louisiana Horror Movies, huh? She'd be better off as a stripper!
The rehabilitation of this stately grand hotel brings me to the first funny thing that happens in this goober: The Inspeeeeeeectioooooon of the Baaaaaaaaaaasemeeeeeeeeeeent! Both Liza and the Plumber are baffled by the fact that the basement of her New Orleans Hotel is flooded. Yeah, a basement built in a city below sea level! Yeah, totally baffling. Anybody want to explain a few things to these idiots before they go running businesses or calling themselves plumbers? Why not just relocate the Ritz-Carlton directly into the Gulf of Mexico?
Amid the humor, some very odd and frightening things begin to happen, all surrounding this haunted manor. Liza soon learns that its basement was built upon one of the seven gateways to hell. It happens, people, my apartment was built upon a home for the criminally insane (that's just a guess, but you should see my neighbors)! With the help of David Warbeck's Dr. John McCabe (who quite clearly wants some, but who could blame him???) and an uber-mysterioso blind chick (bad contact lenses and all), not to mention horrific visions that the Lutz family would throw darts at, Liza begins to wonder whether something supernaturally evil is going down around town, or if she just might be going a little "Butterfield 8" in the old brain-pan! Of course the fact that she's the direct descendant of a family who built a basement in New Orleans doesn't sing choruses of praise to her probable I.Q. now does it?
Soon, Fulci begins to think he's Kubrick, and The Beyond starts to translate into The Shining... just not very well (don't bite me, fans, the film crew admitted this!). After only 54 years the body of our pre-credit sequence Painter is found upstairs, melted face and all, crucified to the bathroom wall in suite 36 of the top floor just like we left him. But wait just a rotten, sickened second! We saw that jackass get yanked out of 36, dragged to the basement and nailed up there! What Gives? Was it just a vision? Sure was, but after that vision was over them crucifyin' nails are still in the bathroom wall, still poking out, still bloody (or was that "rust"?). That's some contractor we've found here, huh? Wonder if his last name is Mattei!
And it goes on like that. Watch the fun, folks, it's unrolling like a tube of Charmin! The story itself is somewhat interesting, but it would take a fantastic writer to bring such a story coherently to the screen. Instead, we get Fulci, along with co-writers Dardano Sacchetti and Giorgio Mariuzzo, so the resulting translation is not quite Magnevox smart. It makes almost as much sense as the plot of a Porn Flick, and is about as well connected as a severed power-line during the Santa Ana winds. The fact that Rita Agostini is actually credited with "continuity" makes me laugh so hard I could choke on Coke. There's even a Fulci-esque Zombie Rampage sequence in a Hospital, stuck right in the middle of this haunted house movie. Reportedly this was at the request of the German film distributors, but I'm thinking Fulci figured, you know, I'm me, doesn't make any fuckin' difference, right?
Still, I agree on a lot of levels with the advocates in favor of this film. There is at least an oscillating fan worth of coolness thrown around the room here. Fulci does make some interesting choices with first person Camera P.O.V. Also, the Cinematography by Sergio Salvati occasionally rises to the fine craft that makes this one somewhat worth watching. Fulci's Flicks generally have had some good (if more "gross" than "scary") special effects, and the gore core here is some of the finest the Grindhouses had to offer. Yes, it still gets a little silly, like the ever popular popping ocular that our Italian Friends do so well, and The Beyond features at least twice. Even the often admired "tarantula scene" inter-cuts live spiders with ridiculous-looking fake ones on sticks that are flopped from side to side to resemble the act of walking. I never knew spiders could move all four legs on each side at one time. Apparently they can because all of the incredibly phony looking tarantulas descend upon an incredibly phony looking mannequin (in place of a curious character) and rip it to pieces. Anybody know how to say "Corny" in Italian? At its worst, though, it's still far superior to the raw pork intestines and cow's blood used in Bru-Bru Mattei's Hell of the Living Dead.
It's safe to say that even the 2000 Anchor Bay re-re-release is a big Disc full of melodramatic lines and bad acting in a terrible script that tells an interesting story and brought to the screen with interesting camera work, good lighting and even some suspenseful set ups (credit where due). Look, I realize this is a low budget Italian film and I realize that these movies had to be re-dubbed by inexpensive English Speaking actors. Don't go thinking that's going to make me go easier on this damned thing. Sergio Leone faced the same problems and he never spewed out piss like this. The dubbing is, in fact, so bad, I could scarcely tell if I was hearing dialogue or some silly narration. Brother, there's some of that too, usually coupled with some oh-so-corny sound effects!
There are more ups and downs in this movie than a Merry-Go-Round, but it's a Merry-Go-Round built in a below-sea-level basement, so even the top-notch is a low-ish point. The ending, however, if you can get to it and follow the story, is oddly satisfying, featuring the best set of the entire movie and a fantastic use of light and shadow. Just then, when the film is at its best the credits roll... slowly because they're sparse. Man. They should have made the whole damned movie on that set. It would have been a creepy THX-1138, surreal and stunning (or so I imagine... shit, maybe I should write that!).
Occasionally, I'll see something that Fulci has done (check out the shark/ zombie/ naked chick sequence in Zombi 2) and think... man, he's really got something here, what might he have done with the right budget, actors and script. Then I see another eyeball squeeze out onto the floor, and I put down my fork and think... who cares, man? In the DVD age, everyone's a master... just like in the internet age, everyone's a writer (self-effacing humor: mine). And that, in a skull-shell is why The Beyond gets Two Very Enthusiastic Stars up... out of Five! That's up from the last Fulci review I did in which he got the World's Greatest Critic's answer to a big fat "Sirius"! He always had a certain B-Movie grindhouse charm, but he's most certainly no Hitchcock. And, folks, if you think this movie was scary and insane, please note, I've written two Zombie Reviews in the past five hours or so, and I have yet to put pen to paper for a single word on Chicken Little. This Guy is Falling!