Directed by Lucio Fulci
Where City of the Living Dead lacked in plot, Fulci may have attempted to make up for it in his second movie in the Gates of Hell trilogy, The Beyond which is arguably the second best of Fulci’s trio. Once again Fulci lives up to his reputation as the bringer of all things gore and repels us with his over the top violence and malice. There’s flesh eating tarantulas, a dog that chews the throat out of a blind woman, eyeballs popping out of faces, and of course a plethora of zombies. The Beyond is not a continuation of the events in City of the Living Dead, nor is it necessarily a precursor to House by the Cemetery. It is a “sequel” with the films connected only by the fact that all three were directed by the same person, all three starred Catriona MacColl as the female lead, and all three involve a town of unfortunate people living on top of a gateway to hell. MacColl we assume, was thankful Fulci chose not to hose her down with maggots through this one.
MacColl portrays a woman named Liza Merrill from New York who has inherited an old dilapidated hotel in Louisiana called the “Seven Doors Hotel” which she plans to fix up and reopen. Unfortunately for Liza her plans are thwarted when it becomes apparent that she has a rather serious portal to hell issue going on inside her hotel allowing all manner of evil to infiltrate the world. The reason for this is due to what was probably the most brutal death in the whole movie. When the film opens there is a man named Schweick painting alone in room 36 of the hotel. Believing Schweick to be a warlock, an angry mob enters the hotel and viciously beats Schweick before nailing him through the forearms to a wall and pouring what looks like quicklime into his face. While that is a rather heinous way to die there’s also the guy that gets eaten by tarantulas so … -quicklime to the face, or slowly being eaten by tarantulas take your pick. However, it should be noted that this movie only had what looked like one actual hairy tarantula. The rest of them looked more like cheap Halloween props purchased last minute at Walmart. Liza is helped (sort of) by her vague zombie/ghost friend, Emily and a doctor who finds and reads a book titled “Eibon” which is prophesying all the spooky end of the world stuff. Together, Liza and the doctor (his name is John McCabe by the way) fight their way through wind, fog, and ghoulish zombie beings as they painstakingly try to escape the hotel…or a hospital…or a hospital that turns into the hotel, one of those things.
While The Beyond was originally released in Italy in 1981 the film did not reach American audiences until 1983 and under a different name, Seven Doors of Death which sported a different musical score and was actually shorter than Fulci’s original version.The title was not the only name that was changed in The Beyond but so was Lucio Fulci’s, as well as members of the cast including Catriona MacColl. Their names were changed to what was thought to be more recognizable names easier to pronounce believing this was better than using their actual names. With that being said, Catriona was changed to “Katherine” while Lucio Fulci was changed to “Louis Fuller”. Lucio Fulci, aka Louis Fuller can be spotted in The Beyond, aka Seven Doors of Death as the creepy clerk in the book shop, aka the only believable character in the movie however brief. Needless to say, the acting in this film is terrible but the one character that was the most loathsome was Dr. McCabe. Not only does he continue to disbelieve and patronize Liza throughout the film, anyone that sees this movie will not be able watch it without commenting on Dr. McCabe’s inability to aim his weapon. Perhaps it would have been heroic of Dr. McCabe to have shown up when he did to save Liza, when dead things and other evil such and such came to claim her. Unfortunately, Dr. McCabe only aimed for the chest, arms, and legs. Even when it became apparent that shooting them in the head is the way to go, he still continued to hit them anywhere but the head. It would be forgivable and perhaps written off as panicking in the moment if it weren’t for the fact that the zombies in this movie are unbearably slow and clumsy. I’m no gunslinger myself but if aiming was McCabe’s issue, he had time to roll out a blanket, open a nice Pinot, and have a lovely picnic with Liza while he figured it out.
Because we know Fulci was a Lovecraft fan and threw Lovecraftian themes into these films, this is probably why Fulci chose the name “Eibon” as the title of an evil and mysterious book that continues to pop up throughout the film. In the Lovecraftian world, Eibon was a sorcerer that produced a powerful and dangerous book concerning himself and his magic thus “the book of Eibon”. In The Beyond, the book of Eibon is a prophetic book about what will happen if a beautiful woman renovates a hotel and stumbles upon a gateway to hell. Since we’re assuming Fulci was more familiar with Lovecraft it should be noted that Lovecraft did not invent Eibon but just happened to be buddies with the writer that did. Clark Ashton Smith was mainly a poet but also published dark fictional tales of which Lovecraft enjoyed and in 1922 started sending Smith fan mail and brought him into an inner circle of writers of the macabre. As a result, both played a role in each other’s work particularly in the Cthulhu mythos in which Eibon is mentioned several times. Smith and Lovecraft remained friends until Lovecraft’s death in 1937.
Roger Ebert reviewed The Beyond in 1998 and found the acting and the story line to be rather lame and the special effects laughable. As a result, he gave the film half a star and wrote a review that reflects that Ebert clearly thought Fulci’s film was trash. If he was being complimentary in his review at all it was when Ebert referred to Fulci as a “Herschell Gordon Lewis”. If Fulci was the Italian “Godfather of Gore”, Herschell Gordon Lewis was the American Don of horror who is credited with directing the first “splatter film” when he did Blood Feast (1963). Lewis liked to push buttons in film and with that being said, Blood Feast was banned in the United Kingdom for forty years before an uncut version was finally released in 2005. Fulci’s movies also faced censorship problems and The Beyond was no exception. The U.K gave it an X rating and did not release the film until 2001. When Ebert reviewed The Beyond it was the uncut version finally released in the United States (due to Quentin Tarantino) under the original title in 1996. In 2000 Ebert revisited The Beyond adding it to his list of “most hated movies” list.
Once again Fulci’s movies are not for everyone and one will either find this one in particular creatively gruesome and entertaining, or boring and maybe even somewhat punishing. To find out which category you fall into there is only one way to find out. I can tell you with absolute surety that the last film in the Gates of Hell trilogy, House by the Cemetery lacks in just about everything up to and sadly including the gore. Truly, that one really is punitive and works better as a sleep aid than anything else. While the story line in The Beyond is better compared to the other two movies in the trilogy, it is City of the Living Dead that has the most action and best visuals. Fulci’s movies may not have award winning plots as we have discovered story lines were not his thing ..but the atmosphere, visuals, and gore were right up his alley and that is where Fulci cemented himself in horror film history forever. While Fulci’s films were largely cast aside by film critics such a Roger Ebert and others like him, Fulci continued to make movies pushing buttons like Herschell Gordon Lewis and did so all the while suffering great personal peril. For example, Fulci’s wife, Marina Fulci took her own life in 1969 after two kids and eleven years of marriage. Fulci himself suffered from complications due to diabetes and other health issues some of which he blamed on a prank pulled on him with the maggots while filming City of the Living Dead. Just before his death at the age of 68 a frail, and handicapped Fulci attended the 1996 Fangoria Horror Convention in New York where “hoards of starstruck fans braved blizzard conditions that weekend to meet him”. Fulci supposedly remarked at how shocked he was to see the how large of a cult following he had created outside of his home country.
Managing editor: The Moratorium