Blu-ray Review: The Beyond

2015/04/20 18:47:55 +00:00 | Patrick Bromley

Lucio Fulci’s 1980 film The Beyond is largely regarded as his masterpiece, and it’s hard to disagree with that sentiment. The Italian filmmaker had a long and varied career working across a number of genres, including fantasy, westerns and, most famously and frequently, horror. The Beyond finds him in total control of both his obsessions and his abilities, blending his penchant for nightmare logic, abstract formalism and, of course, gushy, gushy gore. Fulci gotta Fulci.

It’s practically useless to try and explain the movie’s plot, as this isn’t a movie that’s contingent on story. Any attempt to understand what’s really going on will more than likely lead to further frustration; better to let the images and tone of the thing wash over you. It begins with the murder of a man at the hands of an angry mob, an event which opens one of the doorways to Hell (a recurring theme in Fulci’s work, popping up again in both City of the Living Dead and The House by the Cemetery). More than 50 years later, a woman named Liza (Catriona MacColl) inherits a hotel located above the doorway and begins to renovate it, which reopens the gate and causes first bizarre, violent occurrences and eventually an army of the undead to cross over into our world.

My own relationship with Italian horror is long and complicated. It took me years to get on board with its weirdness; I spent movie after movie knowing that people love it and trying to love it myself but remaining outside of it, like being at a party I could only watch but never join. Remaining steadfast, I kept trying and absorbed as much Italian horror as I could. Whether it eventually wore me down or I finally just “got” it, something clicked around my first viewing of A Blade in the Dark or my third viewing of Zombie and now I’m all in. There’s nothing else quite like Italian horror. There’s nothing else quite like The Beyond.

In almost any conversation about Fulci, much is made of the fact that his movies feel like dreams. They make no traditional narrative sense. Their rhythms are strange — often slow and ponderous, then exploding into violence and insanity out of nowhere. Even the dubbing contributes to the feeling that something is…off, somehow disconnected from the world as we typically perceive it. His movies approximate reality but never replicate it. But whereas the “dream” defense is often used to explain away his films flaws, it’s accurate praise when talking about The Beyond (aka Seven Doors of Death). This is a film that switches back and forth from dream to nightmare, the two often bleeding across one another the way the land of the dead bleeds into the land of the living on screen. Gone is some of Fulci’s ugliness and grime, replaced by the gorgeous widescreen compositions of cinematographer Sergio Salvati. This is Fulci’s best looking film, which only makes the nightmarish sequences that much more vivid.

And nightmarish they are. Fulci’s movies always deliver on the gore — he has an entire fanbase interested in his work just for that reason — but The Beyond is gory for more than just gore’s sake. Consider two of the more famous sequences in the movie, one in which a man is slowly attacked by spiders and another in which a character’s dog turns and viciously attacks its owner. Again, Fulci’s rhythms are such that the scenes take too long, endlessly drawn out as we are forced to watch, powerless and horrified. It’s how nightmares feel; we want to wake up and make it stop but someone else — our own subconscious — is calling the shots. Like the best work of David Lynch, Fulci’s The Beyond is a film that drills directly into our subconscious, a nightmare from which we cannot wake until the end credits roll. We are totally in his hands. It’s a good place to be.

Previously available as a UK Blu-ray release from Arrow Home Video, The Beyond makes its American high def debut thanks to Grindhouse Releasing. Their three-disc release of the movie is for horror what the Criterion Collection is for classic film, offering stunning picture and sound and hours of supplemental material. The original uncut version of the movie is presented in 1080p high definition widescreen, boasting stable colors, decent detail and only the occasional glimpse of minor digital noise. No fewer than four audio options have been included: three in English (two of which are lossless) and the original Italian mono track. While I know that it’s blasphemous to watch the English language version — particularly when the original Italian is made available — I prefer to view The Beyond with the dubbing. It’s all part of the aesthetic.

In addition to the feature film on the first disc, there’s a brief (about a minute) video introduction from star Catriona MacColl, plus two versions — one English and one German — of the pre-credit sequence in color instead of the sepia-toned opening that appears in the finished film. Also included is a commentary track with MacColl and co-star David Warbeck that originally appeared on the UK Blu-ray put out a few years ago and a collection of promotional material including multiple versions of the trailer, television ads and radio spots.

A second disc is devoted entirely to bonus features, the best of which is a nearly hour-long retrospective documentary on the making of The Beyond, plus hours of interviews with the actors, the special effects artists, the original distributor and Fulci himself in archival conversations dating all the way back to 1988. A massive collection of production and promotional stills and bonus trailers for Grindhouse’s other releases round out the second disc. As they did with their Blu-ray of Cannibal Holocaust, Grindhouse Releasing has included a third disc containing the movie’s wonderful, evocative score by Fabio Frizzi. This inclusion alone makes the Blu-ray of The Beyond worth adding to your collection.

Though it’s never going to be for all tastes (and I should know), The Beyond is a masterpiece of Italian horror and my favorite Fulci film — it’s a beautiful nightmare. The care and attention given to the film by Grindhouse Releasing has only made me love it that much more. This is sure to be one of the best horror home video releases of the year.

Movie Score: 4.5/5, Disc Disc: 5/5, Overall: 5/5

  • Patrick Bromley
    About the Author - Patrick Bromley

    Patrick lives in Chicago, where he has been writing about film since 2004. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society, Patrick's writing also appears on, and, the site he runs and hosts a weekly podcast.

    He has been an obsessive fan of horror and genre films his entire life, watching, re-watching and studying everything from the Universal Monsters of the '30s and '40s to the modern explosion of indie horror. Some of his favorites include Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931), Dawn of the Dead (1978), John Carpenter's The Thing and The Funhouse. He is a lover of Tobe Hooper and his favorite Halloween film is part 4. He knows how you feel about that. He has a great wife and two cool kids, who he hopes to raise as horror nerds.