The dead rise again in Lucio Fulci's terrifying The Beyond (1981)
Continuity and narrative coherency were never top priorities for gialli auteurs such as Dario Argento (Deep Red, 1975) and Lucio Fulci, the latter of which directed this slick n' scary fright flick. The plot is complete hogwash and mostly feels like a collection of scenes from other films - there's a bit of Night Of The Living Dead (Romero, 1968), a bit of The Innocents (Clayton, 1961) and topped off with a sprinkling of Wait Until Dark (Young, 1967). There's even a reference to Clouzot's Les Diaboliques (1955). So it's a zombie movie and haunted house picture all rolled into one gooey exploitation package, featuring enough exploding eye shots to quench the bloodthirst of even the most cynical horror fan. Indeed, The Beyond may be a largely incoherent photo album of horror history, but it is an incredibly beautiful, stylish and effective one - and the scariest film I've seen in a long time.
What's really remarkable is, despite how overfamiliar everything is, The Beyond actually feels like its own film. It has a peculiar atmosphere which flits between menacing and ethereal; the mist which surrounds the Seven Doors Hotel lends the location a foreboding quality not unseen in other horror movies, but there's also a sense of otherworldliness - as if what lurks outside in the haze isn't of this world. It's genuinely creepy and unnerving, and it's to Fulci's credit that his film has quite a unique feel when it's resting pretty heavily on genre tropes. The gore is, as always, the highlight. One scene in particular had me gripping the edge of my seat with terror and it's the source of much derision from even fans of the film. It's the spider scene. As I said in my Arachnid (Sholder, 2001) review, even a paper-mâché tarantula would give me the creeps, so the oversized mechanical puppets on offer here definitely had the desired effect. There are plenty of real spiders too though, and Fulci gets right in for close-ups as they rip apart bloody flesh in a scene that will be sure to give me nightmares for months now. It's a protracted sequence of horror which makes full use of the arachnids spindly legs and stop-motion-style movement... they gives me chills.
The acting is wooden, as per usual for this kind of flick, but Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck are still likable and engaging leads. What keeps the film moving are the set-pieces, which are genuinely exciting, unrelentingly paced and often terrifying, served brilliantly by practical effects genuis Gianetto DiRossi. The photography by Sergio Salvati is stunning and looks beautiful on remastered Blu Ray, which has crystal clear detail and sharpness. You won't remember anything of the plot (if you can even get a hold on it) but for wall-to-wall action and scares The Beyond is pretty hard to beat. The ending tries a little too hard to be solemn and downbeat, coming off a little misplaced, but for 85 minutes this is a rollercoaster ride I can't wait to revisit and a new addition to my long list of favorite horror movies...