The Beyond (1981), has done what no other Zombie movie has done before, or since…It inspired real dread in me. Known in Italy as L’aldilà, and re-released after being heavily cut as Seven Doors of Death, this Lucio Fulci masterpiece is the second installment of his Gates Of Hell Trilogy(bookended by City of the Living Dead and House by the Cemetary), and one of his finest works. Rather than face prosecution for obscenity, the UK distributors elected to re-release the film in 1987 after certain scenes were cut. The uncut version was made available again in 2001.
The film opens in Black and White, set in 1927 Louisiana, at the Seven Doors Hotel. We see an angry Lynch mob coming for one of the male lodgers. My first reaction upon seeing this was “Ok, its the South, in the 20’s, he’s white…so they must either think he’s gay, or in league with Satan”. Turns out I was right, They think he’s a Warlock. Apparently the proper way to deal with Warlocks on the Bayou is to beat them mercilessly with a chain, splitting flesh with every strike, then nailing them to a wall in the basement with spikes through their wrists, then dousing them with quicklime(an incredibly caustic chemical compound) and melting them to death. How bout that? Fast Forward several decades, and a Big City Gal named Liza inherits the hotel with plans to re-open it. A fine plan! Probably stimulate the local economy, preserve a local piece of history…thumbs up! Except for one small detail…THE HOTEL IS LOCATED OVER ONE OF THE GATES OF HELL, AND KILLING THE WARLOCK/ARTIST OPENED THE GATE! MWA-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAAA! *cough*
Before she knows it, she is visited by a Blind Ghost who tries to persuade the inhabitants to leave the house, Zombies and vengeful spirits begin to rise, big fuckin spiders eat peoples faces, a creepy old book plays hide and seek for a few scenes, and the final survivors are transported to a desolate wasteland, presumably Hell. As much as my description makes it sound silly, this film is beautifully crafted and has that distinct Italian style, even using one of my favorite devices of part of the score being played real time within a scene. The plot was originally conceived by Fulci as an exploration of the idea of the realms of living and dead bleeding together. Fulci also wanted to do a film that would pay homage to his idol, the French playwright Antonin Artaud . Artaud, a sometime member of the early 20th Century Surrealist movement, envisioned theatre being less about linear plot and more about “cruel” imagery and symbolism that could shock its audience into action. Given the amount of violence and carnage depicted in the film, I would say he achieved this goal.
Zombie films and Zombies in general have been done to death today, but there will always be a special place in my heart for older Zombie films, particularly when they aren’t centered on some biological threat, or infectious jackassery. I much prefer MY dead to walk the earth because there’s no more room in hell.
The film so offensive it made Christopher Lee walk out of a screening in disgust, and had it’s best kills aped by Friday the 13th! Most widely known as “Twitch of the Death Nerve”, this film may break the record for most titles. We’ve got Bay of Blood, Bloodbath, Reazione a Catena, The Odor of Flesh, Thus do we live to be evil, Before the Fact, The Ecology of Crime, Chain Reaction, Carnage, Last House On The Left Part II, New House On The Left, and Bloodbath Bay of Death. 13 motherfucking titles! Either Mario Bava is one indecisive motherfucker, or this is another example of the classic scenario we’ve seen of re-titleing a film for international release and for censorship/film rating issues. This 1971 Italian Giallo thriller was quite shocking in the day for it’s gruesome murders, 13 of them in total, which won awards for the use of special makeup effects. Ultimately though, this film was way before it’s time. It’s fantastically shot and crafted murders were off-putting for a large section of the film-going public at the time, but went on the be a huge influence on the slasher genre years later. The plot concerns family members killing each other off in an effort to be the sole heir inheriting a large and presumably valuable property. In grand Giallo style, the camera work hides the killers identity and they almost ALWAYS wear gloves. There is somewhat of a “whodunnit” approach which is eventually abandoned after several twists and turns. All you need to know is that many people die, and the killer could be anyone. Two of the more brilliant kills were lifted verbatim from this film and dropped straight into Friday the 13th part 2, and had a huge role in establishing Jason Vorhees as King Of the Slashers. First up, we dispatch shy Bobby who takes a Machete directly to the face, virtually out of nowhere.
I say he had it coming. I mean, C’MON! I know it was the early 70s, and in Europe, but look at this dickhead in that sweater, with that stupid fucking haircut. You can’t see it in this pic, but he’s wearing tight khaki pants, and thigh high leather boots as well. Dude was practically begging for someone to Machete him in the face! Next we have a young couple, making the beast with two backs. A great POV shot tracks the killer advancing on them with a spear, and then…
OH YEEEEEEAH! Take THAT Eurotrash! I like this kill so much that i’m gonna steal it and put it in MY movie too!
All in all, the shock value may not hold up well by today’s standards, but it’s influence cannot be understated. Director Joe Dante had this to say: “It features enough violence and grue to satisfy the most rabid mayhem fans and benefits from the inimitably stylish direction of horror specialist Mario Bava. Assembled with a striking visual assurance that never ceases to amuse, this is typical Bava material – simply one ghastly murder after another, 13 in all, surrounded by what must be one of the most preposterous and confusing plots ever put on film.”
How can you get better than that?