Now, this is the Italian stuff I look forward to covering.
After taking on Hercules twice in a row, now I get to return to the warm embrace of Lucio Fulci with his Gates of Hell trilogy. I’ve already knocked out the first chapter, City of the Living Dead, last month. Now it’s time to get to what most would usually list as the best of the trio, The Beyond. So, buckle up and prepare for this week’s dose of B-Movie Enema!
Let’s first go back in time a couple years to Fulci’s production of Zombie with producer Fabrizio De Angelis. De Angelis claims that the original plan on that 1979 masterpiece was to make something of a comic book movie. He says the goal was to make people laugh and feel giddy excitement when they saw the zombies. However, when it was received with fear, the duo decided to actually turn their attentions toward making a real, straightforward horror flick. The very next collaboration toward that end was City of the Living Dead.
Right away, they set out to make another horror film, and Fulci had this trilogy concerning different people in different areas all unknowingly living above a literal gate to hell. The existence of the various gates to the underworld and to all sorts of horrors was the ultimate unifying thread in an otherwise loosely connected trilogy of films on a thematic level.
In Italy, the title translates literally to And You Will Live in Terror! The Afterlife. That just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? However, the title everyone likes, The Beyond, just basically came about in regular ol’ conversation between Fulci and De Angelis. Fulci was talking about people buying this house and finding out that it sits atop some weird shit. When De Angelis was trying to figure out what that weird shit is, Fulci just kind of blurted out “the beyond!” De Angelis probably felt like that hit him like a ton of bricks because that sounded like a pretty bitchin’ title.
And it is!
This isn’t just the second of the Gates of Hell trilogy, but it’s also the second of the Catriona MacColl trilogy of Fulci flicks too. In this, she plays Liza Merril. She’s inherited this Louisiana hotel that happens to be pretty much where the titular beyond rests under. MacColl would go on to say this was definitely her favorite of the three movies. However, she was not Fulci’s first choice. Actually, he wanted to go back to his Zombie star, Tisa Farrow. I’m not sure what made the choice to be to bring MacColl back instead, but I’m glad she is here. I like the idea of this loose trilogy having the same star – even if she isn’t the same character. Joining MacColl is another Fulci alum, David Warbeck. Warbeck had just appeared in Fulci’s take on The Black Cat.
So, let’s dig in here. This movie is often looked at from a variety of different angles by scholars. Some think it’s an interpretation of an advanced fever dream. Some think there’s a loose framework in place for Fulci to do the things he likes to do with witches and slavery and revenge. Others think that loose framework is just to give Fulci license to string macabre shit together. Others look at much more spiritual and occult themes like purgatory or how this evil book in the movie causes blindness.
I wanted to put that out there because I will now transition to the play-by-play of this movie and we’ll see if any of this makes sense or rings some bells for us.
The movie begins in 1920s Louisiana. Even if they didn’t include the little subtitle saying it was 1927, you know it’s in the old timey days because Fulci shot this in black and white. There’s a storm brewing as well as some people up to no good rowing through the Louisiana swamp toward a hotel. Inside said hotel is a woman unawares of the folks coming to do no good. She does see, as the lightning illuminates the house an old book sitting on a table. This is The Book of Eibon.
The Book of Eibon has roots in the works of H.P. Lovecraft. It’s said that this one is the most mysterious of the occult volumes. It appeared in many of Lovecraft’s stories. It’s about a guy named Eibon who wrote down experiences he had in his arcane education. I think it’s even said that he traveled to different planets looking for more information about the occult. It’s very similar to the Necronomicon.
These folks rowing their way toward this hotel in the marsh want to do a little mob justice, if you catch my drift. They are here to burn the folks who have knowledge of The Book of Eibon for dabbling in the dark arts. The mob first busts into the room of an artist and whip him with chains. It slices open his cheek. As they drag him out, he explains that the hotel was built over one of the fabled Seven Doors to Hell. If they kill this guy, there will no longer be a person guarding that gate. They don’t listen and crucify him in the basement of the building. If that wasn’t bad enough, they douse him with some stuff that melts his face off.
The credits begin and, goddamn, this is some great music from Fabio Frizzi. Frizzi worked with Fulci six times. He did the scores for Zombie as well as City of the Living Dead. Later, he would work a couple times with Lamberto Bava. But this score is grandiose and awesome. It’s just about everything you could possibly want from an Italian horror film’s theme.
Alright, so we move into the present and the hotel is in disrepair, but there’s a new owner in town, Liza Merrill (MacColl). She’s planning to move permanently to the hotel to refurbish it and re-open the place. One of the guys working on painting the exterior sees a mysterious woman in one of the rooms. Her all white eyes scares him and he falls backwards off the scaffolding. He’s taken to the hospital by Dr. McCabe (Warbeck) after he passes out from shock rambling on and on about “her eyes.”
Next up, Joe the plumber arrives to work on the pipes. Nothing comes out of the faucets but the basement is entirely flooded. Oh, and I should also point out that apparently someone, or something, is in room 36. Oh, and I also should mention there’s a creepy lady named Martha in the basement who eerily states she made a pathway for Joe the plumber with planks of wood. Martha and another guy named Arthur are helping Liza with the cleanup of the hotel. It’s like they are caretakers or something.
Joe the plumber finds a portion of the wall where the water appears to be coming from. He chisels his way into a whole other part of the basement that was walled off. It also was the part of the basement where you can find a symbol marked on several of the walls. I think Joe the plumber is about to open one of those Gates of Hell.
Sort of like the character in the previous movie that was played by Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Arthur is kind of an outsider and somewhat untrustworthy. He’s always sweaty and lurking around and kind of slow to act on things. He mumbles and kind of stutters when he talks. It’s not made any better that he was found snooping around Liza’s bedroom. He was actually looking for keys to rooms that are currently locked so he can go inside and clean them up. He’s your typical red herring character that Catriona MacColl will be kind of a dick to for a little bit.
Meanwhile in the basement, Joe the plumber finds a wall that is basically melting. He kind of shrugs it off and starts to get to work and a monster hand comes out and grabs him by the face. And then pulls out his eyeballs. Because this is a Fulci movie.
Immediately after Joe the plumber gets the absolute worst Moe Howard prank pulled on him, we see Liza driving on a long bridge. It almost looks like one of those bridges that connects the Florida Keys. But anyway, as she’s driving on the bridge, she sees one of the most recognized shots from this movie, a blonde haired girl with all white eyes and a seeing eye dog.
This woman asks if she is Liza and then says she’s been looking for her. Yeah, good luck with those fucked up eyes, lady. She introduces herself as Emily. Back at the hotel, Martha goes looking for Joe the plumber in the basement. She finds no Joe the plumber, Arthur doesn’t respond when called. But she does hear something in the basement. As she investigates further, she finds Joe the plumber with a pretty messed up face and some goopy stuff coming out of his mouth. She sees bodies start to float to the top of the flooded basement water.
Emily leads Lizal to her home. Emily plays a tune for her on the piano that sounds a lot like something written by Fabio Frizzi. She tells Liza that she cannot explain to her why the previous owners of the hotel left, but she really needs to leave and not come back.
At the hospital, in the morgue, it appears that Martha got the bodies of Joe the plumber and the other dead guy in the basement over to them quickly because it looks like they’ve already looked over what might have happened to them. Nothing seems too out of the ordinary with Joe the plumber or nothing. Never mind that something dug his eyes out of his fucking skull.
Anyway, Dr. McCabe is driving home or out to lunch at the local Burger King. He sees Liza and gives her a little meet cute wave. At the hospital, one of the dead bodies begins to register a heartbeat. Joe the plumber’s wife comes to identify his body… By the way, how long has Liza be out in town picking up groceries and stuff? Joe the plumber didn’t just die, but he got an autopsy, his wife came to identify him or something (without a guy from the morgue being there to see her and take her to the body I might add), and they’re running some sort of EKG machine. Then, on top of all that, Joe the plumber’s wife has successfully completed dressing him for his funeral or something. The morgue’s door also says “No Entry” on it. What is going on?!?
Anyway, Mrs. Joe the plumber screams when she sees something and that brings the little girl into the room where she sees a big ass jar of acid dripping onto her mom’s face, melting it. This movie is kind of the perfect weird Italian movie. It just dances from one scenario with scary shit to the next. It never settles into any one scene either. It just has something happen, and then it moves on.
This has been a rough day for the Joe the plumber family. So, the little girl watches her mom’s face melt into goo. She’s not sure what to think of the messed up face on her dad on the slab. She’s kind of miffed at the thought of being in the room with that other dead guy from Liza’s basement. I also have to imagine that room doesn’t smell too good either. People start to stink something awful shortly after they die. Anyway, the little girl is trying to run away from the melty face goo that is spreading all over the floor. She finds a door that she can open, but it’s like a stand-up body storage closet. She screams, and it goes to freeze frame.
Liza and Dr. McCabe are at a jazz bar where he’s drinking something pretty hard and she’s enjoying a milkshake. It’s so charmingly innocent. She tells him that she’s kind of on her last chance to be successful with this hotel. He gets a call from the hospital where he learns about Mrs. Joe the plumber. We then cut to the funeral and the little girl is basically left alone to grieve for her dead parents, but as she walks away, it’s revealed she has all white eyes now too.
So, let’s talk about the white eyes thing. Whenever someone is touched by the evil caused by the Gates of Hell opening or something that is conjured from The Book of Eibon, people become blinded by the experience. I kind of think of it from two different ways. People are either blinded by the horror of being in the presence of evil or they are blinded as a mark of being touched by the evil. It’s like they are in the presence or have seen something they should not have.
Emily comes to the hotel and asks Liza why she didn’t listen to her about the dangers of the hotel and how she needs to get the fuck out of there fast. Because she didn’t just blindly heed the warning from Emily, she has to tell Liza everything. She hoped to spare her the gory details, but, nope. Liza stuck around and kept having everyone poke around the place.
Emily explains that back in the 20s, everyone disappeared from the hotel. She talks of the painter at the beginning who found a key to open the Gates of Hell. She then feels a presence in the room and says that “he has come back” to the hotel. The bell from Room 36 rings and Emily says that was the room in which the artist, Schweick, was living. Now he’s come back to do something at the hotel. When Emily realizes touching the macabre painting Schweick was working on the night she died has made her hands bleed something similar to, I suppose, a stigmata, She screams and runs away in fright.
So, immediately, what does Liza do?
Liza breaks into room 36. She finds the place to be pretty dusty and also discovers The Book of Eibon. The wardrobe opens on its own and she looks around, eventually going into the bathroom where she finds Schweick still crucified on the wall. She runs out of the room in freight and sees a silhouette at the front door, but it’s McCabe. He goes into the room with her to look around, and he only sees the nails in the wall. The body is gone. Also missing is The Book of Eibon. In addition to all this, she tells McCabe about Emily, but he knows nothing of a blind girl in the old house in town.
Later, Liza is in town talking to her interior designer, and she sees what she thinks is The Book of Eibon. When she goes inside, it’s a different book. So, it’s getting pretty clear that Liza has been touched by the happenings at the hotel.
While she tries to figure that out, poor, stupid Arthur is sent to the basement to cover the hole that has killer hands busting through it. While he does that, the interior designer friend of Liza’s is looking up the building plans of the Seven Doors Hotel. When he finds the page of with the plans, he’s surprised by what he sees, but is startled by sudden lightning and he falls. Then, an army of tarantulas approach him. They crawl up on him and start eating his fucking face!
I do have some questions. First, the spiders that are doing the chomping and chewing and eating as opposed to the biting and venoming and drinking of the blood are clearly fake. There are real spiders in there, though. Do they think those other fake spiders are kind of weird? Do they think they are really hardcore with their prey because they are tearing this guy’s face up something awful?
Anyway, my bigger question is why did the hotel kill this guy? Wouldn’t the Gate of Hell not want to remain completely buried in a basement? Wouldn’t they like to try to, I dunno, attempt to manipulate the work in order to give it a chance to be even more accessible and easy to bring people to the gate? I’m just spitballing here, but, come on evil gateway to hell, give it a chance! It might even be helpful to you!
Alright, so McCabe goes to that old house that Liza says belongs to the blind girl Emily. There is no Emily. In fact, it doesn’t look like anyone has lived here for a very long time. He does find The Book of Eibon among the other leftover stuff and spiderwebs. He begins reading the book and starts finding out a little more about the Seven Gates of Hell.
Back at the hotel, Martha goes into room 36. She’s got a little bucket and a tiny mop. I’m not sure how that’s going to clean much of anything in one of the dustiest places I’ve ever seen. She does find there is a bunch of gross, black water in the tub. She goes digging around in it and pulls out a bunch of hair or something and it starts draining the water. This reveals Joe the plumber as a dead zombie guy in the bottom of the tub. He pulls himself out of the tub and attacks Martha. He eventually impales her in the back of the head with one of the crucifixion nails in the wall.
Like a dumb fuck, McCabe takes The Book of Eibon back to the hospital with him and has it in the morgue with all the dead guys. He does discover one of the bodies in the morgue has a symbol on his arm similar to something in the book and painted on the walls of the hotel’s basement. He then reads a passage about how the dead will walk the Earth.
Now, Emily, while not being at the house she was supposed to be when McCabe was poking around, is somewhere. She feels a presence in her house that plans to attack her. Sure enough, zombies are there to kill her. But… Is she really alive? Where she lives is where McCabe was, but no one was there and everything was covered in dust and spiderwebs. Is she part of some supernatural shit that is tied to the hotel or The Book of Eibon, or what?
Well, here is the deal, Emily was the girl at the beginning of the movie that was there the night Schweick was killed and, supposedly, everyone up and disappeared. She somehow escaped the fate of the others that were taken to hell. She doesn’t want to go back. So she is some sort of spirit or something. She has her guide dog attack the zombies in the house. The dog apparently causes the zombies to go away, but then he suddenly attacks Emily and tears her throat out and eats her ear.
Liza goes into the basement to look around. She looks for Arthur but he jumps out of the water and attacks her. Is he dead? Is he crazed? Your guess is as good as mine. She runs into McCabe as she tries to escape. McCabe tells Liza that he’s tired of all these stories, but… wait. Didn’t he read The Book of Eibon? He should know she’s not messing around. Suddenly, he tells her he found the book and read it. He wants to see where she was attacked by Arthur.
Does he believe what’s going on or not?
He then accuses Liza of not being who she says she is. When he reveals to her that this is one of the seven gateways to Hell, all sorts of crazy lightning and wind and bonkers things start to happen and they leave the hotel to return to the hospital. After they leave, lights come on in the hotel and we start seeing silhouettes in the windows. On the way to the hospital, they see that almost no one is on the streets of the city.
Inside the hospital, they only find McCabe’s assistant and the daughter of Joe the plumber, Jill. No one else is in the hospital… except a shit ton of zombies. I like that when they got to the hotel, Liza says, “But John…” She adds nothing else and he snaps back, “Now, Liza, I’m a doctor. I will not accept irrational answers.”
They are attacked by zombies who first try to snag Liza until McCabe realizes that he can kill the zombies with shots to the head. What does he do? Shoots a bunch of zombies everywhere except the head until he runs out of bullets. Liza goes to the best possible place, the morgue. What’s in the morgue? Well, not just bodies just dying to become zombies, but also Jill who is cowering in the corner. At least when McCabe reloads, he only seems to shot zombies in the head. However, his doctor buddy, Harris, is killed by glass that blows out of a door, for some reason, and flies into his face.
He reunites with Liza who has brought Jill with her. They are quickly surrounded by zombies and McCabe goes back to his not shooting them in the head until he uses up half his bullets. They are about to find an escape, but they are confronted by Schweick. Does McCabe even attempt to shoot him in the head? Nope. He saves that for when Jill inexplicably turns on Liza and tries killing her. Then, he blows her head all to shit.
They find a stairwell in the hospital that leads downward. Where do they go? To the hotel! That doesn’t make a lick of sense, but, remember, this movie is usually looked at as kind of interpretive and more like a nightmare. As they continue walking into the hotel’s basement, they find themselves in a gray, fog-filled landscape with bodies almost melded to the ground like the painting Schweick was working on at the start of the movie. As they try to run away, their eyes have both turned white and disappear as they are now lost in the Sea of Darkness as it is written in The Book of Eibon.
So yeah, this is the type of movie that you’re either all-in for or you are going to pretty much hate. There’s only a really loose narrative. Like I mentioned earlier, the movie doesn’t really stick to one scene for too too long unless there’s some gore to be had. It’s jumping around to how people are interacting with the various stuff going on.
I find this movie to be quite interesting. It’s a great looking movie and uses its New Orleans setting very well. It’s got an atmosphere to it that puts you in the mood for almost more of a ghost story type of horror flick as opposed to zombies, but it works. If you’re a fan of the gore, it’s here. If you like the atmosphere, it’s here. If you like Fulci, The Beyond would be for you.
I freely admit this is not a perfect movie. There’s a lot of kind of silly stuff that happens here, but that’s more a statement on how Fulci does business than it does almost anything else. Fulci wasn’t quite as interested in cohesive narrative. He wants to kind of spook people. I wouldn’t even go so far to say he makes scary movies. He makes atmospheric and interesting movies.
So, there you have it. You’re either with the movie from the onset or you’ll likely want to run away from the movie as quickly as you can. I don’t want you to run away as quickly as possible from this site. Next week, Fred Olen Ray returns with his 1995 classic monster movie parody Attack of the 60-Foot Centerfold! If you want to know where and when you can read that, do me a favor and look to your right, and scroll up to the top. There, you’ll find various links you can click on and some of those are social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. So that’s a great way to keep on top of releases from the site!
Now, I’m going to go off and prepare for the giant centerfold chick and trying to figure out if there’s a way to use her giant bras as some sort of slingshot long-distance weapon.