Whilst Italian Giallo horror enjoyed its heyday from 1968 through to 1978, the films of Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci truly saw success during the video nasty moral panic of the early 1980s. One of the genre’s most iconic tales was Fulci’s The Beyond, a gruesome supernatural terror about a hotel that may, or may not, house a gateway to hell. A strange, ethereal horror like no other, Fulci legacy would inspire the films of Rob Zombie and Guillermo del Toro among many others.
A psychedelic fever dream, The Beyond is a surreal ride through hell, making use of ingenious special effects, an eerie musical score and experimental cinematography, much like many films of the Giallo genre. Disorientating and atmospherically dizzying, the film follows a young woman, Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl) who inherits an old hotel in Louisiana, where she discovers after a series of supernatural incidents that the hotel was built over an entrance to hell.
Produced by Fabrizio De Angelis, who had been previously responsible for Zombie Holocaust and Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters, the financier recalled his confusion when the director pitched the film to him in a behind the scenes documentary. “So he’s telling me this story about a couple moving into a house, where underneath is hell. And I was like, ‘What does this mean?’… there weren’t any dead people, maybe killed… No, there was hell under that house!” And he said ‘the beyond.’ And when I heard ‘The Beyond’, that was already the title.”
After the green light from De Angelis, Fulci requested that Dardano Sacchetti begin work on the screenplay, though according to the producer much of the plot was based around vague details, including brief outlines of death scenes as well as several key themes. As such Sacchetti was given near-free reign on the script, with the writer basing the film on the “suffering of being born condemned to death… [of being] born to be erased,” as he recalls in the documentary.
According to lead actor Larry Ray, there was no official shooting script while filming The Beyond, as “Fulci was always finding new ideas…In the end, lots of these scenes were dreamed up on the spot and added as a combined work between Fulci, David Pash and the crew”. Such helped to create a truly enigmatic film that refused to follow typical conventions in favour of the surreal and illusory. Instead, the film focused on a central theme of blindness, particularly in relation to the hellscape of dreaded evil, in which to ignorantly expose oneself to the sinister immoralities of life’s horrors would lead the characters to possess glazed white eyes. It’s a horrifying image that Fulci disturbingly captures, particularly in the film’s final, pessimistic sequence of shock, awe and true dread.
As Lucio Fulci reflected on his own film, “People who blame The Beyond for its lack of story have not understood that it’s a film of images, which must be received without any reflection”. Continuing, he adds, “Any idiot can understand Molinaro’s La Cage aux Folles, or even Carpenter’s Escape From New York, while The Beyond or Argento’s Inferno are absolute films”. A director gifted with a dark sense of humour and a wicked eye for the lusciously sadistic, Lucio Fulci would become remembered as a great in Giallo cinema alongside the likes of genre mainstay’s Dario Argento and Mario Bava. So influential was the director that in 1998, Quentin Tarantino re-released The Beyond in national theatres, citing the film as a major source of inspiration.
From The Beyond to Zombie Flesh Eaters, long live Lucio Fulci, the “Godfather of Gore”.