Beyond, The (3-Disc Collector’s Edition)
Released by: Grindhouse Releasing
Released on: March 24th, 2015.
Director: Lucio Fulci
Cast: Catriona MacColl, Cinzia Monreale, David Warbeck
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One of Lucio Fulci’s greatest achievements in atmosphere, mood and bloodshed, The Beyond (also known in North America under the alternate title of The Seven Doors Of Death) is the perfect gateway drug to the late director’s output. More than any of his other films, The Beyond really encompasses his odd world view, his taste for the macabre, his penchant for grisly onscreen violence and his talents for capturing tone and creating a truly otherworldly vibe.
The picture begins in the Louisiana of 1927 where a man known only as Schweick (Antoine Saint-John) is put to death for practicing witchcraft (the first line of the movie being the classic ‘You ungodly warlock!’). After he’s beaten, his body is chained and left for dead in the basement of a hotel. Cut to 1981 where a pretty woman named Liza (Catriona MacColl) has bought the decaying hotel. She’s hoping to fix it up and make it operational once more. Almost as soon as she and her crew arrive on the scene, however, strange things start happening and before you know it one of the men she’s hired to help her is dead.
Soon enough, a plumber named Joe (Giovanni De Nava) who has been hired to fix the leak in the basement breaks down a wall under the old building. Here he unwittingly opens one of the seven gates to Hell. After this happens, Liza soon begins receiving visits from a mysterious blind woman (Cinzia Monreale) and Dickie, her seeing-eye dog. The troubled woman warns Liza that the hotel is basically cursed and she tells her to get out. Unaware of the buildings past, Liza is determined to stay. When the strange occurrences continue, she enlists the aid of a local doctor named John McCabe (David Warbeck) to help her figure out just what exactly is going on in the hotel and why…
While this may not be the director’s tightest or most focused effort in terms of coherence and storytelling, The Beyond is certainly one of his most lavish productions. The location shooting in Louisiana gives the film all sorts of authentic flair – you can almost feel the moss and the mold on the buildings and the humidity in the air – which helps immensely in creating atmosphere. Simultaneously, the bombardment of shockingly violent set pieces pummels you enough that you’re able to overlook the logic gaps that are spread throughout the plot. This is one of those films where, yes, things don’t necessarily happen for the most obvious of reasons and you could make the argument that it operates on dream logic (which really isn’t logic at all).
In the context of the nightmare world that Fulci has crafted, even the nonsensical makes sense. The effects may show their age but there’s a relentlessness to them and an anger behind them that means they still pack a pretty strong punch. No one is safe in this world – not adults, not children – once that gate opens, anything can and will happen. In an era where so many horror films, even ones to feature strong gore, rely on digital effects it’s nice to be able to revisit something like The Beyond. The effects team here just go for it, and while the film may not have had a huge budget or unlimited resources the way a major Hollywood picture might have, it makes up for that with creativity and an insane amount of bizarre style.
MacColl and Warbeck make for a likeable enough team and they’re able to carry the film easily enough. We grow to like Liza as a character and we’re certainly able to sympathize with her enough. Warbeck’s John McCabe is a bit cocky but you kind of want that from Warbeck, he plays his part well. He’s charming and eager to help the beautiful damsel in distress. The really memorable supporting performance from Cinzia Monreale rounds out the key cast members. The lenses used to cover her eyes and make her character appear truly blind leave a lasting impression and that shot where Liza first encounters her on the bridge has rightfully gone on to become iconic, at least in terms of Italian cult horror films. The performances from the three leads make this one of the director’s better acted pictures.
It’s a shame that the film is remembered primarily for its gore alone. It’s easy to let the gore effects overshadow the film’s other merits but there are plenty of them to appreciate. While it’s obviously true that the blood and guts are important to the film’s impact and intent, this is a picture that is ripe with gorgeous cinematography, stunning imagery, a truly memorable score and some impressively bleak atmosphere. It’s a unique and original take on the zombie film, and one that holds up remarkably well.
The Beyond arrives on Blu-ray from Grindhouse Films in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed in 2.40.1 widescreen. By all accounts, it seems that this transfer uses the same source as the Arrow Blu-ray that came out in the UK a few years ago, but it appears that there’s been some additional color correction done here that has improved the image quite a bit. Some light noise reduction and noise is still evident here and there and detail isn’t quite as impressive as some might have hoped for but this is currently the best looking edition on the market until a transfer from a different source is made available. Close up shots generally look quite sharp and nicely detailed and colors are typically reproduced quite nicely here. The reds really pop without looking overblown and black levels are pretty strong. This isn’t going to win transfer of the year but it’s certainly more than watchable.
As far as the audio options are concerned, you’re given a choice of English tracks in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, English DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio Mono, English Dolby Digital 2.0 and Italian language Dolby Digital Mono. Both of the lossless tracks sound good, with the 5.1 mix obviously spreading things around a fair bit, mostly in terms of effects and score placement (the dialogue stays primarily up front keeping things fairly true to form in this regard). Levels are nicely balanced throughout and there’s good depth, range and clarity here. No subtitles are provided.
The extras for this release are spread across two Blu-ray discs. The first disc includes the commentary from MacColl and Warbeck that appeared on the previous DVD releases from Grindhouse. This was recorded shortly before Warback passed away, giving it a bitter sweet tone at times. The two actors amicably discuss working on the film as it was being shot in New Orleans, how they feel about the film now years after it was made, and what it was like working with Fulci, who could be notoriously difficult at times. This is a solid track and absolutely worth listening to if you haven’t already given it a spin. McColl also pops up in a brief video optional introduction to the film in which she talks briefly about her thoughts on the film.
Disc one also includes German (unsubtitled) and English color pre-credit sequences, each running about nine minutes. These are interesting to see and compare to the sepia toned into contained on the feature itself. The first disc also includes a wealth of promotional spots including the English language international trailer, a German language trailer, the North American trailer under the alternate 7 Doors Of Death title, and the Grindhouse theatrical re-release trailer. We also get two minutes of TV spots for the film as well as a radio spot for the theatrical re-release.
The second disc contains a massive selection of interviews and featurettes, starting with a piece called Looking Back: The Creation of The Beyond. This forty-eight minute piece contains interviews with the film’s cinematographer Sergio Salvati, screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, producer Fabrizio De Angelis, composer Fabio Frizzi, Lucio Fulci’s daughter Antonella Fulci and artist Enzo Sciotti. This is a pretty interesting piece as because there are so different interviewees featured we get a well-rounded look at the film from a few different angles. Salveti talks about shooting on location, Sacchetti talks about writing the story, Frizzi talks about the different sounds and the music he created for the film – everyone here has something of interest to add, it’s quite a fascinating documentary.
Also quite thorough and equally interesting is the forty-five minute piece entitled The New Orleans Connection. This is an in-depth interview with Larry Ray who talks about how, because he spoke Italian, he wound up helping the film crew scout locations for the film. He also talks about his thoughts on the picture and how he wound up playing ‘Larry the painter’ in the film. He’s got some pretty amusing stories about his work on this picture, be sure to take the time to watch this one as he covers quite a lot of ground not covered in the other supplements.
The lovely Catriona MacColl appears in camera in the thirty-five minute featurette Beyond And Back. Here she discusses her experiences working on this picture as well as the other films that she collaborated with the infamously cantankerous director own. She also talks about how she got into working in the Italian film industry, how she hoped it would lead to more serious acting roles for her in Italy afterwards (noting that it didn’t really happen because the bottom fell out of the Italian film industry in the eighties) and how she feels about the films in retrospect, including their scenes of strong violence. She’s a gracious and charming woman and quite thankful for the films having given her iconic status in the cult film world.
See Emily Play is a twenty-two minute long interview with Cinzia Monreale who talks about how she got her start as an actress, how she got into the acting business and, of course, what it was like working with Fulci and the other cast members. She also talks about her experiences playing a blind woman in the film and gives her thoughts on the movie itself.
Makeup and special effects artists Giannetto DeRossi and Maurizio Trani are interviewed for just over a half an hour in the featurette called Making It Real. This is a nice mix of anecdotal stories and technical information about what went into creating the gore and makeup effects that play such a huge part in the legacy of not only The Beyond but a huge part of Fulci’s filmography.
Grindhouse have also assembled a nice selection of archival interviews, starting with an interview with Lucio Fulci himself conducted in August of 1988 by Italian film journalist Gaetano Mistretta. This was accomplished by sending a letter to Fulci who read Mistretta’s interview questions and recorded his answers on a tape recorder. This was then sent back to Mistretta who transcribed them and used them in an issue of Dark Star magazine and then later again in Luca Palmerini’s book Spaghetti Nightmares (which saw a release in North America back in the nineties through Fantasma Books). The audio is in Italian but it has been subtitled in English and it’s quite an interesting and rare piece of Fulci history, as this interview has never been released in this form before. This is presented in two parts, the first running twenty-one minutes and the second fourteen minutes. Also included here is a forty-seven minute long video recording of Fulci and Warbeck appearing at the 1994 Eurofest where they attended a screening of The Beyond and did a question and answer sessions afterwards. Warbeck also appears in six minutes of footage from the 1996 Eurofest, this time alongside MacCool, sans Fulci. MacColl flies solo for a thirteen minute archival video recording of her appearance at the 1996 installment of the Festival Of Fantastic Films, Warbeck appearing solo in a separate twenty-two minute video shot at the same festival. There’s a fair bit of overlap here between these different segments but it’s great that they’ve been preserved here.
The last featurette is a twenty-minute piece called Beyond Italy and it’s s sit down chat with Terry Leven, the man who ran Aquarius Releasing and who would wind up distributing The Beyond in the United States under the alternate title of 7 Doors Of Death. Here he speaks about how he got into importing films into the states and the bankability of Italian horror films in that they gave the grindhouse and drive-in audiences exactly what they wanted. It’s an interesting piece with someone whose distribution efforts would have a pretty big influence on a lot of cult movie fans and a nice addition to the disc.
If that weren’t enough, we also get a huge selection of still galleries covering the production, behind the scenes, promotional materials from various territories and ‘Beyond The Beyond’ (which shows how the film has been covered in the media over the years and what not). Grindhouse also once again includes their trailer collection so be on the lookout for previews for Cat In The Brain, Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, Massacre Mafia Style, Gone With Pope, Pieces (It’s exactly what you think it is!), Corruption, The Swimmer, The Big Gundown, An American Hippie In Israel, Scum Of The Earth, The Tough Ones, The Ice House and last but not least, I Drink Your Blood. Animated menus are included for both discs in the set.
Also included with the two Blu-ray disc is a CD containing Fabio Frizzi’s complete score for the film. It’s packaged in a thin cardboard slipcover with some artwork on one side and the track listing on the other side. The CD contains the following tracks: Verso Lignoto / Voci Dal Nulla / Suono Aperto / Sequenza Coro E Orchestra / Oltre La Soglia / Voci Dal Nulla / Suono Aperto / Voci Dal Nulla / Giro Di Blues / Verso Lignoto / Sequenza Ritmica E Tema
The two discs fit inside a clear plastic case with some slick artwork on the front side and a comprehensive Fulci filmography on the reverse side. Along with the CD and the case containing the Blu-ray discs, you’ll also find a full color ten page booklet included in the package carrying over the late Chas Balun’s appreciative essay on the film and a second essay from Martin Beine that makes some interesting and very apt comparisons between this film and the John Moxey film City Of The Living Dead (a.k.a. Horror Hotel). All of this fits nicely inside a cardboard slipcover featuring some very cool glow in the dark cover art!
The Final Word:
The Beyond stands the test of time really well, it’s an intense and original zombie film made with plenty of style and featuring some impressive and memorable set pieces. Grindhouse’s Blu-ray release is the best one currently available and the supplements included with the feature really do an amazing job of detailing the history and influence of the film.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!