Zombies, a portal to Hell… it’s an Italian horror film, nothing makes any sense.
The opening sequence, a flashback to 1920s Louisiana and presented in glorious sepia tones, seems to be Lucio Fulci’s method of easing us into the horrors that are to follow. While a man is brutally flayed, beaten and finally dissolved with acid by a lynch mob for apparently being a warlock, the graphic violence seems slightly tamer for the fact it isn’t in colour. Then of course we transition to the present day, 1981 in this instance, and full colour along with it.
Fans of Fulci’s work will be in their element here. Blank stares abound, as do crash zooms and an almost obligatory amount of extreme violence. Mixed in amongst all of this is a plot that is, frankly, bonkers. The hotel we see in the 1920s turns out to be sat on top of one of the portals to Hell (killing that warlock was a bad idea, in hindsight), hence why there are all sorts of strange goings on and the dead are returning to life.
The characters involved in these events don’t do themselves any favours, often making stupid or life threatening decisions at the drop of a hat. But let’s face it, we’re not here for the plot really, are we? As long as a few zombies have their faces melted and a few characters die in a gruesome manner then we’re happy.
And that is precisely what happens. Eyes are gouged out, faces are dissolved, flesh is ripped from people’s bodies, throats are ripped out, and heads are blown completely off. Heck, there are even more eyes popped out of people’s heads, just because. Why only do it just once when it worked rather well the first time and you have the option to do it again? It’s a veritable banquet of practical effects on a grand scale, offering far more in gruesomeness and potential disgust than any CGI creation could attempt.
With that said, the fake spiders (and the fake face that they are walking on) are almost laughably bad with thirty-odd years of hindsight. And it’s not as if solid effects work wasn’t possible at that time – Rob Bottin’s work on The Thing was released around the same time and remains to this day a perfect example of what can be done with practical effects if a little ingenuity and perseverance is applied.
While there is a lot of violence and supernatural goings on throughout, the story itself has an incredibly slow build up to the finale, with an ending that, while possibly highlighting the inherent futility of life, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense without reading up on it afterwards. Thankfully the zombie related carnage and constant feed of character deaths more than makes up for this.
Despite any minor misgivings I might have, The Beyond is a thoroughly engaging zombie film despite the often derivative approach that represents Fulci’s take on the horror genre. It’s understandable why it was highlighted as a video nasty at the time, although if you strip away the extreme violence there’s very little to find objectionable.