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by Guido Henkel

The resurrection of Luco Fulci’s zombie epic The Beyond in 1997 came as quite a surprise to most horror fans. A rather obscure - albeit cultishly worshipped - film by an Italian filmmaker with the reputation of being an insensitive hack suddenly grabbed the attention of none other than Quentin Tarantino. Much of the film’s perception has changed since and many more people have since learned that the film offers much more than zombies, eye-piercing and gore, and that Fulci was actually at the top of his sophistication in this dark horror piece. Since the film had been violated and renamed countless times in the past, Quentin Tarantino decided to pick up the movie through his own distribution company Rolling Thunder and give it a new, limited theatrical run.

“The idea of Rolling Thunder was always to bring attention to a lot of films and directors and performers who we felt had been overlooked in the past. Not just in the mainstream but in general,” Rolling Thunder’s Jerry Martinez tells me.

Quentin Tarantino had long been a fan of the film and had admired its unique qualities and wanted to make sure it gets seen by a wider audience. “In the case of The Beyond, the film is obviously a huge film for hard core horror fans, so it was a rather easy pick” Martinez continues. “But more importantly we felt it was also a very important movie because in the European horror genre we have always looked at Bava and Argento, while Fulci has always been overlooked in the Unholy Trinity, as we called it.”

But The Beyond wasn’t the only of Fulci’s films that Rolling Thunder was interested in reviving. “Zombie and The Psychic were other films by Fulci that we wanted to buy, but we had trouble acquiring them. It was really difficult to get the rights to those films, and since we had also intended to get The Beyond, we decided to shift our energy to The Beyond instead.”

In 1981 The Beyond was easily overlooked as just another zombie schlocker without sense, style or true qualities. Wrongfully so, because upon closer examination, this movie turns out to be a highly sophisticated movie with many different layers and an almost poetic quality. Like myself, Jerry Martinez’s affinity to the film grew over time.

The Beyond is a really interesting film,” he tells me excitedly. “Quentin showed it to me one day and I just thought, that it was okay. Nothing special, it was alright. But that was only my initial feeling about it. But then, when I saw the movie a few more times I realized that the more I watched it, the more I understood why it had such an appeal especially to so many horror fans. Before it always eluded me why people thought it was one of the greatest horror films of all times, and then I fell under its spell over time.”

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The reason why most people go through this sort of development with the film, certainly comes from the expectations that we have towards. After all, it is a zombie movie from one of Italy’s most renown goremeisters. As a result you watch the film under the premise that it has to be a really shocking and horrifying splatter movie with a gut-wrenching tension curve and an almost explosive finale. In actuality, nothing could be further from The Beyond.

Martinez brings this observation to the point. “In the movie’s initial viewing you’re just kind of caught up in the horror/gore aspect, and you have those thoughts that it is probably so popular because it is so gory, because of the make-up effects, and because just in general, it is just so over the top.”

“But that’s not what the film is really about. Once you get over the initial shock of the gore, you get wrapped up in the whole psychological aspect of the film. It is super-psychological in that it really plays very efficiently upon your creepiness. All those characters in the movie are being sucked into the beyond and the question, what the beyond is. So, what is it? Is it a thing, or their own insanity? With its open-endedness, this is a film and a topic you can talk about endlessly, and you can watch it over and over again to try and find hints that may provide an answer for you.”

The film is filled with subtle clues and cues that are sometimes very well hidden within the film’s overall context. “After watching the movie a few times, all these subtleties in Fulci’s direction started to wash over me,” Martinez remembers, “and I found that it is an intensely layered film that ultimately comes through. Fulci was an incredibly cinematic filmmaker. He was talking in the language of cinema, which you find out when you grow up and grasp them on an adult level. Maybe that explains why you didn’t like the film when you first saw it in 1981”

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There is actually a general misconception about Lucio Fulci’s work in general. Many people believe that he was doing nothing but horror films. While it is true that he decided to make horror films to make some quick bucks when George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead spawned the zombie craze, Fulci was actually a rather intellectual filmmaker who has made a large number of films unrelated to the horror genre.

True to their original plans to make the film more accessible to audiences, Rolling Thunder also kept a constant eye on the DVD that Anchor Bay Entertainment produced, and was especially interested in making sure it gives fans what they want. The material found on the DVD was compiled by Bob Murawski, a film editor in his own right and a fan of The Beyond, in anticipation of a Laserdisc release that never happened. “Bob was extremely generous in the case of the DVD materials,” Martinez remarks. “When he heard we do the DVD he volunteered to give us the materials for free, because he’s such a lover of the movie

and knows that this is the stuff people want to see - especially since the Laserdisc never came together.”

“We were practically ready to release The Beyond on Laserdisc on Halloween 1997,” Bob Murawski explains. “It had been my target date that I had been working towards and had plans for Rolling Thunder to release it through Miramax. Since the film was not rated however, studio policies at Buena Vista/Miramax sadly didn’t allow them to release the film.”

“The DVD actually includes liner notes by Chas Balun from Deep Red Magazine,” Martinez explains how some the extras came together. He is the one, who in horror circles started talking about The Beyond, opening a dialog about the film being a masterpiece. It was through his encouragement and his enthusiasm about the film that brought it to the forefront of some serious horror fans.”

The true key to the release of The Beyond is actually Grindhouse Publishing. Sage Stallone - Sylvester Stallone’s son - and Bob Murawski. They decided to buy the movie and went to Italy to get the elements of the film. They tried to get everything they could on The Beyond, they even talked to Lucio Fulci before he died and planned future projects with him, which of course fell through when he suddenly passed away.”

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Bob Murawski is a film editor who worked on Sam Raimi’s Army Of Darkness among others and will also edit Raimi’s upcoming Spiderman. It was a sign of dedication when he and Sage Stallone decided to go to Italy to try and get everything done, as it is not an easy task. Only through their persistence they were able to reconstruct the entire film when eventually they went to Technicolor in Rome.

“At first we had a CRI internegative of the movie,” Bob Murawski recalls. “CRI stands for Color Reversal Internegative, and it is a negative print that is directly taken from another negative without the standard positive-negative reversal process. These CRIs are usually used to make release prints, but this one was in very bad shape. It was bad film stock and the colors were fading and there was density shifting all over, so we decided to go back to the original negative to make new prints.”

What seems like a simple step turned out a bit more tricky, as The Beyond was shot in a 2-perf Technoscope format. “Usually 35 mm film uses four perforation holes per frame,” Murawski explains. “To create a widescreen image, what they did was to use only half of the frame at a time, and practically squeezed two frames on the space of one. It appealed to the Italians so much because suddenly you get

twice the running length out of the same amount of film. Instead of 10.000 feet of film you only need 5.000, which can cut costs quite a bit. The problem with that is that you can’t make a contact print. You have to go through an optical process to create a regular film print from this sort of negative to convert it from the 2-perf format to a 4-perf fullframe format.”

Incidentally the 2-perf format is also the reason why many of Fulci’s film appear quite grainy, especially when blown up for fullframe presentations. “If you look at it, what you see in a full frame presentation of a 2-perf film is about a third of the actual frame, which is less than what a 16 mm format can offer. It is a shockingly small area and that’s why they’re so grainy.”

On top of all that, the Italians just have their own ways of dealing with film. “When we were first looking at the CRI I was winding through the reels on the synchronizer to check it,” Murawski recalls one particular episode.  “It was dirty, it had scratches, and in one frame there was a big tear right in the center of the negative. One of the lab guys there in Rome looked at it and smiled, then he brought out some simple splicing tape and simply stuck it over it - I was horrified. He did this on the original negative! It was quite an education in Italian lab work, and trust me in the US no one would dare to do something like that.”

The biggest challenge in the undertaking was to find out who exactly owned the film at the time. “It’s a real problem,” Jerry Martinez points out. “You talk to someone you think owns the movie and he tells you, ‘I don’t own it, Joe Bloggs owns it.’ So you go to see Joe, who tells you, “No, I don’t own it, Bob across the street owns it...” there you hear “I think Tom has the rights...” and eventually you talk to Tom and he goes, “What? I own that movie? I’ve never even heard of it.” Since these films are transferred so many times, usually many original elements are damaged or lost altogether. In the end, all you get usually is a film print of the movie but no elements. If Sage and Bob hadn’t gone to Rome to pick up all the elements they may have been lost forever in 10 years from now, so it was also a very important step to preserve the film. For Quentin and I it was always part of the idea to save and preserve these films. Preservation is always the cream of the crop where other films that are viewed as less important, or of no importance, are constantly being lost. Hopefully what we’re doing is saving these films before they are ultimately lost. You know, the funny thing is, that everyone

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thinks they’re around. You see them on video and TV, but if you try to screen the movie at a Festival, it turns out there only one print left and no more elements are available.”

The Beyond is still our most successful release so far,” Martinez tells me. “We’re trying to breathe new life into the idea of midnight movies. We even tried to make the actual programming of the presentation special, and had 12 minutes of vintage trailers from other horror films play before the feature presentation, and all kinds of things. It was a lot of fun, and The Beyond was great film for us.”

When beginning work on the DVD, Anchor Bay Entertainment had also commissioned their own liner notes for the release, not knowing they would get access to the extensive material Murawski had collected over the years. “Anchor Bay’s liner notes were so good that we didn’t want to toss them out. They really hit the mark, so we decided to include both in a way, in the different packagings of the release.”

Martinez and his colleagues at Rolling Thunder soon were in for another surprise from Anchor Bay. The studio had been working on a booklet for the Limited Edition version and candidly, Martinez reveals that he didn't expect very much to come of it. “I was prepared to be disappointed,” he remarks, “and I was so shocked when it got it, because it was so good! It is so rare that you find people who deliver something and you go ‘Wow, this is great!’ We wanted to deliver on the deluxe part of the limited edition and make it something outstanding, and Anchor Bay made it possible.”

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The physical work of putting together the Special Edition DVD for The Beyond was farmed out to Complete Post, one of Hollywood’s preeminent DVD authoring facilities. “The guys at Complete Post are great, too,” Martinez raves on. “Steve Gustafson, who is in charge of the project, is extremely professional and when we had our first meeting, he had actually watched the movie in preparation. He knew the film, he knew the dates we were trying to hit and I thought to myself, ‘This guy takes his job seriously!’ It just means so much when you see, that someone actually cares and has taken the time to watch the film for the first meeting. From there it was uphill all the time. It was great working with them.”

But even when technical limitations interfered with some of the ideas and visions that were laid out, Complete Post always had a way of making things happen. “They’ve been very accommodating, “Martinez remembers. “Steve never said ‘We can’t do this...’ or ‘We can’t do that...’ Instead he took a very constructive approach and made suggestions like ‘Well, we can’t really do this, but here are some different ways to do it...’ and every time it worked out perfectly.

Martinez realizes that with DVD, suddenly there seems to be a shift in the attention people pay to supplemental materials and background information. “In DVD people don’t just want a movie,” he muses.  “They want a whole presentation, and get caught up in the minutiae, how they were put together. They want to know what the people thought when they were making it. Basically, they want the story within the story and that’s the fun part of it. The great thing is that now the studios are realizing that we need to give them more than just the movie - although some are certainly behind. We need to make it a whole presentation, give them an evening’s worth of entertainment, not just a movie’s worth. Even a mediocre film can become interesting with the behind-the-scenes material. You learn things you weren’t aware of, and suddenly know, this was supposed to be funny, and you start thinking, ‘Hhmmmhh... this is really crazy,’ and you begin to understand the movie and the people much better. When people make movies they don’t want to make bad films - they just happen...”

“To make a good movie every single thing has to fall into place and everything has to work. The writing, the directing, the acting, the sets, the performances, and so on, and sometimes it just doesn’t work. You can have a really great movie, but a bad editor at work and you end up with only a decent film. On the other hand, that is what makes out the fascination of the movie making process.”

“And Fulci’s movies are so well made,” Bob Murawski adds. “Sage and I went to Rome to get the print of the movie and when we screened it for the first time, it struck me just how well-crafted the movie was. The lighting, the shot composition, everything is so articulate. Salvati is really a world-class cinematographer.”

Bob Murawski was working on the supplements for the Special Edition on the side back while he was in England working on a Ridley Scott movie. “I really regret that we couldn’t get Lucio to do the commentary,” Murawski tells me. “He really wanted to do it. Sage had met Fulci and spent quite some time with him, and Fulci was so excited that people were actually interested in The Beyond. He was extremely flattered and then died two weeks before the date we had planned to do the recording. I think it would have been wonderfully entertaining.”

“The commentary with David Warbeck was also a very close call,” Murawski reveals. “He was literally on his deathbed by the time we recorded the commentary. But he was so excited about the idea that he left the hospital to do the recording. We recorded him and Catriona in his own home. We had a professional sound crew there, and every two hours or so we would call them to see if everything was alright.”

Sadly the actor passed away only two weeks after the commentary was completed. “You would never know he was ill and so close to death from the commentary,” Jerry Martinez compliments the actor. “He had such a great attitude and such great spirit, but knowing that he would pass away 2 weeks later, you also feel some of the melancholy creeping in. You see the film, you see people’s lives, and then you see another part of it, not only them revisiting it and the reunion. They had a great time watching the film and talking about it. Sometimes they are not talking so much about he film itself, but being personal about themselves, which is very revealing.”

As Murawski also explains, David Warbeck was actually working on a sequel to the Beyond by the time he passed away, called Beyond The Beyond, a project that will sadly never see the light of day.

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“We also have this video interview with Lucio Fulci on the set of Demonia. There was a bit of an issue with the video quality of the piece,” Martinez reveals. “But eventually we thought, if this was Fellini in the footage, no one would care about the quality of the footage, it simply wouldn’t be an issue. Lucio comes across so warm in this interview and we said to ourselves, how can we not use it? I watch The Beyond, and then I listen to Fulci, and he turns out to be such a great guy.”

Bob Murawski agrees with that absolutely. “A friend of mine had shot the interview on VHS video and didn’t have the masters any more, so we had to use an edited down second generation copy,  but for me it was not a matter of quality, but the material was so cool. We also have footage of Fulci at the Fangoria Convention, his last public appearance, and that will be part of the upcoming DVD release of Cat In The Brain.”

The DVD also contains the German pre-credit sequence of the movie, that many didn’t even know existed. “I had heard about it before, but I had never actually seen it,” Murawski remembers, “so I posted a note on the Internet to see if anyone had a copy. I really wanted it so badly to be part of the release. A couple of weeks ago I finally got a response. Two German guys had it on 35 mm! They had an original theatrical print, and they also had the trailers, the German lobby cards and other very cool stuff. It was really great finding that, and they loaned it to me. So we had the material sent over to me, we made transfers and sent it back. Because they were fans of the movie, like myself, they were very excited at the prospect that the material will actually end up on the DVD, and I am so thankful for that.”

Older films have another, very interesting aspect to themselves, which is a direct result of their age, as Martinez aptly points out. “When you decide to become involved in an older film, you not only work on it, to some degree you have to make it part of your life. They have a life on their own, after all they’ve been through. They are like war horses in a way, they come out, are re-released at some point, sold to a video company, released on video, fall into limbo, come back and what not. So it’s like a continuing journey with the film, and then you decide, oh well, I want to become part of the film’s life. Maybe you’re lucky and you get something like The Beyond, which not only has a great reputation and a great history, but where the people who created it and were involved in it are people you care very much about.”

And it is obvious from this new DVD that the people who were involved in the resurrection of The Beyond cared very much about it. The film, and Lucio Fulci.

 

The Beyond Cover

Please also visit our in-depth review of Anchor Bay Entertainment’s Special Edition of
The Beyond,
or take a look at the disc’s
menu screens

September 12, 2000

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