Rarely seen and almost forgotten for the longest time, Lucio Fulci’s "The Beyond" has become a cult favorite over the years that was given a second chance at life by none other than Quentin Tarantino. Redistributed through his company Rolling Thunder, "The Beyond" found a renewed theatrical midnight run in domestic theaters in 1998 to a thrilled audience of horror fans. Word of mouth quickly spread that "The Beyond" was Lucio Fulci’s ultimate zombie masterpiece and it is since handled like a genre treasure. I had seen the film during its original theatrical run in 1981 and remember being utterly disappointed, so I was very eager to revisit the film after all these years on Anchor Bay’s Special Edition DVD with all the supplemental materials that have been collected by Grindhouse Releasing over the past 5 years.
Liza Merrill (Catriona MacColl) inherits an old run-down hotel in New Orleans and plans to revive the place to make her living. But the hotel is built on one of the seven gates of Hell and as soon as renovation begins, people are killed mysteriously. Emily, a blind girl living in the neighborhood, can feel the Evil permeating the house and warns Liza of the danger she is in, but ignoring her advice, Liza continues her efforts to restore the hotel. But one of the doors of Hell has been opened already and the Dead begin to walk the Earth. When Liza seeks help and shelter from the horrific creatures she turns to Dr. McCabe and his hospital, never suspecting what horrors await her there.
While "The Beyond" is a zombie shocker with plenty of gore and shocks, the film surprises with an almost poetic visual quality at times. It contains a great number of subtleties in the direction and editing that can easily go unnoticed. Just as an example, look out for the scene in which Liza is watching Emily run from the house and repeats the event in her mind over and over again. In very short inserts Fulci shows footage of herself run from the house, as a suggestion of her emotions that she is torn between staying and running away. It is a very visual approach without the need for dialogue or any further explanation and remarkable in its subtlety. The entire film is full of such subtle visual cues that make it a cinematic feast. You may also pay attention to some of the dark scenes in the film and note how carefully Fulci lit certain elements in the background to guide the eye, creating images that literally frame themselves with the most subtle shades of light.
Anchor Bay presents "The Beyond" in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio on this disc. Like all other films of Lucio Fulci, the movie shows serious signs of grain as a result of the limited budget and the film stock used as a result of that limitation. Like in "City Of The Living Dead" the grain is fully reproduced on this DVD, as no noise reduction was applied to make sure all the image detail remains fully intact. While the graininess can be distracting at times, it also adds to the film’s flair, giving it the typical "Fulci" note. The print is generally in good condition, but occasionally scratches, dust marks and other blemishes are visible in select shots. However, this is the best print of the film currently available, which viewers should keep in mind.
Presented in a transfer that is enhanced for 16x9 television sets, the transfer is highly detailed and captures most of the film’s hauntingly atmospheric cinematography, including a good number of the poorly focussed shots that can be found throughout the film. The most important part to adequately restore Fulci’s vision of the film, is the contrast, and it is here where the DVD shines. Producing perfectly bold blacks, the transfer has the ominous weight required for the presentation while the highlights are always balanced, oftentimes cutting through the images like a scalpel. The presentation never appears over-exposed and the shadows and highlights are finely delineated.
The DVD comes with a newly re-mixed 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track that is scary to say the least. Making aggressive use of the surrounds, the film manages to create an engaging and eerie atmosphere with well placed surround effects and a wide sound stage in the front. The thunderclaps, rustling of leaves and scary sounds bleeding in form the rear give the film an added level of creepiness that perfectly matches the mages on the screen. The frequency response is surprisingly good, creating a voluminous presentation with good bass and clear high ends. Dialogue is always understandable and without sibilance, while the music and the sound effects maintain a constant level - with the exception of a few intentionally exaggerated stingers. The disc also contains an English Dolby Surround track and the original mono tracks in English and Italian, that show perfectly, what the audio sounded like before the guys at Digital Sound Works moved in for the re-mix.
One of the disc’s highlights is a commentary track by main actors David Warbeck and Katherine "Catriona" MacColl on this DVD. The fact that David Warbeck passed away only two weeks after recording this commentary in the summer of 1997 makes it all the more valuable and memorable. The track is very entertaining and also offers a lot of insight in the workings of the film itself. More importantly the commentary also touches a lot upon late director Lucio Fulci, giving the viewer a much better understanding about this rather enigmatic Italian filmmaker. Pointing out very subtle elements in the film, discussing fellow actors and the production in general, no stone remain unturned in this commentary and definitely gives viewers a deeper appreciation for Fulci’s work.
The DVD contains a series of great special features that add a lot to the scope of the film. These features have been painstakingliy assembled by Bob Murawski and Sage Stallone in anticipation of this release. Just imagine how hard it must have been to collect all these bits and pieces for a rather obscure film like this that never got much attention or recognition, and was practically lost in the zombie craze at the time.
First off there is an extensive gallery with images and footage that is presented in segments, which can be accessed individually. It starts with a series of still images from the movie as well as publicity shots, followed by international poster art and lobby cards. The gallery also contains a variety of video covers for the movie, as well as a look at the German materials kit that was sent out to movie theaters to promote the film. It includes advertising templates, instructions how to advertise the film, including a selection of sensationalist headlines, a film synopsis, and photos from the production.
The section also features a large number of behind-the-scenes photographs from the set, showing the cast and the director at work, as well as a short video interview of David Warbeck and Catriona MacColl. It is followed by a selection of images of David Warbeck, and video footage of Warbeck at a horror convention, discussing his career. A photo gallery of Lucio Fulci and a rare on-camera interview with the director are also part of this segment, as well as the video footage of an appearance of Lucio Fulci and David Warbeck at the 1994 Eurofest horror convention. In short, it is a phenomenal collection of memorable moments and elements surrounding the film.
Next up is a selection of trailers, including the US re-release trailer, the international trailer and a German trailer. To my surprise the German trailer seems to be a theatrical trailer, but advertises the film under the title "Über dem Jenseits," a title that was not used for the film’s theatrical run. "Über dem Jenseits" became one of the video titles used to re-release the film at a later point, as far as I know. To my surprise, all three trailers are presented also in anamorphic widescreen!
Also among the special features you will find the pre-credit sequence as it was shown in German theaters. While entirely identical in content, the original pre-credit sequence of the movie is monochromatic with a sepia tone, while the German version is in fact entirely in color.
A good chuckle is next in the form of the Necrophagia music video "And You Will Live In Terror." It is 80s death-metal at its worst and most ridiculous. A perfect example of uninspiredness, the so-called music video is an ineptly video taped garage band in front of a paper maché set up, intercut with scenes from "The Beyond." What makes it a nice addition to the disc nonetheless is the fact that it is presented here in all its ridicule, which would have otherwise gone unnoticed by the rest of the world.
The extras on the disc are carefully compiled and leave a good impression, although the addition of cast and crew biographies would have become the release.
As a true horror film, "The Beyond" may not be fully satisfying. It is very gory and certainly not for the squeamish, but unlike Fulci’s "Zombie" or "City Of The Living Dead" I found there is too little dramatic development and actual threat coming from the zombies for the most part of the film. The stalking element is missing almost entirely which adds immense suspense to the other zombie films Fulci created, condensing the truly tense moments to the film’s final 10 minutes, while the rest of the movie develops rather stolidly.
However, as a piece of filmmaking art, it is wonderful. Full of visual surprises and very carefully crafted, "The Beyond" shows that Fulci was not the gore-obsessed hack many critics believed, but rather a very sophisticated filmmaker working in an area where such sophistication would be least expected. All I can say is, enjoy this one! It is cool, and I have a phone call to catch from room 36...