Friday, March 27, 2009

The Beyond

Must not be flip. Must not make some obvious comment about the apocalypse being started by Joe The Plumber.

I didn't have high hopes going into The Beyond. It's a big movie among our people but everything I've heard about it fell along the lines of "The movie doesn't make sense, but the GORE! The goooooorrrreee....." followed by salivation and general unpleasantness on my shoes. I got the sense it was one of those imprint movies people watch during their younger, easily impressed years and its outrageousness leaves a warm place in the viewer's heart regardless of the actual quality of the work.

Turns out I was pleasantly surprised.

Synopsizing The Beyond is kind of pointless. A bunch of stuff happens for no particular reason or explanation, people die horribly graphic deaths, and a couple people wind up staggering around in hell. There are creepy old hotels and swamps and unattended coronor's examination rooms. It felt a little bit like going on a dark ride; there was some vague theme tying the whole thing together, but mostly you puttered along happily while shit jumped out at you. According to the wikipedia entry the formless nature of the story was a tribute to Surrealist Antonin Artaud, who wanted theater to be less about linear narrative and more about 'cruel' imagery used to shock audiences into action. This all sounds a little high falutin' and "let's add meaning after the fact" but there's no denying that The Beyond is genuinely creepy.

Yeah, this flick ain't exactly Robert Wise at his prime, but it's a nifty little popcorn movie. The directing style is all wild zooms and sudden scene cuts, the acting is mostly master-of-unlocking level, and the gore is really outrageous and over the top. You got your eyes popping out, your mannequin faces dissolved in acid, your dogs tearing out blind women's throats, and all the really good, really over-the-top stuff.

Then there's the tarantula scene:

I'm not a huge fan of spiders in general, and the agonizingly slow pace these hairy little fuckers swarmed over that poor bastard's face made my skin. friggin'. crawl.

Which isn't to say that the movie is all ripped latex and bubbling blood. Fulci builds up some genuine, beautifully filmed tension. The scenes involving the strange blind girl Emily and her connection to the Lovecraftian Book of Eibon were chilling. Even after subjecting myself to the gristly delights of The Beyond, my favorite scene is when Emily is surrounded by a circle of the walking dead, begging not to be dragged back to hell. Finally, I like how Fulci chose to end the movie, with the doomed heroes walking blind into the oblivion previously depicted by the murdered painter. Fulci really does have an artist's eye for shot composition and there's a lot of gorgeous stuff in this ghastly playground.

I won't lie, I definitely bring prejudices and expectations to the stuff I see. I really wasn't expecting to like The Beyond, but the over-the-top insanity and strong visual style won me over. This is totally a movie I'd see over pitchers with my lunatickier friends. Fulci does indeed live. Bee eff eff.

Anyway, this is my first post in the Final Girl Film Club. To people who find their way here from her site, welcome! As a greater being than I said, "We have such sights to show you."

Side thing: I don't normally listen to DVD commentaries, but the David Warbeck and Catriona MacColl have a very funny, very British commentary track available on most DVD releases.


spazmo said...

Love that painting of the crucified Schweick - is that from the DVD box?

Wish I'd seen this thing as a kid. I just can't muster too much affection for it now. And I don't know why that is.

Creature said...

Thank you for the comments. As to the image, I believe it is from the box art to one of the releases. It's one of those things I've seen around for years but never knew exactly where it's from. Going to the classics of the genre really fills out your knowledge of horror-culture trivia.

I think I'm right about The Beyond being an imprint film. If I had actual taste I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it that much. But the weird paradox about myself (which makes me an admittedly lousy reviewer) is the fact that my love for the genre is so ingrained in me that I tend to grip on aspects of a work that I like and focus on those. I will focus on the cinematography and the cheese factor of The Beyond and brush off the fact that the movie is uneven, oddly cut, and doesn't make sense.

C'est la vie.

Penh said...

I first saw The Beyond about 15 years ago when I found a VHS copy of Seven Doors of Death in the "We can't give these things away" bin at a video store. Even in that cut-down form, it was still pretty nasty, and I was inspired enough to make the effort to track down an uncut version (no Internet back then -- thanks, Fangoria's classified ads and Midnight Video!). I finally got to see it in a real live theater a few years ago when Grindhouse Pictures released it, and it was quite an experience. Among other things, that was the first time I realized the ghosts/zombies going after Emily were the previous victims and not just generic spooks (hey, we had a little TV back then). The audience reactions were great. They were giggling madly away while Emily was screaming for Dickie, but when he suddenly went for her throat, they completely lost their shit. I felt totally vindicated in my admiration for the movie.

Creature said...

I think you're right. Horror movies in general work better on the big screen, where the flaws of a bad narrative can be overlooked in the submersive experience of being dominated by a gigantic screen. I'm also a big fan of the audience participation aspect of horror movies, where people shout dumb shit at the screen. If you're watching something not all that serious and you've got someone genuinely funny in the audience, you can really enhance your experience.

Side note, I was reading fellow blogger Matt Hersh's site, and he found this quote by Fulci on how people perceived his work:

“My idea was to make an absolute film, with all the horrors of the world. Its a plotless film, there’s no logic to it, just a succession of images. In Italy we make films based on pure themes, without a plot and The Beyond like Inferno refuses conventions…people who blame the The Beyond for its lack of story don’t understand that it’s a film of images, which must be received without any reflection.”

...which strikes me as self-indulgent and sloppy. Storytelling is kinda central to movies. I'm all for ambiguity and a touch of the vague, but if you strip too much narrative cohesion and characterization your movie just becomes inhuman. It's like dancers without music.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree. I thought The Beyond was a great movie even with all its flaws. As other people have said, watching it is like experiencing a strange dream or nightmare. It doesn't all make sense, but somehow it still works.