And last but not least, here is the last of the “best of the worst zombie-related horror flicks” I’ve had the privilege of sitting through. Having mentioned the Italian horror cinema scene made famous by such directors as Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava, and Dario Argento in my last review for Messiah of Evil, I wanted to highlight what in my opinion is one of the best spaghetti-zombie flicks…
In 1964, Sergio Leone would direct A Fistful of Dollars; a gritty western based on Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and starring American television Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name. The following year, the Man with No Name would return in Leone’s For A Few Dollars More. Finally, in 1965, the Italian director produced the western to end all westerns in the epic The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Although the movies feature some of the same actors and some of the same characters (and even that’s debatable), the three films have become known as Leone's "Dollars Trilogy”.
Similarly, following the release of his 1980 zombie gore fest City of the Living Dead (and upon the insistence of the European money men backing his productions), Lucio Fulci went on to direct two more films that have very little in common with each other aside from their emphasize on the reanimated dead: 1981’s The Beyond (aka Seven Doors of Death) and The House by the Cemetery. Unofficially, the three movies are known as the Gates of Hell trilogy. Of the three, The Beyond is by far the most successful and is considered to be one of Fulci’s best films.
The Beyond revolves around a young New York woman named Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl) who inherits an eerie Louisiana hotel. Unbeknownst to her, the hotel also happens to be one of the seven gates to hell. After moving to the bayou and working to renovate the premises, Liza is assaulted by the unexpected: an admonishing apparition in the form of a blind girl, ferocious flesh-eating spiders, an undead artist who opened the evil portal, and (of course), his zombie legion.
Not to be outdone by the famous “drill to the skull” scene he pulled off in City of the Dead, Fulci filled The Beyond with even more graphic imagery. A dog rips out a person’s throat. A lynch mob pours acidic lime on a persecuted artist. A horde of tarantulas dig into a man’s face. And last but certainly not least is the infamous “nail to the eye” scene (which Fulci would revisit in his Haitian undead horror film, Zombi, proving you can never have too much ocular carnage).
After years of bootlegs and edited versions of the movie, Quentin Tarantino was responsible for releasing an uncut, uncensored print of The Beyond in theatres back in 1998 after acquiring the US distribution rights through his Rolling Thunder Production company banner. That’s when I first saw the movie, at a small Chicago theatre with an affinity for midnight movies (The Music Box, for those in the audience keeping score). And in October of 2000, the fine people at Anchor Bay released The Beyond on DVD with all the picture, audio, and special feature frills it deserves. You can even get the limited edition DVD that comes in a collectible tin limited to 20,000 copies along with a 48-page booklet and six 5"x7" international poster replicas.
With over ten years of hindsight since I initially sat through the movie, aside from the almost nauseating I-could-do-without-it-but-I-get-it gore, The Beyond stills makes quite an impression and is one of the most suspenseful, surreal, and polished Euro-horror flicks I’ve ever seen.