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Woe be unto him that opens one of the seven gateways to hell. Because through that gateway, EVIL will invade the world!
-Emily (Cinzia Monreale aka Sarah Keller)
Last week, I wrote about “High Tension”, a gruesomely good revival of the slasher genre, nearly undone by a nonsensical ending. By point of comparison, Lucio Fulci’s (“Zombie,” “Demons”) “The Beyond” is an occasionally silly movie with some great imagery that’s completely redeemed and unforgettable thanks to an ending that really pays off on its title.
From the sepia-toned opening of “The Beyond,” aka “Seven Doors of Death,” you know you’re in for something special as the townspeople of a small Louisiana town torture Schweick (Antoine Saint-John), a painter whose supernaturally-inspired works made for bad voodoo with the locals. Beaten with chains and then sealed up behind the walls in the cellar of the Seven Doors Hotel, Schweick’s death is just the first step in unleashing the fury beyond one of the seven gates of hell that are located at various spots around the world.
Flash forward 50 years later, and Liza (Catriona MacColl) has inherited the place from a distant relative and hopes to restore it in a last-ditch effort to turn her flagging finances around, but the place is a fixer upper: the walls are rotting, the mother-son staff that comes with the place always seems to be plotting, the basement is full of water and dead bodies, and also that whole gateway to hell thing might put the grand opening off for a while.
MacColl is joined in her renovation-turned-investigative efforts by hunky doctor John McCabe (David Warbeck, “Twins of Evil”), who’s doubtful about all of this supernatural mumbjo jumbo until it starts walking around his morgue and can only be put down by a bullet to the brain. Then there’s the blind beauty Emily (Monreale), who appears out of nowhere in the middle of a road, offering Liza dire, if cryptic warning to get out of the hotel. It all ends pretty badly for everyone with a fantastic finale that pays off the whole “end of the world” thing with, what else: the opening and closing of a door.
Fulci’s version of hell on Earth is very biblical, Book of Revelations-type stuff, with the dead rising, and even nature tilted on its axis (here in the form of killer animals like an out of control German Shepherd and some loud spiders). MacColl and Warbeck make a fine pair here, staring down the end of the world without completely over-selling it (in fact, Warbeck’s hairy-chested, pistol-toting action doctor kind of undersells it until the final act).
Special notice should also be given to composer Fabio Frizzi’s score (I’ve never heard the American version by Walter E. Sear, but I understand it’s heavily synth-based). Heavy on the chants and this slow rhythm with pounding percussion, it gives the movie a suitably epic feel. It’s definitely worth tracking down if you can get your hands on it (good luck with that, since the CD fetches anywhere from 30 to $200)–a copy was included with the limited edition collector’s tin back in 2000 from Anchor Bay, and with a few of those floating around, you might have better luck.
This was the middle part of Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy of films which started with “City of the Living Dead” (aka “Gates of Hell”) in 1980 and his other 1981 release, “The House By the Cemetery” (Fulci was nothing if not prolific, with dozens of writing and directing credits to his name over his 40-odd year career). Each of those movies saw hell come to small towns, although for my mind, “The Beyond” most effectively pulled the trigger on the apocalypse, sending its leads out into a hellish, sandy waste in the final scenes.
That ending is so stark, so jarring (and this is considering all of the mayhem that came before), that it’s easy to forgive the many pacing issues and sillier bits throughout.* It’s one of those cool, Lovecraftian payoffs where all of the story’s internal logic pushes toward the idea that the universe and the things outside of it are bigger and more horrible than we can imagine.
If you want to catch “The Beyond,” now’s a great time after years of its being unavailable in the original, unexpurgated version here in the U.S.. Grindhouse Releasing put out a serviceable DVD back in 2008, but if you have a couple of extra bucks to spend (and it’s not expensive), you should spring for U.K. outfit Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release from last year, which is packed to the gills with additional features and a beautifully restored picture (worth the price of admission alone for the lovely restoration of the opening sequence).
*A lesser movie that’s redeemed by a similar whiplash ending is the zombies in the hospital indie “The Dead Hate the Living,” which cribs from anything ranging to “The Beyond” to “The Re-Animator.”