The wife was out of town this weekend, and for some reason, every time she’s gone for a while, my movie-watching turns in a certain direction. For some people, it’s porn. For me, for some insane reason, it’s the horror films of Lucio Fulci. I don’t know why I always turn to these in her absence. Even when I’ve got a pile of films that I haven’t watched, or when I can take the opportunity to watch any number of the DVDs that I never find the time to get around to when she’s home, I always come back to the same few flicks.
This weekend, it was — as it so frequently is — The Beyond. Some might claim that it’s not his most successful film or that its lack of coherence seems forced (“weird for weird’s sake” is not an uncommon reaction), but for me, it’s probably his most perfect film. The DVD of this title, put together by the guys at Grindhouse Releasing and distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment, is a great package, full of enlightening and well-put-together extras, but it’s definitely a product of its time. As an early DVD release, they tried to cram a lot of info onto one disc, and the compression is a little tight. One hopes that once they re-release this title (which has been out of print for a while now), they’ll spread this onto two discs (or, dare I hope, Blu-Ray?) to free things up a bit.
The story behind the film’s creation is fairly well-known. Fulci, fresh off the making of City of the Living Dead, wanted to make a semi-sequel — a haunted house story inspired by the “Theater of Cruelty” of Antonin Artaud. It was to be set in a hotel situated atop one of the gates of hell (another gate and its opening forms the crux of the previous film); the opening of the gate allows the border between the worlds to disintegrate, and causes all sense of logic and reality to become suspended. Instead of strict linear storytelling, he wanted to present a series of galvanizing setpieces, meant to shock the audience into a heightened sense of awareness. Because the German financiers felt that zombies were still all the rage, he was forced to rewrite the script to include zombies and a climactic shootout with the undead.
The result is a thing of beauty and disgust. One thing I appreciate is that Fulci’s zombies — in this and City of the Living Dead, unlike the beings of his Zombi 2 (aka Zombie) — don’t behave like zombies are supposed to in these modern times. Unlike Romero’s walking dead, these aren’t the product of science. The reanimated corpses of Fulci are driven by powers from outside this realm; puppets moving at the behest of some malevolent intelligence. In City, for instance, his zombies have the ability to disappear and manifest themselves at will, wherever they are needed. And as in The Beyond, it’s never clear who is in control of these beings. Are the zombies in City being controlled by Father Thomas, or is he merely a pawn as much as the others? Are the zombies in The Beyond controlled by the artist Schweik, or is his manifestation merely an embodiment of the forces presumably described in the Book of Eibon? We simply don’t know, any more than the characters in the films are able to uncover the truth. They’re completely in the dark, as are we. And there are few places more terrifying than the dark.
Fulci liberally steals from other works in this film, most evidently those works suffused with a fear of architecture: Dario Argento’s Suspiria (with the occult foundation of Frieburg’s Tanz Akadamie warping the reality of the area surrounding it, and with the recurring motif of a blind person being attacked by his/her guide dog) and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining(with its Overlook hotel being built atop an Indian burial ground, and with that possibly being the source for all of the supernatural goings-on in the hotel) being the most obvious models. But Fulci’s film is distinctly his own, reflecting his own nihilistic and misanthropic views. There is no salvation in Fulci’s world, and his protagonists can never see the liberation that Susie Banyon or Wendy and Danny Torrance find at their stories’ conclusions. All that awaits his heroes is a sea of darkness, and all therein that may be explored.