Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
Director: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Catriona MacCall, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint- John, Veronica Lazar
A Louisiana hotel sits atop one of the seven gateways to hell. In the 1920s a painter is attacked and killed by an angry mob in the hotel’s basement, while a young woman reads the Book of Eibon which details hell’s gateways before bursting into flames. In the present day, a woman named Liza inherits the hotel as the gateway to hell opens and all manner of repulsive zombie action ensues. Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (1981) does not lend itself well to a plot description as the film effectively shuns the concept of narrative cohesion. Instead, it takes a more episodic, elliptical form, using an extremely basic storyline to link together a series of grotesque and nightmarish images, which include tarantulas eating a man’s face and a little girl’s head being blown off. It is clear that Fulci favours a full-on visceral attack on the senses rather than a logically reassuring, easy to follow narrative. This gives the film an almost dreamlike quality because, like the images in dreams, Fulci’s imagery does not appear to stem from any form of recognisable reality. Rather, it emerges from a fantastical, imaginative, yet ultimately dark place, not unlike the subconscious of the sleeping human mind which is also preoccupied with startlingly morbid, often terrifyingly incoherent fantasies. It is in this way that Fulci’s film links with Surrealist Cinema, a cinematic movement which seeks to purposefully go against the neatly constructed cause and effect of classical narratives, instead presenting a dreamlike obscuring of reality where images do not need to make sense and storylines are almost nonexistent.
The Beyond takes Surrealist Cinema’s rejection of narrative cohesion and its penchant for dreamlike imagery, and combines this with the Trash aesthetic of a low-budget horror B-Movie. Therefore, we get scenes such as the one where a plumber is horribly mutilated by a rotting zombie, only for his body to be discovered by a maid whose face does not betray even a modicum of surprise or, indeed, fear. The amalgamation of Trash and surrealism is plain to see as a shocking gore effect is followed by the surreal image of the maid not acting how she is supposed to in reality or in a classical narrative film. However, nowhere is this melding of Trash and surrealism quite as effective as it is in the film’s ending. Fulci’s penultimate scene involves Liza and her doctor friend, John, escaping a zombie-filled hospital through a door only to find that they are back in the hotel basement. This kind of spatial displacement is extremely dreamlike and, therefore, surreal as there is no logical explanation which could account for exiting one space and immediately entering another which is, in reality, miles away. The film’s climactic scene takes Fulci’s preoccupation with surrealism and dreams to the extreme as Liza and John enter the Beyond, a liminal space between life and death which blinds whoever should look upon it. This space has already been shown to us as the dead painter’s last painting, something he must have had visions of or dreams about in order to visualise and paint without going blind. It could be argued that, in effect, Liza and John end up in a painting dreamed up by a madman. The Beyond’s link with dreams could not be any clearer. It is obvious from these scenes that Fulci’s film works on a kind of dream logic where an implausible event appears to make sense within the context of a dream but, under the scrutiny of everyday logic, comes undone as fantastical nonsense. This, I believe, is the point; Fulci does not want you to analyse his film as you would a dream you have already awakened from, he wants you to experience it like a dream or, perhaps, a nightmare you are currently immersed in.