While he may not have the name recognition of George Romero or Wes Craven, Lucio Fulci has had a singular impact on the horror genre. And though his work doesn’t lend itself to the sort of pop culture familiarity that unites these and other more mainstream horror directors, what he did best within the genre, he did as well as any other filmmaker. His was a down and dirty horror: grisly, textured, elaborate, graphic. And arguably his finest achievement, certainly one that perfectly showcases his style and skill, is The Beyond (1981), out now on an extensive 3-disc collectors edition Blu-ray.
Upon hearing tales of the hotel’s past, Liza is initially doubtful, carelessly dismissing the series of tragic incidents that appear to be related to said gateways, and ignoring dire warnings about the site. She examines a sacred text that connects the seven portals to hell with the hotel, but only does so with a passive curiosity. She also brushes off the eccentric, malicious, and quite possibly evil incarnate servants, Martha and Arthur (Veronica Lazar and Gianpaolo Saccarola)—”they came with the hotel,” she casually notes.
When honing in on the maimings and the gruesome bits of brutality, Fulci films in lingering detail, shooting straight on and cutting away only to substitute real body parts for fake ones, but never to curb the violence or cheat the audience. He denies no potential chance for corporeal mutilation and is seldom hesitant to show it in extreme close-up. It’s a most potent stylistic choice in terms of shock value, but it’s also a way to tout the exceptionally well-crafted carnage. This film might have Fulci’s most fluid gore, with gushing goop ever flowing, but it also contains several other squirm-inducing sequences of less liquefied death: flesh tearing spiders, a carnivorous dog, and eye gouging galore. Marveling in the practical construction of the bloody effects may distance one from the narrative, as the focus goes to technique rather than plot or character identification, but such a diversion in no way diminishes the effectiveness and the thrill of the film. Quite the opposite.
Fulci was firing on all cylinders when The Beyond was released. After several lesser known features within diverse genres, Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) gave the director a degree of international attention within the Giallo form. This attention was further surpassed by Zombi 2 (1979), an extraordinary work sold as an alleged sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978), followed by the outstanding City of the Living Dead (1980), the first in a trilogy of sorts that would include The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery (1981). Into the 1980s, financial constraints, shifts in genre interest, and physical illness relegated Fulci to the margins of horror, where he was sadly joined by fellow countryman Dario Argento and even the pioneering Romero.