This one’s for the gore hounds. This flick is for those who like melting faces, popped eyeballs, severed tongues, crucifixion, putrefaction, red blood, yellow ooze, brown goo, and don’t mind one bit that the plot has all the narrative consistency of getting blackout drunk. But, that’s okay. If an Italian horror flick had a plot one could follow, would it still be an Italian horror flick?
From legendary director Lucio Fulci, who also has a screenwriting credit, comes The Beyond, originally released in the States, slightly butchered, as 7 Doors of Death.
The film follows Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl), a young woman from New York who has recently inherited an old, rundown hotel in New Orleans. She regards this as good news, as her freewheeling life in the Big Apple was going nowhere. She has plans to refurbish and reopen the hotel, which has been shuttered for many decades. Unbeknownst to her, the site has been left derelict because there might be a doorway to hell hidden in the basement.
The hotel was forced to close 60 years earlier because all of its guests, save one, mysteriously disappeared. The remaining guest, a painter, was accused of being a warlock by the locals, and dispatched with chains and sharp implements in an introductory scene that does well to set the tone of the film.
Fast-forward to the present day, and we see Ms. Merril navigate the struggles of a big-time renovation. She meets with her architect, deals with house painters, and hires a plumber to deal with a flooded basement. Too bad for her, then, that every character who takes even a passing interest in the hotel becomes a target for Fulci and his effects team.
It’s the fate of the plumber, played by Tonino Pulci in scenes where the character is alive, when it becomes clear to the viewer that Fulci’s interest lay more in set piece horror rather than something plot driven. We see Nava’s gruesome death, the discovery of his body, and then the final stitching up of his body after an autopsy. Then, the next we see of Merri, she’s at a café and there’s nary a mention about the terrible thing that happened to one of the men working on her property. The troubles her help is facing rate bare notice throughout the entire film, in fact. They are just fodder. Gory, splatter-y fodder.
Soon after, the film introduces another character, the blind Emily (Cinzia Monreale), who, in any other horror film, would exist to provide exposition. In this film, all her dialogue just adds to the confusion. It’s left to David Warbeck as Dr. John McCabe, a physician/pathologist, to provide the most sense to the plot, as he is the resident skeptic of the film, and wants to find out what is truly troubling Merril.
It turns out that, yes, there is something evil in the basement, and that evil is making regular work of the peripheral members of the cast at every opportunity. There are no rules for this evil to follow, other than that it kills only people associated with the hotel in some way. Basically, in this movie, if one had a line in the script, one would soon have to endure a gruesome death scene.
And those death scenes. Wow. I cannot say that there is much realism to the gore, but it is intense and stomach churning. There are no swift deaths, either. When a character is unfortunate enough to come across the evil, they are subject to extended tortures before death’s sweet release. It’s the scale of these scenes that sets this film apart from its contemporaries in 1981. Jason Voorhees never put this much time and effort into killing.
All this leads to a spectacular final act featuring Merril and McCabe fleeing a zombie outbreak at a hospital, only to end up back at the hotel and its disgusting basement. The ending is deeply satisfying, and not what one would expect out of a horror flick like this.
It may seem counterintuitive to praise Fulci as a filmmaker, when I have yet to see a film of his that makes narrative sense, yet he has always been a master of atmosphere. The exteriors of this film were shot in New Orleans, and that city complements his style very well. The Beyond might be an incomprehensible mess, but a viewer is just as likely to walk away from a viewing with a great appreciation for Fulci’s skills at the spectacle of horror.