Contains mild spoilers.
The Beyond or The Seven Doors of Death as it was titled for the US audience is the second film in Lucio Fulci's Gates of Hell trilogy following the reasonably well received City of the Living Dead. All of Fulci's trademarks carry over with intense shocking scenes and the use of extreme blood and gore, an ambiguous dreamlike narrative and an inconclusive and not-so-happy end to proceedings.
Catriona MacColl returns for the second film, this time as jaded New Yorker Liza Merril who has recently inherited a dilapidated old hotel in downtown Louisiana. Seeing this as her final chance to have any success, her determined-not-to-walk-away-whatever-the-cost attitude comes in handy as her and her tradesmen unwittingly disturb one of the seven gateways to death that has been sitting idle for the most part of a century.
Back in 1927 Schweick (Antoine Saint-John), a macabre and visionary artist who was staying at the hotel was brutally crucified by a lynch mob in the basement originally opening the portal. As the plumbers and builders start to work on the hotel for Merril, one by one they disturb not only his old room but the site of his death, awaken the old evil and meet their untimely deaths. Warned by a mysterious blind girl, Emily played by Cinzia Monreale to leave and starting to suspect there may actually be something to all the crazy shenanigans and deaths, Merril turns to her local doctor Dr. John McCabe (David Warbeck) who has taken a bit of a shine to her and the two try to at first make rational sense of what's happening then later survive as the horrors unfold.
Fulci heavily cites the influence of French surrealist Antonin Artaud. Artaud held the position that theatre should be less about linear coherent narrative and more about imagery and symbolism that would shock or confuse people and leave a lasting impression, and you can certainly see his influence. Whilst The Beyond does have a linear narrative following Merril there's an increasing dreamlike incoherence to the film as Fulci not only challenges the viewer to question who is really alive and who is really dead but what these notions might even mean. At the end even Merril is faced with having to confront her own identity as McCabe asks her, who she really is.
Whilst Fulci's films are full of the reanimated there is always a mystical feel to proceedings with the zombies used to drive the story and reinforce the macabre atmosphere; it's certainly not traditional survival horror. Whilst the zombies of City of the Living Dead do make a few brief appearances, Fulci also brings the more iconic Romero zombie in for the ride. Returning to the hospital as if in a dream Merril and McCabe are attacked from all sides by slow shambling un-dead and as shots are fired and heads explode it feels like it could easily fit into one of his Dead films. It's quite a high tempo set of scenes and contrasts with the rest of the film, but it's still full of the over-the-top Fulci effects and style and manages to work. I've read that Fulci only added these and the shoot-out at the request of the production company who weren't overly keen on the ambiguous surrealist spin and considered zombies the flavour of the month. If this is the case he did a good job of wedging them in without disturbing the overall atmosphere and direction.
Lucio Fulci's The Beyond oozes style and suggestion. In retains the Lovecraftian overtones of its predecessor and feels just as much a mystery as it does a horror film. It's ambiguous and surreal yet somehow retains a strong narrative and voice through to an ending that raises as many questions as it answers. It has all the trademark Fulci over-the-top and over played, but always imaginative and uniquely stylised slasher scenes with enough blood and gore to get the film banned in the UK once again on release, but here, unlike City of the Living Dead I felt there was tighter cohesion and they never felt shoe-horned in. The Beyond is a remarkable piece of cinema; it's surreal, existential and beautiful and the more I watch from Fulci the more I understand and respect the direction his films take, 9/10.