Well we couldn't very well start off a blog entitled 'Eibon: Do Not Entry' without first looking at Lucio Fulci's infamous The Beyond aka 'E tu vivrai nel terrore - L'aldilà' or 'Seven Doors Of Death'. Certainly many consider this to be his finest work, however my own personal tastes have always favoured his excellent Giallo contributions... particularly Lizard In A Woman's Skin and Don't Torture A Duckling. It's certainly my favourite of his supernatural films, and definitely the superior of the unofficial Gates Of Hell triology (along with the earlier City Of The Living Dead & House By The Cemetery). I'm also a huge fan of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and there's more than a subtle Lovecraftian influence in The Beyond. Not least the fact that it features the book of Eibon, which appeared in several Lovecraft stories.The film was originally to be a haunted house story, focusing on a woman who has moved into a hotel that was built upon one of the seven gates of hell. Fulci is often criticised that his films don't really make much sense, and that they skip around from one violent shocking scene to another. As a result, critics are often quick to label his films as badly edited and dubiously plotted. If these critics were to look a little deeper they would see the one of Fulci's all time greatest influences is the playwright Antonin Artaud, a prominent advocate of Surealism. The plays of Artaud were not primarily concerned with linear plots, and concentrated more on "cruel imagary & symbolism" that would shock his audiences into action. This is what Fulci originally wanted to achieve with The Beyond. It was to be a number of shocking scenes around the hotel with little to link it together.
However, Fulci's plans were scuppered by the German distributor of his films, who wanted him to continue the zombie craze that was still sweeping the cinemas. So Fulci rewrote his film and added in a hospital, in which he wrote many more scenes of action, shootouts, and zombie attack!
The end result was a genuinely atmospheric, and highly creepy film that really encapsulates the best of Fulci's zombie'n'gore period. It has all his trademark agonising slow deaths, animal attacks, and of course eyeball mutilation!
The film starts off showing us a flashback to Louisiana in 1927. An artist named Schweick is using the book of Eibon to open one of the seven gates of hell in his room at the Seven Doors Hotel. An angry lynch mob storm in and claim him to be Warlock. Schweick claims that he is trying to save them all from hell itself, but the mob want blood! What we see next is a graphic and brutal whipping with chains, crucification to the hotel wall with nails, and eventually covering the poor artist with quicklime to burn off his flesh! Nice people in these lynch mobs.
The level of atmosphere that Fulci manages to generate during the runtime of The Beyond is fantastic. The hotel feels like it was lifted directly from the pages of a Lovecraft story, and transported to the 80s. The dark, flooded, and deadly cellar area feels like the stuff of nightmares. The walls drip with the sense of dread and evil that is so crucial to the strengths of this film.
It wasn't just Fulci behind all the elements that make The Beyond such an effective horror film. There was of course the great performances by MacColl and Warbeck (who provide great commentary on the DVD, just before Warbecks untimely death from cancer). They have extremely good chemistry on screen together, and this is illustrated perfectly (if not intentionally) by the brilliant scene in the elevator in the thrilling finale. Warbeck is clearly seen trying to reload his gun by putting the bullets into the barrel... only for MacColl to desperately try to stifle a smile as the elevator door closes!
The real maestros at work were behind-the-scenes. Sergio Salvati provided some breathtaking cinematography that took viewers into the hotel, that made them feel the dark evil was ever further encroaching on them. Special effects were courtesy of Gianetto De Rossi, and let's face it... these are what made the film so infamous. He delivers eye gougings, face meltings, acid burnings, zombie attacks, and those nifty little flesh-eating spiders. He doesn't hold back on the gore, and even after repeated viewings, they still make you wince!
Not least of all was an absolutely stellar soundtrack by one of my alltime favourites, Fabio Frizzi. Poor Fabio had his score removed from the initial (heavily cut) US release of 'Seven Doors Of Death' and ultimately, when it was restored back into the film, fans realised just how cheated they had been. The music is some of the greatest of any horror film, and compliments the extremely visceral nature of the film beautifully. I urge you to hunt down the soundtrack if you don't already own it!
Bizarrely enough, if it wasn't for Quentin Tarantino, a guy named Bob, and Sylvester Stallone's son Sage... we might never have seen The Beyond in all it's 2 perf Techniscope 2.35:1 widescreen glory, nor heard Fabio Frizzi's masterful score! Previously the only way to see it uncut in all its original glory was to either have the original film reels, or to have the Japanese laserdisc (or one of the many rough bootleg copies). Sage Stallone and film editor Bob Murawski were big fans of euro cult classics and grindhouse cinema, and set-up the company Grindhouse Releasing. When they sought to re-release The Beyond to US audiences, they didn't just grab a copy of the heavily cut transfer and port it to laserdisc/DVD. Oh no, they flew to Italy to meet with Fulci and his daughter and not only secured the rights to distribute it, but also the original film negatives. They took these and lovingly restored them in a high definition transfer. Although Grindhouse Releasing have as yet not released their own DVD of the film (they have sold on their restored version to be released by Anchor Bay), they did release the film to the midnight matinee market at cinemas across the United States. Although derided by mainstream critics (they just aren't meant for these films!), it was met with huge acclaim from horror afficianados Worldwide... largely thanks to the theatrical release being masterminded and promoted by Tarantino and his film company in conjuction with Miramax. The rest, as they say, is history. The film rejuvenated interest in Italian horror and other related genres. Slowly but surely, other Italian classics were given the same loving treatment by other afficianados who set-up similar companies to Grindhouse Releasing (Noshame, Shameless, Severin, Blue Underground, and Shriek Show to name a few). Even now many classics are languishing without a good DVD release.
I'm sure most of you reading this will be very familiar with this film, so I will be preaching to the converted. For those of you who have not yet witnessed the splendidly gory tour-de-force that is The Beyond I urge you to hunt down either the Anchor Bay DVD (even better is the wonderful special edition tin - this has a wealth of postcards with alternate art and great inner notes), or to get the Grindhouse Releasing version (if it ever comes out!).
This next part contains some spoilers, do stop reading here if you have not seen it!
Many people are left confused by the ending of the film, and there are many weird and wonderful explanations circling. However, I feel it's best left to Fulci himself to explain it:
"What I wanted to get across with this film was the idea that all life is often really a terrible nightmare and that our only refuge is to remain in this world, but outside time. In the end, the two protagonists' eyes turn completely white and they find themselves in a desert where there's no light, no wind, no shade, no nothing. I believe, being Catholic, that they have reached what many people imagine to be the afterworld." - Lucio Fulci, 1993
What we must not forget though is that this is fun Italian cinema, it's by no means all a master-stroke of genius... but a great blend of the right elements and pure hokum. Not least best illustrated by the other title of this blog: DO NOT ENTRY