Friday, October 31, 2008

Random Movie Report #57: The Beyond

BEYOND DVD cover and Amazon link
From the sophisticated to the, well, not. I knew that going from Dario Argento to Lucio Fulci would be something of a downward step, but THE BEYOND genuinely disappointed me. Fulci may be more of an overt schlock filmmaker, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I thought ZOMBIE was a fun bit of insanity. THE BEYOND delivers the director’s trademark unrestrained splatter and disregard for plot coherence in the face of cool ideas (I honestly think Italian genre cinema subscribes to the Rule of Cool more than Hollywood, or at least does so more openly.) However, it doesn’t deliver on its potential coolness; it’s the classic grindhouse movie that promises the gates of Hell opening and gives you a few shuffling zombies. It feels half-realized, like something that could have gone further and been genuinely horrifying instead of just campy. There’s definitely cheese appeal, but not a lot else.

The film takes place in Louisiana, at a hotel that is apparently rumored to be seated over a gateway to Hell. Back in the twenties, an artist/cultist who liked to paint hellish landscapes was lynched and murdered by locals, and now the intermittently British Liza Merril (Katherine MacColl) plans to reopen the property. Of course this somehow stirs up dark forces lurking in the basement, a plumber gets attacked by the dead artist’s corpse, both bodies end up in the morgue and somehow knock Joe’s wife dead, Liza is haunted by visions of an ancient book and the prophecies of an enigmatic blind girl (Cinzia Monreale), and more grody stuff happens leading up to the inevitable opening up of the netherworld. Which basically results in a lot of zombies wandering about.

In a clear sign that election news has permeated my brain, I first heard the name of the male lead- a town doctor played by David Warbeck- as “John McCain”. It’s not (the name is McCabe), but when another character was introduced as “Joe the Plumber”, for real this time, I was starting to think I was being punk’d. Fortunately the female lead is not named “Sarah Palin” or any permutation thereof, and I did not have to shut off the DVD and head off to the local Catholic church in search of holy water.

Sadly, that is the closest to genuinely disturbing the movie gets. For most of the rest of the running time, we’re aware that a big evil force is about to be set loose on the people of whatever town this is, and are essentially waiting for it to get moving. There’s horror in anticipation, but when you draw it out too much it just becomes boredom. Fulci punctuates things with a few really grody interim attacks, but they’re more gross than scary, and actually border on funny for their ludicrously extreme nature.

A key example of this is a scene where some character I’m not even sure we’ve been properly introduced to looks in the town archives at the plans for the hotel. He sees something shocking that we never figure out, is pushed off a ladder by some high force or just his own disbelief, and is paralyzed. A group of tarantulas creep up to the unmoving victim and proceed to do what movie tarantulas do to helpless victims. Which would be much creepier if so many of them didn’t have obvious rubber stunt doubles and if they weren’t making much more noise than spiders generally do. That still sounds damn creepy, but in execution it becomes just silly. It takes work to mess up something like that.

After a while, Fulci seems to check his watch and realize we’re close to the end and the gates of Hell arbitrarily open right then. What does this mean? Well, zombies. Now, I like zombies, but I was hoping for more than just that after so much buildup, and the zombies don’t even get to eat that many people. Beyond Eliza and the Doctor, there are a handful of characters who aren’t even developed to the stereotypical level seen in one of the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies, and the zombie rampage is criminally short on victims. And all this builds to a total non-climax; indeed, the movie stops just as soon as we see something that has the potential to be really interesting.

THE BEYOND is one of those for-fans-only things; it’s got a few notable touches, like a cool theme and some nice visuals, but seems more a nice idea for a horror movie than a complete experience. Fulci is a filmmaker I can’t fully write off, as sleazy as some of his work is, and if you don’t expect much more than a zombie film this might be fun. Seems like a waste of potential, though.

Story by Dardano Sacchetti
Screenplay by Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo, and Lucio Fulci
Directed by Lucio Fulci

Grade: C+

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