In Louisiana during 1927, Schweick (Antoine Saint-John) was a painter who had immersed himself in the Dark Arts, and his latest work was what he considered to be the rendering of his vision of Hell itself. However, word had gotten around of his nefarious activities, and the locals arrived at his house with violence on their minds, dragging him to the basement of his large house and crucifying him on the wall there, all the while whipping him with chains as punishment. And there he stayed, walled up until 1981 and a newcomer, Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl), wished to turn the place into a hotel...
One of the trio of otherworldly horror movies directed by Lucio Fulci around the start of the eighties, The Beyond gained a reputation among horror fans of being one of his finest films, even if they could not adequately explain what on earth was actually supposed to be going on in it. Coherence was not its strong point, but oddly enough incoherence was, building an atmosphere of a vast evil, barely understandable by human minds, that was orchestrating the events we saw, events which largely took the form of shock-based setpieces with variable but enthusiastic special effects offering that distinctive Fulci quality.
Liza is the innocent plonked down in the middle of the mayhem, which she is not any more clued up on than anyone else except the painter, and he's understandably reluctant to reveal much being a dessicated corpse and all. She did have help from a doctor at the local hospital, John McCabe (David Warbeck in one of the roles that won him cult status), but how much help can he really offer when the overall mood is one of futility in the face of enormous supernatural forces that in true Lovecraftian style are not about to share their secrets readily with anyone who isn't one of them. The unleashing of Hell begins when that basement is investigated, and the plumber looking for a leak finds a nasty surprise.
It may sound an odd thing to observe, but in its way The Beyond was the extreme Italian horror version of Ghostbusters, which would soon be arriving in cinemas about the time this was being distributed. Obviously the American blockbuster was fashioned for a more family audience, but they do share a number of intriguing plot parallels aside from the group of paranormal phantom fighters: the old building that was designed as a gateway to some unspeakable horror, the young woman caught up in the middle of it, the introduction of some Elder Gods machinations to a traditional American landscape, you could rescript the Fulci effort as a comedy and it would still be just as successful.
Of course, some do treat it as a comedy, thanks to some truly bizarre imagery that is on occasion betrayed by its lack of resources. The most infamous example of that would be the spider sequence where the hapless victim in the library investigating the proposed hotel ends up getting bitten in the face by a bunch of tarantulas, a few of which have been replaced by stunt doubles which look a bit daft when they start munching on him. But that swaying between concepts that seem geuninely cosmic in the horror movie field and those realisations of said concepts toppling into farce offer a particular texture that not many other shockers have quite achieved, although you could argue most of those others would prefer to be slick than the alternative. If there's a niggle, it's when the zombies finally get up and walk Dr McCabe keeps forgetting to shoot them in the head, which can be frustrating as he wastes his bullets, yet the apocalyptically bleak climax is strong enough to compensate. Music by Fabio Frizzi.
Italian director whose long career could best be described as patchy, but who was also capable of turning in striking work in the variety of genres he worked in, most notably horror. After working for several years as a screenwriter, he made his debut in 1959 with the comedy The Thieves. Various westerns, musicals and comedies followed, before Fulci courted controversy in his homeland with Beatrice Cenci, a searing attack on the Catholic church.