(A.k.a. L'ALDILA; SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH)
So, Shameless Entertainment get to go where Arrow Video and Grindhouse Releasing have already traversed ... remastering Lucio Fulci's 1981 zombie masterpiece for blu-ray. Let's see how their effort fares. But first, the film itself ...
In a glorious sepia prologue set in 1927, a group of irate villagers row across a lake towards a Louisiana hotel at night. They race up the stairs and barge into a room where Schweick (Antoine Saint-John) - a supposed warlock - is busy finishing his painting depicting Hell.
Schweick's work will have to wait: his flesh is torn open by chains before he's dragged to the hotel's cellar for more abuse. Then the overkill arrives: Schweick is crucified to the wall with rusty nails and lime is poured over him, melting his face. We're in Lucio Fulci territory!
Cut to Emily (Cinzea Monreale) reading a passage from the book of Eibon. It warns that whoever opens the hotel in future will effectively open one of the seven gateways to Hell … and then we're into those beautiful familiar opening titles, flames licking the screen as Fabio Frizzi's sublime score pulses away.
The plot - what there is of one - begins proper in 1981 when the hotel is inherited by out-of-towner Liza (Catherine MacColl), who immediately sets about renovating the place. As soon as work on the building begins, the supernatural starts to occur: the bell for Schweick's old room keeps ringing; blind Emily appears and disappears to people with haunting regularity; workers are injured in bizarre accidents …
But the main catalyst for the events that form the bulk of the film is the demise of plumber Joe. His death is pure Fulci, and leads to the arrival of local doctor John (David Warbeck), a show stopping morgue set-piece that first introduces both zombies and the concept of Fulci's Hell (blindness) to the story, and maid Martha's own sticky end, when Joe's reanimated corpse catches up with her in the hotel basement.
Wow. THE BEYOND retains all of its visual wonder. It's a classic Italian horror film, taking on a feeble plot and petite budget then transforming them into something strikingly ethereal. And brutal. The gore is constant throughout THE BEYOND. You never have to wait more than 5 minutes for highlights such as flesh-eating tarantula attacks, a guide dog that turns savage on its owner, an infamous close-range bullet shot to a little girl's face and a vat of acid poured over an unconscious victim. Even the lesser moments of grue are memorable: genre veteran Al Cliver gets a face full of broken glass; the numerous gunshots to the heads of the living dead.
But if there's any one part of the body Fulci seems particularly obsessed with, it's the eyes. From Joe's gouged eyes to the spike that forces its way through the back of Martha's head and pops out the other end with her orb stuck to it, Fulci spares no mercy on our precious goggles. Of course, there are also the standard close-ups and zoom-ins to characters' eyes - an annoying trait Fulci developed through the early 80s period of his career. But most of all, the aforementioned concept that true Hell is blindness - that the worst fate would be to lose one's sight - is the most telling aspect of the film. Perhaps the fear of blindness is an obvious one for someone whose career was in filmmaking, but I dare say it's never been addressed so directly on screen before or since.
Ironically then, THE BEYOND is Fulci's most visually satisfying horror film. It's filled with moments of aesthetic beauty. The closing hospital scenes are eerie and surreal in equal measures, while the Gothic smoke-filled atmospherics of earlier scenes should silence anyone who's ever dismissed Fulci as a hack.
This is Fulci unburdened by logic or continuity (I always remember Starburst's review of the film's theatrical release, describing it as an "absolute" film - that is, intended as a purely cinematic sensation, unconcerned with conventional narrative), free to conjure up scenes of pure nightmare logic. The best of these is arguably the very final scene, which still ranks as one of the greatest horror film endings ever …
Shameless Entertainment bring THE BEYOND to UK blu-ray in a new 2K restoration which presents the film in 1080p HD, uncut and framed in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
The new transfer looks fantastic: brighter and more detailed than any preceding presentation. Natural grain remains unaltered while images hold up as sharp and fine throughout. Some scenes, such as Martha's demise, were really striking in their renewed clarity. Overall, this is a hugely impressive visual proffering.
Audio is provided in choices of English and Italian dual-mono DTS-HD mixes. Both sounded absolutely fine to these ears. Optional English subtitles are available but, while you can function these on either playback, they only translate the Italian script. That said, they don't deviate massively from the English dialogue; they're also well-written and easy to read at all times.
The disc is defaulted to open with a trailer reel of other Shameless releases, including CANNIBAL FEROX, THE NEW YORK RIPPER and more.
A pop-up scene selection menu allows access to the film via 10 chapters.
Extras begin with two audio commentary tracks.
If you've not heard the old track from MacColl and Warbeck, you need to get on the case pronto. Recorded not long before Warbeck's death, it's an upbeat chat often filled with MacColl laughing in reaction to Warbeck's playfully derisive comments. They both speak fondly of Fulci and the crazy crew, and share an element of amazement regarding the film's enduring reputation. Warbeck often slurs, presumably due to medication he was on at the time, but the pair remain coherent and in good spirits throughout. There explanation of how the zombies were made to stay still in Hell is priceless …
A second commentary track comes courtesy of cinematographer Sergio Salvati, in conversation with Paolo Alviero. This is in Italian with clear optional English subtitles. It's another fluent track, albeit a more academic one. Alviero is interested in the film's themes for the most part, whereas Salvati is full of interesting behind-the-scenes trivia.
"Emily's Eyes" is a most welcome new 17-minute interview with the eternally beautiful Monreale. She speaks highly of Fulci, describing him as "very bright and full of life" but also affirms that he could be an ill-tempered sod on set. "His bark was worse than his bite", she says very diplomatically. Coming across as friendly, chirpy and at ease in what I assume is her own home (a very lovely looking home at that), this is a great addition to the disc.
"Arachnophobia" spends an enjoyable 28 minutes in the company of actor Michele Mirabella, who opens by revealing at the time of being hired for Fulci's film he was a radio broadcaster and occasional director of commercials. Mirabella comes across as an affable but fiercely confident gentleman who's also blessed with a near-impeccable memory especially when recalling his time shooting on location in New Orleans.
"Murder, They Wrote" catches up with screenwriter Giorgio Mariuzzo. He also started off working on commercials, as an assistant director - and this was how he met Fulci. Mariuzzo has warm memories of working with the maestro on several occasions, which makes this a most pleasant 13 minutes.
All of the above are presented in Italian with English subtitles.
Next, we get 1 minute and 47 seconds of Fulci acting frivolous on location while shooting 1991's DEMONIA. He speaks to the camera in English and comes across as in extremely fine fettle. This is rather worn-looking, shot on video, but fun nevertheless.
Curiously, Shameless have opted to make the inclusion of four alternate version of the film's famous prologue sequence this disc's main selling point. Don't get me wrong, their inclusion is hugely appreciated and playback does indeed work seamlessly. You can opt to view the film with its most well-known sepia opening, or in colour as it was originally filmed (Salvati's preferred choice, as he explains in his commentary track), black and white - a nice reminder for all of us who bought Arrow Video's compromised first pressing of their blu-ray release from several years back, or a new "yellow-toned sepia on colour" doctoring which works surprisingly well. All play in HD.
There's also a 7-minute comparison of all four prologue versions together in split-screen format.
The disc is housed in a clear keepcase with a nice see-through plastic sleeve inside it. It's good to see Shameless moving away from those yellow borders (was never a fan of that design) and, ahem, dubious cover art (hello, their TORSO blu-ray release ...).
THE BEYOND has never looked better on blu-ray. It also comes equipped with a fine array of special features and, to boot, each release is individually numbered.
Well done, Shameless.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Shameless Entertainment|