Just as Dario Argento had his Three Mothers Trilogy, Lucio Fulci had his “Gates Of Hell” trilogy. The Beyond (1981), or E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà in Italian, is the second film in Fulci’s cycle, preceded by City Of The Living Dead (1980) and followed by The House By The Cemetery (1981). Fulci co-wrote each of these three features with Dardano Sacchetti who had previously written Zombi 2 (1979). The films in this cycle all share certain features such as a H.P. Lovecraft influence, an abundance of gore, and a seeming disregard for plot.
The Beyond is ostensibly about a young woman named Liza (Catriona MacColl) who inherits an old hotel in Louisiana and discovers that, unfortunately, her inheritance was built atop one of the seven gateways to Hell. The plot of The Beyond isn’t about character exploration, it’s a means by which Fulci can investigate the fundamental mechanisms of fear. The beats in the script do not add up to anything, they simply perpetuate the necessary sense of mystery and dread.
At its core The Beyond is a film about humanity’s relationship to their own mortality. More than anything else Fulci is aware of the fact that what his audience fears most is death. The human body in The Beyond is a squishy meat sack that can easily be mutilated and destroyed. It’s the fear of the corruption, perversion and destruction of the body that creates the internal spiritual crisis within the characters of the film. Fear, like the narrative structure of The Beyond, follows no logic so to give fear shape Fulci relies on the basic aesthetic philosophies of surrealism to create a series of truly evocative set pieces.
The Beyond is littered with visual signifiers lifted from Catholic and Gothic iconographies that are arranged exclusively by the director’s own subjective associations. The Beyond is not a horror film with anything to say. It’s a film that exists solely to be experienced and thought of as an experience. While the Italian title of the film E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà (which translates to “And you will live in terror! The afterlife”) may suit the film, the title of the American and British release (The Beyond) captures Fulci’s modus operandi. The Beyond quite literally is about going beyond the popular conventions of cinema to the realm of the unadulterated cinematographic experience.
When The Beyond is considered in this context it is clearly Fulci’s purest expression of cinematic poetry. The Beyond is Lucio Fulci working at the peak of his powers as a filmmaker. Unlike Argento, Fulci is able to strip his film down to what is essential and let those aesthetic possibilities dictate the meaning of the film. The Beyond may be grotesque, macabre, and disturbing but it represents the same cinematic classicism as the masterpieces of Murnau, Eisenstein, Dreyer and Bresson. Only filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk was able to equal Fulci in terms of making high art genre pictures.