In one of the many bonus features on Grindhouse's extensive 3-disc Blu-ray set of Lucio Fulci's The Beyond, we learn the fun history of the film's origins. Fabrizio De Angelis, the film's producer, went to a film market with a thin outline, a poster, and... well, that's about it. But due to the then popularity of Italian horror flicks and zombie/supernatural fare, he quickly sold it anyway, at which point he hurriedly called screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti and told him to get a full script ready to go. With such an odd (but not uncommon) genesis, it's not really a surprise that the film doesn't make a whole lot of sense even by Fulci standards, and its randomness was exacerbated by a demand from the German distributors for more zombie action (which is why the finale has David Warbeck gunning down zombies who have appeared out of nowhere).
But in many ways, the film's dream-like logic is part of what has made it an enduring classic. For years, Fulci's Zombie and (to a lesser extent) City Of The Living Dead were the go-to titles for budding horror fans in the US, but once Grindhouse restored the film in 1998 (seven minutes of gore/violence were cut from the original US release, making the thing even harder to follow) The Beyond took prominence, and is now regarded as his masterpiece by many. It's billed as the second part of the "Death Trilogy" that began with City Of The Living Dead (aka Gates of Hell) and ended with House by the Cemetery, but one doesn't need to see them all or in any order -- like Carpenter's "Apocalypse" trilogy, they aren't connected by characters or narrative. Catriona MacColl also appears in all three, true -- but as different characters, so if anything it's a disservice to think of them as part of a group -- it'll just leave you more confused.
Perhaps the film's unique form of logic can be attributed to the fact that it spends more time on plot than traditional zombie movie action, and what it offers isn't as over-the-top as you might expect. Nothing in The Beyond is as disgusting as, say, the puking scene in City, as Fulci opts to lull you with suspense-driven setpieces that are quickly punctuated with, for lack of a better word, "routine" kills. He indulges in his usual assault on eyeballs (twice!), but anyone who has seen his earlier horror films will be numb to his ocular terrorism by now. There aren't even all that many zombies until the end either; we know who they all are (a plumber, a maid, etc) and the keep their attacks brief and often solo -- it's not until the scene where a character and her dog are surrounded by them that we feel like we're in typical zombie movie territory. This keeps the emphasis on genuine terror and unsettling atmosphere, rather than risk turning folks off from the movie due to the excessive violence (or making them numb to the sight of it).
Even the film's goofs end up adding to its strange, occasionally hypnotic feel. The plot centers around a doorway to Hell located in a basement of a hotel in Louisiana... a state where there ARE no basements due to the sea level. I'm sure it was just an oversight, but it kind of fits -- like the doorway itself, it's something that you wouldn't expect to find in the area, inadvertently adding to the dream-logic that permeates everything that happens once that door is opened. Plus, if they were sticking to geographic accuracy, we would be robbed of the scene where MacColl takes the plumber down to the flooded basement and, from the stairs, immediately asks "How long will it take to fix?" even though he hasn't even seen the source of the problem yet. The (terrific) soundtrack from frequent Fulci collaborator Fabio Frizzi even offers its own head-scratchers: there are three tracks named "Voci Dal Nulla" (translation: "Voices From Nowhere") that have different runtimes and rhythms.
On the aforementioned Blu set, someone (his daughter, if memory serves) comments that it's cruel that Fulci died right around the time that the internet was blowing up, because he rarely got to see how loved he was in other countries. Not only did it rob him of some vindication after being so often ravaged by critics (Ebert, on The Beyond's later success as a midnight film: "It's not late enough"), and I think he'd probably have fun reading people's messageboard theories about his puzzling narratives, but along with the advent of the internet came DVDs and then Blu-rays, which denied US of his participation on all of them. It'll take you several hours to go through all of the supplemental material on Grindhouse's Blu-ray, but Fulci himself was obviously not around to join his cohorts -- an audio interview from the 80s (which is hilarious) and a video of a panel where he is joined by Warbeck (who died not long after Fulci) are all he gets to say on what will likely be the definitive release of his magnum opus.
The film will be showing at select Drafthouse locations this month in all of its uncut glory. Whether you've seen it a million times or you've yet to dive into its flooded Louisiana basements, you owe it to yourself to check it out. For you newbies there's no better way to see a film for the first time than at an Alamo (please let them have themed food/drinks!), and for you die-hard fans... maybe this time it'll all make sense!