CONTAINS SPOILERS AND MY EYES!!! MY EYES!!!! AAAARGH!!!!!
Yup, eyes. Much as we might might wince at it and (appropriately enough) look away, there's a special masochistic thrill in watching a bit of eyeball violence. Sharp things in the eyes (Zombie Flesh Eaters, Dead And Buried, Un Chien Andalou) or a straightforward thumb gouging: it's surprising how effective an attack on one of the human body's most vulnerable areas can be. And this movie has lots of eyeball violence. In fact pretty much the entire cast lose their eyesight at some point, whether it's burned out by acid, poked out by a ten-inch nail through the back of the skull or eaten away by spiders. The only person who doesn't lose their sight would appear to be the one who's blind to start with, and she just gets her throat ripped out by her dog.
Not that Lucio Fulci's The Beyond is merely concerned with showcasing the most cinematically awesome ways you can go blind, but it IS a theme. Back in the twenties, an artist was murdered by a lynch mob - crucified as a warlock, whipped with chains, blinded with lime and walled up in the basement of a Louisiana hotel. In the eighties, the now-derelict hotel is inherited by Catriona MacColl but it's not long before bad things start to happen - a decorator falls off the scaffolding, the plumber meets a bad end trying to stop the flooding in the extensive basement, an architect falls off a ladder and has his face eaten away by tarantulas. It's all got something to do with Room 36 - the artist/warlock's old room - and the mysterious occult tome The Book Of Eibon. The hotel is built over one of the Seven Gates Of Hell; can MacColl and doctor David Warbeck escape the zombie horde?
The Beyond is absolute nonsense - nothing makes sense, people are killed off for no good reason beyond ghoulish spectacle, and some of the English translation dialogue is almost literally unspeakable (and when I saw it projected a few weeks ago, the subject of much derisive laughter). Yet curiously it works as a horror movie for precisely the same reasons: a dreamlike lack of logic and an atmosphere of unreality. Not to mention the insanely explicit gore sequences that got the film banned as a video nasty back in 1984 and heavily cut for many years afterwards, although like many of the nasties it's fully rehabilitated now and available complete and uncut from a score of online dealers and high street retailers.
It's probably the best of Fulci's quartet of legendary gore movies: City Of The Living Dead and The House By The Cemetery both have annoying whiny kids that get on your nerves after a short while, although Cemetery is arguably a better story (I'll confess I haven't seen it in many years), and Zombie Flesh Eaters has too much dull stuff between the censor baiting highlights (the splinter scene is a showstopper). Digitally projected on a big screen, complete and pristine, The Beyond looks great, and sounds great with its doomladen Fabio Frizzi score. The silliness and some of that dialogue, inducing more spasms of horror than the cheerful eye-gouging, do count against it. But it's magnificently mad and it's unlike pretty much anything else.