Cult director Lucio Fulci's The Beyond (1981), newly reissued in a crisply atmospheric print, is a tasty example of the Italian school of post-Romero gore flick, a rickety construction of patchwork plotting and barely functional dubbing which can still tap into such primal dreads as the fear of disfigurement, the return of the resentful dead and, of course, having one's face slowly eaten by huge spiders.
A sepia-tinted prologue sets the mood as angry villagers whip, crucify and pour hot flesh-dissolving goo on some poor guy who seems to be a painter, or possibly a warlock -- it hardly matters. What does matter is the lip-licking way the camera ogles this anguished death, zooming in on every oozing laceration, lovingly gazing on Giannetto De Rossi's extremely skillful but still reassuringly fake-looking makeup effects.
Fast forward a hundred years and the story proper begins. A young woman has purchased the site of the painter-warlock's lynching, a hotel called the Seven Doors (as in "Doors To Hell") and is having it restored. Soon the supporting characters, and a few of the principals, are dropping like flies, meeting largely inexplicable but colorfully grisly ends. Hell seems to be regurgitating a few of its inhabitants, which doesn't quite explain why most of the stiffs in the local morgue are also coming back to life, but then a certain dream logic is a large part of the movie's punkish charm.
As with a porno film, you must sit with tolerant bemusement through the scraps of plot waiting for the money shots -- and then feel guilty gratification as a blind woman gets her throat ripped out by her guide dog, or when the hero's handgun blows a little girl's head open (she had it coming).
In largely Protestant America, horror films tend to be action-driven, as though an industrious application of the work ethic might save us. In largely Catholic Italy, a helpless mortification of the flesh is the preferred terror. Fulci's The Beyond is a prime example of this. Its set pieces of static atrocities are crafted with impressive expertise and used to justify an oddly abandoned narrative. The rather beguiling result is a mix of almost poetic disorientation with what seems like a 12-year-old religious zealot's idea of transgressive cinema.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at email@example.com.