Lucio Fulci’s Cult Classic is Back on DVD
Lucio Fulci’s THE BEYOND (E Tu Vivrai nel Terrore – L’aldilà, 1981) may be the ultimate cult horror film, a strange, non-linear exercise in deliberately vague storytelling that depends on atmosphere and imagery instead of coherent plot – techniques that (also seen in Dario Argento’s INFERNO) probably inspired a later generation of J-Horror filmmakers like Takashi Shimizu, whose JU-ON movies feature fragmented episodes of horror only loosely tied together. Oh, and also THE BEYOND is loaded with more than enough graphic gore to please the most jaded horror-hound. Unfortunately, the film was wretchedly mangled upon its original U.S. theatrical release – recut, rescored, and retitled to 7 DOORS OF DEATH (with direction credited to “Luis Fuller”).* Although revamping foreign films for American audiences is nothing new, the treatment of THE BEYOND is a bit of an anomaly in that Fulci’s other gorefests from that era (ZOMBIE, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) made it to these shores intact.
The ill-treatment of Fulci’s film by its American distributors extended to the original home video release, which featured the altered 7 DOORS OF DEATH, which deleted most of the explicit violence that was a major component of the director’s style. However, THE BEYOND developed a cult following, based partly on Fulci’s reputation and partly on bootlegged videotape derived from an uncut Japanese laserdisc release. In the late 1990s, Grindhouse releasing made an effort to assemble some bonus features for an uncut U.S. laserdisc release, which never materialized. Instead, Grindhouse teamed up with Quentin Tarantino’s boutique label, Rolling Thunder, and gave the restored film a limited midnight movie release in June of 1998.
Two years later, THE BEYOND finally reached home video in its intact form courtesy of a Limited Edition DVD in a collector’s tin box released through Anchor Bay; the DVD, minus the box and the 48-page booklet contained therein, was also available separately, through Aquarius Releasing. These discs contained the extensive bonus materials that had been gathered for the abandoned laserdisc project, and for all intents and purposes they seemed to represent the definitive home video presentation of the film. However, although used copies can still be found, these discs have been out of print for a few years now.
Fortunately, Fulci fans are in luck because Grindhouse recently released an updated edition of the DVD that duplicates all the old bonus features and adds a couple of new treats as well. The new DVD comes in a clear plastic clamshell case. When the box is open, the back of the wrap-around cover is visible through the clear plastic, revealing a Fulci filmography, accompanied by some poster artwork for PERVERSION STORY, ZOMBIE, etc. There is also a fold-out insert featuring poster artwork for the film, two pages of comments from exploitation aficionado Chas. Balun, and a list of chapter stops.
Pop the disc in the player, and the first difference from the old release becomes immediately apparent: the new disc takes you directly to the Menu instead of automatically playing the film. The Main Menu offers an option to begin the movie with a new introduction by actress Catriona MacColl (filmed in 2008), who looks pretty good nearly three decades later. She briefly expresses her amazement at the film’s longevity, calling it her favorite of the trilogy she filmed with Fulci (CITY OF THE DEAD, THE BEYOND, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) and praising it for its “decadent, macabre Italian poetry.”
I did not notice any differences in the transfer or sound mix; still, the anamorphic transfer looks great, and the audio is clear, allowing appreciation of Fabio Frizzi’s moody music. As with the 2000 DVD, Audio options include English Dolby 5.1, English Dolby 2.0, the original mono English track, and the original mono Italian track. (Shot partly on location in Louisianna, THE BEYOND features stars MacColl and David Warbeck speaking their dialogue in English, so this is one of those frequent cases where it is not quite right to consider the Italian track the “original” and the English track a “dub.”)
Most of the bonus features are carried over from the 2000 DVD, with one major addition:
- Aa section titled “Voices from The Beyond” features eleven video interviews with cast and crew who worked with Fulci. There is a Play All option, or you can select individual interviews with the likes of cinematographer Sergio Salvatti, composer Fabio Frizzi, actress Catriona MacColl, makeup effects man Gabrielle DeRossi, and others. Not specific to THE BEYOND, these interviews present a sort of mini-biography of Fulci. Although the details sometimes grow monotonous, these personal recollections offer a portrait of the director as a difficult and demanding filmmaker who was also a likable raconteur on and off the set. Screenwriter Girogio Mariuzzo tells an amusing story about Fulci flipping a coin to decide on camera placement: his theory was that where you put the camera is not important; it’s what you put in front of it. And co-writer Dardano Sacchetti reflects that he misses Fulci more than Mario Bava, who was a closed man, afraid to give up anything, unlike the gregarious Fulci. Finally, MacColl interprets a famous photograph of Fulci sitting on a bridge during filming of THE BEYOND, which she sees as symbolic of Fulic’s status as a filmmaker, alone and suspended between two worlds.
The remaining, extensive bonus features will be familiar to owners of the older DVD:
- Images from The Beyond includes six galleries: four extensive slide-shows of stills set to music and two brief video interviews. The stills include images of the film, from behind the scenes, of Fulci (including one with him and Mario Bava), and of David Warbeck (whose long career in the Italian film industry apparently paid off, judging by the artifacts collected in his house). The first video has Warbeck and MacColl answering questions from an interviewer at a convention; the second has Warbeck and Fulci doing a Q&A at Eurofest ‘94. The later has a hand-held amateur quality, but the picture and sound are good enough for the viewer to follow what is being said.
- U.S. Re-Release Trailer: This one is in pretty good shape, having been crafted relatively recently for the 1998 release of the film. It more or less consists of the second half of the International Theatrical Trailer, which gives away the film’s climactic imagery.
- International Theatrical Trailer: This one is somewhat grainy and worn. It highlights the film’s gore, including spider bites and gouged eyes.
- German Trailer: This features the same images as the International trailer but dubbed into German (obviously). For some reason, the German dub adds quite a bit of narration. Even if you don’t speak the language, you will grasp the general thrust of the last bit, which tries to sell the film on the strength of Fulci’s name.
- German Color Pre-Credits Sequence: THE BEYOND opens with a prologue that is presented in sepia tones to suggest the 1927 setting. Apparently, the German release simply presented this sequence in color. You can watch it in either English or German.
- Necrophagus Music Video: This piece of junk features live footage of Necrophagus performing “And You Will Live in Fear,” intercut with footage from THE BEYOND, including the infamous shot of the little girl getting her head blown off – show here about a dozen times.
- Audio Commentary with Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck: Recorded in 1997 (shortly before Warbeck’s death) for the planned laserdisc that never materialized, this is the highlight of the bonus features, a friendly discussion between the two stars, who seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. In general, I don’t like “chatty” commentaries that scrimp on technical info, but MacColl and Warbeck’s amazement over continued interest in their weird little movie is engaging, and they do provide several amusing behind-the-scenes anecdotes. MacColl recalls pointing out similarities between the script for THE BEYOND and THE SHINING (both set in haunted hotels), which prompted Fulci and company to pretend they had not heard of Kubrick’s film. And Warbeck points out a hilarious moment that you might miss if your attention is not drawn to it: as an elevator door closes, you can briefly glimpse him moving to reload his gun – by dropping a bullet down the barrel(an action the prompts a smile from MacColl).
The Audio Set Up menu contains an Easter Egg: the opening credits from THE BEYOND’s first American release, under the title 7 DOORS OF DEATH. These credits feature bogus Americanized names, a new synthesizer score, and the U.S. distributor credits himself as the film’s producer. (What a guy!)
The Images from the Beyond menu page contains an Easter Egg: an English-language trailer for CAT IN THE BRAIN. This is a late, low-budget Fulci effort in which he plays himself, a director being driven mad by a psychiatrist who hypnotizes him into thinking his violence films reflect actual murders he is committing. The trailer features a notably phony cat puppet supposedly digging around in some human entrails.
If you are one of the lucky few to own the 2000 Limited Edition collector’s tin, the Introduction and the Voices from the Beyond section may not be enough to make the 2008 DVD worth double-dipping, but it is good that THE BEYOND is once again available for all those who had not been able to add it to their permanent collection. This one’s a keeper, with more than enough bonus material to justify a purchase instead of a rental.
- One interesting bit of trivia about the U.S. release: Newspaper ads for 7 DOORS OF DEATH featured a quote from Tobe Hooper calling the film one fo the best horror efforts he had ever seen.