The Beyond: Composer’s Cut – A Phantasmagoric Genre Defining Masterpiece

And you will face the sea of darkness, and all therein that may be explored.

Hot, muggy atmosphere sticks to the skin as thick fog rises from the bayou. Fire paints the surface of the water, a ghastly apparition of the infernal presence clawing its way towards our world. The lights in the stately Louisiana manor flicker frantically as men surround the building with fevered rage. Flooded with the prophecies of Eibon and the ghoulish imagery of an unknown beyond, those who cannot comprehend the seductive allure of the darkness lash out with brutality, swinging cold steel chains against the heathen warlock holed up in the darkest corner of the hotel. Flesh splits and blood flows, sinew and viscera strewn across the floor. It’s hellish, vile, and viscerally violent. It’s the disturbingly dark and exceedingly bleak exploration of humanity’s worst impulses displayed as a response to what we do not understand. It’s Lucio Fulci.

Italian horror’s master of vulgar atmospheric chaos, unparalleled in his vibrant evocations of stunning horror aesthetics and blood-drenched tragedy (and unmatched in his love for the violent mutilation of the eye). While Dario Argento cemented himself as the master of the pulpy, dreamy subgenre of giallo, Fulci formed a catalog built on the back of grotesque, gore-soaked nightmares, bleak depictions of carnal violence offering little to no hope for any living flesh. Fulci’s work is almost primal, these divergent and often narratively threadbare landscapes of guttural horror expressionism that refuse to relent in their mission to descend at breakneck pace into the maw of hellish purgatory.

Fulci’s fascinations and signature stream of consciousness deliria are found as soon as he began exploring horror cinematically, his early genre work set in the familiar universe of formula built giallo but nevertheless steadfastly chaotic and phantasmagoric. From the acid-laced ferocity of 1971’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin to his subsequent gialli Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) and The Psychic (1977), his predilections became increasingly violent, films flooded with more scenes of blood-drenched mutilation and gore, culminating in 1979’s Zombie Flesh Eaters (also known as Zombi 2, the unofficial sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) following Dario Argento’s successful re-edit and release of the film in Italy).

Zombie Flesh Eaters is the grotesque and nightmarish counterpart to Romero’s film, less interested in a thematic exploration of the consumerist brainwashing of society than it is in the pure examination of complete and utter terror, no longer committed to the comfort of structure as it drifts from America to the desolate tropics to devolve into unhinged blood-soaked madness. Eyes gouged, flesh and innards torn to bits and consumed by hordes of desiccated corpses, maggots crawling across exposed tendons and bone. Fulci’s style becomes fully emergent here, but more importantly it marks his first notable collaboration with composer Fabio Frizzi, one of the many musicians responsible for bathing the world of Italian horror in upbeat synthesizer anarchy. Frizzi’s warped sonic atmosphere cements the brilliantly dreamy psychedelia of Zombie Flesh Eaters, and this perfect symbiosis of grungy visuals and unrelenting plucky synths was carried forward into Fulci’s next genre experiment, City of the Living Dead (1980).

Zombie Flesh Eaters. Dir. Lucio Fulci.

Originally conceived as a Lovecraft inspired nightmare, City of the Living Dead is Fulci in his most untethered and creatively dynamic state, a terrifying descent into a city overtaken by the walking corpses of Hell. As graphically violent as ever, it’s only a further escalation of the brutality and visceral disgust of Zombie Flesh Eaters, gore effects turned to eleven as rooms flood with blood and maggots (another of Fulci’s many vulgar fascinations). Here, Frizzi’s soundscapes are also cranked to the max, the familiar sounds of the genre twisted into ambient elevations of the dripping blood onscreen. Now nearly complete in a stunning crescendo to genre perfection, a year later a follow-up is released, later becoming the second part in the thematic Gates of Hell trilogy: The Beyond (1981).

The Beyond is a striking display of everything Italian horror aims for, the culmination of a hyperspecific genre soaked in bloody violence and sonic ambience, an intoxicating phantasmagoric dream taking place in a sweltering purgatory between worlds. Fully devoted to being completely detached from reality, a dreamy haze drifting through Louisiana, people under an intoxicating otherworldly spell as the razor sharp tendrils of the abyss crawl forth, turning the murky flooded basement to a boiling cauldron of blood. As worlds collide and the façade of our dull minutia begins to crumble, all grip on the familiar is lost, everything left a striking gaze into the deepest pits of guttural horror. Nothing here is as it should be, just broken souls robbed of humanity wading through the slog of life until they’re torn limb from limb and tossed into the sea of darkness. Every frame laced with oozing crimson and melted flesh, the film is the essence of horror evocation, burning it all to the ground as it travels mercilessly from misery to bleak obliteration.

Narrative threads loosely follow protagonist Liza (Catarina MacColl) as she works to comprehend the world corroding around her and find some sort of solution to Hell itself crawling up from beneath the floors of the hotel she’s inherited – though this never feels like anything more than an exercise in complete futility, hers and the efforts of everyone in her surrounding constantly thwarted by brutal mutilation or a rapidly deteriorating mental state. Liza’s frantically escalating mania represented by the enigmatic and often impossible presence of Emily, an ambiguous specter refusing to solidify herself in any particular level of the film’s layers, moving from helpful stranger to complete fabrication to endlessly tortured soul and even seemingly breaking the fourth wall of the film on occasion. Sitting at the piano in her dilapidated estate she softly taps Frizzi’s own theme to the film, either drawing the viewer in closer to The Beyond’s eternal descent or pushing Fulci’s nightmare closer to us.

The Beyond. Dir. Lucio Fulci.

These sequences begin to outline the role of the music in Fulci’s opus, this atmosphere drenched adventure of death and destruction played to the devil’s own orchestral madness, luring you in before ripping it all to shreds. Frizzi’s score is one of the most confidently powerful in the world of Italian horror, a worthy feat when stacked against the towering legacy of Goblin’s contributions to the genre (Suspiria (1977), Demons (1985), Deep Red (1975)) alongside other notable maestros such as Stelvio Cipriani (Bay of Blood (1971), Pieces (1982)) and Bruno Nicolai (All The Colors of The Dark (1972), Your Vice Is A Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)). The persistently impactful thuds of its unrelenting drums and the bizarre warble of its synths and basslines alongside the recurring and haunting vocal choruses, tortured souls weeping to the tune of their funeral march.

Originally conceived as a touring concert series and in need of more material to drown the film in synth atmosphere from start to finish, Frizzi’s Composer’s Cut cobbles together a series of new cues to flow with the original 88-minute visual cut, including a new theme to come swinging into the first scene and all freshly recorded and mastered tracks, an already classic score now feeling brand new, fully fleshed, and more grand than ever. Coinciding with a new scan and careful restoration of the original film, Grindhouse Releasing’s new edition is an already glorious masterpiece now presented in stunning detail, from swapping the grungy sepia filter of the original opening for full vibrant color to presenting the gruesome spider-based death of Martin with disgusting clarity.

In the middle of a genre potently steeped in acid-soaked horror synesthesia, The Beyond remains a staggeringly evocative masterpiece, the culmination of all the genre has to offer alongside being a grotesque marker for the prolific career of Italy’s most vulgar and nihilistic horror auteur. Now vibrantly restored to showcase every fine detail of its flesh splitting madness alongside a beautiful new immersive bath of a score, there is rarely ever anything so definitively essential for fans of this corner of the horror universe. Step through the gate into the sea of death, and welcome the eternal purgatory that you are now a part of. The wilderness is neverending, and you will stumble without sight, a haunting chorus echoing atop morose strings and the drums of Hell’s cold embrace.

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