THE NASTY FILE The Beyond
Of the seventy-two films which appeared on the Department of Public Prosecutions’ list of films deemed liable to “deprave and corrupt,” all but one came from countries outside of the United Kingdom. The majority came from the United States; however, a large proportion were European horror films, many of which have since been recognised as classics in the genre.
This regular series sees subtitledonline.com take a look at the continental ‘video nasties’ which brought so much offence and uproar to an island on the fringes of Europe, nearly thirty years ago. In this entry, we look at Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond.
European Horror in the ‘Video Nasty’ Era
Following on From City Of The Living Dead (1980), Catriona McColl reprised her professional relationship with Lucio Fulci in 1981’s supernatural shlock-epic The Beyond.
McColl plays Liza, a young woman who inherits an old hotel built on a Louisiana swamp. With the help of Dr. John McCabe, played by David Warbeck, Liza moves into the building and sets about fixing it up for its grand reopening. Unbeknownst to the couple, the Seven Doors Hotel had previously been witness to the brutal execution of an artist named Schweik; a supposedly evil warlock who the local residents had crucified and murdered at the beginning of the century. This act of extreme violence opened one of the gateways to hell – a gateway which had remained dormant for the best part of a century.
When plumbing work is carried out in the hotel’s flooded cellar, the disruption re-opens the doorway and unleashes a violent, malevolent force which spews out ghouls and zombies from the bowels of the earth. Liza meets Emily, a young blind girl who can communicate with the dead, and through her gift, the protagonists attempt to learn the secrets of the Seven Doors Hotel and survive the creatures which are coming for them, straight from the beyond…
Before the days of the Video Recordings Act, distributors could choose either to release films uncut and straight from the studio, or stick with the version which had been approved for theatrical release by the BBFC. Often, labels would actually choose the latter, possibly aware of a particular film’s content and fearful of repercussions or the potential effect on society. It would, of course, be naïve to assume all independent video labels were unwilling victims of state censorship.
Videomedia started out distributing educational videos of foreign language courses, before realising the potentially lucrative market created by the new influx of low-budget, European horror. Vampix was the name under which they released their horror titles, and The Beyond was the thirteenth such film. They did indeed opt for the BBFC censored version of The Beyond when they released it in March 1982 but, despite cuts of 1 minute 49 seconds, the film found its way on to the DPP’s list on 28th November 1983, along with another Fulci title, The House By The Cemetery (1981).
Fulci uses light and shade to his advantage in creating a skewed, yet aesthetically interesting depiction of reality.
Unlike ‘House’, however, The Beyond would be dropped from the list in April of 1985 following numerous court cases. Unfortunately, the public are as yet not privy to the court proceedings which occurred at the time, and simply have to make do with the fact that some films were simply acquitted. In the early days of the ‘video nasty’ era, many titles, such as Driller Killer, SS Experiment Camp and Cannibal Holocaust, were treated as test cases: experiments to see whether or not a jury would indeed find on-screen violence, for the first time, guilty under the Obscene Publications Act. Up until the Nasty furore, the Act had only been implemented in the case of pornographic or sexually explicit works.
It’s difficult to work out exactly why The House By The Cemetery was successfully prosecuted and The Beyond was not. There isn’t much difference between the two films, in terms of violence, but if pushed, The House By The Cemetery would possibly clinch it. The Beyond is often cited as Fulci’s greatest achievement as a director, and so perhaps it felt more accessible; more like a standard narrative with something to offer the viewer other than violence and gore.
The film is beautifully shot in many parts, and Fulci uses light and shade to his advantage in creating a skewed, yet aesthetically interesting depiction of reality. The hotel, with its old fashioned furnishings and dusty nooks and crannies, almost takes on a life of its own and would steal the show were it not for Cinzia Monreale’s energetic depiction of the telepathic blind girl, Emily.
Nevertheless, the film did indeed receive typical BBFC cuts, including trimming the sepia toned prologue of its chain-whipping, crucifixion and close-ups of gushing wounds. A graphic eye gouging inflicted upon a hapless plumber was removed, as was a scene in which tarantulas munch down on the face and eyes of their paralysed victim. Further eyeball violence was also removed – this time that of a lady being impaled on a nail, through her eye socket. A particularly gruesome scene in which a dog bites and rips out a woman’s throat also fell afoul of the BBFC’s guidelines, and one second was trimmed from a scene showing a young girl’s head exploding following a gunshot.
On paper, The Beyond must sound like one of the most horrific films ever made, and surely worthy of its treatment at the hands of censors and the DPP. However, it is worth remembering that Fulci’s films were generally fairly low-budget and, as such, contained unconvincing special effects, to say the least. A case-in-point is the aforementioned tarantulas, which in fact look like nothing more than props made from pipe-cleaners.
Not only that, but the gory set-pieces are merely fragments of a well made and interesting film. Speculation on the decisions made by the BBFC or DPP at this period is inevitably fruitless, and we can only assume that the board were simply offended by what they saw in certain films. After all, it’s not as if, in the case of a supernatural horror such as The Beyond, they could have argued a case for potential mimicry of the subject matter.
Luckily, most of Fulci’s films are available to see uncut in the UK, and fans don’t have to go rummaging through bargain bins and car-boot sales any more in order to appreciate his work. It certainly beggars belief that generations of Britons were denied a large chunk of the output of one of horror’s most celebrated directors, simply because censors were personally affronted by what was happening on-screen. Nevertheless, the dark days of DPP intrusion seem to be over, and a new generation of Fulci fans are being treated to fantastic re-mastered versions of his films which the ‘80s generation could not, even in their wildest nightmares, have ever thought possible.
The Beyond is now happily available uncut for horror fans to enjoy, and has recently been given the Arrow Video treatment: a fantastic release on DVD and Blu-ray, complete with new artwork and special features.
Read each entry in The Nasty File series here.
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