Right, we have one very important thing to note about this release. Although proudly boasted as being a brand new high-definition restoration, Arrow Video and Cult-Labs have actually botched the initial run of copies that hit the shelves and the discs that early reviewers received. I have been waiting for the corrected copies to turn up … but still no show, I’m afraid. The mistake that this transfer makes is, unfortunately, a grave one that will have fans tearing their hair out. The incredible prologue sequence, originally shot with an evocative sepia tint, now appears in the edition that I and many others have, in black and white. This very definitely ruins the effect that Fulci was aiming for and means that devotees will have to obtain a replacement copy from Arrow, or else wait until the corrected discs appear. The image, as we see it here, looks terrible during this segment, and heavily over-processed.
But, for now, let’s ignore this gaff as we know that it will be rectified sooner or later.
However, this still remains a very inconsistent encode. Via AVC, the blissfully wide 2.35:1 image is a mixture of the reasonable and the ugly. Grain is present, but, as with a few of these notorious cult classics, it often doesn’t look quite right. The texture is smeary and not properly resolved. It can look quite sparkly and clumpy in patches … and, to my eyes, this does not seem at all film-like. We don't exactly get the glinting ice-maze that stippled Blue Underground's BD release of Django, or its edition of City Of The Living Dead, something that Arrow's copy of City also picked up to a degree, which is certainly something of an improvement. But this just doesn't look natural. Some small pops and flecks also impact upon the print, and there is the odd smudge on show, though the signs of age-related wear and tear are actually kept to a minimum. DNR? I'd say so. There's definitely something going on here that is adding to the image's inconsistency.
Colours, aside from the prologue, are a mixture of the dry and insipid, and the reassuringly bright and livid. Now, to be fair, although the film's palette looks hazy and dust-blown until the blood hits the fan – which is when it really comes alive – this is how Fulci's photography has often looked, to one degree or another. This and City Of The Living Dead both have that arid, drought-like veneer to most of the daylight scenes. But this is faithful to the source. The good stuff, however, is still plentiful. This is a film that relies upon its intense close-up gore, and to this end the image holds up spectacularly well. Blood is very well rendered – thick, bright and gushing rivers of crimson flow with wince-inducing finesse. And look at that molten river of oozing blood that flows towards the little girl in the morgue – there's some great foaming texture as well as an interesting hue to the flood – or the putrid yellows and purples of decomposing flesh, or the mucky brown ick that fills the bathtub. The skin-tones of the latex wounds – all stretching flesh and torn sinew – is spot-on to how the film wants such things to look. Skin-tones, on the whole, have lost much of that typically anaemic (until redecorated with grue, that is) appearance from so many home video transfers, now pushing into welcome levels of warmth. Some would argue that this isn't accurate, and even though I have actually seen the film on the big screen, I can't say, hand on heart, whether this is how it should look or not. What I can say, however, is that I like this warmer aspect quite a bit more as it provides more vitality, especially during interior shots. Contrast is better maintained than I have seen it in other incarnations, and blacks are rewardingly deeper and more deliberately etched, which means that a great many scenes now look far more robust and atmospheric. Depth is also enhanced, with some of the exterior shots gaining some supreme spatiality – the meeting on the bridge, for example – and even the appearance of objects or people seen over a close-up character's shoulder becoming appreciably deeper and more three-dimensional. The face-ripping exploding window and the hand that smashes through another one to grab a fistful of MacColl's hair also provide a pleasing sense of depth, as does the image of the dead shambling down the hospital corridor. Note the Argento coloured glass down at the far end.
Some of the middle-ground shots also reflect good detail and depth, such as the beautiful widescreen view of the leaf-fringed front garden to Emily's house. This transfer definitely helps to bolster Salvati's visual sense for composition, which is a huge plus as far as I am concerned.
But there's no getting away from the fact that the image can also appear soft and blurred and ill-defined at times. And yet there are a great number of actually quite incredible shots. Close-ups, especially those concerned with the frequent carnage, are often excellent in terms of clarity and detail. Some of those spiders may look even more unconvincing in high-definition, but look at the tightly resolved detail on the face that they are chewing into. Pores, hairs, wrinkles and, naturally, wounds, are tremendously vivid. The nose-ripping, however, appears woefully fake, with every stretchy bit of latex clearly in evidence. But then look at the throat-gouging and the gouts of gore that flood from the revealed arteries beneath, and then the tearing away of the ear and the side of the victim’s head. Okay, so the artificiality of dog-puppet is now more apparent, but the juicy stuff looks utterly fantastic.
As problematic as this image can be, there is little doubting that The Beyond has looked as good, or as detailed as this. And the better news is that, once corrected, it should look better again, overall, once the 50GB discs surface. So, let's be clear about this, the score for this transfer is not exactly set in stone. We need to see how the corrected disc fares against this … and hopefully it will address some of the other issues with the grain and the definition, as well as the prologue colour. So, rest assured, I shall return to The Beyond as soon as I can.
As with City Of The Living Dead, Arrow have actually made some effort to create an energising and atmospheric wraparound audio track from the film’s original source. Whether you appreciate their efforts or not, I actually find their extended surround mix to be reasonably effective and something that does, indeed, add to the experience even if it is not the most convincing of tracks.
Worry not, though, purists, for the original Italian and English mono tracks are also here … but I cannot really imagine that many fans will opt for this, as in-keeping with the vast majority of genre Spaghettis, the cast all spoke either in their own language, in English, or in very bad English, and these two tracks just seem to make the dubbing all the harsher. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 English mix that I opted for was certainly the more lively and involving way to go.
There is width across the front, with plenty of positioning for effects and voices that agreeably opens the film out quite effectively. Barring a couple of instances when it seems to inexplicably drop down too low, dialogue is perfectly clear and understandable, although it doesn't matter how well mixed it is, you are never going to escape that lip-synching effect of the dubbing process. But the various screams come over well, as does the rallying cry of “Go on, Dickie!” as Emily urges her valiant German Shepherd on the offensive when the living dead converge on her. The growling of the dog, the ghastly tearing of flesh and hammering of nails into warlock-wrists and the squelchy plunge of another nail pushing right through somebody else's skull are all provided with an appropriately meaty and in-yer-face weight that makes them all the more dramatic. You'll agree that all the splashy, moist and grisly bits are serenaded with a crazily detailed presentation. A couple of lightning flashes are accompanied by suitably dramatic sound effects that crash and crackle around the speakers. The surrounds are utilised often, and I was pleased with how much they added to the overall spooky ambience. Even when Joe the plumber is investigating the basement, there is a great unearthly throbbing that resonates from the rear stations and suffuses the room. Some swirling wind is also afforded the requisite steerage, again adding to the spooky tone, and thunder rolls out ominously across the top.
The horrible crunching sound of the amassed spider attack is splendidly wrought. You can really hear some skin-crawling crackling effects on the soundtrack that crisp and crack their way across the soundstage, and there is the finely reproduced impression of scratches made upon steel and glass to help set the teeth on edge. The blasts from the good doctor's medicinal Magnum are embellished in that typically over-the-top Italian manner, but Arrow seem to have resisted the temptation to have them positively roaring around the soundfield. We do get the splattery drizzle of the little girl's brains coming across though.
I enjoyed the surround remix regardless of those odd little dialogue dips, and The Beyond is given a pretty decent shot in the arm thanks to its added atmosphere and presence.
As usual, Arrow have come up with the goods again, and piled a whole bloody heap of extra features to add to any gorehound’s appreciation of this jaded classic.
We have multiple sleeve options, a mini-poster and quite a substantial collectible booklet that contains pieces written by Eli Roth and Arrow/High Rising alumnus Calum Waddell, and even a reasonably comprehensive interview with none other than Al Cliver!
The film has an introduction, spoken in rambling bad English by Cinzia Monreale, and the still enormously attractive actress (who plays the blind and doomed Emily) also sits down for an interesting interview specially commissioned for this release, which lasts for 25 minutes. This session includes a number of choice clips from The Beyond, as well as some footage from Beyond The Door (BD release on the way, folks!), but allows the extremely well-preserved Cinzia to wax lyrical about her experiences on the set with Fulci, and about how much she admires the finished movie. Time and again, this sort of thing becomes quite amusing to watch, because although we love this stuff we also know that we are really just part of a very small minority. To hear the actress, who, incidentally, has most of her head torn away in the movie, you would think that she appeared in a bonafide work of cinematic art. Though, to be fair, to some of us, The Beyond is.
There are a duo of commentary tracks.
The first features the film’s British stars Catriona MacCall and David Warbeck. Now, I’ve met the late Warbeck, and found him to be incredibly down-to-earth and completely savvy to the fact that he made some trashy, but cult-adored movies, and his laconic presence here (overly enhanced here because of the intense medication that he was on at the time of recording) is just as warm and engaging. Both he and MacColl are great friends and have certainly enjoyed some considerable fan-circuit appreciation, so they completely understand that they are talking to like-minded people. Therefore, this chat is extremely light-hearted and entertaining, full of playful reminiscences and ribald humour. Their combined memories occasionally let them down, but their critique of the film, and of their co-stars and, especially, of Fulci, represents priceless stuff for fans. Warbeck does attempt to inveigle some innuendo in from time to time – so hats off for that! He even discusses the notorious dispute he had with Lucio over the consequences of shooting blanks at someone at close range, and he is keen to point out the supposedly deliberate instance in which we see his character attempt to reload his Magnum revolver by putting bullets down the end of the barrel! What makes this sequence in the film even better is that you can clearly see MacColl beginning to laugh before the elevator door closes.
A much less entertaining chat-track comes from Fulci's daughter, Antonella, who is prompted by Calum Waddell. Plenty of personal memory is brought to bear, and it is certainly nice to hear from someone so close the source, but this is still a somewhat charmless way to spend the film.
Now, I've said this before, and I don't want to sound like I'm grumbling just for the sake of it, but there are a couple of things about these releases that still bother me. Firstly, although the animated title sequences for the specially made featurettes are nice and imaginative and perfectly homage-laden, they go on for too long. And, secondly, and far more importantly, I feel, is that Mr. Waddell really should sit out of the Q & A sessions, or at least much further away from the main participants. In the session we have here with MacColl at the Glasgow screening of The Beyond, the camera is set up so that he is the first and foremost person in the frame … and you can't help but be distracted by his twitchy, swivelling head and little additions. I know he is responsible for bringing these gems to us, and I totally applaud him for all his hard work in producing the features and procuring the cast and crew for such mini-docs and fan-circuits, but please, Calum, you need to step back a bit to allow your guests room to breathe.
There is an Easter Egg on this disc entitled Open Your Eyes … but I'll have to open mine a little wider because I couldn't find it..
Over on the DVD, we get a reasonable half-hour in the company of Giannetto De Rossi, the man responsible for some of the genre's most insanely horrible makeup effects. He talks us through his most celebrated shock FX, from the devouring of PC Craig in Living Dead At Manchester Morgue through to some razor-blading of eyes in The New York Ripper, giving away some secrets, and he also attempts to discuss the nature of the beast that is Italian Cinema. It is obviously great to see the man behind the gore, but this featurette becomes a bit rambling and unfocussed and, in truth, only really pays his talents lip service.
There's a half hour spent listening to Catriona MacColl again … as she talks about her memories of working on The Beyond. Lots of repeated anecdotes here, folks, and the whole thing comes across as slightly tired and, to be honest, gets to become a droning bore. I can't believe I'm saying that, you understand, because I thought that I could never tire of such things … but this begins to feel like flogging a dead horse, especially as nothing new seems to be forthcoming.
We get something slightly different in the form of an interview with Fulci US film distributor Terry Levine, who gives us a twenty minute chronicle of his life and times in the film industry, from Fox to Disney, to the low budget exploitation and sleaze flicks that would become his bread and butter. He tells us about how marketed such films as Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox, Fulci's The Beyond and Doctor Butcher MD (aka Zombies Holocaust), renaming them where necessary and Anglicising the names of the foreign cast and crew to broaden their appeal. We learn how he and his company cut together trailers and utilised some quite graphic stills, and often unorthodox advertising methods to promote these guerilla features. He seems quite honest and frank about his ethics and even takes time to decry the false assertion that it was Quentin Tarantino who gave The Beyond its second lease of life. In all, this is quite a good little piece that dissects one of the unsung components of getting such films out to audiences.
And then, finally, alongside the film's International Trailer, we get to see the fabled prologue sequence in proper colour – not the favoured sepia tint, and not black and white … but colour. The source is ropey, culled from the German version, and the effect is not as good as the atmospheric sepia, but it is still much better than the monochrome, which, on BD, just looks horribly artificial.
Arrow bestow a lavish package once again, and I cannot fault their efforts and diligence in creating so much material for such a niche movie. But I'm getting the impression, as these releases roll by, that sometimes they are possibly labouring the point a little needlessly. But hey, what would you rather have? Lots of middling supplementals … or nothing at all? Aye, this is the way to go.
One of Fulci’s best and most entertaining forays into the wild extremes of Italian splatter, The Beyond hits Blu-ray with a troubled, yet still desirable release from Arrow Video. The botched UK transfer of that awesome prologue is, without a doubt, a massive let-down – and certainly something that should make people hold back until the shelves are fitted-out with the corrected copies. And I look forward to being able to amend this review appropriately once this has been properly addressed. However, there are still many people who look down upon Arrow, and this transfer, overall, is hardly going to persuade them otherwise. Personally, I admire the colours, the detail in those flamboyantly grotesque killings, and the greater sense of depth afforded the image. The smeary and sometimes sparkling grain, though, is a different matter, and one that makes the picture look overly processed at times. Yet I can't knock the audio mix which really seems to take such a vintage, though deliberately excessive sound design and provide it with an even deeper and more accommodating environment in which to present its blood-sapping wares. There are plenty of woefully lame signal extensions to older mixes, but Arrow do seem able to provide some enjoyably enveloping dimensionality to their sonic rejuvenations.
And, for fans of Fulci, you really couldn't ask for more when it comes to the added value that the label adorns this release with. The best of the two commentaries has been heard before, but it is still great fun, and the variety of featurettes may stretch a little thin, but there is plenty to get stuck into here.
Another notorious Video Nasty gets a well-earned reprieve, but it is amazing just how effective this occult chiller really is. Lucio Fulci was never better, and even if it makes you mourn the fact that the eccentric little auteur could never get his hands on a more sophisticated screenplay, The Beyond makes it abundantly clear that he was as much a master at crafting brooding Gothic atmosphere as he was at depicting relentless inter-personal mayhem. Proof that they don't make 'em like they used to, The Beyond is a tour de force that truly dips its claws into the frightening possibilities of the supernatural at the same time as ladling on the gore.
Highly recommended … once Arrow sort their transfer out.
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