I watched this near the beginning of the First Videodrome Era and thought I remembered only a couple things about it, but I think I was getting it mixed-up with Tenebrae and actually remember nothing about it. So here again, for the first time, The Beyond:

Louisiana 1927 (at least it’s not Maryland), two rowboats full of Southern white men bearing torches – this won’t be good. They accuse a dude of being a warlock, whup him with a chain, nail him to a wall then throw shovelfuls of boiling grits in his face.

54 years later, Liza (Catriona MacColl, screamer star of City of the Living Dead and House by the Cemetery) just bought the building where the grits murder took place, is having people fix it up when a painter falls to his near-death after spotting a dead-eyed woman. Liza is fond of the dreamy attending doctor David Warbeck (Fulci’s Black Cat), and unaware of the gate to hell in her new building’s basement. Joe The Plumber (who looks just like Chris Meloni in Wet Hot American Summer) is the first to dig around down there and get his face clawed off, then his whole family goes to the hospital to identify the body and is murdered by the undead.

Martha The Maid:

I thought Martha The Maid (baddie of Inferno) was acting suspicious and would turn out to be the hotel’s demonic caretaker, but nope, Undead Joe shoves her head into a large nail (Fulci’s signature eyeball trauma). There is however a psychic blind girl (Cinzia Monreale of Beyond the Darkness: “We blind see things more clearly”) who knows the history of the place, but she might be a ghost. A dude investigating at the library gets his face chewed off by tarantulas, a doctor is killed by very much broken glass, and eventually dreamy Dr. Warbeck is defending the survivors against hospital zombies by shooting them all in the shirt pocket. Movie ends in an inexplicable surrealist hellscape, and would’ve ended a half hour sooner if all the characters didn’t keep repeating everything they say. Cool movie though – one of the better Italian horrors I’ve seen.

“The smell of the rooms… terrifies me.”

I should have known not to get too comfortable with Italian horror. After I unexpectedly loved City of the Living Dead, I ran out to get another Lucio Fulci movie. Can’t go wrong with this one, part of a trilogy with CotLD and The Beyond (which I remember enjoying a decade ago), right? Another bunch of nobodies getting inventively slaughtered by mysterious undead beings while all of humanity is threatened by something evil and inexplicable? But it was just a stupid haunted house movie full of detestable actors.

Opens on a mediocre note. A whiny, out-of-sync blond girl is yelling incessantly after her boyfriend Steve, until a knife through the head finally shuts her up. I didn’t hope this would set the pattern for the rest of the movie (people yelling someone else’s name incessantly for an hour then dying uneventfully) but it sure did.

Steve got killed:

I don’t think of five-year-old psychic creepy-eyed Scandinavian children as being named Bob, but this one is. Bob (Giovanni Frezza, who retired at age 12 after appearing in Demons) moves to a small town in Massachusetts (are all Italian horrors set in MA? See also CotLD and Ghosthouse) with his parents, beardy scholar Norman (Paolo Malco of New York Ripper, Escape 2000) and housewife Lucy (Catriona MacColl, lead screamer from the previous movie). Before they even get to the house, an also-creepy girl who may be a ghost tries to warn him not to go inside. But a five-year-old doesn’t have much authority within the family, so they do.

Shrill family:

Norman is picking up the research of a colleague who killed himself while staying in the house. So he’s a writer of some sort… in a house that drives people crazy… with a young psychic son. Very The Shining. But wait, there’s also an apparently evil babysitter straight out of The Omen – odd scene involving May and a decapitated mannequin warns us about her. But it turns out the babysitter (whom I immediately recognized from an early scene in Suspiria) never does anything evil and is eventually slaughtered by the leatherfaced monster in the basement.

Sexy babysitter:

There is some kind of plot intrigue which is never adequately explained. I like that about the Fulci and Argento movies of this era, that they suggest great mysteries and conspiracies of which we only learn small parts. The husband swears he’s never been to this town, but people recognize him. The girl who communicates with young Bob via the Shining roams around with her mom or somebody, staring at things and making vague warnings. And some realtors fret over whether they’ll be able to unload the Freudstein house (what an awesome name) in which the family is staying. I guess that one isn’t much of a conspiracy. Also there are zooms – lots of them. I don’t have a problem with that.

But the plot isn’t what’s important. What’s vital is that Bob seems to do most of the talking, and he is dubbed by an awful woman doing a shrill kid voice. And really, most of the movie is people walking slowly around calling somebody’s name. When anyone is evil, lying, or a ghost they act super obvious about it. And there are crying, whimpering sounds on the soundtrack all the time, even when Bob isn’t on screen. None of this is worth sitting through for a standard haunted-house movie. Admittedly it was still better than Ghosthouse, but if they’d lost Bob it could have been halfway decent instead of just not-altogether-terrible.

Freudstein:

There’s a cellar in the house, which is locked. And the lid to a tomb is in the hallway. “Wait a minute – if there’s a cellar, won’t that tomb just be sitting in the cellar under the hallway,” I thought, and sure enough the dead fellow (Dr. Freudstein: Giovanni de Nava, who played “Joe the Plumber” in Fulci’s The Beyond), looking somewhat like Baghead, is just lumbering around loose in the cellar. Stupid Norman goes on a goose chase to another town looking for Freudstein’s grave (didn’t CotLD also end with people looking for graves?) while the monster, having already stabbed a realtor (Dagmar Lassander, who went on to appear in Devil Fish) and beheaded the babysitter, threatens his family. But he makes it home just in time to prove totally ineffective, and I cheer as Bob gets permanent horrific psychological damage from watching his parents get killed by an undead maniac. Bob himself ends up in another dimension with the ghost girl, so maybe he got killed too, who knows?

Evil Dead connections: there is exposition via audio tape, and once while Lucy is alone, everything in the house starts making noise at once. Also: Bob calls his Curious George doll “Yogi” and someone says the line “I’ve lost all critical perspective!” Bob’s dad wastes some of our time in the library with Carlo De Mejo (surviving hero of City of the Living Dead – he was in Guardian of Hell this same year, which sounds like a better follow-up to CotLD than this turned out to be) and creepy librarian Gianpaolo Saccarola (who played “The gorilla” the next year in an Antonioni film – whether that was a character name or he was wearing a gorilla suit, it could only be a step up from this movie). Old Mary Freudstein (I assume that’s the woman with the little girl), Teresa Passante, had been in a Kirk Douglas flick called Holocaust 2000 which somehow never shows up on Turner Classic Movies.

With his pink gun and Curious Yogi, Bob prepares for battle:

“If those gates are left open it might be the end of humanity.”

So it’s called City of the Living Dead and arrives the year after Zombi 2, a semi-sequel to Night of the Living Dead, so you’d think it’d be a follow-up to that one. But the internet says it’s instead the first part of a trilogy with The Beyond and House by the Cemetery. But I’ve seen all those movies and this doesn’t seem to have anything to do with them. However, it’s one of the best Italian horrors I’ve seen, up there with Suspiria.

In Dunwich (which “was built on the ruins of the original Salem – the village of witches and heresy… and evil”), a priest (Fabrizio Jovine of Fulci’s The Psychic and Contraband) hangs himself in the cemetery, opening a gate to hell. Meanwhile in “New York,” Mary is in a seance circle screaming “I see the dead” until she drops dead herself. I can see why Catriona MacColl was cast as Mary – she’s quite a committed screamer, and unafraid of taking an axe to the face in the name of filmmaking, as we see later when crabby too-good-for-this-movie Christopher George (Enter the Ninja, The Day Santa Claus Cried) hears her screaming and grudgingly rescues her from a coffin. Oh also when the cops are called to the seance circle, a dubbed detective interrogates everyone about drugs while a guy (who is definitely not an actor) stuffed into a cop suit stands awkwardly in the background, all of which I found unaccountably wonderful.

Mary, doing what she does best:

Back to the movie, if the gates of hell are gonna open and we’re gonna have a city of the living dead, we will need lots of victims, so Fulci gives us a bunch of indistinguishably dubbed zombie-fodder characters, along with extreme close-ups on all their eyes.

Future victims Bob and Emily:

Sandra (Janet Agren of Red Sonja, Eaten Alive) is seeing psychiatrist Jerry (Carlo De Mejo of Un homme est mort) when Emily (Antonella Interlenghi of The Birdcage 3) totally barges in without knocking to announce that she has to see Bob (Giovanni Radice of Cannibal Ferox, Cannibal Apocalypse) that night. Bob is the local maladjusted deviant, just the kind of person a young hottie in an Italian horror movie should be hanging out with. But Bob doesn’t kill her, exactly, just pushes her aside to escape when the hanged priest appears and smears wormy grime into her face. Not the coolest death scene in the world, but they make up for it with the coolest death scene in the world, when Daniela Doria (who spent her whole acting career playing victims in Fulci movies) and Michele Soavi (star of Demons 5 & 6, then director of Demons 3 & 4 – oh Italy, you have no respect for sequel continuity) are making out in a car when the priest appears and stares at them until she silently vomits out all her insides while bleeding from the eyes, then grabs the boy and pulls his brains through his skull with her bare hands.

Meanwhile Emily’s dad finds out she’s dead, goes looking for Bob, then drills a hole in his head. Emily later returns as a zombie to haunt and kill her family, but her little brother escapes and meets up with the psychiatrist and the blonde. Oh also there are three guys in a bar who are always afraid of zombies and gates to hell, but never do anything or leave the bar, until they’re finally all killed in the end… I can’t figure if that was supposed to be humor. And an undertaker at “Moriarity and Sons” (got an extra “i” in there) funeral home is eaten by a corpse.

The hanged priest with a handful of wormy grime:

All of our protagonists (Jerry the beardie psychiatrist, blonde Sandra, resurrected Mary and bitter newsman Pete) meet up in the graveyard looking for the dead priest, then an evil wind machine blows a million worms into the window of their hotel room. From the DVD extras I learned that Fulci’s effects looked so good because they were real: he really swung an axe a half-inch from Mary’s face, truly made Daniela Doria vomit up sheep guts, and he sure enough blasted a million worms into a hotel room right into the screaming faces of his stars. In case you didn’t figure it out on your own, crew members also tell us that Fulci hated actors.

The killing method of choice from now on will be squeezing the brains through the skull with one’s bare hands – first dead Emily does Sandra, then dead Sandra does the reporter (yay, he is finally dead).

The beardy psychiatrist (why does he get to be the hero?) stabs the priest in the balls with a cross, then he and Mary climb out of grave. The kid (with two cops) sees and happily runs towards them. They’re happy at first but then Mary is afraid, yells nooo, freeze frame, black tendrils across picture. What was that? What happened?

Movie was partly shot in Savannah, which is exciting to me.