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Archive for November, 2008

Beyond the Beyond

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Wow! The Beyond has for ages been one of my favorite horror movies. I mean what’s not to love? Loads of gore, torture, man eating spiders, zombies, evil books, haunted hotels, gateways to hell, and virtually no plot getting in the way of the story. Decades after first seeing it on video, the surreal horror masterpiece still holds it’s power.

There really is no way of describing the story of The Beyond as there scarcely is a plot. The film exists almost entirely in dream logic, and trying to describe it in any meaningful way is like telling your dream to someone and we all know how interesting that is! There are major visual moments that act as plot points including the crucifixion of the painter in the opening scenes of the film. The sudden appearance of the blind psychic Emily, standing with her German Shepard guide dog on the middle of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in New Orleans, is one of the more jarring, non gore moments of the movie. The city of New Orleans with it’s raised tombs and wrought iron architecture of the French Quarter and Garden District lend a great deal of atmosphere to the proceedings.

The Beyond is actually one of the best H.P. Lovecraft adaptations, even though it isn’t actually based on Lovecraft. It does dabble in Lovecraftian mythology (as did Fulci’s earlier Gates of Hell aka City of the Living Dead). The setting is New Orleans replacing New England, but the huge house with it’s hidden secrets, the gateway to hell and the Book of Eibon all point to Lovecraft as does the whole feel of the film.

Lucio Fulci sometimes gets a bad rap for being merely a gore director. True, his horror films certainly push the vomit levels, but you often can sense something stronger than merely bloodletting in his approach, be it with Zombie 2, Gates of Hell or Manhattan Baby. The Beyond is where he finally puts it all together and creates fascinating piece of visual cinema, unencumbered by the necessity for coherent plot. It is easily his best and most important contribution to modern horror cinema.

Like some other Lucio Fulci films, The Beyond has had a spotty record on home video. A heavily censored version called Seven Doors to Death have floated around for years, and pales in comparison to the proper version. Of course this isn’t nearly as bad as the infamous swapped reals in some video versions of Fulci House By the Cemetery. Parts of the film were mastered out of sequence so people who had died earlier in the film suddenly showed back up with no explanation, causing the film to be thought of quite poorly. Of course this new deluxe edition of The Beyond suffers from none of that nonsense. A very sharp widescreen transfer is graced with stereo and mono English audio, Italian audio, and a really rollicking commentary track with stars Catriona MacColl and the late David Warbeck. The disc also has interviews, music videos, alternate scenes, and trailers.

The Last Man on Earth

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend has officially been made into three movies. 2007’s I Am Legend being the most recent, 1971’s The Omega Man being the most famous, and 1964’s The Last Man on Earth being the best of the three. This isn’t to say it is a great film, but it is quite entertaining and very influential.

The Italian made film The Last Man on Earth stars Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan, a solitary man who lives his life alone, following a worldwide plague that has some how missed him and killed the lucky ones. The unlucky ones are turned into vampires. Morgan spends his days searching vainly for other survivors and killing vampires. He spends his nights barricaded in his house, drinking, while the vampires attack his house and taunt Morgan. This goes on and on until one day he sees a woman walking about in broad daylight. Morgan eventually finds her again, thrilled to no longer be alone, but all is not as it appears!

The Last Man on Earth, directed by Ubaldo Ragona, is quite visually striking, especially considering the miniscule budget the film was shot on.  There are gaping plot holes, but Ragona keeps the action moving at a brisk pace so you don’t have a lot of time to dwell on them.

Vincent Price gives one of his better performances as the determined and desperately lonely Robert Morgan.  Just going through his daily routine you can feel the despair, boredom, and loneliness.  The widescreen compositions aid tremendously in showing the emptiness of Morgan’s existence.  The film when cropped to 4:3 becomes nothing but VIncent Price closeups.

The film has had a lasting influence on the world of horror and science fiction cinema as George Romero was heavily influenced by the scenes of Morgan waiting out the Vampires in his boarded up house when making Night of the Living Dead.

Legend Films has a new DVD of Last Man on Earth.  Despite a misprint on the DVD cast the film is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  If you’ve only seen this on TV or public domain video, then you really haven’t seen it.  I was really taken by how much was truly missing off the screen in the dark, cropped transfers that are floating around out there.  The disc has both colorized and black and white versions of the movie, but I recommend the original black and white version.

As far as extras on the disc, there are some trailers for other Legend DVD releases and a half hour TV show called It Happened in Hollywood.  The show appears to be a look at the making of different genres of film.  The show is hosted by Vincent Price, and the episode is about westerns.  There are lots of clips from unnamed, ancient, westerns, and really rudimentary inside information about back lots and stunt work, but the real treat is to see Vincent Price dressed as a cowboy!