It’s that time of year again. Can you feel it?
The time when the shadows begin to loom a little longer, the nights start to get a little colder, and the trees take on the form of so many skeletal claws. The season of witches, of demons, and of goblins. The season that we celebrate the harvest, the dead, the masquerade.
It is the one time of the year that our own world comes within reach of the spirit realm… almost close enough to allow all of Hell itself to break loose.
We’re talking about the merry occasion of Halloween, of course!
Hundreds of years old, the spirit of the holiday still lives strong and its influence can be found lurking in many an entertainment. Its traditions and trappings, both time-honored and contemporary, have been coded into the vernacular of motion pictures as well, finding particular prominence in—naturally—horror films.
For those brave souls wanting to shake up some seasonal spooks, the following list serves as a guide to a few films that echo with the cries of the ghosts of Halloweens past. Some are raucous with blood and screams; others are as chilling as an autumn wind. Either way, they reflect all the diverse facets of our macabre festivities.
Join us as we count down from one end of the witching hour to the next and celebrate the most joyously black holiday of them all.
|The Evil Dead (1982)|
October 31st, 12:00 AM
What better way is there to ring in the holiday than with a little late night party?
That’s just what Ash and his friends figure… but they decide to one-up the conventional partier by staging their little jamboree in a creaky, dusty, and all around ramshackle cabin in the middle of a Candarian demon-infested forest!
The first chapter in Sam Raimi’s horror comedy trilogy is a rollicking ride that never lets up once the first blow is delivered. From the adrenaline-rushing camerawork to its mood of pure, visceral chaos, The Evil Dead still stands as an example of independent filmmaking at its most wild and darkly imaginative.
The characters’ fun in the movie starts out innocent enough: drinking a little spiked punch; giving each other a few harmless scares; listening to the recording of the creepy old guy talking about spirits. That’s before it becomes a true Devil’s Night party—full of mischief and terror—but one that goes terribly, irreversibly wrong.
The dance music gives way to the incessant chanting of the demons. The revelers are relieved of their insides not by booze but by an ax’s rending blade. And the coital relationship that inevitably sparks during these gatherings is given a hideous twist when one partner comes in the form of an offending, ambulatory tree.
Once we get to the final reel, this shindig reaches its unholy zenith. Humans and possessed corpses alike scream in infernal rage, melting and bleeding into maggoty piles of crumbling clay. Each gunshot and door slam becomes the crash of a mountain. Physical dimensions sway, objects lose substance, furniture moves of its own volition.
Truly, Ash’s descent into shrieking insanity could just as much be delirium induced by binge drinking as the impingement of supernatural forces upon the little cabin. Of course, he’s not that lucky. And as our beleaguered hero finds out after his night of debauchery, the worst headache is still yet to come in the morning.
Party on, Ash. Halloween’s just begun.
October 31st, 2:00 AM
It’s the early morning hours. But you’re still wide awake. You want to test your bravery, do something daring. You’ve heard the stories and rumors about the figure in the mirror. All you have to do is look into the glass and say their name. Just five times… and they’ll appear.
Do you dare invoke them?
This is the central conceit of Candyman, the 1992 cinematic adaptation of author Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden.” It deals with our inherent fascination with folklore and the subconscious role we all play in constructing the mythic figures that we look up to—as well as the ones that haunt us.
The idea of peering into a reflective glass in order to conjure a vision goes back to one of Halloween’s oldest traditions. Starting in the late 19th century, it was a popular custom for young, unmarried women to look into mirrors by the light of a candle on Halloween night in the hopes of seeing the face of their future husbands.
But the face that Helen sees in her mirror is not one from the future but the past. And Tony Todd’s proposal is not the one a groom would typically make. “Be my wife” becomes the decidedly sinister “Be my victim.”
Helen is his victim, right from the moment that she crawls through the creepy painting of Candyman’s yawning maw like a sweet little treat. She makes a descent into an underworld of society’s own making, one of blood and despair that finds its physical representation in the seedy ghetto that serves as the film’s dreary backdrop.
Helen’s betrothed isn’t one to take “no” for an answer either. Instead of a ring, he offers his bloody hook as a symbol of their bond. He seals their unholy wedlock with a bee-crawling kiss. And their love is consummated in literal flames of passion, burning them both to extinction.
Or does it? As the ending of the film tells us, you can’t kill a legend. And we as humans can’t resist the urge to challenge these legends, the same kind of urge we live out each Halloween by facing our fears and poking the boogeyman with a stick.
So go on. Call his name.
What are you afraid of?
October 31st, 4:00 AM
Rod Serling was the first to give a name to the strange passage of time that occurs before the dawning of a new day. He used the phrase “twilight zone” to describe a possible fifth dimension, but its hallmarks are ones that are inherent in those grey moments leading up to sunrise.
The land becomes a place of both shadow and substance, the enlightened knowledge of man just as prescient as his superstitious fears of the dark. It is when the Earth is literally caught between two opposing worlds.
This notion goes back to Halloween’s earliest days, as the end of October was seen to be the one occasion in the year when our human world skimmed the black pool of the spirit realm with a clammy hand. And when this surface was broken, fairies and spirits of the dead would cross over to plague the living.
Don Coscarelli’s ultra-weird cult film Phantasm is what happens when that black pool ripples. Our heroes, brothers Jody and Mike and friend Reggie, are faced with incomprehensible visions from another realm after the siblings’ brother is killed, an act that could be seen as either the summoning ritual for all the film’s other horrors or just another moment from a world gone irretrievably mad.
It’s true that right from the start things seem to be a little bit off in the film’s universe. The undertaker at Morningside Cemetery seems just a touch too tall and powerful. The chittering noises heard amongst the graves sound unlike the cry of any animal (or human). People seem to walk too slowly and voices are disembodied as if in a dream.
The source of all this strangeness comes in the form of a doorway (behind another doorway); namely, a gateway into another dimension (the fifth?) where the wind screams with the cries of a dying god and hooded ghoul-things serve their infernal master the Tall Man to unknown ends. This world is like autumn in overdrive, the sky all bloody-red over dead, dead earth, a nightmarish reflection of the fall season we see Jody and Mike traverse through on Earth-1.
In fact, everything is in overdrive in Phantasm. With these two worlds in such close proximity, the terrors come fast, hard, and oh-so-bizarre. The Tall Man isn’t only an inter-dimensional warlock, but he spurts blood the color and consistency of cheese fondue. And he has the power to transform into a beautiful lady in lavender. And the bodies of the recently dead are being shrunken down to act as dwarf miners and general attackers. Not to mention the flying silver spheres that fly about and eagerly drill into people’s skulls.
When it comes to the hours of twilight, the tension from the two worlds is enough to rip your mind in half. And to think that it’s not even daybreak yet.
|Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)|
October 31st, 6:00 AM
Dawn. The sun’s glimmering rays begin to peek over the horizon, awaking the world to another Halloween day. And in the fields of billowing wheat and whispering corn, the scarecrow continues his silent vigil, watching over his crops with black, empty eyes.
He is the harvester of fear.
The “living scarecrow” subgenre is certainly a niche market, with only a few entries to its name. Dark Night of the Scarecrow is an exceptional example, in addition to being perfect seasonal viewing.
The humble tale of supernatural vengeance that serves as the tele-movie’s dramatic crux supports a surprisingly effective thriller, one that utilizes one of the most dominant fixtures of autumnal iconography, the baggy scarecrow.
The one used here is a chilling entity, his potato sack-head looking like the central subject of
Edvard Munsch’s “The Scream” and his tall, lumbering gait recalling the imposing stature of Frankenstein’s monster.
When a group of self-righteous vigilantes gun down a mentally handicapped man—who in his terror disguises himself in the clothes of a raggedy scarecrow—they fix the incident to look like they had done it as an act of self-defense. Their testimony grants them freedom from the law, but as any avid genre viewer will know, the long arm of cosmic justice will duly grasp these cretins in a stranglehold.
And boy does it. Next thing you know our friend the scarecrow is making short work of dispatching his tormentors, doling out death by the hayful.
However, despite his liveliness, the scarecrow does very little direct slaughtering himself, relying instead on his victim’s tortured minds tripping them up and leading them to bring about their own demise. Much like the way actual scarecrows act as effigies of fear, all this one has to do is show up in a place where he doesn’t belong… and let his victims do the rest.
Through the deft use of shadow and suggestion, this straw-man becomes an unstoppable force, an old-world god made from the earth who reaps dark souls and waters his fields with the blood of the damned.
All his victims can do—and they do—is kneel at his feet and pray for forgiveness at the point of his avenging pitchfork.
Not bad for a guy with no brain.
October 31st, 8:00 AM
If you’re unlucky (and young) enough to go through Halloween on a weekday, chances are that means you’re stuck behind a desk, peripherally listening to a teacher prattle on about the economy of Inuit tribes as you dream of late night candy hunting and going to a swinging costume party.
But if you’re really unlucky, the school you’re going to is the Tanzakademie from Dario Argento’s Suspiria.
While a student in any normal institution might hear about witchcraft in their history class, young Suzy Banyon is given a first-hand demonstration thanks to the fact that the academy she is attending is ruled by Helena Markos—an ancient sorceress—along with her followers and familiars.
Witches have figured into Halloween’s history for hundreds of years, as the night of Samhain was one of the special occasions in which they would hold their Sabbat. Practitioners of witchcraft have been typified in cinema as both good and evil, but the ones seen here are depicted as terrible, withered beasts who crave the blood of young girls.
These witches are not of the pointy-hat-and-broomstick variety though. They recall the conniving women of Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife, but their methods are distinctly bloodier. They prefer getting their claws dirty, seen especially in the film’s tour de force murder sequence when a student privy to the school’s dark secret meets a hideous death wherein her exposed heart is repeatedly stabbed and her body hung from makeshift noose for added, sadistic measure.
This sequence, along with others, perfectly captures the fever pitch of violence seen in Argento’s best work. The noir-esque qualities of Deep Red are abandoned here for a wholly fantastical feel, the stark, lavish visuals greatly bolstered by the score from Goblin which is at turns eerie, haunting, and bombastic.
What truly makes Suspiria a timeless treat is that, in the best tradition of Halloween, it marries the contradictory factions of beauty and horror into a successful union, one in which both parties benefit from the other. Dancing shadows on the wall look like the silhouettes of a ballet performance… this seen just before a dog rips out his master’s red, red throat.
The images, all awash in sapphire and scarlet, make this movie seem like a forgotten tale from the Brothers Grimm, one that was consciously excised due no doubt to the inevitable trauma it would cause upon reading it at bedtime.
Go ahead, skip school today and take in this magnificent spider’s web of sight and sound, glittering in gruesome-gorgeous Technicolor.
|I Walked with a Zombie (1943)|
October 31st, 10:00 AM
“Everything good dies here.”
So intones Paul Holland, Tom Conway’s tormented character from Val Lewton’s 1943 classic I Walked with a Zombie. The subject of Paul’s statement is San Sebastian, an island in the West Indies where he lives with his wife Jessica.
In a way this melancholy sentiment could be seen as a description of the fall season itself. As summer transitions to autumn, nature goes into a process of death that culminates with winter. Plants begin to wither; animals recede into their dens… the entire bounty of the earth disappears, leaving a barren land where life is a scarcity.
Paul’s malady in the film is quite similar. He has watched his wife Jessica transform from the vivacious woman he knew into an empty husk of her former self, her gaze nothing but a dead stare and her strolls through the plantation the wanderings of a spirit caught between two planes of existence.
Also caught in this land of death is Betty, the nurse charged with Jessica’s care. In an ironic turn, one of the very things that attracts Betty to the position is the prospect of moving from the snowy environs of Canada to the sun-kissed beaches of San Sebastian. But even when the sun is up, decay is ever present on the island, tainting each character’s soul and leading them to grief and resentment.
Betty’s famous nighttime journey to the houmfort with Jessica is like a horrifying trick-or-treating trip, rife with ominous road signs marking the path. Hollowed skulls are given voice by the wind, warning the two women away. The hanged corpse of a lamb recalls the storied rituals of pagan celebrations of the fall wherein animals were sacrificed to ancient gods.
Betty’s passage to the magical district on the island is her final resort to find an old world cure for her charge’s mysterious ailment. She accepts the darkness into her life—as we all do, at least once a year—and believes that only through the power of voodoo may Jessica cease to exist in her zombie-like state.
But in this land of eternal autumn where the shadow of black magic forever dwells, happiness and hope don’t have a chance of existing.
Not even the stars can live long enough to light the way.
|The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949)|
October 31st, 12:00 PM
When Washington Irving published his collection of essays and short stories entitled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. in 1820, he gave birth to one of the most enduring tales in all of American fiction. And, more importantly, he created the preeminent mascot of the Halloween season in the form of the Headless Horseman.
While seeing many adaptations over the years, it is the one produced by Disney Studios in 1949 that retains both Irving’s merry tone and the creepy spectacle of the beheaded spirit without losing any effect. The short film, voiced and sung in dulcet bari-tones by Bing Crosby, is a perfect treat for the little ones who want to get in on the spooky action.
The thin-as-a-rail schoolmaster Ichabod Crane makes the charming New York village of Sleepy Hollow his new home, much to the chagrin of ruffian Brom Bones who opposes to the teacher’s advances on pretty Katrina van Tassel. So in an effort to give Crane a good scare, Bones tells the whispered tale of the town’s local legend at a Halloween party.
And what a frightening spectre it is! The Headless Hessian recalls the apocalyptic terror of the Bible’s Four Horseman, looking to spread disease and death whilst riding upon their fire-snorting mares. There’s a visual wit at play when we see that the Horseman also bears a grinning jack o’ lantern in his hand, as the luminous vegetable serves as a replacement for the “gourd” that the Horseman lost long ago.
One facet of the holiday that is given a fair amount of presentation here is its festive quality, namely in the laying out of the feast. The feast is all that has been tended over and cultivated throughout the year, harvested now to satisfy and appease our appetites before the dread chill of winter creeps over. We can’t help but be filled with a warm satiation when watching Ichabod gobble up pies and drumsticks with relish.
This is cleverly used to contrast Crane’s later journey through the haunted wood upon his faithful mare Gunpowder. The wind cries through ragged branches, making Ichabod shiver with fright. A feeling of emptiness and isolation permeates, given macabre flourish when the Horseman—his gaping neck-hole emitting resonant cackles—makes his dramatic entrance.
Ichabod’s flights of imagination during his night ride are especially tickling in their relativity: who among us has never fancied the crunching of underbrush as the sign of a stalker’s tread or the cries of the fauna voices calling out our name?
Let The Legend of Sleepy Hollow show the kids that Halloween is a time for fun and feasting. And, if they’re brave enough, an ideal night for a stroll through the ghostly wood. Just tell them to be sure not to lose their way. Or their heads.
|The Exorcist (1973)|
October 31st, 2:00 PM
Christmas and Thanksgiving may bring people together under the twinkling lights of companionship and brotherhood, but Halloween has always shirked those qualities in favor of darkness. It doesn’t bring us together so much as it corners us, asking us directly the eternal question: “What is it that you fear?” Halloween makes us aware of the monsters in the world and our own personal mortality and dares us to laugh at them. Or scream.
As such, innocent fun is made of losing a little bit of our innocence each year. Or all of our innocence, as in the case of young Reagan MacNeil.
Reagan tries to have a little innocent fun herself when she plays with a Ouija board she finds in her Georgetown home. She even makes a friend in the process, an invisible companion named Captain Howdy. Her cherubic face lights up when she tells her mother about him. She’s contacting the spirit world, getting a little taste of the forbidden.
But as two wanderers in Eden once discovered, a little taste can lead to a complete descent into corruption. And once the forces of darkness are awakened in the film, they cover everything, smothering the characters in shadows. Mrs. MacNeil’s candle is blown out by a demonic breath. Pazuzu’s livid face emerges from inky space. Father Karras’ iconic silhouette is a hopeful outline in a sea of gloom. It’s a wonder that anyone here can find their way under the shade of Satan’s wing.
Reagan, for her part, is transformed into a blasphemous version of her former self. Her dalliance with the Dark Side has corrupted her body and soul—especially body. She becomes a kind of perverse exaggeration of what extreme evangelists view as the effect that Halloween’s apparent evil and immorality engenders in the public, specifically in children.
So appropriately her skin breaks open in bleeding sores in a most unholy type of stigmata, prayers to God are traded in for demands to perform oral sex in the underworld, and the consumption and taking in of Christ’s body becomes the foul outpouring of bile.
But despite all the horror and the blood and the sacrilege, The Exorcist is a film about bravery, about being able to recognize your demons and face them when the chips are down. If we want to have any kind of hope of making it through this life, we have to gaze into that wailing abyss and battle the monsters.
Even when it terrifies us. Especially when it terrifies us.
October 31st, 4:00 PM
Well. Of course.
John Carpenter’s perennial slasher film has gone down in the annals of horror film history, as pure an example of true quality filmmaking emerging from the most modest of means as there ever was in the genre.
Despite the fact that the crew had to actually import colored leaves into the California shooting locale in order to simulate the fall season, it has not changed the fact that Halloween remains the film to watch during autumn time amongst its admirers.
Its innovations and complexities have been studied by fans and academics alike since its premiere. It continues to captivate attention and invoke fear to this day. The tale of a madman set loose in a sleepy neighborhood still resonates years later.
Who can suppress a shudder when young Michael Myers stands in front of his house, dumbfounded by his crime and a knife wet with his sister’s blood clutched in his hand? It shocks us not for just the act in of itself, but for the process that it is catalyzing. We are watching a monster being born.
Carpenter’s film mines the same vein as Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, exposing the monster lurking behind the unassuming façade of the man next door. But whereas Anthony Perkin’s angular, puppy dog face belied his true dark nature, the mask that Michael wears is a chillingly blank slate completely free of any human emotion, a bone-white visage with the obsidian eyes of a lost soul.
Not only is Michael’s mask a frightening creation in of itself, but it also a mirror for our own collective fears. Dr. Loomis warns us that the boogeyman is in fact very real, but the underlying message here is that it could be anybody. Your schoolteacher. The mailman. The friendly old shopkeeper. Any one of them could be a Michael Myers.
This paranoia would become reality in the following decade with the great trick-or-treating scare that arose when rumors of razor blades being discovered in candy apples and other sweets began circulating. Those years there were boogeymen walking everywhere, eager to cause the innocent harm, even if all they incurred was some oral slashing on the part of a few horrified children.
Halloween has its share of memorable images, but perhaps the one that strikes the primal chord the hardest is Laurie’s terrified entreaty to the Doyle kids as she attempts to escape Michael. She looks over her shoulder and there he is: moving like a shadow amongst the windblown leaves across the street, closing in with each second.
Yes, the boogeyman is very real. He’s in your neighborhood. And he’s after you.
Tonight he has come home.
October 31st, 6:00 PM
As the sun begins to set on Halloween, those inhibitions that we keep pent up the other 364 days of the year begin to sneak out. Like the penumbras that gather with the coming of dusk, our own shadows beg to be let loose. We want to have fun. We want to be bad.
Author Clive Barker used his novella The Hellbound Heart as the basis for his 1987 directorial debut, Hellraiser. Much like Helen from Candyman who dared to tempt fate and the forbidden, the characters in Hellraiser seek to probe the darkness inside themselves as well as the darkness below. But whereas Helen was searching for some greater truth, the pursuit here is that of ultimate pleasure and transcendence.
But like any bargain made in a horror movie, this one comes with hidden clauses. Frank, the rogue who initially calls upon the scarred legion of Cenobites, finds out that the pleasure the demons have to deliver is elicited through extended mutilation and evisceration. And pleasure they give… by way of hook, spear, and blade.
Despite the blood and torn flesh that coats the screen, Barker’s film can’t help but remain extremely sensual, an orgy of shredded muscle and weeping sores. The ensemble of the Cenobites look like hideous inversions of the “sexy” costumes that have become prominent Halloween party fixtures, their black leather suits exposing not nubile flesh but deathly-white skin and gory cavities that mock sexual anatomy.
And yet they still tempt us, making us ponder just what sights they have to show us… and if our souls could survive them unscathed.
During medieval times, bells would toll during Hallowmas to warn citizens of approaching spirits; Barker uses this same device in Hellraiser to herald the approach of the Cenobites. They are like trick-or-treaters that, once summoned by the Lament Configuration, will not leave once they have sated their terrible hunger.
And if you don’t give them what they want, they might play a few nasty tricks on you. Or just take a little piece of you with them.
Once the full darkness of night has descended, the revelers of Halloween don their masks and their costumes in order to dance under the light of the harvest moon. We assume the identity of other people (and other things) in the hopes of forgetting our worries and ourselves for a while. We can escape our lives for a little bit.
And try to escape death as well.
|The Masque of the Red Death (1964)|
October 31st, 8:00 PM
Roger Corman, the pioneering director of B-pictures ranging from It Conquered the World to The Trip, found a surprising compatriot in Edgar Allan Poe, the American horror author whose grotesque works of longing and degeneration fueled the creative fire for a series of adaptations helmed by Corman that remain classics of the genre.
The Masque of the Red Death is a high point, with Vincent Price essaying the role of the black-hearted Prince Prospero. Though a terrible plague known as the Red Death is ravaging the land, leaving a trail of blood-spackled cadavers in its wake, Prospero insists on having his annual masquerade. He flaunts his affluence and prestige as the Reaper stalks outside his castle door.
And what a masquerade it is. Corman uses the template developed by Poe in his original short story to visually powerful effect. The colors nearly leap from the screen, from the vibrant shades of Prince Prospero’s many chambers to the sinisterly scarlet robe of the Red Death himself. The film is a sumptuously Gothic piece, with all the period clothing and fog-enshrouded environs that a gloomy-hearted soul could ask for.
The piece de resistance here is of course the grand finale when the Red Death gains access to the Prince’s masquerade and turns his sinful gala into a vortex of horror. The revelers, all marked by the plague’s touch, eagerly press forward like a group of ravenous revenants as they go to claim Prospero.
The evil Prince for his part gets the shock of his life when he unmasks the Red Death to find his own hateful face staring back at him, The Prince has now become the Fool, the butt of a particularly hideous cosmic joke in which he finds that his greatest enemy was his own wicked soul.
So the next time you attend a costume party, make sure that you never forget who you are… and check to see that what lies beneath the mask isn’t the one thing you fear the most.
|House on Haunted Hill (1959)|
October 31st, 10:00 PM
Even though Halloween partly serves as the celebration of our fears, there’s a reason why the festivities weren’t abandoned long ago as being nothing but a morbid exercise.
It’s because we like it!
That’s right; facing what scares us is a cathartic experience, to the point that people actively seek out thrills for the pure fun of it. Screams eventually spill over into bursts of relieved laughter; faces change from shades of ghostly white to beet-red.
And who knew better how fun it was to be frightened than William Castle?
The lovable shlockmeister and showman was made famous for enlivening the premieres of his films with gimmicks that came straight from the dusty spookshows of yore. Audience members literally buzzed with terror from the electric shockers installed on their seats for The Tingler (1959); they eagerly put on their 3D glasses to watch out for the 13 Ghosts (1960) in their color-coded glory.
With House on Haunted Hill (1959), the haints came right into the theater—or at least a plastic skeleton that swung out over the audience in this case. The gleeful fun of these tricks was inherent in Castle’s films, especially House. In it a group of strangers gather at a millionaire’s reputedly spectered house to spend the night, a cool sum of money going to whoever will last the evening.
Watching this movie is like taking a cinematic trip through a haunted attraction. The manor includes secret panels and a burning pit of acid hidden in the basement. A fright-wigged banshee glides through corridors as if on a motorized track. Hairy hands grope at shoulders, animated ropes slither around ankles, decapitated dummy heads fall from hat boxes, ear-piercing screams are aplenty… Who could resist the idea of walking through a real House on the Hill?
We get a most appropriate host and narrator in Vincent Price, his sardonic wit chiding us along each darkened hallway, not unlike Paul Frees’ turn as the devilishly omniscient guide of Disney’s famous Haunted Mansion (Price himself would provide voicework for Disneyland Paris’ Phantom Manor version). And there’s Elisha Cook, performing the “Abandon Faith All Ye Who Enter” shtick to sweaty-lipped perfection.
When the animated skeleton makes its appearance and corners the wailing Carol Omhart during the sizzling climax, we want to shriek and cheer right along at the same time.
Even when Vincent comes out from the dark with his strings and pulleys to show us that it is, after all, show business, we remain eager to return to that house’s creaking doors and blood-bedewed ceilings for one more jolt.
|The Beyond (1981)|
November 1st, 12:00 AM
It’s a new day.
The last few eager children have long gone to bed, the jack o’ lanterns snuffed of their life, the streets empty and silent now except for the occasional, lonely scrape of a crinkled leaf.
The living are all sleeping. Now the dead may awaken.
Lucio Fulci may be more primarily known for the oozy and icky gore effects that he used to their maximum squirming impact in films like The New York Ripper (1982) and Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972). More famous is his retroactively dubbed “Gates of Hell Trilogy” which includes City of the Living Dead (1980), The House by the Cemetery (1981), and The Beyond (1981). Bizarre and deliriously violent as all three can be at times, it is The Beyond that truly lives to its collective moniker in depicting the end of all times.
When Catriona MacColl purchases the old hotel in the Louisiana bayous, she doesn’t realize that it’s actually placed directly over one of seven doorways to Hell. And it is through the underground caverns that the fetid, rotting corpses make their ascent, marking their entrance into our world by blinding the first human they come in contact with.
The enigmatic Emily is also sightless, but she is our Tiresias, one whose prophetic warnings are not taken to heart until it is too late… and whose canine companion is similarly provoked by supernatural forces to mutilate its handler as in Suspiria.
The marching of the zombies upon our terrain in the film isn’t so much an invasion as it is an inevitable shift, a changing of the seasons. The bells have been tolled for the spirits’ entry into our realm, ensuring that we shall have the bloodiest All Saint’s Day in history. Nothing is ever truly done to deter this onslaught. But then again, what can the characters do in the face of Armageddon?
The infamous line made immortal by George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) is given chilling truth in Fulci’s film: “When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth.”
Now that the dead are here, they are intent on making the earth another Hell. Carnivorous spiders devour with all the fury of a Biblical plague. Children are forced to watch as their mothers are baptized with acid. These same children are then in turn claimed by the Angel of Death, only to then have their faces blasted away by gunfire. In a world bereft of mercy, no one is spared.
And that includes our heroes. They’re left to wander in a land of shadow and rot, their eyes blinded to the utter wasteland that their home has become. They are spared of the sight, but we are not. This is what we will become, in time. This is the fate of the Earth. This is the end.
Happy Halloween, everybody.
Jose Cruz is a lover of all that is old and dust-coated, with a special creaky abbey of his heart reserved for horror. He has written pieces on film and literature for Classic-Horror.com and Paracinema Magazine. His blog The Grim Reader serves as host to reviews and ramblings of a curious nature, and his other compositional dabblings include prose fiction and stage plays. He lives with his wife and a very furry baby in southwest Florida.