What can you say about Fulci that hasn’t already been said? I wonder that as I begin writing this in the middle of a rainy night. This isn’t a post that’ll change anyone’s mind about his work and the relative artistic merits (or total lack of them). But it’s one of my favorite films and I’d like to opine on it for awhile. Please indulge me.
The film starts in flashback — 1927, Louisiana, the Seven Doors Hotel. A mob is convinced an artist is a warlock, so they crucify him, opening one of the Seven Doors of Death — allowing the dead into our world. Coincidentally, Liza — our heroine from New York City — inherits the hotel and her renovations reopen the door.
From there on out, Fulci says, “Cazzo la tua realtà” and embraces his worst impulses. The only way I can fully explain the craziness of this film is if I just list each insane moment in one long paragraph. Joe the plumber — not the political one — discovers a flooded cellar and gets his eye ripped out (if you’re playing a Fulci drinking game based on injuries to eyes and women, prepare to be the most inebriated you have ever been). A blind woman, Emily, and her dog, Dickie, inform Liza that she should stop. Joe’s wife and daughter try to claim his corpse, but the mother has her face slowly — “Sempre così lentamente!” I can hear Fulci yell from his director’s chair — burned off by acid and her daughter becomes one of the undead (zombies appear, drink three times) until she is shot by a bullet that sends her entire head spraying all over the screen in one of the most shocking scenes in pretty much all of film. Emily tells Liza to never enter room 36, but she does and discovers the ancient book Eibon and the still-crucified artist. Oh hey — Emily isn’t real — she’s trapped in the past and reaching out to us now, but her dog goes bad and tears her throat out. A dude falls off a ladder, gets paralyzed and the slowest death ever — a face eaten by spiders — occurs. Joe the plumber rises from a bathtub in a shot that rips off (pays homage to) 1955’s Diabolique and pushes a woman’s head through a nail, her eye being destroyed as a result (twice in one movie!).
Whew — so much happens that you may feel like you’re in a dream. That’s the way I see this film — a voyage from one terror to another, as one experiences nightmares that don’t seem to end. I see a lot of similarities to Jodorowsky in Fulci’s work. There’s no nuance — it’s all eyeballs popping, faces exploding, death upon death — but it’s there.
Fulci saw this film as having the closest to a happy ending that he would film. I’m not certain I agree — but it certainly is memorable. And if you haven’t seen it, why should I spoil it for you? I was ready for 2016’s The Void — a movie that could be a spiritual successor to this film — to end exactly the same way. There’s also a reference in 2015’s Fulci loving We Are Still Here, as the handyman who unleashes the evil in the house is named Joe the Electrician.
This film was butchered — irony? — for years, with a heavily censored version playing in the U.S. as Seven Doors of Death. It wasn’t until the efforts of Grindhouse Releasing that the uncut version was finally shown in American movie houses. Fun fact — Grindhouse’s Bob Murawski is a film editor who used a shot from the spider bite sequence in the spider bite dream sequence of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.
Even the original title of the film — …E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà (…And You Will Live in Terror! The Beyond) — is great. I’ve written before about how evangelical I can get when discussing a movie that I really love. I promise that if you ever speak to me in person about The Beyond that my eyes will get crazy and I will grow very animated and make a big deal out of a film that Roger Ebert famously derided by saying, “The movie is being revived around the country for midnight cult showings. Midnight is not late enough.”
It doesn’t matter — we cannot choose what we love. For pure atmosphere, dread and Fabio Frizzi’s incredible music, I end up watching this film quite often. Please try it for me. You can make fun of me afterward and I’ll still try to sell you on it.