The Critical Reception of ‘…E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà’ Abroad

The page of E tu vivrai nel terrore…L’aldilà (henceforth L’aldilà) in Il Cinematografo, in its reviews section, showcases perfectly the two main critical approaches to the movie – not only in Italy.

On the one hand, the first release of L’aldilà sparks a series of negative reviews that criticize its technical fallacies and bad writing. For instance, in Segnalazioni Cinematografiche, a reviewer writes: “It is a horror movie that, built on a semblance of a plot, lacks the progressive creation of a nightmare atmosphere, which is the fundamental requirement of this kind of entertainment. (vol. 81, 1981).

On the other hand, after gradually building up a cult status that peaks after the re-release by Grindhouse Releasing accompanied by the promotional relaunch by Quentin Tarantino, L’aldilà is read differently by the critics. At the 2004 Venice Film Festival, when it was presented in the section in the section Storia segreta del cinema italiano – Italian Kings of the B’s, Tullio Kezich writes in the Catalogue: “It can be noted that, between the banality of content and gory bad taste, an effective and even elegant cinematographic writing makes its way. This is thanks to Lucio Fulci, the unknown soldier of popular cinema”.

France

On the French academic side, more than L’aldilà itself, it is Lucio Fulci that has gained a lot of attention, especially after the Tarantino re-launch. For instance, in 2017 the director’s work was featured in a special section of Les Cahier du Cinéma (n. 733, May 2017) called Cinéma Retrouvé, where Vincent Malausa analysed a kind of horror that led to hypnotic effect, while Stéphane du Mesnildot focused on the “Living Dead” trilogy, with its recurring narrative themes and visual iconography.

On the website alocine.fr, which gathers both official reviews from magazines, journals, newspapers etc., as well as user reviews, L’aldilà has been commented on by 60 viewers, averaging 3.5 stars (of 5). Most of them praise the work of Lucio Fulci, deeming L’aldilà one of his best movies. The oneiric scenes are particularly appreciated, as well as the musical score, the horror sets and atmospheres. Even if most of them acknowledge that the film has its flaws, it is nevertheless recognized as a masterpiece.

The new DVD release also fostered a series of new reviews that focus on the images and the visual dimension of the film. On culturopoing.com, Emmanuel La Gagne gives a very detailed review of the image quality in relation to the film’s cinematography, aesthetics and iconography. He also comments at length on the work of Fulci’s crew, praising the technical expertise and contribution of the single professionals – from camera operator Sergio Salvati to special effects coordinator Giannetto De Rossi. Finally, he files L’aldilà under the “art film” label, since “benefitting of wonderful HD edition, The Beyond stands out as one of the most viscerally personal films of its auteur”.

UK

L’aldilà was not particularly appreciated upon its first UK release. Tim Pullein, in the BFI’s Monthly Film Bulletin, stated that that the film allows for “two or three visually striking passages”. However, “the film is still completely undone by its wildly disorganized plot” and made it even worse by the “sheer ineptitude” of English dubbing (vol. 48, no. 564, 1981, p. 243).

Again, things changed after 2010, with the cult and authorial status gained by Fulci. In 2018, for instance, the independent publishing house FAB Press published Beyond Terror. The Films of Lucio Fulci by Stephen Thrower, an informative and lavishly illustrated book on the director’s films that clearly targets his cult following and that is promoted as a celebration of “Italy’s Master of the Macabre”, which includes some “horror masterpieces like The Beyond.”

USA

Upon the 1983 release as Seven Doors of Death, the Los Angeles Time’s critic Kevin Thomas deemed the film visually “elegant”, but noted that, as thriller of the occult, “it’s overly familiar, just another rotting-flesh ghoul parade”. Similarly, Bill Kelley praised the film’s aesthetics in The Sun Sentinel. However, he also notes that “whenever someone in the film is trying to act, the camera is recording something that’s really not worth seeing”. Ultimately, he classifies the film as a “Z-grade horror movie”. Bill O’ Connor, in the The Akron Beacon Journal, criticized the plot for a lack of coherence, ironically commenting that “at the end of the movie, the dead walk… Then the people leave the movie theater. They look just like the dead people who walked out of the morgue. Maybe this is not an art movie. Maybe this is a documentary.”

Upon the film’s 1998 re-release, Roger Ebert extensively criticized the movie, mostly for its bad dialogues and incoherent plot. He also included it in a book of his “most-hated” movies (R. Ebert, I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie, Kansas City, Missouri: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2000, pp. 41-42). On his website, he also comments: “In a film filled with bad dialogue, it is hard to choose the most quotable line, but I think it may occur in Liza’s conversations with Martin, the architect hired to renovate the hotel. ‘You have carte blanche,’ she tells him, ‘but not a blank check!’” – perhaps alluding to the director’s work.

After the perception twist, Fulci and his films even gained academic attention, especially regarding more recent field of studies, like fandom and transnationality. For instance, in the essay “One on Top of the Other: Lucio Fulci, Transnational Film Industries, and the Retrospective Construction of the Italian Horror Canon”, (Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 32, 1-20, 2014) David Church used the case of Lucio Fulci to analyse alternative film canons created by fan cultures – which is perhaps exactly the definition of The Beyond’s cult status.