The Beyond by Stephen Romano and Noah David HensonBy Stephen Romano, and Noah David Henson (Blackest Heart Media; 1998)

This is the graphic novel adaptation of Lucio Fulci’s 1981 splatter masterpiece THE BEYOND, and quality-wise is about what you’d expect of a book emerging from two talented but inexperienced creators and a publisher not known for graphic novels. Said creators are scripter Stephen Romano, the future author of books like THE RIOT ACT and SHOCK FESTIVAL who in 1998 was just getting started, and illustrator Noah David Henson, who was likewise fairly green back in ‘98. The publisher was the late Blackest Heart Media, who planned to put out a string of Fulci-adapted graphic novels, with ZOMBIE, THE GATES OF HELL and a never-filmed BEYOND sequel set to follow this one–yet of those proposed books only ZOMBIE made it to publication before Blackest Heart threw in the towel in 2000.

As for the present volume, it is, as Stephen R. Bissette concedes in his afterward, quite raggedy and uneven overall. What it has in its favor is an infectious energy and enthusiasm, but those things, I’m afraid, aren’t enough to guarantee a successful product.

The film’s largely incoherent “story” involves a hotel built on one of the seven gates of Hell, and a young woman who inherits that hotel. Much gory weirdness ensues, including the appearance of a strange blind woman, a homicidal dog and rash of flesh eating zombies. Stephen Romano follows the film’s particulars fairly closely yet still attempts to fashion a semi-coherent narrative, but there’s only so much he (or anyone) can do with such determinedly outré material (“It’s all a dream!” and “I think I’m going crazy!” are commonly voiced sentiments).

Noah David Henson’s black and white drawings are quite redolent of the work of Bernie Wrightson, and also the lurid EC Comics style (complete with gaudy sound effects–“THUNK!,” “SHRAKK!,” etc). Some of the imagery is inspired, such as an eye-popping full page depiction of a pack of zombies crashing through a hospital window, but much it disappoints. Even the gory bits aren’t all they could be, with the film’s fabled tarantula attack sequence conveyed via a rather cluttered wide shot, and a close-up eyeball plucking ruined by the fact that it’s difficult to make out what’s happening. It doesn’t help that the stunning cover art by Chas. Balun sets an absurdly high standard the interior artwork can never hope to reach.

Ultimately it’s the extras that make this book a worthwhile acquisition. Those include the aforementioned Stephen Bissette afterward, in which Bissette provides a highly idiosyncratic history of horror movie comic book adaptations, as well as an introduction by Douglas E. Winter and a lengthy essay by Shawn Smith Lewis detailing the making and reception of THE BEYOND. The book also contains an indispensable CD recording of THE BEYOND soundtrack, containing the full score by Fabio Frizzi presented in stunningly remastered form.