Exploring a post apocalyptic world would be pretty awesome minus the remnants of whatever caused the apocalypse (like nuclear fallout) or whatever mutated nutbaggery results from said fallout (like a zombie homeless guy with an extra head). Basically, you have your run of a once generic and boring world that has been newly imbued with character and creepiness, where mystery awaits around every corner. If that gets boring, you can visit the closest mall and steal as much shit as you want without fear of being walkie talkie bitch slapped by a mall cop with a Buford Pusser complex. Instead of being surrounded by interchangeable assholes, you might also occasionally bump into someone who has an interesting story to tell.
Beyond the Grave takes place in such a world of decayed wonderment thanks to the gates of hell opening up. However, it's Brazil instead of generic American suburbia, so the landscape teeters between beauty and decay, which is even better than a half rubble outlet mall. Either way, a world-weary Mad Max-esque police officer is after the body hopping embodiment of evil who offed his family, which is the kind of no fun shenanigans that occurs when the gates of hell open up. This spirit now manifests as an exotic female badass accompanied by a gang out of a post-apocalyptic spaghetti western, if that was such a thing (I guess it is now). There’s a gas mask wearing cowboy, appropriately enough, and his counterpoint in the form of a bow and arrow toting tribesman of some sort, a Brazilian version of a Native American character from a Spaghetti Western, who were usually played by olive-complected Italians covered in a bit of shoe polish or Burt Reynolds covered in even more shoe polish. There’s also a Once Upon a Time in the West-esque harmonica dude whose playing causes people’s ears to bleed; basically a Blues Traveler harmonica solo at a slightly higher volume.
Along the way, the officer bumps into a wandering young couple so dour they act like they just got out of the theater after an 18 hour Bergman marathon. With that setup, one might expect an existential fairy tale of sorts where the officer goes to any length to hunt down the killer and protect the young couple, who represent the last vestiges of humanity. However, things don’t really unfold that way. The film usually moves slowly in an existential doom kind of way, but quick developing swerves break things up, creating an odd pacing that makes it unique but also cutting into that existential doom “the gates of hell are open and fuck if I know how to close them so why bother” hopeless atmosphere we all know and love.
Oh yeah, there are also zombies. Fucking zombies gotta pop up in everything nowadays. However, they’re not much of a threat except when somebody gets careless. I can’t imagine ever getting so complacent in my life that I take a zombie for granted, but I guess you get used to shit after a while. Instead, the zombies are more like shambling signposts of one’s future destiny, like the 65-year-old guy in the cubicle across from you with sickly pale skin leathered from decades of fluorescent light exposure and sunken eyes that are more soulless than an all-white delta blues cover bland playing the grand opening of a Whole Foods.
The film utilizes the standard tropes of people either withdrawing when faced with the stress of living in a hell soaked post-apocalypse or attempting to combat the threat by pumping out their chests with military bravado. There’s the pregnant girl who retreats into her childhood while also preparing for the domestic life of a mother, as if innocence and everyday living can block out a zombie apocalypse, which it kinda does so that seems like the way to go. Then there’s the dude who looks suspiciously like an Opie farmboy Nazi stormtrooper, and I say “suspicious” since I didn’t know Brazil had Opie farmboy dudes. He uses the zombie hell apocalypse as an opportunity to conjure up his inner Nazi in an attempt to militarize in the face of a grave and omnipresent threat, adopting a role he really isn’t suited for but probably spoke to his inner maleness via the conduit of having watched too many episodes of Hogan’s Heroes (which would be more than three). Upon reflection, both approaches make respective sense considering the context, but glanced at individually, they look like a couple of raving nutballs. However, in an insane world, what was once nutbaggery becomes reasonable.
On paper, Beyond the Grave is a Robert Rodriguez-esque genre hodgepodge, where a Mad Max-esque cop has a fight with both a cowboy and a samurai (I forgot to mention that the officer dude gets attacked by a samurai in a bar), and the Fulci-esque plot of random zombies popping up after the gates of hell are opened, and other such genre callbacks. However, it mostly plays out as an observational, arthouse exploration of a world, where pulpy tidbits are treated as realistic texture, and this “realism” is enhanced by the lack of a score throughout most of the movie. Maybe it’s best described as Jim McBride’s low budget post-apocalyptic fairy tale Glen and Randa crossed with Grindhouse, and I mean the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino aesthetic, and not the theaters where you would get up to go to the bathroom and trip over a dead bum covered in urine from head to toe, inspiring one to ponder the bum’s final moments. Did someone urinate on him to the point of death? Did a drunk get up to go to the bathroom and see the dead bum there and say to himself “oh, I’ll save myself missing a minute of the movie and just piss on this bum, considering people expect bums to smell like piss anyway”. Or, just maybe, a drunk decided to piss all over a bum who was living in the theater in order to shame him. The bum, so distraught and ashamed of being covered in urine and unable to take a shower, having to watch "Hercules vs. The Rock Monster" 37 times that week, and just being a bum, finally takes that cyanide pill given to him while serving in Vietnam. It’s that kind of character and human interaction that is missing in today’s on-demand, “oh I got a blu-ray of a drive-in classic shipped from Amazon” world. The point is, you can’t really bring back the grindhouse experience, but you can rip off old movies, and Beyond the Grave does the latter. Something about artists that steal instead of borrowing or whatever the fuck.