Beyond and Back


‘…with murky motives and laughable data, Beyond and Back is a genuine museum piece…’

Documentary Beyond and Back was a box office bonanza back in 1978, taking in a whopping 23 million dollars in North America, placing it just shy of the top ten films of the year. This ‘deathsploitation’ flick wasn’t shown in cinemas in urban areas; it was largely seen in the sticks, which is to say rural areas, or the heart of America, if you prefer, where it went over big. Financed by the Sunn Classic label to cash in on public interest in the paranormal, this is a look at life after death, or what happens to us at the moments of expiration when our sell-by date is finally up; bright light, tunnels, angels, you know the drill.

Introduced and narrated in bumptious sub-Wellesian style by Brad Crandall, who specialised in this kind of enterprise, Beyond and Back uses tatty reconstructions and terrible acting to forcefully argue that since we can’t prove what happens to us after death, there must be a God after all QED. That’s the launching pad for all kinds of malarkey, from séances, ghosts, Harry Houdini and anything else which offers 1) free archive footage or could be 2) cheap to re-enact with non-professional actors. Most of the vignettes are about people on death’s doorstep, not all of whom were keen or available to relate their experiences; ‘These people died soon after and so can tell us little,’ explains Crandall with gravitas.

Patients who have survived death provide a happier hunting ground for intel, and Crandall can barely contain his enthusiasm for a subject in which he has so much knowledge. ‘Plato believed, if the soul can exist in the future, it must also exist in the past.’ says Crandall, and he certainly plays his joker on the notion that the soul exists; the ancient, easily discredited 21 Grams experiment is presented here as cold, hard fact. ‘It has been proven that some people can control their mental energy,’ says Crandall .’And there’s proof of it!’ he exclaims pointing at a wooden box with flashing lights. ‘No-one is too young to die,’ he explains as he pivots. ‘But what about the famous?’

Well, what about the famous? It turns out the famous aren’t sticking around to defend themselves, and neither is Plato; director James L Conway found a money fountain by making hokey films like this, and credulity is vital to the overall faux-spiritual effect. ‘Frank called, he was offering to commit suicide in the name of research,’ says Crandall approvingly, and given the appalling quality of the print I just watched, Frank may not be alone. With murky motives and laughable data, Beyond and Back is a genuine museum piece; the practice of exerting control over our mental energy seems to have become a thing of the past, much like this weird little film.


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    • I think his name is Frank Spaghetti, which is a cool name to be sure. But this film is full of great quotes. I love ‘but what of the famous?’ As if that was some kind of debate flex. I’m not saying this film is good, but if approached in the right mood, it’s fun.

  1. I WISH I had mental powers. Then I’d get rockstar for life, for free. With great power comes great responsibility after all. And there’s no greater power than drinking rockstar in the morning!

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