Quantcast
Channel: Good Efficient Butchery
Viewing all articles
Browse latest Browse all 1212

Retro Review: BEYOND THE DOOR (1974)

0
0

BEYOND THE DOOR
(Italy - 1974; US release 1975)

Directed by Oliver Hellman (Ovidio G. Assonitis) and R. Barrett (Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli). Written by Oliver Hellman (Ovidio G. Assonitis), Antonio Troisio, R. Barrett (Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli), Giorgio Marini, Aldo Crudo, Alex Rebar and Christopher Cruise. Cast: Juliet Mills, Richard Johnson, Gabriele Lavia, Nino Segurini, Elizabeth Turner, Barbara Fiorini, David Colin Jr., Luigi Marturano. (R, 98 mins/108 mins)

When THE EXORCIST became a worldwide phenomenon in late 1973 and into 1974, it didn't take long for countless imitations, mostly from Italy, to spew forth. The most famous of these Italian ripoffs was BEYOND THE DOOR, which managed to fuse together elements of both THE EXORCIST and ROSEMARY'S BABY and, with the help of a memorably terrifying TV spot, became a surprise hit when it opened in the US over the spring and summer of 1975. It also infamously caught the attention of Warner Bros., who sued the producers and US distributor Film Ventures for copyright infringement. The case was eventually settled and BEYOND THE DOOR was never pulled from distribution, unlike ABBY, a 1974 blaxploitation EXORCIST knockoff that was withdrawn from circulation and hasn't been legitimately seen in decades, though poor-quality presentations of it aren't hard to find on YouTube and torrent sites. None of the other Italian EXORCIST ripoffs--among them 1974's THE ANTICHRIST (released in the US as THE TEMPTER in 1978), 1974's THE TORMENTED (released in the US in 1978 and rechristened for cable and home video in 1981 as THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW), 1975's THE NIGHT CHILD, 1975's THE RETURN OF THE EXORCIST, aka CRIES AND SHADOWS (released in the US in 1977 as THE POSSESSOR), 1975's THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM (the retooled version of Mario Bava's 1973 film LISA AND THE DEVIL, featuring added possession scenes with Elke Sommer being exorcised by priest Robert Alda)--or the 1975 Spanish knockoff EXORCISM with Paul Naschy and the 1974 German copycat MAGDALENA, POSSESSED BY THE DEVIL (released in the US in 1976 as BEYOND THE DARKNESS), faced any legal action from Warner Bros. And though some of the them took a long time to get to the US, the fad pretty much died out in Europe by 1977, with only a few sexploitative stragglers like 1978's softcore OBSCENE DESIRE and 1979's MALABIMBA, the latter a product of Italy's short-lived determination to make horror/porno crossovers a thing.






But it's BEYOND THE DOOR that remains the signature Italian EXORCIST ripoff, and it's just been released in a comprehensive, limited-edition Blu-ray box set from Arrow, because physical media is dead. It's been out on DVD and Blu before from Code Red, and some of those extras are carried over here, but Arrow has done a magnificent job with its 2K restoration of the 108-minute European version, titled THE DEVIL WITHIN HER, and the 98-minute US cut (you also get a poster and a 56-page booklet with essays). Juliet Mills stars as Jessica Barrett, a wife and mother of two who finds she's unexpectedly pregnant with a third, something that wasn't really in the plans of her record producer husband Robert (Gabriele Lavia). Soon, the fetus is growing at an alarming rate, and she begins vomiting blood and suffering from erratic mood swings. Her young son Ken (David Colin, Jr) witnesses her levitating in the middle of the night, while daughter Gail (Barbara Fiorini) goes to check on her only to be greeted with a grin as Jessica's head turns completely around, amidst other disturbing, inexplicable activity. At the same time, Robert notices he's being followed by a serious-looking mystery man named Dimitri (Richard Johnson), who says he knows what's happening to Jessica and insists he's the only one who can help her.


BEYOND THE DOOR opening in Toledo, OH on 8/15/1975

BEYOND THE DOOR might shamelessly crib from THE EXORCIST's highlight reel, but it's got plenty of its own wacky ideas. It seems Dimitri and Jessica were once lovers long before she met Robert. And in what turned out to be a real relationship-killer, she left him when he took her to a black mass where she was supposed to be the sacrifice. Yes, Dimitri is a Satanist who promised Jessica to the Devil, and the Devil--who frequently taunts Dimitri in voiceover--is pissed-off at Dimitri's incompetence and wants restitution in the form of Jessica's baby. And he's given Dimitri only a few days to procure it or he's going to die. As Jessica's possession and pregnancy grow more intense--complete with the mandatory demonic voice, green puke, and various obscenities ("Get out of here, you piece of shit!," Lick the vile whore's vomit!" etc, etc), Dimitri manages to convince Robert to let him tend to Jessica, though it's only a desperate effort to get the child. It's an interesting approach in that the "exorcist" figure is there not out of the sense of spiritual altruism to save the possessed but rather, just to save his own sorry ass, and to their credit, Mills (who had recently co-starred with Jack Lemmon in Billy Wilder's AVANTI) and Johnson (THE HAUNTING) both appear to be taking this thing seriously and aren't coasting through for a quick paycheck.


Johnson imbues his rather silly dialogue ("The child...must be born!") with a generous amount of Royal Shakespeare Company gravitas, and Mills, the daughter of Oscar-winning actor John Mills and the older sister of early '60s Disney star Hayley Mills, really brings her A-game to a decidedly lowbrow production that was perhaps a tad beneath the family name ("Oh, I doubt Daddy ever saw this," she jokes on one of the ported-over commentaries). The possession histrionics aren't quite as intense as THE EXORCIST (there's no crucifix bit here, though there is a weird moment when Jessica kisses her young son for a uncomfortably long time), but their effectiveness is given a significant boost by an unnervingly bass-heavy sound design and by Mills' total commitment. The scene where she sits in a chair asking doctor and family friend George (Nino Segurini) "Who are you?" in a deep, guttural voice while Jessica seems to be internally fighting off the demon, quickly going back and forth in rapid-fire fashion from possessed to normal ("Help me, I'm so scared"), with Mills employing just slight changes in her facial expressions that you manage to see her through the contact lenses, the horrific makeup, and the chunky green vomit caking on her chin, is some legitimately terrific acting on her part.


BEYOND THE DOOR in Toledo, OH on 8/15/1975


Mills and Johnson class up the joint, but at the end of the day, BEYOND THE DOOR is still tacky as hell, particularly the finale where Dimitri is pounding on her very pregnant belly as the devil instructs him to "reach inside her and pull it out!" Shot in San Francisco with interiors done back in Rome, the film was the brainchild of Egyptian-born Italian exploitation producer Ovidio G. Assonitis (THE VISITOR, PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING), who co-wrote and co-directed under the pseudonym "Oliver Hellman," which he would employ a few more times, most notably on the 1977 Italian JAWS ripoff TENTACLES. Up to this time, Assonitis had a few producer credits (1972's MAN FROM DEEP RIVER, 1974's SUPER STOOGES VS. THE WONDER WOMEN), but BEYOND THE DOOR marked his first directing effort, and he shared duties with cinematographer Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli, who hid under the alias "R. Barrett." Both were among seven (!) credited screenwriters, which included Alex Rebar, who would secure his place in B-movie history with the title role in 1977's THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN. Assonitis and D'Ettorre Piazzoli manage to create some scattered images that get under your skin throughout, whether it's the freakish grin on Mills' face during the head spin, or the unexpected use of Sam Peckinpah-style freeze-frames during a demonic fit, or an optical effect where one eye stares straight ahead while the other looks in every direction. With a budget of only $400,000, a good chunk of which likely went to Mills and Johnson, the effects--supervised by Wally Gentleman, who worked on Douglas Trumbull's crew on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and has the most fake Italian pseudonym-sounding name that somehow isn't--are crude but they get the job done.


But there's a lot of quirky touches that don't always work, especially the antics of Jessica's two foul-mouthed kids (their nickname for their dad is "Asshole"), like Gail's obsession with owning over a dozen copies of Erich Segal's Love Story or Ken constantly drinking cans of Campbell's pea soup through a straw, an obvious nod to the colorful prop used for possessed Regan's puking scenes in THE EXORCIST. The film also opens with an offscreen Satan welcoming the audience and introducing the film like an avuncular TV host. When Film Ventures cut ten minutes out of the film for its US release, one of the first things to go had to be a bizarre, nonsensical scene late in the film where Robert is out walking around and is followed by an intimidating guy playing a flute with his nose. This seemingly goes on forever and only seems to be there so Assonitis can show off more San Francisco exteriors, stopping the uncut European version dead in its tracks at a pivotal time. Film Ventures also tossed a scene of Jessica getting groceries at a local Safeway, which was part of the original opening credits sequence showing Robert in the recording studio chewing out a funk band for not getting it right. The band is playing a Franco Micalizzi-written tune called "Bargain with the Devil," and it's an absolute jam that's unfortunately nowhere to be heard in the US version.







BEYOND THE DOOR was such an unexpected sleeper hit stateside that it led to two unrelated "sequels." Mario Bava's 1977 swan song SHOCK was picked up by Film Ventures and released in the US in 1979 as BEYOND THE DOOR II. It involved a little boy being possessed by the spirit of his dead father, and passing it off as a sequel was probably made a lot easier with the happy coincidence of David Colin Jr. playing the little boy. Assonitis had nothing to do with SHOCK or its rechristening as BEYOND THE DOOR II, but he did produce AMOK TRAIN, which had college students stuck on a possessed train while in Yugoslavia for a Balkan Studies research project. Shot in 1989, AMOK TRAIN was eventually released straight-to-video in the US in 1991 as--you guessed it--BEYOND THE DOOR III. The decision was probably inspired by Assonitis producing the minor 1987 horror hit THE CURSE, and then turning his 1989 "guy bitten by radioactive snake" epic THE BITE into the in-name-only CURSE II: THE BITE, an insane film that really should be better-known, and one so gross that the sight of a post-coital Jamie Farr doesn't even make the top five ghastliest things in it.



Viewing all articles
Browse latest Browse all 1212

Latest Images

Trending Articles





Latest Images