Thursday, November 7, 2013

Beyond the Door (1974)

If The Exorcist (1973) is the granddaddy of devil possession films then Beyond the Door (1974) is the granddaddy of Italian devil possession rip off films. Starring Juliet Mills (Nanny and the Professor[1970]), Richard Johnson (Zombie [1979]) and Gabriele Lavia (Deep Red [1976]), Beyond the Door is a pretty interesting little film that isn’t just an imitator of The Exorcist but more a mixture of Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby (1968). 

Well I was thinking of  Lou Cipher for a name doc but....
Jessica Barrett (Mills) is the wife of music producer Robert Barret (Lavia). She leads a pretty normal life in San Francisco and is the mother of two children Gail (Barbara Fiorini) and Ken (David Colin Jr.). Early into the film we get the impression that Jessica and Robert are two very free spirited parents, especially when they do not bat an eye to Gail’s everyday use of profanity. I’m not even going to go into the reasons why Ken has a penchant for sipping pea soup from a Campbell’s soup can with a straw! I have to assume it was a nod that other film that “inspired” this one.

U.S. home video release with cool devil spirit.
Jessica announces to Robert that she is pregnant. He doesn’t seem very thrilled but does accept that now they will be out numbered 3 to 2. Jessica is alarmed to find out by her doctor that she is 3 months pregnant and not a few weeks as she had calculated. Soon she begins to have violent outbursts in which she can’t explain. It doesn’t take long before she starts showing signs of demonic possession. In probably the best sequence of the film, Jessica finds herself in a trance of sorts upon awakening from her sleep. The bed covers are slowly pulled away by an unseen force and Jessica sits up and gets out of the bed. She then begins to levitate while in a standing position and floats across the room a good 2 feet above the floor. A rather convincing effect pulled off without a hitch.

The boat can leave now tell the cr....oh wait sorry.
As Jessica begins to have more aggressive episodes her husband becomes more worried especially after a meeting with her doctor and finding out that the fetus is growing at an accelerated rate. Robert then meets a man by the name of Dimitri (Richard Johnson). Robert recognizes him as the man he has seen following him for several days. Dimitri claims to know Jessica and tells Robert that he can help them. He insists that the baby be born even though Jessica has mentioned the idea of an abortion. Dimitri needs the baby to be born because the baby is indeed the antichrist. Dimitri had made a deal with the devil for saving his own life during a car accident. His mission is to aid the devil being born into human form.

Peeeeek a booooo!
Here is where the film begins to fall apart for me. The next half hour is dedicated to Jessica looking demonic with a somewhat Exorcist inspired makeup (that actually looks really good), spewing what looks like creamed spinach and hurling expletives to whoever enters the room. There is no real tension that is on exhibit in The Exorcist but this part is entertaining albeit a little plodding. Make sure to drink some coffee before this point. I found myself nodding off a bit. Through Jessica the devil speaks to Dimitri and turns the tables on him. The devil reveals that he is not keeping his end of the bargain and has tormented Dimitri for his own amusement. Dimitri is killed and the devil flees leaving behind a mouth less stillborn infant.

The final shot is of the now back to normal family on a ferry. Ken, who was given a boxed gift at the beginning of the film, is opening the box while on the ferry. The box contains a toy car, just like the one Dimitri drove during his fatal accident. Ken drops the car overboard into the water and turns to the camera. His eyes light up an eerie yellow giving us the notion that he is actually the devil child.
Chucky has nothing on this possessed play toy!

Beyond the Door isn’t a great film but it’s entertaining and has some really good moments. There is a head spinning scene that really is creepy and very close to being as creepy as Linda Blair’s moment on screen. There is also an attack on the children by their many dolls as the devil manipulates them in several different ways. Not a “tour de force” by any means but still an effective little film.

Director Ovidio G. Assonitis uses some good lighting techniques and some interesting audio effects that add to the creepiness of several scenes. His soundtrack is a bit odd because it uses a lot of disco/funk elements. With Robert being a record producer and the band featured in one of the early scenes it kind of makes sense but the film could really use some more tension filled orchestration. 

U.K. VHS release with some great artwork!
Beyond the Door faired pretty well at the box office taking in $15 million and finding itself in a lawsuit with Warner Brothers who felt the film infringed on their copyrights of the film The Exorcist. The lawsuit was dropped. Beyond the Door spawned a sequel in name only in 1979 via Mario Bava’s 1977 film Shock which was released in the U.S. under the title Beyond the Door II. Beyond the Door III was released in 1989 but again this was in name only and had nothing to do with the original film.
I viewed this film via the 2007 Code Red DVD release which presents the film in it’s original U.K. version under the title The Devil Within Her (not to be confused with the British 1975 Joan Collins film released in the U.S. under the same title…..and featured a demon possessed baby). The DVD boasts a very nice 16x9 1:85 Widescreen presentation. It also features commentary by Juliet Mills and Assonitis along with interviews with Richard Johnson, writer Alex Rebar and Juliet Mills. The release also includes the U.S. theatrical version under the Beyond the Door title which I think works better than the U.K. version on overall run time. A great disc to be had if you can find it for a decent price since it is out of print. 

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