Beyond the Door (US - DVD)
Gabe revisits the most popular Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby rip-off ever...
Jessica Barrett (Juliet Mills) lives quietly with her eccentric family in San Francisco. As she falls pregnant with her third child, she begins to develop strange behaviours and appetites. As the strangeness intensifies, Jessica begins to display signs of demonic possession including spinning her head all the way around and projectile vomiting. Her husband is understandably distraught, but her creepy children begin acting even stranger than ever. A former lover comes to her, and informs her that it may not be her that is possessed, but the child within her.
It’s easy to yearn for the ‘good old days’, but often such complaints are just the elderly refusing to admit they can’t read modern art and entertainment. One thing missing in the modern era is the European horror market, and its perfect penchant for ripping off popular American blockbusters. These days Hollywood rips off their own work to the tune of millions of dollars, and the Italians languish in relative obscurity. But back in those good old days anything popular was ripe for an Italian redo, and often the results were fascinatingly singular, rather than lifelessly bombastic. Producer and occasional director Ovidio G. Assonitis made a career out of redoing Hollywood. His work includes the Jaws inspired Tentacles, the slasher inspired Madhouse, Piranha II: The Spawning (James Cameron’s first film), and Beyond the Door (aka: [/i]Chi Sei[/i]), the most popular Exorcist clone ever made.
There are plenty of notable oddities throughout Beyond the Door, which pull it beyond it’s relatively uneventful and overlong runtime. The weirdness starts with the opening narration from Satan directly to the audience, and moves quickly on to Jessica’s kids, who curse like sailors, obsessively read multiple copies of the same book, and drink gallons of pea soup through a straw. Even stranger is the way their parents ignore them, as if only the audience is privy to the majority of their behaviour. Assonitis’ abstract editing and camera placement, along with the apparently pointed use of still frames add a definitively Italian feel (whether he likes it or not). As in the case of Assontis’ superior Madhouse, the director’s best efforts to exact an American look are fortunately mostly unsuccessful, and visually speaking the film looks a lot like Lucio Fulci’s era work. The strange pacing and lack of normal narrative flow support these comparisons, though Assontis doesn’t push his film into the ‘pure film’ extremes of Fulci’s City of the Living Dead and The Beyond. Assontis may have been trying to ride Friedkin’s coattails, but his goals appear to move slightly beyond pure, goofy exploitation. It’s interesting to note that some of his cheapo Italian rip-off work was itself ‘borrowed’ for big budget Exorcist follow-ups like Amityville Horror, The Omen and Poltergeist (as mentioned on this director’s commentary).
The cast is actually quite impressive, from the standpoint of both their overall performances, and from the standpoint of their stature at the time and in the following years. Relatively prestigious television star Juliet Mills is joined by the likes of Gabriele Lavia ( Deep Rep, Inferno and Zeder), Richard Johnson ( The Haunting, Aces High and Zombie), Elizabeth Turner ( The Psychic and Cannibal Apocalypse), and Carla Mancini ( Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine, Che?, Flesh for Frankenstein, What Have You Done with Solange and The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe). It isn’t any participant’s best work for sure, and the characters are thinner than tissue paper, but everyone does pretty well with what they’re given, often chewing the scenery to bits in the process.
Possibly the strangest, side note aspect of the definitively strange film is the presence of two in-name-only sequels. Despite the presence of several other Exorcist-inspired Euro-horror films like Alberto De Martino The Antichrist, Metin Erksan’s Seytan, Jesus Franco’s Exorcism, Juan Bosch and Paul Naschy’s Exorcismo, and the re-edited version of Mario Bava’s Lisa and the Devil, which was re-titled House of Exorcism, Beyond the Door was associated with Mario Bava’s Shock, and Jeff Kwitny’s Amok Train. Shock, which was Bava’s final film, has a little in common with The Omen, and besides a character name has nothing in common with Beyond the Door. I’ve not seen Amok Train, but the film appears to have even less in common with it’s supposed prequel except for producer Ovidio G Assonitis’ name in the credits.
Beyond the Door isn’t Code Red’s best work, but there isn’t a lot to complain about either. The print is pretty clean, featuring a share of minor print damage artefacts, some grain, and a few instances of flutter frames. Colours aren’t as bright and full as they could be, but are low on compression noise. The overall contrast is lacking a bit, leading to some less effective black levels during darker scenes, and an overall lack of sharp edges. My only real problem is with the overall detail, which is definitely beyond those crummy VHS releases horror fans passed around for years, but less impressive than the format is often capable of achieving. The details are fine in close-ups and most middle shots, but wide shots are somewhat blurred and a little washed out. There is apparently some fan discussion concerning the appropriate framing of the film, but this 1.85:1 version doesn’t appear to be missing anything on the edges. I suppose a tighter framing wouldn’t hurt too much, but this seems accurate.
Had a studio with huge bucks gotten a hold of Beyond the Door, like Anchor Bay (circa 2000), or Blue Underground, the original mono soundtrack may have been mixed into something relatively immersive. The source material is pretty aggressive despite its lack of stereo encoding, utilizing some genuinely unsettling abstract noise to convey some surprising scares. The mix is effective enough to achieve a certain degree of dynamic range, but the mono base doesn’t allow for any directional attack. The original material isn’t in the best shape, but Code Red gives it a decent clean-up. The dubbing is all the hell over the place. The kids are obviously not voiced by actual children, and the lip-sync is never anywhere near adequate. The leads fair better, especially Mills, who dubs herself, and Gabriele Lavia, who appears to be dubbed by the same guy that dubbed Udo Kier in Suspiria. Dialogue is clear enough to make out at all points, but suffers distortion at high registers and s sounds, and is generally pretty muffled throughout the track. Sound effects could do with an increase in clarity and bass punch, but Franco Micalizzi’s eerie and sometimes perfectly inappropriate score sounds pretty good throughout.
Extras start with two audio commentaries. The first commentary features the star Juliet Mills, Hostel and Evil Dead II producer Scott Spiegel, and exploitation experts Darren Gross and Lee Christian. The track is buoyant and brimming with good nature, mostly consisting of the moderators asking Mills basic questions about her career while bringing up fun factoids throughout. The second track features Christian again, this time with director/producer Ovidio G Assonitis, and Euro-horror historian Nathaniel Thompson. This track is more informative on a technical and historical level, but not quite as much fun, and with more silent spaces. There’s a whole lot of overlap on the tracks, especially when it comes to the experts bringing up factoids concerning the cast and crew, along with some mention of differences between this uncut version and the US theatrical release. Special note: the shorter cut is better, frankly speaking.
Beyond the Door: 35 Years Later’ (20:30) is the usual low-fidelity Code Red effort, made up of shot on video interviews and film footage, and it features a lot of overlap with the commentary tracks, but it gets the job done. Interview subjects include Assonitis, actors Mills and Richard Johnson, and co-writer Alex Rebber. Subject matter includes inspiration, casting, writing, filming in San Francisco (illegally, of course), Assonitis’ work ethic, advertising, release, and Warner Bros’ legal action. ‘Richard Johnson: An Englishman in Italy’ (07:00) is similar, and taken from the same interview session (though oddly anamorphically enhanced). Johnson is given a chance to briefly rundown his relatively impressive career in Italian movies, specifically horror movies, including his consistent re-writing of dialogue, working with Sergio Martino and Lucio Fulci, keeping a straight face on a silly horror set, and making zero dollars in the industry.
The extras are wrapped up with a slide show of promotional material set to the film’s theme (03:45), the original American trailer, an American TV spot, and trailers for other Code Red DVD releases.
Beyond the Door is the Exorcist rip off it’s accused of being, but it features a fascinating strange streak, and a better sense of real film art than most critics have credited it with over the years. I even dismissed it a bit myself in my semi-recent review of director Ovidio G Assonitis’ Madhouse. It’s an exceedingly weird film at the very least (though unfortunately not as gruesome as its reputation suggests). This, the first and only official US DVD release is about average from an audio/video standpoint (considering its age), but the extras are solid.
On a personal note it’s kind of interesting to note that since I started with DVDActive in 2003 I’ve received and reviewed all five official Exorcist films, Paul Naschy’s Exorcismo, Mario Bava’s re-cut House of Exorcism, and Beyond the Door. Perhaps I should take some time to finish the set some day.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 16th September 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Director Commentary, Actor Commentary, Beyond the Door: 35 Years Later, An Englishman in Italy, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Ovidio G. Assonitis
Cast: Juliet Mills, Richard Johnson, Gabriele Lavia, Elizabeth Johnson
Length: 109 minutes
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