Thursday, July 27, 2017

BEYOND THE DOOR reviewed

BEYOND THE DOOR
Chi sei? / "Who Goes There?"
1974, Code Red, 1.85:1, BD-A, 108m

I had the unforgettable good fortune to see Ovidio Assonitis' BEYOND THE DOOR in its first release, in a multiplex that was also showing (unbelievably) FLESH GORDON, MANDINGO and LINDA LOVELACE FOR PRESIDENT. (As Lou Reed sang, those were different times.) While I had a sneaking suspicion of what was probably coming, the lights went down on an audience whose like I had never seen before in attendance at run-of-the-mill horror pictures; they were clearly anticipating another experience on the level of William Friedkin's THE EXORCIST, not quite realizing that such things come only once in a lifetime. Seven minutes later, and I am probably being generous in my estimation of the time, the walk-outs began.

I couldn't call BEYOND THE DOOR a "guilty pleasure" because I don't really feel any guilt for my film-related pleasures, but it is a film I've come to treasure for how riotously wrong it is, on so many counts - but, as time has gone on, I've also acquired a deeper appreciation for what, against all odds, is good about it. The story, in brief, is about a record producer whose wife, formerly involved with a man named Dmitri, begins acting strangely as a result of a pact that Dmitri has made with the Devil - while poised mid-fall through a suicidal car dive off a coastal cliff. She becomes both pregnant and possessed and Dmitri is offered a chance at escape from his pending ever-lasting torment if he can abort the child. To make matters still more preposterous, the woman - Jessica Barrett (Juliet Mills) - has already given birth to two children, Gail (Barbara Fiorini) and Ken (David Colin, Jr.), who are as much like Hellspawn as you'd care to imagine. They're both potty-mouthed poster children for OCD, with Gail a compulsive reader and collector of LOVE STORY paperbacks (hence her vocabulary) and Ken forever suckling at cans of Campbell's Green Pea soup. The kids are, in some ways, the best reason to see it, and their dialogue - attributed to no less than eight screenwriters on the IMDb - is enough to make you doubt your own sanity. (Like this from Gail, when her little brother wakes up crying: "Ken. What's the matter? You're gonna blow my mind. Man, if you don't quit crying, you're gonna have a real bad trip.") They also pass, in the context of this film, as acceptable - possibly because the family pediatrician and friend, Dr. George Staton (Nino Segurini), looks like Chevy Chase doing a vintage SNL skit.
 
Produced for $350,000 and shot on location in San Francisco with interiors filmed at De Paolis Studios in Rome, BEYOND THE DOOR actually contains some good material. Much like Elke Sommer in THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM, Juliet Mills commits to giving the best performance possible as the possessed Jessica, and her portrayal is potent and occasionally extremely eerie. She is assisted by some uncredited effects work by Wally Gentleman (2001, THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME, ONE FROM THE HEART) and Donn Davison (who shot inserts for the ASYLUM OF THE INSANE variant of David Friedman's SHE-FREAK) that, all these years later, still beg to viewer to pause and deconstruct them. Richard Johnson, formerly of THE HAUNTING and THE WITCH IN LOVE and barrelling toward the Lucio Fulci end of his career, also brings great authority to the part of Dmitri. And then we have Gabriele Lavia as Jessica's husband Robert Barrett (which happens to be the name of one of the film's screenwriters - R. Barrett), who is introduced in a recording studio, producing a new reggae track by a mostly black band, bobbing his head wildly out of time, and then cutting them off in the midst of a respectable take, complaining that "it's got about as much balls as a castrrated jellyfish." You know you're in good hands with that line, but I don't remember hearing it in the theater. The English dubbing, by the way, includes Mills and Johnson's own voices, with Ted Rusoff voicing Gabriele Lavia and his wife Carolyn de Fonseca voicing Carla Mancini, who plays the creepily Alida Valli-like woman on the boat.


 
This new dual-layered Blu-ray from Code Red - available from Diabolik DVD - is not quite the BEYOND THE DOOR we remember from its theatrical playdates. Carrying the title THE DEVIL WITHIN HER (which was already taken by an AIP release starring Joan Collins, the US retitling of a British picture called I DON'T WANT TO BE BORN!), this is the original English export version which contains approximately 10 minutes of footage that was cut from the picture by Edward L. Montoro's company Film Ventures International. Not only does the additional footage include some of Mills' and Johnson's best work in this picture, but there is some additional humor (like the opening recording studio sequence) and an overall more languid pace that makes sense of some of the spaced-out tone of the piece. Best of all, by going back to the original cut, this release avails itself of a razor-sharp, richly colorful picture quality that was never on view in US theaters, where the film looked fuzzy and grainy with watery colors in its multiplex incarnation.

While this Code Red disc would need that alternate theatrical cut to qualify as definitive, this is an impressive presentation nevertheless. The HD master is identified as brand new and there are quite a few extras, including VW's Nathaniel Thompson interviewing Ovidio Assonitis in the first commentary, and VW's Darren Gross moderating a third audio track with Juliet Mills and Scott Spiegel. There is also a "BEYOND THE DOOR: 35 Years Later" featurette that interviews Assonitis, Mills, Johnson and script contributor Alex Rebar (who remembers Johnson rewriting his dialogue), and a separate interview with Gabriele Lavia. The packaging features reversible cover art, allowing a choice of original art or the original Film Ventures campaign. 

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.
   

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