Monday, March 23, 2015

Beyond the Door (1974) & Beyond the Door II (1977)

          An Italian production that borrows liberally from The Exorcist (1973) while also anticipating some tropes that later appeared in The Omen (1976), narratively clumsy but visually sleek thriller Beyond the Door features the wholesome British actress Juliet Mills as an everywoman who becomes possessed by a demon while pregnant. In shameless sequences that provoked Exorcist studio Warner Bros. to sue over copyright infringement, the makers of Beyond the Door depict Mills strapped to a bed with gruesome makeup, hissing vulgarities in a guttural voice, levitating, and spewing green vomit. For a good 20 minutes or so, one gets the impression that the filmmakers simply ran a print of The Exorcist and then tried to re-create shots as faithfully as possible. What the filmmakers failed to emulate, of course, is the soul of The Exorcist—although Beyond the Door contains a couple of decent creep-out scenes and unquestionably delivers many appalling images, it’s utterly vacuous on the levels of characterization, motivation, and theme.
          Set and shot in San Francisco, the movie concerns Jessica (Mills), who lives with her husband, Robert (Gabriele Lavia), and their two children. The couple’s teen daughter, Gail (Barbara Fiorini), is an oddball who carries multiple copies of the novel Love Story wherever she goes, and the couple’s preteen son, Ken (David Colin Jr.), enjoys saying four-letter words. Whatever. Upon discovering she’s pregnant, Jessica begins exhibiting strange behavior—she destroys an aquarium, eats a banana peel she finds on the street, and snaps at her kids. Eventually, a physician tells her the pregnancy is advancing at an inexplicably rapid pace, so Jessica becomes convinced that her impending bundle of joy is in fact a bundle of evil. Enter the mysterious Dimitri (Richard Johnson), with whom Jessica has some sort of past history. He’s an exorcist in all but name, so the movie naturally concludes with a sequence during which Dimitri tries to expel the unclean spirit. Thanks to iffy dubbing of Americanized voices over the lip movements of Italian supporting actors, Beyond the Door feels cheaper than it should, since the production values are strong. But then again, seeing as how the material is so shamelessly derivative, who cares?
          Despite outward appearances to the contrary, the subsequent film titled Beyond the Door II is not, in fact, a sequel to the Juliet Mills-starring shocker. Rather, the subsequent film is a wholly separate Mario Bava-directed horror show that was originally titled Shock. Unscrupulous distributors slapped the title Beyond the Door II onto Bava’s flick for its American release in order to lure gullible moviegoers. In any event, Shock a.k.a. Beyond the Door II features an all-Italian cast, dubbed questionably into English. The story follows Dora (Daria Nicolodi), a haunted young woman who moves into a new house with her young son, Marco (played by Beyond the Door kid David Colin Jr.), and her second husband, Bruno (John Steiner). It seems Dora’s first husband died violently at the conclusion of an abusive marriage. Accordingly, Dora becomes delusional and terrified once clues suggest that her first husband has returned from beyond the grave to haunt her.
          Although Beyond the Door II a.k.a. Shock lacks the imaginative visual style of prior Bava films, the director knows his way around a suspense sequence, so the picture does an okay job of conveying Dora’s paranoia. There’s also a fun twist at the end, somewhat in the vein of Edgar Allan Poe. That said, the movie is rushed and superficial. Shock a.k.a Beyond the Door II even contains at least one unintentionally hilarious dialogue exchange. After Bruno says to Dora, “You’re not relaxed,” she replies, “I’m trying really hard to, but after hearing Marco say, ‘Mama, I must kill you,’ that really upset me.” Continuing the abuse of the title from the Juliet Mills picture, the 1988 Italian movie Beyond the Door III has nothing to do with either of the previous Beyond the Door pictures.

Beyond the Door: FUNKY
Beyond the Door II: FUNKY

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