Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Beyond Death’s Door (1979)

          Enjoyably dumb fictional entertainment from Sunn Classic Pictures, the company that made a mint off pseudoscience documentaries in the ’70s, Beyond Death’s Door is a loosely plotted compendium of episodes featuring people experiencing visions of the afterlife. The question of what follows mortal existence was a topic of considerable interest around the time this picture was made, seeing as how Sunn released a similarly themed documentary, Beyond and Back, the previous year, and seeing as how the big-budget theatrical feature Audrey Rose explored the same narrative terrain a year before that. Beyond Death’s Door is unquestionably the least of these projects, in terms of ambition and depth and quality, so even most viewers who are curious about the subject matter will lose interest after realizing how goofy the performances and storytelling are in Beyond Death’s Door. For those who dig their paranormal silliness served with a side of Me Decade kitsch, however, there’s a lot of fun stuff here. Amid the usual philosophizing and theorizing about cryptic clues, as per the Sunn Classic formula, some insipid scenes are played so straight as to generate unintentional comedy.
          The film’s de facto protagonist, Dr. Peter Kenderly (Tom Hallick), provides our way into the story, though he’s ultimately just a bystander for most of what happens. During the opening sequence, he watches a stabbing victim suffer clinical death on an operating table, revive long enough to claim she’s just visited Heaven, then die. Shaken, Peter begins an investigation into theories about the afterlife, though the film often leaves him behind to follow other people who slip free of their mortal shells. A bitchy woman injured in a ski accident visits hell—which looks like the sauna of a fetish club—and a pimp played by future Hill Street Blues actor Taurean Blacque has an out-of-body experience while being treated for a gunshot wound. “Hey,” his wraithlike soul yells to the doctors and nurses in the operating room, “I’m up here lookin’ down at all you cats!” In the picture’s most amusing scene, a construction worker who falls from a building becomes a phantom and wanders into a nearby disco. (Sadly, the filmmakers were too cheap or unimaginative to license the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” for this moment.) The ultimate resolution of Peter’s story is, of course, inconsequential and perfunctory, so this one’s all about cheesy special effects and the eerie kick of probing existential enigmas.

Beyond Death’s Door: FUNKY

1 comment:

Eric Gilliland said...

These pseudo-science docs from the 70s are great fun. I once went through most of the In Search of . . episodes with Leonard Nimoy - what a time capsule! Do you know of any other resources or books that have been written on this eccentric sub-genre? Thanks!