Friday, December 4, 2015

BEYOND THE DOOR 1974


"Evil Grows Beyond The Door !"



   The release of William Friedkin's THE EXORCIST in 1973 was not only a major milestone in the history of horror cinema, but even more entertaining (to me at least) was the tidal wave of knock-offs that soon began showing up on screens throughout the world. Combined with the earlier release in 1968 of ROSEMARY"S BABY it would seem the entire decade of the 70's cinema was awash in devil cults, demonic babies and possessed female victims.
   One of the first of these post EXORCIST homages came fittingly enough from Italy in the form of this 1974 devil possession slice of exploitation that features former NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR TV series star Juliet Mills spewing green bile and engaging in levitation and head rotations. Orginally tilted CHEI SEI ? (WHO ARE YOU ?) in Italy, it was released in Europe under the title THE DEVIL WITHIN HER - which is not be confused with the 1975 film of the same name in which stripper Joan Collins begets a spawn of beelzebug after refusing the advances of a satanically inclined dwarf with Joan being helped out by her sister (and fellow stripper) Caroline Monro.
    Directed and produced by Egyptian Ovidio G. Assonitis (who also shares the screenplay credit along with seven other writers !) BEYOND THE DOOR gives equal time to both ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE EXORCIST with Warner Brothers even going so far as to sue Assonitis for copyright infringement over THE EXORCIST. While the lawsuit itself was unsuccessful (although Assonites did pay out some money) it generated heaps of publicity for BEYOND THE DOOR as it went on to gross upwards of $15,000,000 and spawn two in name only sequels. Much was also made of the former family friendly TV show star Mills lead role, but she had already started to shed her "G" rating by appearing topless in Billy Wilder's AVANTI ! in 1972.




    Mills plays housewife Jessica Barrett who resides in San Francisco along with her music producer husband Robert (Gabriele Lavia from Argento's DEEP RED and INFERNO) and their two bizarre children Gail and Ken. Robert's current record in progress is the funky "Bargain With The Devil" and it also provides itself as the title song for the movie. In addition, the two children would seem to already under some sort of possession as they both constantly mouth expletives (to which Mom and Dad find amusing) and while Gail reads constantly from Eric Segal's Love Story (while carrying around about a dozen copies) the boy drinks constantly from cans of Campbell's pea soup (!) and also has a large Andy Warhol like poster of a can above his bed.
     In a seemingly non-sensical prologue Jessica was shown observing a nude woman laying upon a table surrounded by candles while a grim bearded man (Richard Johnson from THE HAUNTING and ZOMBIE) looks on. Jessica flees through the darkened space while next Richard Johnson is shown crashing his car over a cliff side road.
    Getting back to the present plot line Jessica discovers that she's pregnant, which causes some tension between her and Robert. However, most alarming of all the baby begins to grow at prodigious rate while Jessica is compelled to strange acts such as picking up a rotted banana peel off the sidewalk and then eating it, along with causing her husband's aquarium to explode and erotically kissing her son open mouthed. Lurking about on the sidelines is the above mentioned Richard Johnson, who we now know as Dimitri and who previously had a relationship with Jessica and now as a minion of the devil is working to procure the upcoming new born for his evil overlord.




     As various people including husband Robert, a doctor friend and Dimitri drift in and out of the Barrett's apartment (which is decorated with every piece of 70's kitsch imaginable) the by now bed ridden Jessica begins slipping more and more into full Linda Blair mode as her complexion goes all to hell along with spitting up green bile (which appears to be creamed spinach) and growling out expletives in a guttural voice. The make-up effects are quite good on Mills making her out to be quite repulsive and grungy (you can almost smell the rank BO wafting off her) and levitation shot with her floating upright across the room and the requisite head turning both come off extremely well.
    There's really no concerted effort to cure Jessica and it's interesting to note that unlike THE EXORCIST the church/religion angle is completely ignored with the doctor giving more time to playing detective in order to track down the origins of the mysterious Dimitri. (although in a nifty scene they hook her up to ones of those brain scanner gizmos). It's around this point that plot does get a bit repetitious with various characters walking about in sunny San Fran while we alternately cut back to Jessica doing demonic things and the same various characters discuss things in the living room.
    Although all the interiors were filmed in a Rome studio the film makes great use of the San Francisco locations with quite a lot of outdoor shooting and the cinematography of Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli is quite colorful & sharp. That along with the sincere and highly serious performances from both Mills and Johnson (who both seem to approach this material with the solemnity of a Royal Shakespearean Theatre performance) all lend a touch of class to the otherwise sometimes bizarre and ludicrous proceedings.
    However what with cans of pea soup prominently on display and rotten banana peel eating, this all leaves thought to what the filmmakers true intent was. Before its ambiguous ending the film does try its best to tie all the weird plot points and out of left field bits into a semi-cohesive package. With the film being full of strange little random asides such as the doctor constantly arranging his menthol drops, a dancing street band with a nose flutist that follow Robert about and Jessica transporting her eyeball into a martini glass, all of which leads one to wonder how seriously we're suppose to take all this.




     Always to be counted to add a touch of class to whatever he was in, with this credit British actor Richard Johnson here began his association with Italian horror as in the upcoming decade he would appear in THE NIGHT CHILD (1975), SCREAMERS (aka ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN 1979) and most memorably in Luci Fulci's ZOMBIE in 1980 ("The boat can leave now.....").  Although quite a number of British actors in the early 60's could say that they were "almost James Bond", Johnson could rightly claim that that he was "going to be James Bond". He was producer Albert Broccoli's first choice for DR. NO, but turned it down as he didn't want to commit to a series.
   The Code Red DVD contains the longer European cut (bearing THE DEVIL WITHIN HER title) and contains a wealth of extras including a commentary and introduction from Juliet Mills who seems to be an excellent sport concerning the proceedings here, as one wonders what she thought of this after the her role in Wilder's prestigious AVANTI. She says that she always wanted to do a horror film (making sure of a strict no nudity clause in her contract) and relates some interesting stories which include taking her 10 year old son to the premier at Grauman's Chinese Theatre (!). In 1977 Mario Bava's SHOCK was retitled BEYOND THE DOOR II for a bit of non-related sequel cash-in and even more bizarrely 12 years later AMOK TRAIN was trotted out on unsuspecting patrons as BEYOND THE DOOR III in 1989.










3 comments:

  1. Never saw this one..... do remember that the Ad for this film on TV scared us as a kid....
    A great weekend to you and yours...

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  2. With both my parents being big fans of "spooky movies" ( what they chose to call anything from PSYCHO & HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE to KING KONG & FRANKENSTEIN ), I grew up watching genre films on television & at the drive in with them from my very earliest memories. In fact, the very first film that I remember watching in it's entirety is a 1966 showing of Bava's BLACK SUNDAY on our Friday night staple Fright Night Theatre, which ran on our local channel 7 here in Buffalo throughout the '60s & a wee bit into the following decade as well. So, by the time I was just five years old, I was firmly established as a "Monster Kid".
    And as such, I became jaded at a fairly young age & I was immune to much of what totally scared most of my friends silly. With a big exception when it came to the plethora of "devil movies" that glutted both theater & TV screens for a few years following the phenomenally successful release of THE EXORCIST.
    Now, my family wasn't at all religious as I grew up & I honestly didn't give spiritual matters much thought at all. That is until William Friedkin's film hit theaters THE EXORCIST became an instant pop culture phenomena. If you were around back then, you pretty much couldn't escape it. If it wasn't the constant barrage of seemingly never ending TV spots for it's initial run, it's being held over for weeks on end & it's almost instant re-release, it was cycle that seemed to go on forever! Then, the spots for all the knock offs like BEYOND THE DOOR & ABBY began to show up. And, if the television wasn't on, there still was no escape because THE EXORCIST's theme was a top 40 hit on the radio!
    Then, there were all the "scandal sheets" that my mom loved so much like The Star & The Enquirer. Every week's issue back at that time ran front page stories all about the horrors of real life demonic possessions happening all over the good ol' USA every day.
    And, for whatever reason, it ALL scared the piss out of me.
    ESPECIALLY that infamously terrifying TV spot that ran for BEYOND THE DOOR with a hideously demon plagued Juliet Mills ( whom I had absolutely ADORED in THE NANNY AND THE PROF as a young boy ) asking "Who are you?".
    Something that this now, 54 year old atheist who doesn't at all believe in anything that goes "bump in the night", STILL finds a bit creepy all these years later.
    Once again, my friend, thanks so much for bringing back such fond & interesting memories & reflections with your blog entries. I always look forward to them.
    Peace.
    - Jim Allcorn

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    Replies
    1. Once again your very welcome and once again thank you for the kind words. Yor right, the TV spots for this were scary as hell ("Please don't leave us alone with Mommy..."). This may sound weird but I was never that impressed with THE EXORCIST. I saw it in its first run at the age of 15 and even then although it had some bothersome stuff in it, I wasn't terrified by it. I visited it again recently and was like "Yawn...". The scariest part in the movie is the "spider walk" sequence on the directors cut. Thanks again Jim !

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