GORE IN THE STORE
BEYOND THE DOOR ****
Directed by Ovidio G.Assonitis.
Starring Juliet Mills, Richard Johnson, Gabriele Lavia.
Horror, Italy/USA, 109 mins, cert TBC.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray by Arrow Video on 30th March.
If you enjoyed THE EXORCIST but thought it could have been improved if it was much less comprehensible, and also had added goldfish death, then Arrow Video have just the film for you with their snazzy new, special feature filled, Blu-ray re-release of the bizarrely engaging 1974 Italian demonic possession horror BEYOND THE DOOR.
Although Warner Bros filed a lawsuit against the movie, claiming copyright infringement against their THE EXORCIST (noticeable similarities being the makeup design and the appearance of projectile vomiting and head twisting), the main plot is fairly different and closer to ROSEMARY’S BABY. In BEYOND THE DOOR it’s the pregnant mum Jessica (Juliet Mills) that’s possessed and her kids are just average run of the mill brats. Her husband Robert (an unimpressive moustachioed Gabriele Lavia) begins to worry when Jessica’s pregnancy becomes unnaturally accelerated and she starts acting oddly, throwing ashtrays at fish tanks and furtively licking abandoned banana peels. To make things worse they are stalked by a sinister bearded man (Richard Johnson) with a suspicious connection to Jessica. Soon typical demonic shenanigans ensue.
The film was a commercial success in the US, but was critically panned, and has now fallen in to relative obscurity and that’s because, well, it’s not great. The central evil conspiracy is too obtuse to fully comprehend and the intended scares are mostly goofy and so never really work. Yet, in spite of this, it retains a kitschy charm and is pretty enjoyable. It’s not ‘so bad it’s funny’ but is instead oddly compelling because of its many unusual creative choices. All the actors are dubbed and, although for the most part it’s well done, it still is noticeable and so gives everyone an off-kilter vibe. There are also bizarre edits throughout such as a shot from a lift that replays for no reason, and also a conversation that’s taking place in a car that cuts to the conversation seamlessly carrying on as the characters are now outside walking. In addition, there are weird character choices like making the son love Campbell’s Soup to the extent that he has a framed picture in his room and the daughter stuffing a bag full of multiple copies of the book LOVE STORY. All these odd unreal elements give the film an unusual dreamlike quality.
The acting is solid and everyone gives sincere performances, Juliet Mills especially, and there’s nothing any of the cast should be embarrassed by. Also, apart from one noticeably rubbish vomiting scene, the rest of the special effects are relatively well done and hold up nicely. The cinematography as a whole is also strong, there’s some interesting shots and visuals, and Arrow have done a great job providing a crisp and good-looking print.
It’s also worth mentioning the idiosyncratically funky score. Amusingly during his interview, included on the Blu-ray, the composer is keen to repeatedly stress that, though the film isn’t great, his score has attracted some incredibly positive YouTube comments.
For this Blu-ray release Arrow have compiled a comprehensive array of special features. It’s a 2-disc set containing both the theatrical cut and an extended uncut version with two informative commentary tracks (one with director/producer Ovidio G. Assonitis and another with Juliet Mills). There’s also a plethora of interviews with the cast and crew and a fantastic retrospective documentary looking at Italian horror and specifically their exorcism movies. The best interview is one with an avuncular Richard Johnson who chuckles along reminiscing about his time in Italian B-Movies. Also, there’s a nice duck ornament in the background of the interview with Gabriele Lavia. Unfortunately, one negative is that Assonitis repeats most of the same stories between the commentary and his interviews but I suppose that’s to be expected.
Overall, this is a film with niche appeal as it’s not objectively ‘good’ but it is interesting. There are a select few who will absolutely love it, and you already know who you are, and this release is the perfect package as it comes with great special features. This isn’t a release for mainstream horror fans but for true obsessives, and also just general weirdos, and it’s nice to see Arrow continuing to lovingly curate releases of neglected off beat curiosities.