Saturday, October 13, 2018

Halloween Faves: Beyond The Door (1974)

Halloween season favorites are on a lot of people minds right now, and one of my personal go-to Halloween movies is 1974's "Beyond The Door".  It was created by Italian filmmaker Ovidio Assonitis, a man known for producing thinly disguised copies of hit movies ("Tentacles", "Piranha II", "The Visitor"), and this one leaves almost no stone unturned when it comes to "The Exorcist", not to mention more than a few pebbles of "Rosemary's Baby".

Jessica (Juliet Mills, acting exactly like Juliet Mills) is a housewife married to a skeezy-looking music producer. They have a fabulous apartment in San Francisco, a fabulous car, and two darling little kids that anybody else would want to throttle. The daughter is about ten and is a foul mouthed bookworm, but the only book she reads is "Love Story". Many, many copies of "Love Story". The little boy is about 5 or 6 and drinks Campbell's Soup through a straw right out of the can. 

First words he ever said were "Soup is good food."

One day Jessica discovers she's pregnant, and not only is she pregnant, she's suddenly three months pregnant. Then shortly after that, she's like, four months pregnant. She starts behaving badly, like the time she decides to throw a glass ashtray right into her husband's gigantic fish tank that sits right in their living room. The husband doesn't even care when she tells him on the phone, but she keeps repeating "It wasn't an accident! I wanted to break it!" The reason for all this is, of course, she's possessed. Richard Johnson plays a suspicious character named Dimitri who suddenly shows up, glimpsed mostly in mirrors, until he's needed when things really start getting weird. It turns out he has a connection to Jessica's past, and seems to have been time-warped into this moment by the demonic entity that is now possessing her. There is a purpose, but the story is so underdeveloped that it appears to be little more than a rough draft that made it to the big screen.

But that's one of the ballsiest things about "Beyond The Door": it doesn't care that it doesn't have an involving story, it just goes full speed ahead and gives us re-enacted scenes from "The Exorcist" with just enough tweak to try and skate by any accusations of plagiarism (it didn't work, Warner Bros sued the production company and ultimately was granted a settlement in court in 1979). William Girdler's "Abby" was another possession flick from late 1974, and Warner Bros sued that production as well, despite the fact that it didn't really have many things in common with "The Exorcist". By contrast, it's easy to see why Warners won their case against "Beyond The Door". We get Juliet Mills levitating, an entire room going nuts with all kinds of stuff floating around on its own, her eyes turning weird colors, lots of demonic puking, diabolic voices, and best of all, her head turns all the way around backwards.

I love "Beyond The Door" for all of these crass regurgitated bites of exorcist pie, but mainly because it really does manage to be a scary movie. If nothing else, it works on a visual level, with lots of atmospheric lighting and strange sets. The sound design is another great aspect, as it shamelessly lays on the spooky sound effects, distorted voices, and hi-decibel audio violence. The film played theaters with a gimmick identified as "Possess-O-Sound", and I'm not sure what this was, other than the volume on the sound system being cranked a few notches. Turn up the volume on your home system as loud as it will go, and greet your trick-or-treaters with the scary groaning demon voices from "Beyond The Door", and your house will be the hit of Halloween this year for sure.

No comments: