Friday 27 March 2020

Beyond the Door (1974)

"Did the Devil Make Them Do It?"

Arrow really does go the extra mile to bring us an extras-packed edition of some ropey old Italian EXORCIST ripoff tat with their limited edition brand new 2K restoration Blu-ray release of Ovidio Assonitis' BEYOND THE DOOR aka CHI SEI? (the original Italian title, which means Who Are You?) aka THE DEVIL WITHIN HER (not to be confused with sleazy Joan Collins baby dwarf possession movie better known to trash fiends as I DON'T WANT TO BE BORN)  aka BEHIND THE DOOR aka TO SPERMA TOU ANTICHRISTOU (that's the Greek title). 

Juliet Mills tells record producer husband Gabriele Lavia (and his lovely hair) that she's inexplicably pregnant, and getting exponentially more pregnant each day. "Will my baby be born deformed?" she asks her doctor. Well yes it probably will be seeing as he's just X-Rayed her (this was before we all realised that doing such a thing could result in a short and angry medicine man destroying the local hospital in William Girdler's THE MANITOU).

Not a lot happens that makes any sense, meaning we are firmly in the sub-genre of Italian cinema more or less pioneered by Riccardo Freda and friends and propagated by Lucio Fulci et al, where it's more important to evoke mood than be coherent. And oh there's a lot of mood in BEYOND THE DOOR. Some of it is odd, some of its laughable and occasionally some of it is unnerving. Richard Johnson lurks around as someone who has made some kind of deal with the devil who, by the way, thoughtfully introduces this in a weird pre-credits sequence that helps us to understand what follows not a jot.

In many ways BEYOND THE DOOR could be seen as a precursor / the inspiration for Giulio Paradisi's THE VISITOR (1979), in which Mr Assonitis also had a hand. Juliet has two children. One is a little boy who constantly sucks pea soup with a straw out of Campbell's soup cans she's presumably punched a hole in the top of and who is so obsessed with the stuff he has a poster of a soup can on his bedroom wall. The other is a little girl who carries a stack of copies of the Coronet paperback of Erich Segal's Love Story round with her and talks as if her lines were written for someone rather older and when they cast the role nobody bothered to change her dialogue from petulant teenager to annoying tweenager. 

But there's more! Don't focus on Juliet when she runs out of that San Francisco health clinic - look to the left at that small boy trying so hard to push the door open! Marvel at that completely ineffective score and the lifeless dialogue scenes that desperately need music but don't have any, matched only by the bits where they obviously lost the sound altogether but kept the footage in anyway. It's all very, very strange. The ending makes no sense at all, but I suppose anyone who had stuck it out until then would be disappointed if it did.  BEYOND THE DOOR made a fortune so what do I know? Maybe 1970s audiences were forgiving and / or starved for this kind of thing.

Arrow's extras are hugely impressive. If you're a fan it will take you a weekend to go through everything. Two commentary tracks -  Juliet Mills on one, Assonitis on the other; a stack of new interviews with the director, cinematographer, composer, camera operator and an audio one with star Gabriele Lavia; alternate opening titles - Italian, Japanese and VHS; trailers TV and radio spots; archival featurettes and interviews (including one with Richard Johnson) and an image gallery.
And that's just Disc One.

Disc Two has the alternate US theatrical version of the film, but the most surprising and welcome extra is a feature-length documentary on Italian EXORCIST ripoff movies, with interviews with key personnel involved as well as academics and experts. Other extras include archival interviews with stars Lavia and Mills.

It's a remarkable package for a quite remarkable film. BEYOND THE DOOR obsessives get your orders in, because your dreams have just come true.

Ovidio Assonitis' BEYOND THE DOOR is out from Arrow Films in a limited edition (of 3000) two disc 
Blu-ray set on Monday 30th March 2020

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