Arrow Video: Beyond the Door (1974) - Reviewed

As with any movie that becomes a commercial sensation, acclaimed or not the copycats will invariably come out of the woodwork.  Such was the case of William Friedkin’s film of The Exorcist, an expensive demonic possession money printer that continues to generate an entire subgenre’s worth of knockoffs both domestic and international in form.  Not even a year after the seismic box office smash of that film, Italian producer Ovidio G. Assonitis (Madhouse, The Visitor) eagerly jumped onto the bandwagon with the film which would ultimately jumpstart his career: Beyond the Door

A frank rip-off of The Exorcist titled The Devil Within Her in some territories this bizarre hallucinatory spin on devil horror about San Franciscan family woman Jessica Barrett’s (Juliet Mills) descent into demonic madness, like The Visitor, is best remembered for discombobulating insanity over coherent storytelling.  Co-starring Gabriele Lavia (Deep Red) and Richard Johnson (Zombie), Beyond the Door could well be the strangest demonic possession horror film ever made.  What it lacks in scares it more than makes up for in one-of-a-kind peculiar strangeness.  In addition to working in elements of Rosemary’s Baby it arguably predated The Omen in terms of dealing with the so-called demon child. 

While a fraction of the Friedkin film’s budget, Beyond the Door compensates for the limitations by trying to one-up the practical visual effects.  Our possessed mother doesn’t just levitate, she floats around the room with occasional head rotations and vomiting everything from blood to multicolored vomit.  The film also provides its own rotating bedroom with furniture moving about on its own, though the effects still pale in comparison to the timeless bar set by Friedkin’s film.  Visually the film is well shot by Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli who would since go on to lens nearly all of Assoniti's forthcoming film projects, a creative team early in the making.

Tonally this is one of the tougher to gauge horror films, particularly in terms of the soundtrack by the great Franco Micalizzi.  An oddball mixture of funk and jazz with occasional use of the electronic keyboard, the score is positively antithetical to the proceedings playing out onscreen.  While the score is effective during scenes which predate the bedroom set horrors of Poltergeist, other times it feels like the composer was in on some sort of joke.  Also having gone on to score The Tough Ones and Assonitis’ own The Visitor, the unusual tonal approach doesn’t seem like an accident and begs the question whether or not this largely perfunctory and static knockoff was intended to be farcical.

Creating further wrinkles of confusion upon the viewer’s forehead is the English dubbing.  As with most Italian-English co-productions, half of the cast members speak their own languages on set with post-production dubbing over in either respective language done later.  With Beyond the Door the dialogue is not only laughably absurd for much of it, you have children speaking with very obviously deeper-voiced teenage actors who freely swear adult expletives at each other.  In the time-honored tradition of Italian horror movies set in America, there’s more than a bit of European cultural disconnection regarding how the American characters behave.

Understandably, this madcap but successful little knockoff drew the ire of Warner Brothers who waged a lawsuit against the film’s Italian production company.  Unlike that other 1974 blaxploitation The Exorcist knockoff Abby which was withdrawn from circulation after Warner Brothers took legal action against American International Pictures, Beyond the Door survived its lawsuit.  After billing Mario Bava’s 1977 thriller Shock as an unofficial sequel to Beyond the Door, Assonitis would eventually return once more to the film that began his career with 1989’s Beyond the Door III.

Looking back on Beyond the Door, the film isn’t particularly frightening or memorable in the pantheon of devil horror movies or Exorcist knock-offs, but it did put Assonitis on the world map.  Eventually going on to do such gloriously batty poor-man’s Jaws movies such as Tentacles and Piranha II: The Spawning, the cult thriller Madhouse and the psychedelic oddity The Visitor, these movies come from a distinctive cinematic voice with all that works or fails sandwiched together.  Beyond the Door doesn’t hold up particularly well with age but is easy to recognize its importance in giving one of Italy’s most eccentric and enigmatic filmmakers a platform.

--Andrew Kotwicki