And Now Vinegar Syndrome Takes Us Beyond the Doors

It's time to go beyond all the doors!  The Beyond the Door movies are three unrelated Italian horror films that just so happen to be sequels to each other.  Ones a pretty well made Exorcist knock-off, one's an atmospheric ghost story, and one's about a coven of Yugoslavian witches on a train.  They're all a good time, though; and they do share some coincidental themes.  Thankfully, they also have pretty decent DVD releases.

Update 9/4/15 - 8/23/19: And one of them even has a blu-ray release.  Amazingly, the sequels still don't, but in 2017 Code Red upgraded their DVD to BD.  It's been requested a couple of times, so I just had to include it before I closed out Update Week.  Otherwise, could we really say we went beyond all the doors?  😜

Update 10/27/19: Boy, I never thought Mario Bava's Shock would be the last film in the trilogy to get a high def release, but here we are!  Vinegar Syndrome has just released a fancy Limited Edition blu-ray of Beyond the Door 3, a.k.a. Amok Train!  Scroll on down.
The original Beyond the Door, released in 1974, is the directorial debut of Ovidio G. Assonitis, who also directed a couple other films we've looked at here on DVD Exotica: Super Stooges vs the Wonder Women and The Visitor. Like I said, it's a pretty blatant Exorcist rip-off - it's got the head spin gag and everything - but it also goes in some pretty original directions. Where Exorcist was about a mother whose little girl becomes demonically possessed, here the mother is possessed by Satan himself, who actually opens the film by directly addressing the audience. While the bulk of the film focuses on the possession and following in the Exorcist's footsteps, the plot goes off in some different directions towards the end, which I won't spoil, but definitely doesn't march in line with Friedkin's film. I also don't remember him having any scenes with an aggressive nose flutist.
Beyond the Door's pretty well made. It's got high production values, is stylishly shot, and stars two very credible British actors: Juliet Mills and Richard Johnson. It's got some effective sequences, only about half of which are derivative, and it easily out-classes most of the Exorcist clones that popped up around its time. It might strike viewers as boring, as it can get a bit dry in the middle considering so much is entirely "seen it before" stuff; but it's held aloft by the novelty value of some two badly dubbed children who curse like sailors.
Beyond the Door debuted on DVD in Japan, from JVD, which was a pretty nice import. It was widescreen and featured an international cut about ten minutes longer than what had been released on VHS in the US. Unfortunately, it wasn't anamorphic, and the only extra was a trailer. But Code Red took care of that, releasing a loaded special edition in 2008. I used to own the JVD disc, and I think it had the same core transfer, but Code Red made it anamorphic, and like I said, had a bunch of extras. But that's not all. Code Red made a 2-Disc Collector's Edition exclusive for Best Buy with some bonus goodies.  And that was all until 2017, when Code Red reissued the film on blu with a "Brand New 2016 HD Master."
1) 2008 Code Red DVD; 2) 2017 Code Red BD bottom.
So this master starts off correcting the slightly off 1.83:1 of the DVD to a proper 1.85:1, and the newer framing is actually slightly tighter around all four sides.  Film grain on the blu is still a bit light, but generally present and film-like, and it clears away the unfortunate compression artifacts and combing that was present on the DVD.  You can read much more of the lettering on the book behind the kids now in this clearer HD presentation.  The colors have also been re-timed, and overall it's a nice improvement, but at some points, like that first set of shots with Gabriel Lavia crossing the street, I prefer the color timing of the DVD.  But there's no way anyone in their right mind is going to look at that close-up and say, "no thanks, I prefer the standard def version."

Both editions only offer the English mono track, with no subtitles, but the blu-ray does bump its track up to uncompressed DTS-HD.
Before we get into the extras proper, one of the goodies the Best Buy 2-disc set features is the shorter, US theatrical cut, taken from a funky looking, fullscreen (1.32:1) source. There's nothing exclusive to the US cut, it's only missing stuff, so this version only really has curiosity value. Especially considering the quality of the print, you're definitely going to choose to watch the main version on disc 1.  I think this was only included to show off how much better Code Red's main transfer looked.

Now as far the regular extras, there are two audio commentaries, one with Juliet Mills and a really good one by Ovidio himself. Both have multiple moderators to help things along. There's also a terrific 35 Years Later featurette, which includes interviews with just about everybody and is very engaging. There's also a fun, on camera interview with Richard Johnson, plus the trailer, a TV spot, stills gallery and some bonus trailers. And the first 2500 copies pressed featured a cool looking slip cover, pictured above. The Best Buy edition never came in the slip, but did feature an on-camera interview with Juliet Mills (who was seen on disc 1 in the 35 Years Later featurette), where the focus is on the rest of her career rather than Beyond the Door.
And the blu?  That's got everything from the single-disc DVD, but not the Best Buy exclusive stuff.  The fullscreen, edited version of the film is no loss, but it's a shame they didn't squeeze on Juliet Mills' interview, if only so we don't feel like we're moving backwards when we upgrade.  But if I had to lose one of the old DVD's extras, that would be it.  And for our one step backwards, we get to take two forward, because we also get something new and better: an on-camera interview with co-star Gabriel Lavia, in Italian with dense English subtitles.  He's funny and has some unique anecdotes we haven't heard in the previous extras.  The blu-ray also includes reversible artwork and a cheesy, illustrated slipcover.
Ovidio had nothing to do with 1977's Beyond the Door 2, released on DVD in the US under the title Shock, and has said in interviews that he doesn't approve of the title borrowing. This Beyond the Door is actually the final film by Mario Bava, and it's based on an original script by Dardano Sacchetti and Mario's son, Lamberto Bava, who also got his start directing by shooting a few scenes in this movie. It's the story of a small family who move into a new house, which turns out to be sort of haunted. Everything seems great at first, of course, but we soon learn the father isn't the real father, he's just "mom's new boyfriend," because the real father killed himself years before, in this very house. And somehow that's causing their young son to behave pretty horribly towards his mother, who's having enough problems dealing with flying furniture and visions of the dead.
Unsurprisingly for Bava fans, Beyond 2 is a very well crafted film. It's well shot and full of the the kind of ingenious camera tricks he's known for. It also has a bold score by Goblin and stars Dario Argento's former wife and collaborator, Daria Nicolodi and Ivan Rassimov, who was unforgettable as the devil in The Eerie Midnight Horror Show. And by sheer coincidence, the possessed child in this film is the young actor who played Juliet Mills' son in the first Beyond the Door. He never acted in anything else before or since, just these two movies, and he's definitely not playing the same character. But once again he's badly dubbed and behaving diabolically. In fact, that's this film's greatest weakness or appeal, depending on your attitude. The child is basically this film's Freddy Krueger, but he's so badly dubbed, running around cursing and things, that he's downright comical. Only a really die-hard Bava fan will be able to see past it and take this film seriously as the atmospheric horror it's meant to be. But on the other hand, he's a real hoot (like he was in the first film) if you take it all as camp. But this is a film that wants you to take it very seriously.

There had been a couple underwhelming international DVDs of this title out there for years (i.e. barebones, non-anamorphic), but the first worthwhile release came from Anchor Bay in 2000. This featured a high-end 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer and an interview with Lamberto Bava, as well as a couple trailers and this cool insert[right] with the Beyond the Door 2 poster art. Blue Underground re-issued it in 2007 when the rights went to them; but it's the same disc. It also featured English, Italian and French audio tracks, which was great except for one problem: no subtitles! So, unless you're fluent in the other languages, you're still stuck with the English audio. And that's a real shame, because I checked out the other tracks, and the kid is dubbed much better in the other versions. In the US version, he's dubbed by an adult attempting to sound like a little boy, and it comes off as really cheesy; but with the other tracks, you could finally take this film seriously. That's how this film needs to be seen!
I'm actually really surprised, this being the final Bava film and all, that we've yet to see a blu-ray release of this anywhere in the world. The DVD print isn't bad, as far as DVD prints go, but it could still benefit nicely from an HD transfer. That, plus the Italian and English audio options (I could take or leave the French dub; but the kid sounds much better than the American voice actor there, too) with subtitles would be terrific. Interview Daria, get a Tim Lucas commentary... how isn't this a thing already? It's a no-brainer! But, in the meantime, this DVD isn't so bad so long as you're on board for the kids' dubbing. And frankly, if they released a version without the US audio, no sale! As hokey as it is, I'd really miss it; it's become a critical part of the film's history. But we need the Italian version, too.
Anyway, after that, it took another twelve years to get another unconnected sequel. Except the series returned to Ovidio Assonitis. This time he's just the producer, but based on interviews, he seemed to be the driving force behind this project. But his original title for the film was Train, and he says it was the distributors' idea to use the Beyond the Door title, an idea he was against. Because, once again, it has nothing to do with the other movies. Bo Svenson stars in this one, a story of a bunch of American college kids who travel to Yugoslavia and run afoul of a coven of witches who want to sacrifice them all.  The bulk of the film takes place on a runaway train, hence the film's original title.  This movie's from a whole different generation than the first two and feels very different. It's very 80s, less serious but gorier, and much less interested in psychology than kills.  It's got a good look to it, though, and at least someone gets possessed in this, so there's a thematic connection to the other Doors.
It's kind of a dumb movie.  It has dialogue like:
"What is it you love about me?"
"I don't know, your hair?"
...But it delivers the goods.  There's plenty of special effects, exotic locations, action, production values (they got extensive use of that train), and a whole bunch of crazy, entertaining stuff happening at all times.  The cinematography's back to workman-like after the Bava entry, but it's glossy with plenty of interesting stuff in front of the camera, so it still looks pretty impressive.

Now, there had been a cheap Dragon DVD first, but Shriek Show came along and knocked it out of the box in 2008.  A somewhat special edition with a nice, anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer... although, to be honest, the framing looks pretty tight. I wonder if the filmmakers didn't also have 1.85 in mind? That's how Dragon framed it. Anyway, their DVD wasn't even anamorphic, so Shriek Show was easily the one to own regardless.  "Was," that is, because now Vinegar Syndrome's gone and restored this film in HD with a fresh 4k scan of the original negative for a brand new, Limited Edition blu-ray arriving just in time for Halloween.
1) 2008 SS DVD; 2) 2019 VS DVD; 3) 2019 VS BD.
Vinegar Syndrome's limited edition is actually a DVD/ BD combo pack, which is why we've got three sets of shots instead of two.  All three discs are presented in 2.35, but Vinegar Syndrome's discs do pull out to reveal a tiny bit more around the edges.  The colors have been corrected, looking both more genuine and vibrant, and detail is clarified so nicely.  I mean, we're jumping right from a DVD to a brand new 4k scan of a negative in HD, so it's a big leap forward even with Shriek Show's DVD looking as good as it did (one of their rare non-interlaced ones  haha).  I suppose I should point out a weird little detail where the edge of the frame sometimes comes in on the left, effectively giving us a slight black pillarbox on the left-hand side, re-adjusting the AR to about 2.33:1.  That's on the Shriek Show disc, too, though, and is clearly tied to certain shots (in one scene you can watch it appear and disappear as the camera shot/ reverse shots between two characters), so it's how the film was shot.  One could argue that maybe the proper framing would be to crop that edge tight enough, then, that you never see it?  But it's really no big deal; you won't see it unless you have your eye glued to the left edge of the frame the whole time watching for it.  ...Although, now that I've told you guys, maybe you will - sorry!

Both editions feature the stereo mix, which is in lossless DTS-HD on the blu-ray.  The Dragon DVD also offered a German dub, if anyone cares.  And both releases have optional English subtitles for the parts of the film spoken in... Croation?  I think?  But Vinegar Syndrome has taken the extra step of adding an additional option that subtitles the entire film, English and all.  So, to be clear, you can choose between either sub track or none.
Now, one thing Shriek Show's DVD had going for it that still holds weight is its special features.  It wasn't quite a fully loaded special edition, but it had some good stuff.  There's a lengthy and fascinating interview with Assonitis, and another interview with the cinematographer, Adolfo Bartoli. There's also the theatrical trailer, a couple bonus trailers, and an easter egg of an alternate title sequence with the title Amok Train, which is also what's on the case (the on-screen title for both Shriek Show and Vinegar Syndrome is Beyond the Door III).

Disappointingly, VS doesn't carry any of that over, but they have created all new special features.  They have their own interview with Bartoli, plus on-camera interviews with the director (40 minutes long!) and Bo Svenson, who's quite a character.  There's some spicy behind-the-scenes drama for this film (for example, Assonitis apparently fired the director, but then changed his mind), so the new extras are great, but it's a shame to lose that Assonitis interview as a counter-point.  And it's a small thing, but I'm surprised VS neglected the trailer.  But they do give you some cool, reversible cover art, letting you choose between Amok Train and Beyond the Door 3.  Plus the limited edition (2000 units) comes in a very stylish slipcover that uses the same crazy art as the old laserdisc.  So get the VS for sure, but hang onto your old SS discs, too.
I'm actually surprised none only one two of these films have hit HD yet, since these are some fairly major horror titles, especially in the annals of Italian genre history. But Code Red's taken care of the original, and now that Vinegar Syndrome's given some sweet justice to the third, it's only the Bavas' crazy movie about a haunted child in need of a slid blu.  Surely, it's only a matter of time?

7 comments:

  1. Would love to see an update related to the new code red blu ray of Beyond the Door!

    ReplyDelete
  2. LOVE first two Beyond the Door films, actually caught the first one in a theatre with my dad when I was just 7 years old... fuckin cool shit man! And Bava's unfortunately titled (non)-sequel is easily the far superior film, a really creepy, surprisingly original, graphic, experimental and pre-influence on (of all things)Sam Raimi with some really neat flourishes which he blatantly ripped-off and appropriated as included practically verbatim in his equally superb EVIL DEAD 2. THE TRAIN was a lame little film, but did star Mary Kohnert who the same year also starred on a great nuclear Christmas episode of the Elm street knock-off horror soap-opera sitcom FREDDY'S NIGHTMARES.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The 1974 Beyond the Door stars Juliet Mills, Richard Johnson, and Gabriele Lavia, and much of the music is by Franco Micalizzi. The musical sequences are awesome, especially "Jessica's Theme."
    A highlight is when the children's dolls and toys come to life. Juliet Mills levitates in one scene. The themes of vulnerability and helplessness are prominent in this movie. The movie is saying that the Devil and demons are real, and engaging in Satanic rituals can lead to demonic possession.
    In 2014 a remake of Beyond the Door was made. YouTube shows a minute long trailer but for some reason, the entire movie hasn't been shown and it hasn't come out on DVD yet. This 2014 remake trailer shows a repulsive demonic monster crawling inside a house, a girl spying on a woman inside the kitchen, and a girl doing the spider walk and terrorizing a bunch of people in an office. When will this 2014 remake come out on DVD, and when will it come out on Cable television? Why won't YouTube show the entire movie?
    In 2009 director Michael Frost made a short obscure horror movie combining the original 1974 Beyond the Door with another 1970s horror movie. This short horror movie is called Antivirgen 1: Chi Sei? It has scary music, strange visual effects, and a graphic depiction of a baby being born. The original Beyond the Door is impressive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wild! I looked up that remake trailer, and it's a fake, made up of footage lifted from various sources (google "exorcist beauty parlor" to see that spider walk sequence). Still cool, though, as was that weird 2009 short, which I'd also never heard of before. So very glad you posted. =)

      Delete
  4. I suspected that this 2014 Beyond the Door remake trailer is a fake compiled from different movies. The Exorcist Beauty Parlor movie is the source which shows the girl doing the spider walk in a salon. What other movies depict the other scenes in this YouTube trailer? There's a scene at the beginning of the trailer where a repulsive demonic monster crawls inside a house. Which movie did they take this scene from? The only other information I know about this 2014 remake YouTube trailer is that it says the director is David S. Goyer. Why then won't it be released on DVD?
    Another site says that the remake to Beyond the Door will be filmed in Thailand and Chicago and the director is Dario Cioni, under Koa Entertainment. They even show a still photo of this supposed remake. If a remake has really been made, it hasn't been shown yet for some reason. Or no remake has yet been made. We only have rumours of a remake being made. This site is very interesting and informative.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would guess the remake just never got made. I know Assonitis was interested in doing one, but it's probably never gotten beyond pre-production.

      I don't know where all the trailer clips were sourced from, but I know that company logo, which is essentially the Lions Gate logo but with their name replaced by "Lynch Films," is from a Youtube channel that makes mock-ups of all the major studio logos. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_U5jISN8Zo

      Delete
  5. The concept of time travel and the suspension of time is explored in the original 1974 Beyond the Door, also known as Chi Sei? and also known as The Devil Within Her. The controversial Film Ventures International and Edward Montoro were also among the makers of this movie. Director Ovidio Assonitis is also known as Oliver Hellman.
    Actor Richard Johnson as Dimitri conducts a Satanic ritual near the beginning of the movie with Juliet Mills, who plays Jessica, the woman who will later become pregnant and who will become demon possessed. Throughout the movie the Devil taunts Dimitri through a voiceover. Dimitri becomes suspended in time for the next 10 years as he drives his car off a cliff and plunges into the ocean to his seeming death. The Devil tells Dimitri some very scary things, such as, " How long. A year, 10 years, forever? How much longer do you want your miserable life to last? What is 10 years? A grain of sand in the immeasurable desert of time." This chilling dialogue is referring to the endless duration of time the damned will spend in hell. That's scary beyond imagining. When Dimitri finally shows up 10 years later to deliver the unholy baby from Jessica, the demon inside of her tells him its all a joke and that Dimitri will die and be damned anyway. After being suspended in time for the last 10 years, Dimitri's car falls down the cliff to his death and damnation.
    The 1974 Beyond the Door was filmed in San Francisco and Rome. Its unforgettable.

    ReplyDelete