Beyond All the Doors! The Beyond the Door Trilogy

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.
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. 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.
Code Red's uncut version on top; their US theatrical cut bottom.
But that's not all. Code Red made a 2 Disc Collector's Edition exclusive for Best Buy. It featured the shorter, US theatrical cut, taken from a funky looking, fullscreen 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 chose to watch the main version on disc 1, which is a little soft but a drastically superior 1.85:1 transfer. The Best Buy edition also features 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.
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 his 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 one of the young actors 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. But it's got a good look to it, 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 well shot and there's plenty of interesting stuff in front of the camera, so it still looks pretty impressive.
There was a cheap Dragon DVD first, but the Shriek Show release is the one to own. It's got a nice, anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer... although, to be honest, the framing looks pretty tight. I wonder if it wasn't really meant to be 1.85? Anyway, Dragon's wasn't even anamorphic, so I'd say Shriek Show wins whatever the case. It's also got some nice extras, including a long interview with Assonitis and another interview with the cinematographer. There's also a couple trailers, and an easter egg of an alternate title card with the title Amok Train, which is also what's on the case (the on-screen title is Beyond the Door III).
I'm actually surprised none of these films have hit HD yet, since the first two at least are some pretty major horror titles, especially in the annals of Italian genre history. But for now, these Code Red, Anchor Bay/ Blue Underground and Shriek Show editions are pretty satisfying DVD releases. For now, they're the best we've got. And you know, maybe these labels will be nudged into upgrading these titles to blu-ray one of these days when a Beyond the Door 4 suddenly appears.

1 comment:

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

    ReplyDelete