It is a universal truth that whenever anything is successful someone else will come along and copy that thing. Usually, that thing will be cheaper and less interesting than the original, but will still find some success riding on coattails. When I was a kid, I could rarely afford to get Transformers but I had a reasonable collection of Gobots, their much cheaper and more pathetic knock-offs. We see this in all facets of life, and certainly, the movies are no strangers to the phenomenon. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Italians were quite good at this. Anytime an American movie became hugely popular, you could expect all sorts of similar films being made in Italy. They became so good at making these knock-offs they created their own genres. Peplums were the Italian takes on the Roman and Biblical epics that were popular in the 1950s. Spaghetti Westerns took over from the American Western. Giallo is a specific type of Italian horror. The Italians produced so many possession movies after The Exorcist in 1973 that Arrow Video has included an entire documentary dedicated to them in this set.
Which brings us to Beyond the Door, a movie so clearly ripping off The Exorcist that Warner Brothers sued the filmmaker for copyright infringement and eventually settled out of court. Watching it now, I’m surprised Paramount didn’t sue them as well for it steals equally from Rosemary’s Baby.
Like most knock-offs, it isn’t nearly as well made or as artful as the originals, but the special effects are pretty good and the mixture of those stories is just nutty enough to keep me interested. Arrow Video has done a knock-out job of manufacturing a set that is sure to please even casual fans.
About that story. It begins with the actual devil (Edward L. Montoro) delivering a monologue about how even though modern people don’t really believe in him, and while he no longer appears in the flesh, he can still do his evil deeds through believers. This is all delivered while the camera wanders over hundreds of lit candles and eventually lands on a completely naked woman. He then calls upon one of his true believers to help bring on the coming of the Antichrist in exchange for allowing the follower to live a little longer.
Then we meet the family whose story we’ll follow throughout the film. There is Jessica (Juliet Mills), her husband Robert (Gabriele Lavia), and their two jive-talking, curse-word slinging children. Gail (Barbara Fiorini), the oldest, talks like a teenager out of some low-budget, exploitation flick and carries multiple copies of the same book with her everywhere she goes. Ken (David Colin Jr) sucks split-pea soup out of a can in a not-so-subtle Exorcist wink (they used that very soup in the now infamous projectile vomit scene in that film). Not that these odd quirks amount to much as the children are unceremoniously whisked away after the first act not to be seen again.
Jessica announces she is pregnant, which is cool until it isn’t. She wants the baby. Then she asks for an abortion. Then she screams bloody murder at anyone getting close to her for fear they will hurt the baby. Also, she’s only been pregnant for a few weeks but the fetus has grown large. Its growth rate is extremely accelerated baffling her doctor. She begins having terrible nightmares. Her eyes glow red. Her face turns demonic and she full-on projectile vomits (split-pea soup, of course) whenever she pleases. Her head spins around in a circle and she can now levitate several feet off the bed. These scenes are well executed and terrifying (and yes, a complete duplication of scenes from The Exorcist).
But that comes later. The first half of the film is fairly tame by comparison. It lies more in the Rosemary’s Baby end of things. The accelerated growth is a mystery but one that is perhaps explainable. We follow the family in this section as Jessica goes to the doctor and Robert consults with his friends. There is a strange man following them about and when approached, he mumbles things about ancient curses or the devil or some such nonsense. For about 40 minutes or so, we get a fairly interesting character study with supernatural mystery ideas thrown in. But once The Exorcist creeps in, it goes completely bonkers.
Neither half makes much sense. It very much feels like the filmmakers saw both Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, chopped them up and then sewed them back together, logic and story cohesion be damned. It is a big batch of nonsense, but it’s pretty fun nonsense at that. If you don’t try to understand the story but sit back and enjoy the magical mystery vomit, then you’ll probably have a good time. It was hugely successful upon release making $15 million at the box office, off of a $350,000 budget. Ironically it spawned its own knock-off, Lucio Fulci’s Shock which was quickly rebranded as Beyond the Door II.
Arrow Video has outdone themselves with this release. This two-disk set includes both the uncut English export version and the U.S. theatrical cut. The English cut contains about ten minutes of additional footage, none of which adds to the viewing experience. It is basically two additional scenes. The first finds Robert, who is a record producer, running through the song “Bargain with the Devil” with some band and yelling a lot. The second has Robert walking through the streets distraught while some street performers harass him (one guy plays the flute with his nose). Nothing comes of it at all.
Extras include multiple new interviews with cast and crew members, plus several alternate credit sequences, image galleries, TV spots, and the aforementioned documentary on Italian possession movies. The new 2K restoration looks quite good with only a few moments of color degradation noticeable. It comes in a sturdy cardboard box with a big, full-color booklet featuring an essay on the film.
Beyond the Door pales in comparison to the films it is ripping off, but if you can lower those expectations and come to it on its own terms, it is a pretty effective, if rather goofy, horror film. If you are even the slightest bit a fan, then this new boxed set will make an excellent addition to your collection.
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