Beyond the Door directed by Ovidio Assonitis
A somewhat effective mash-up of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, Ovidio Assonitis’ Beyond the Door (1974) yet has little of the class and sophistication of the first or terrifying shocks of the latter. Released a year after The Exorcist kicked box-office tuchus (garnering $89 million; the No. 1 highest earner of 1973, if the book Box Office Hits is to be trusted), the film suffers from an aura of déjà vu, but still has much to offer to the dedicated horror fan.
In it, Juliet Mills (daughter of John, older sister of Hayley, but perhaps best known to American viewers as Phoebe Figalilly from the early ’70s sitcom Nanny and the Professor) plays Jessica Barrett, a wife and mother of two. She lives in San Francisco with her husband (a recording engineer played by Gabriele Lavia) and kids; in a further nod to The Exorcist, one of these kids is an incredibly foul-mouthed little girl, while the son has the strangest habit of drinking cold Campbell’s split pea soup from the can with a straw. (I know … ewwww!) Despite being on The Pill, Jessica finds herself miraculously pregnant, with her fetus growing at an alarming rate. She soon starts to evince some very odd behavior, such as eating banana skins off the street, along with violent mood swings and memory lapses. And that’s nothing compared to the inevitable head spinnings, levitations, sludge pukings and gravel-voiced cussing that soon follow. As a mysterious man from her past, Dimitri (Richard Johnson, star of the scariest film of all time, IMHO, 1963’s The Haunting), tells her husband, Jessica has been taken over by “negative forces” (the “devil” word, strangely enough, is never used in the film)…
As I mentioned up top, though occasionally effective, Beyond the Door‘s ultimate impact is less than it could have been, especially for those viewers who are already familiar with its two antecedents. Still, there are pleasures here to be had. The film opens very strangely, with Old Scratch himself delivering a monologue in voice-over, while hundreds of ritual candles fill the screen; indeed, this might be the most original segment of the entire film! The picture makes good use of its San Francisco and Sausalito locales, while the sound FX are possibly the film’s single scariest component. Some other chilling instances: Jessica’s initial leering head swivel; Jessica’s booming query “Who are you?” (the film’s original Italian title, Chi Sei?, translates as “Who are you?”); and Jessica tossing her husband about the bedroom while simultaneously cackling and dribbling.
Unfortunately, the film also contains much that doesn’t make a heckuva lot of sense. For example, after two viewings, I’m still not clear as to whether Dimitri was alive or dead, or, if alive, what he was doing for the 10 or so years since his fatal car crash. His ghostly manifestations toward Jessica, those possessed dolls in the kids’ bedroom, and that blank-mouthed baby at the film’s end all provided further head scratchings. The film is also a good 20 minutes longer than it needs to be; that interminable scene with the street musicians, for example, could certainly have been done away with. And for those viewers who get a little restless with the film, try playing the game of counting how many times some of the characters say “The child must/will be born;” I counted a good eight.
One further comment: The current DVD incarnation of Beyond the Door, from the good folks at Code Red, looks just fantastic, and comes replete with many fine extras, including modern-day interviews with Assonitis, Mills and the late Johnson. Johnson, then in his mid-80s, two years before his passing, looked and sounded terrific, by the way, and his, uh, devil-may-care attitude was a joy to behold.