March 30, 2020

BEYOND THE DOOR: An Italian Horror History Lesson
Starring Juliet Mills, Richard Johnson, Gabriele Lavia, Nino Segurini, Barbara Fiorini, David Colin Jr. Directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis & Robert Barrett. (108 / 98 min)

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat😼

"Whooo aaaare yoooou…”

So began the original TV spot for Beyond the Door, which showed possessed, yellow-eyed Juliet Mills growling like a death metal singer and levitating across a room. Being 11 years old at the time, that shit freaked me out, as did the chilling artwork of the movie poster and newspaper ads. This was the only movie that ever made me afraid to turn off the lights without actually having seen it. Regardless of one’s ultimate opinion of the film itself, the ad campaign was indisputably brilliant and all that promotional material – including a replica of the original U.S. poster – is included with this disc.

I didn’t actually get to see the thing for another several years, as the bottom half of a drive-in double bill. Having already endured The Exorcist by that time, Beyond the Door’s cavalcade of green vomit, rotating heads and levitating bodies was underwhelming, sometimes unintentionally amusing. Though not even coming close to the terror of my childhood expectations, it did have the lady from Nanny and the Professor spittin’ goo, slappin’ kids and droppin’ f-bombs! And since I was now in my late teens, the lovely Ms. Mills suddenly had a MILF quality I found quite appealing.

What I didn’t know at the time was that no blockbuster has ever been made that the Italians couldn’t knock-off faster and cheaper, Beyond the Door being one of the more notorious examples. Warner Brothers famously - and successfully - sued its producers for ripping off The Exorcist. While Beyond unquestionably cops a lot of The Exorcist’s moves, whether or not it constitutes actual copyright infringement is certainly an interesting debate that makes the film well worth revisiting four decades later.

Beyond the Door’s entire tumultuous history – before, during and after – is a story unto itself, which this set explores through an abundance of supplemental material that’s as revealing as it is entertaining. As we learn through dozens of interviews, not everybody involved with the film consider it a rip-off, nor do some historians. A few of their arguments sound like bullshit, but others have genuine merit. The best bonus is a new feature-length documentary, “Italy Possessed,” which chronicles Italy’s dubious history of post-Exorcist “devil” pictures. Beyond the Door was simply one of them, but being the best-produced and most internationally successful, it got the most attention (both good and bad).

Revisiting the movie itself all these years later was a nostalgic blast, especially with Arrow Video’s nifty 2K facelift. Few have ever mistaken Beyond the Door for a great film and some of its goofier aspects remain highly amusing, such as the funky score, the recurring appearance of pea soup cans, the protagonists’ bizarre children (enhanced by daffy dubbing) and the piéce de résistance, the truly WTF moment when one poor bastard is tormented by a street musician playing a flute with his nose.

A second look also reveals some elements of the film that are genuinely impressive. Mills’ performance is actually quite good, especially in sequences where she’s required to shift back and forth between terrified and demonically-possessed. And despite lacking the budget William Friedkin was afforded, the specially effects aren’t bad. In fact, one particular scene involving Mills’ wandering eye is creepy as hell, even by today's standards. Sure, some scenes are clearly inspired by The Exorcist, but I’d argue the overall narrative pilfers Rosemary’s Baby more than anything else.

The tragic results of Pop Rocks and Pepsi.
Whether one considers Beyond the Door a terrifying treasure, crazy campfest or ridiculous rip-off, this is a beautifully-packaged set with considerable historical importance for horror buffs. It's a fascinating, in-depth look at both the film and the opportunistic Italian auteurs who briefly started a movement, therefore a must-own. 

When it arrived, the first thing I did was pop-in disc one to relive the original TV spot that once gave me nightmares. Of course, it's a bit silly and quaint now. On the other hand, when I suggested the accompanying poster would look good in the Dave Cave, my wife quickly & calmly shot-back, "No fucking way." Either she's a coward, her hubby has no sense of decor or some of Beyond the Door's imagery is still unnerving. Probably all three.

2 CUTS OF THE FILM – 1) Uncut English Export Edition (onscreen title: The Devil Within Her), running 108 minutes; 2) U.S. Theatrical Version, running 98 minutes).
"ITALY POSSESSED: A BRIEF HISTORY OF EXORCIST RIP-OFFS” - Not exactly brief, this is a feature-length documentary about the plethora of Italian “possession” films that followed in the wake of The Exorcist. Featuring footage from several films and interviews numerous directors, historians and actors, this is the most interesting of the bonus features.
"THE DEVIL AND ME” - Interview with director Ovidio G. Assonitis.
"BARRETT’S HELL” - Interview with cinematographer/co-director Roberto D’Ettorre Piazoli (aka Robert Barrett).
"BEYOND THE MUSIC” - Interview with composer Franco Micalizzi.
"THE DEVIL’S FACE” - Interview with cameraman Maurizio Maggi.
"MOTELS AND DEVILS” - Audio interview with actor Gabriele Lavia.
57 PAGE BOOKLET – Contains screen-shots and two essays.
TWO-SIDED POSTER – Featuring new and original artwork (we prefer the original).
REVERSIBLE COVER Featuring new and original artwork (ditto).
6 COLLECTIBLE POSTCARDS – Featuring replicas of international poster art and lobby cards.
"BEYOND THE DOOR: 35 YEARS LATER” - Includes interviews with the primary cast, director Ovidio G. Assonitis and co-writer Alex Rebar.
AUDIO COMMENTARIES – 1) Director Ovidio G. Assonitis and historian Nathaniel Thompson; 2) Actor Juliet Mills and filmmaker Scott Spiegel (a frequent collaborator with Sam Raimi).
SEVERAL TRAILERS AND TV SPOTS (including the one that made me pee myself as a kid).

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