Monday, September 26, 2016

Off Script: Beyond the Door

Film: Beyond the Door (Chi Sei?)
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop

Success breeds imitation. That’s true in business, in literature, and in any media. When a film like The Exorcist, arguably the greatest horror movie ever made, gets as much hype and press as it did, there are bound to be imitators. Films like The Exorcist seem even more prone to this sort of imitation, since a great deal of that film’s hype came from protests against it. Enter Beyond the Door (Chi Sei? in Italian), an Italian-made Exorcist clone that very much wants to play in that same ballpark.

The truth is that imitators fall into a couple of general categories. Some manage to be pretty good; most are terrible. Others attempt to significantly rewrite the original in new ways to differentiate themselves. Beyond the Door more or less attempts to use the very same formula as its formative film, adjusting only in the details. Instead of a young girl being possessed, we have an expectant mother being possessed—presumably giving us a possessed fetus as well. In a sense, this is a blending of The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, attempting to take the most shocking and provocative elements of both films and put them in one place.

We start with a voiceover from an unidentified source who is clearly supposed to be Satan himself. We are then introduced to Dimitri (Richard Johnson), who has evidently made a pact with this entity. Some sort of ritual or sacrifice has gone wrong, getting Dimitri in trouble with this creature. Apparently, Dimitri’s time is running out, but this entity gives him a little more time to perform some sort of ritual again, this time using the recently-pregnant Jessica Barrett (Juliet Mills). We learn soon enough that Jessica and Dimitri once had a relationship—and that she was evidently involved in that bad ritual.

Anyway, Dimitri begins to exert some sort of control over Jessica and she begins behaving strangely. She destroys the family aquarium maliciously, for instance. She disappears in the middle of the night. More strangely, the family doctor (Nino Segurini) tells Jessica’s husband Robert (Gabriele Lavia) that the baby is gestating at a disturbingly fast rate. In fact, when Jessica is convinced that she’s seven weeks present, she’s actually three months along.

I’ve somehow gotten this far without bringing up the two Barrett children that have already been born. If nothing else, Beyond the Door is mildly noteworthy for giving us two of the most annoying cinematic children of the last 50 years. Gail (Barbara Fiorini) calls her parents by their first names, swears constantly, and speaks in the rhythm and slang of a 1970’s college sophomore. Ken (David Colin Jr.) is about four. He’s a curly-headed blonde who is probably supposed to be cute, but is instead an amalgam of every annoying movie kid in history. Yes, all of them. Almost every moment he is on screen is cringeworthy. I can’t blame either of the kids entirely—a great deal of their annoyance comes from the dubbing.

Anyway, while Jessica’s world falls apart, Dimitri shows up pretending to help. He’s not helping anyone but himself, of course, because his continued existence is dependent on doing whatever the entity commands him do. So, much like the doctors in Rosemary’s Baby, Dimitri is working to, well, it’s not especially clear. One would assume that he’s working to further the creation of the Antichrist. But, what the hell? It’s evil and stuff, and he’s evil and stuff. Eventually we go full Exorcist here—head spinning, pea soup vomiting, and the rest of it.

That’s the biggest issue with Beyond the Door. It’s not doing much but pulling elements from two other, much better films, and trying to make something that isn’t new, but is both derivative and more extreme. When the kids are attacked by something that appears to have been duplicated in Poltergeist, it goes on for far too long, as if the length of the scene means that it’s more intense or more evil. It’s really just longer.

Beyond the Door would be an interesting film if it had been first. Had it come out between Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, it would have felt like a natural progression of Rosemary’s Baby and something that would in ways lead up to The Exorcist. But it came after both, and so it’s derivative of both and doesn’t do a whole lot that’s new. It was clearly made in an attempt to capitalize on the sudden interest in demonic possession movies, and that shows through more than anything. The sad thing is that it could actually be a pretty good movie if the filmmakers had decided to do anything other than simply rip off better movies.

For all of that, it’s kind of campy fun. This isn’t a film I would cue up very often. It’s also a film that could really stand a better transfer than the one that I seem to possess. I don’t know if the vaguely blurry quality of my copy is normal for Beyond the Door or not, but my DVD looked not a lot better than I’m used to for movies posted to YouTube. That it looks so cheap only adds to its derivative nature, something purely exploitative made to make a quick buck on something as cheaply as possible.

Why to watch Beyond the Door: It has a few moments. A few.
Why not to watch: Have you seen The Exorcist? If so, you don’t need this.

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