Sunday, August 28, 2011

#387. Beyond the Door (1974)

Directed By: Ovidio G. Assonitis, Robert Barrett

Starring: Juliet Mills, Richard Johnson, Gabriele Lavia

Tag line: "Demonic possession lives, and grows and grows and grows and..."

Trivia:  Director Ovidio Assonitis had actually had Samantha Eggar in mind for the lead role that eventually went to Juliet Mills

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in the cinematic world, it's also sometimes the fastest route to a huge payday. Beyond the Door, a 1974 horror film about demonic possession, was released less than a year after The Exorcist, a movie that proved a worldwide phenomenon and broke a slew of box-office records. While Beyond the Door wouldn't quite reach the same lofty heights as its predecessor, it did manage to bring in some $15 million in the U.S., quite an accomplishment for a film supposedly budgeted at around $350k. 

Jessica (Juliette Mills) is a happily married mother of two living in a well-furnished San Francisco apartment. Life is good for Jessica, and when she learns she's expecting yet another child, both she and her husband, Robert (Gabriele Lavia), are elated. But their happiness turns to anxiety when Jessica begins experiencing severe mood swings, some of which lead to violent outbursts. To make matters worse, Jessica has also started to hallucinate, seeing a past lover named Dimitri (Richard Johnson) everywhere she looks. During their brief relationship, Dimitri introduced Jessica to a series of bizarre Satanic rituals, and she now believes his sudden reappearance might have something to do with the changes in her personality. Convinced her pregnancy is unnatural, Jessica consults her family doctor (Nino Segurini) about the possibility of having an abortion, but the unborn child, which possesses powers beyond Jessica's understanding, has no intention of allowing this to happen. 

The scenes where Jessica is under the control of the demon, whether spewing green slime or rotating her head 180 degrees, are, without a doubt, the strongest in the film. The problem is there simply aren't enough of these moments, and most of what leads up to them fails to generate any real thrills. Through most of Beyond the Door, we're given brief glimpses into Jessica's “condition”; the occasional appearance of Dimitri in a bathroom mirror, a low moan emanating from Jessica as she sleeps, and the unexplained appearance of blood on the floor. A later scene, set in the children's bedroom, where dolls walk and dresser drawers open and close by themselves, had me believing the film may have finally turned a corner, which, unfortunately, it had not. The build-up to Jessica's possession is a methodical one, far too methodical at times, and on more than one occasion, I found my attention waning. 

Beyond the Door is, indeed, an imitation of The Exorcist, but in subject matter only. Plodding and occasionally lifeless, this film is more likely to elicit yawns than it is screams.

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