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 can also be the fastest route to a huge return at the box-office. 

Take, for example, 1974's Beyond the Door, an Italian-produced horror film that centers on demonic possession. Released less than a year after The Exorcist (a movie that proved to be a worldwide phenomenon, breaking a slew of box-office records), Beyond the Door never reached the same lofty heights as its predecessor, but it did manage to bring in about $15 million in the U.S., quite an accomplishment for a movie with a supposed budget of 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 that yet another child in on the way, both she and her husband, Robert (Gabriele Lavia), are positively elated. 

But their happiness quickly turns to anxiety when Jessica begins to experience severe mood swings, some of which result in violent outbursts. To make matters worse, Jessica has also started to hallucinate, seeing a past lover named Dimitri (Richard Johnson) everywhere she turns. 

During their brief relationship, Dimitri convinced Jessica to accompany him to a series of bizarre Satanic rituals, and she now believes these ceremonies, as well as Dimitri's reappearance, might have something to do with the changes in her personality. 

Now convinced that her pregnancy is unnatural, Jessica consults her family doctor (Nino Segurini) about the possibility of having an abortion, but as she'll quickly discover, her unborn child possesses powers beyond her understanding, and has no intention of allowing anyone - not even its own mother - to stand in its way. 

Those scenes in which Jessica is under the control of something otherworldly - spewing green slime or rotating her head 180 degrees - are, without a doubt, the strongest in the entire film. The problem is there simply aren't enough of these sequences, and most of what leads up to them fails to generate any real thrills. 

We are given brief glimpses throughout Beyond the Door of what it is that's tormenting Jessica: the occasional appearance of Dimitri in a bathroom mirror; a low moan emanating from her body as she sleeps; and the unexplained appearance of blood on the floor. But haunting moments such as these are few and far between, and because the build-up to Jessica's eventual possession is so methodical, I found my attention waning at times. 

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 screams.

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