Friday, September 3, 2021

Beyond the Door

Beyond the Door (Chi sei?)
Franco Micalizzi

In the wake of The Exorcist (1973), there was a flood of possession movies. None of them were going to be able to match the precision of that film but what they could do was go push the transgressive content. Many of these films opted for an adult central character so that they could go further with the sex, others upped the supernatural content to include more demonic events, more gore, and more colorful vomit. Probably the greatest of these cash-ins is Beyond the Door. Its ethos is to be The Exorcist but even more so (to the point where they were successfully sued by Warner Bros).

The plot is, at first, a pretty standard affair. Dimitri (Richard Johnson) in debt to Satan must ensure that Jessica (Juliet Mills) gives birth to the Antichrist or else he will die and go to hell. Jessica starts to act strangely as it becomes more and more apparent that the unnatural baby in her womb is in fact a demonic force. Also there is something about nose flute and toy car.

Dukes of Hazzard: Requiem

Opening with a florid voiceover from presumably Satan himself, Beyond the Door sets an odd tone right from the start. There is an undeniable thread of weird humor in the film, a little boy is drinking pea soup out a can, a young girl curses like sailor for some reason, there is even a lengthy musical interlude as Robert is surrounded by street performers in a scene that I think is supposed to be unsettling but somehow lands on weirdly joyous.

There are also some effective horror moments, the breathing and roaring walls, Jessica going through some familiar (aka lifted directly from The Exorcist) demonic shenanigans, but it’s pushed to an extreme; buckets of vomit, creepy sexuality, and spooky moans fill the film. Imagine the relatively somber Exorcist but given a comic book makeover. The religious horror is played with zero reverence for religion but 100% reverence for shocking the audience.

"Got anymore of those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pudding pies?"

One of the quirkiest and perhaps greatest elements of Beyond the Door is the soundtrack. A mix of soul-funk and bizarre electronics. Italian films have a history of filling their horror films with funky tunes that most people wouldn’t associate with anything spooky, and somehow it works. Often in film, music informs the viewer how they are supposed to feel. A sad moment will have mournful music, a triumphant one will have an appropriately triumphant tune. Most horror films will have deep bass or atonal strings to indicate that something unsettling is happening. What happens when a film hits you with a funky bassline during the middle of tense scene of unholy evil? The viewer is left uncertain, suddenly you’re not being told how to you are supposed to deal with the scene. I think it works as an antidote to the often-blatant manipulation of traditional music scores.

Beyond the Door is a marvelously strange film that might have begun as a straight-up rip-off of The Exorcist but takes on a life of its own through its sheer strangeness. A wonderful film and highly recommended.

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