CAPSULE: BEYOND THE DOOR (1974)

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Chi Sie?, AKA The Devil Within Her

DIRECTED BY: Ovidio G. Assonitis, Robert Barrett

FEATURING: Juliet Mills, Gabriele Lavia, Richard Johnson

PLOT: Jessica is having a baby; but maybe it’s going to be a little imp?

Still from Beyond the Door (1974)

PRE-COMMENTS DISCLAIMER: If I am to go on reviewing rip-offs of The Exorcist, I need to come out of the closet about something. This may be a shock, but here it goes: I HATE the original Exorcist! If you don’t hate it, that’s because you have “Exorcist syndrome,” which causes you to only remember the final twenty minutes of the movie.

I admit, those last twenty minutes are a good horror movie.

As I time it, the first 1:06:46 running time of the movie is a boring medical sitcom called “What’s the matter with Regan?” We wade through tests, doctors, therapists, prescriptions, brain scans, hypnotists, aromatherapists, dietitians, horoscopes, so on forever. Somebody finally utters the word “exorcist” at the 1:06:46 mark for the very first time, while we’ve been screaming at the screen “it’s demons, you idiots!” all along. It is frustrating and boring because we could see the poster for the movie when we walked in. It said “THE EXORCIST,” not “The Exorcist Who Wasn’t Needed Because It Turned out to Be ADHD.” Then, finally, the movie truly begins at the hour+ mark as we start setting up for the last twenty minutes, which again, are awesome.

So everybody take a minute to get over that. Cry into a pillow if you need to. Go watch the movie again before you respond here. Deep breath together now. At least I made you forget about the coronavirus for a minute, right? Onward with the review:

COMMENTS: Beyond the Door prepares you for a goofy time when you see there’s tag-team directors on board as well as no less than ten, count ’em, writing credits. We have Juliet Mills of Nanny and the Professor fame—in a horror movie? She’s going to play a San Francisco native while making absolutely no effort to hide either her London accent or the fact that she’s completely out of her depth here. It turns out that not only does this movie rip off The Exorcist (1973), but it also helps itself to Rosemary’s Baby (1968) for an aperitif. By the opening credits, we’ve encountered Satan himself narrating to us with dialog you’ll swear was lifted from Zardoz‘ opening, complete with cute puns. Satan browbeats a Bearded Trenchcoat Creepy Dude (hereby known as “BTCD” until he gets a name) into taking on his next infernal mission: find a pregnant woman who shall whelp Satan’s spawn (I dunno, it’s a prophecy or something, go along with it). Did I mention the snazzy ’70s funk and experimental jazz soundtrack? This is Eurotrash, but it’s the finest grade Eurotrash, never good but also never boring.

Meet Jessica Barrett (Juliet Mills), wife of Robert Barrett (Gabriele Lavia). He’s a music executive, and the pair are parents to two snot-nosed little brats with foul mouths. Minutes in, we find out Jessica’s preggers. If you take into account the “influences” of this film, you’ve guessed already that Jessica will be acting batty, either being possessed or implying that her baby isn’t USDA certified mortal DNA. Somewhat true to the original, we get both husband and doctor and even the doctor’s wife trying to tell Jessica that her morning sickness is normal, while Jessica spins through dozens of alarming behaviors which peg her for a hysteria diagnosis. One minute she wants an abortion, and the next minute she’s threatening to kill anybody who tries to stop this pregnancy. However, “BTCD” is popping up in her dreams, her bathroom mirror jump-scare zone, and even to other characters in the story, so mercifully the Exorcist-style medical sitcom stuff is kept to a minimum. Jessica’s pregnancy is proceeding at a faster than normal pace, so even the doctor knows to knock it off with the tests and confront the supernatural. In fact, the entire family spazzes out to the point where any one of them might be also possessed, like a game of demon pong.

The paranormal fun never stops all movie long. You’ll swear it also rips off The Amityville Horror (1979) and Poltergeist (1982), even though they came out years later. Furniture flies, dolls attack, rocking chairs rock by themselves, demon voices gurgle, towels spontaneously combust, and Jessica eats garbage off the street at random. At last poor husband Robert, mildly annoyed at the shenanigans, sees “BTCD” stalking him and eventually figures out he’s Dimitri (Richard Johnson), a complete stranger who gives him cryptic advice about overseeing his wife’s pregnancy. Shrug, dumbass goes along with that, sans questions. People in this movie are really good at that. If everything you’ve seen so far sounds stupid, save some forehead to slap for act three. The ending to all this is best described as “insufferable.”

On the plus side, lawsuits be damned, Beyond the Door manages to move at a far faster pace that the average Exorcist retread, and comes up with many original creepy scares of its own; some of them are even quite intense. The nuclear family dynamic works in the movie’s favor, because at least you can feel for the kids getting the cookies scared out of them by Demonic Mom. On the minus side, nobody can act except Juliet Mills, and she’s still in British nanny mode. The tone of the movie lurches between a serious horror movie and a parody. The dialog was apparently written by Martians with only a fuzzy concept of how humans talk, especially kids. I caught the English dub, so maybe their dialogue makes sense in Italian, but in the dub no two consecutive lines coming out of the kids’ mouths (so to speak) could remotely come from the same character. Maybe that’s where the ten writers came in.

Beyond the Door isn’t cut out for the Apocrypha list. Exorcist rip-offs grow on trees; as a matter of fact, a popular tourist attraction is to visit Italy in the fall to appreciate the carpet of fallen DVDs, videocassettes, and LaserDiscs from the Exorcist rip-off trees. The Manitou is in line ahead of Beyond the Door in this category, and we have somehow yet to explore Şeytan (“Turkish Exorcist”) (clip) and Jadu Tona (“Hindu Exorcist”) (clip). Where will you be when your nitrous oxide kicks in? In any case, Beyond the Door is far too hip to be weird. Where other Exorcist copycats are petty thugs nailed while stealing hubcaps, this movie is a suave international jewel thief who wins the jury’s sympathy even after he’s pinched. Beyond the Door never takes itself seriously and delivers the coffee while it’s still hot, albeit with a creamer shot of stupidity. You call it a rip-off if you want to; I call it “treating the demon horror topic with exactly the right attitude.”

In 2020 Arrow released a “limited edition” two disc Blu-ray with the uncut version of the film; the U.S. theatrical version; Italy Possessed, a feature-length documentary about Italian Exorcist rip-offs; and a demonic host of interviews and extras.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…[a] bizarre B-movie riff on The Exorcist…too odd, too indefinable, too singular, to be dismissed as merely derivative.”–Anton Bitel, Little White Lies {Blu-ray]

8 thoughts on “CAPSULE: BEYOND THE DOOR (1974)”

  1. I don’t agree on this take on The Exorcist. The early parts of the movie do include all the things mentioned, but they also include a growing sense of the horror of what’s going on with Reagan, and increasingly unsettling goings-on within the household. That’s what I retain. And the tests that are done on her in the hospital are truly horrifying. It’s all building to the last 20 minutes, and I think it’s completely gripping and necessary.

    1. Yes! The Exorcist is so great that it transcends the horror genre completely, elevating it to one of the greatest movies of all time, the same way 2001 transcended sci-fi and The Godfather transcended crime. Didn’t even read the rest of the review based on the reviewer’s bias.

  2. Having never seen “The Exorcist”, I couldn’t remark on its merits.

    I am hopeful, though, that I’ll be able to bust out my own pre-Comments remarks in the future. Oh the topics I could cover…

  3. I’ve never seen the Exorcist either, but I probably never will because it looks really boring. Oh no, not a Satan! There’s nothing scary or interesting about that.

  4. I respect your disdain for The Exorcist, but it’s hard to deny that Friedkin was a singular voice and a director who pushed exploitation way into the mainstream. Movies simply wouldn’t be the same today without The Exorcist. As for the knockoffs, this one appears to put itself towards the top of the lot, although this statement is only based on what I’ve read about it. Probably won’t watch it, but I at least appreciate the idea of a towel spontaneously combusting.

  5. Are there so many Exorcist rip-offs because it’s so good or because it was financially successful? A bit of both?

    I think the Exorcist is NOT BORING and GREAT. How do I know? Because I loved it when I was a kid.

    I grew up when VHS stores first came out ( I was about 10), but of all the garbage I took home from the aisles, my strongest memories of movies are the ones that shouldn’t have appealed to me at all. I remember watching the Exorcist when I was about 11 or 12. I wasn’t bored with that first 1:30 at all. I was completely absorbed. But you would think a 12 year old would be bored with all that. But I wasn’t. It must have been good.

    Movies I have the strongest memory of renting were always ones that turned out to be much more Adult than anyone in my age brackett at that time would probably appreciate, but I remember the first Woody Allen movie I rented was Sleeper (because he was a robot on the video box and I knew he was supposed to be a good director) and I vividly remember watching Nashville and not quite understanding WHY I liked it, because it didn’t really have a “plot”, or jokes, or action (at least in the way a 12 year old would think of those things).

    The video store I went to had their boxes in racks (they were the big boxes at the time, not just cardboard sleeves) and I rented Ken Russell’s the Devils (which didn’t even have an interesting cover art) because I had just seen the Excorcist! Boy was I surprised. But see – the Exorcist inadvertently changed my life by pointing me to Ken Russell!

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