FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE...beware yon spoilers!

Sep 9, 2010

I love Indian food!

Did you know that I love movies about demonic possession? I've only mentioned it 9256 times, so it's entirely possible that you don't know. Or didn't know, I should say, because now you do: I loves me some movies about demonic possession. The thing about this subgenre, however, is that there's pretty much only two ways to go: you either rip-off The Exorcist, or you don't. If a film is on the grounded in reality side of the fence, as are The Last Exorcism and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, then there's not much ripping off. But if the film is of a more shocking, straight-up horror bent, then it will pale in the shadow of The Exorcist. Mind you, The Exorcist is soooooooo much more than its most shocking moments- but the movies that came after (particularly in the late 70s and early 80s) ape nothing but the effects and therefore wallow in Pazuzu's shadow. Ovidio Assonitis's Beyond the Door (1974) is one such movie.

The film begins with a voiceover from Satan. Yeah, I'll just let that sit there for a moment.

Meet Jessica Barrett (Juliet Mills), a housewife from San Francisco. While her husband Robert (Gabriele Lavia, Revenge of the Dead) is off producing fabulously funky record albums (yes, record albums- it was the 70s), Jessica goes grocery shopping and deals with two of the most awful, obnoxious children ever committed to celluloid. Ken slurps Campbell's pea soup from the can (GET IT PEA SOUP) while Gail constantly has her nose buried in one of the dozen copies of Erich Segal's Love Story she's always toting (GET IT OH WAIT I DON'T GET IT) They bicker, they whine, they swear, and they're generally unpleasant. Imagine the joy the Barretts feel when they discover that birth control has failed and there's another jerk on the way!

domestic bliss: Jessica rehearses suicide (or tastes batter, whatever)

Meanwhile, Dimitri (Richard Johnson, The Haunting) wanders around, spying on the elder Barretts. See, he's Jessica's long-lost ex and now he's on a mission from Satan: in exchange for a few more years of life, Dimitri needs to ensure that Jessica's unborn baby completes its journey down the baby hatch. This is because, somehow, it's Satan's baby. That's right, Satan can infect a baby with evil just like that- sans chalky mousse or the aid of the Castevets!

As you may expect, carrying the spawn of Satan in your baby-place is not without its downside. See, Satan spreads his dominion beyond the door womb and things get totally craycray up in the Barrett household. Okay, maybe not totally craycray, but there's one night when the kids' room starts shaking and the floor lights up (like, through the floorboards-style, not disco-style. Unfortunately.) and toys move around and dolls get extra creepy via glowing eyes. It's some Poltergeist shit!

Jessica, of course, has it far worse. During some Paranormal Activity shit, she's visited in the night by an unseen force that cruelly removes her bedcovers. Then she floats around the room and...wait, did I say she has it worse? Fuck that! I'd love to float around.

The baby grows at an exponential rate and Jessica fears it's trying to kill her. She's sort of right, for her condition rapidly deteriorates. What starts out as vomiting blood and eating rotten banana peels off the street (???) soon becomes hi-Exorcist shenanigans like head-spinning, speaking in different voices, and puking up green stuff...although perhaps it's worth noting that her vom is more palak paneer than it is pea soup.

Okay, it's not worth noting, but I felt like noting it anyway.


As the screencaps show, Jessica also sweats and suddenly has weird eyes and corn teeth. During these moments, I felt hearts shoot right out of my eyeballs and into Beyond the Door. What can I say- I'm a sucker for that kind of thing.

Eventually Dimitri stalks Robert so hard that they end up meeting. Dimitri convinces Robert that he wants to help Jessica. Robert is all, "okay". I mean, what else is he gonna do? Oh yeah- he briefly tries some science with a doctor friend. The results prove nothing, but the...science apparatus did give me an opportunity to imagine that a possessed Jessica was visiting a hair salon, so all was not lost.

Once Dimitri enters the room beyond the door (SEE WHAT I DID THERE), things go from mostly incomprehensible to "dammit, we passed incomprehensible 20 minutes ago". Satan whines about always having to be born into another person's body and no one knows the suffering of a body-squatter Then he demands that Dimitri "plunge his hands into her" and rip out the baby. He refuses so Satan kills him, and the baby is stillborn. Hooray, the Barretts are back to normal! OR ARE THEY?

I know what you're thinking. That is some Zoltan: Hound of Dracula shit!

There's an awful lotta wrong in Beyond the Door. There are several lengthy passages where characters walk around the city while crazy 70s music plays; don't get me wrong, I dug the music, but the scenes went on too long and largely felt like filler. The time could have been better spent on things like...oh, you know, characters and the plot. Still, there's no denying that there's a certain...mmm, "charm" doesn't seem right somehow...there's a certain something to the scene where Robert is relentlessly harassed by a dude playing a recorder-flute-thing with his nose.

Everything's just too damn vague in this film and we don't much care about what's going on, never mind the undeveloped characters, which give us no reason to invest in their stories or plight. Dimitri explains things to Robert without explaining anything. Jessica is full-on possessed pretty quickly, and then suddenly she's not possessed. It's all sort of shrug-worthy, which...dammit, demonic possession is not supposed to be shrug-worthy! It's supposed to be terrifying and awful.

Still, there are a few things that work in the movie. There's a nugget of a worthwhile story buried deep under all the crap; we get peeks at it when Jessica confides in a friend that she dreams of running away from it all, or when she yells at Robert for not giving her "any room to breathe". If The Exorcist is in part a metaphor for puberty and burgeoning sexuality, then Beyond the Door is in part a metaphor for those- women in particular- who are dissatisfied with the idea of traditional domesticity. Granted, I may be stretching it a bit and that "in part" is a verrrrrrry small one, but it's there. Don't worry about having to think much, though, as it's never addressed in any real way. It's too bad, because it would have put some meat on the movie's bones.

The shocks, for what they are, suffice for the sub-genre. Yeah, we've seen them all before in The Exorcist, but if you dug 'em then, why wouldn't you dig 'em now? Demonic sweat is always good. And there's one bit with Jessica's eyes that- well, I don't want to spoil it but it literally made me gasp. It's a moment like that in The Exorcist when Regan has been acting out (if you can call masturbating with a crucifix "acting out") and suddenly throws her head back, her eyes stark white and her throat stark lumpy. Basically, it's that moment when "acting out" blows past "she's ill" and heads into "what the eff is going on here this is really not right" territory.

Like me, fans of possession movies will probably enjoy Beyond the Door, if only because it brings to mind thoughts of its far-superior predecessor. However, The Exorcist shouldn't get too high and mighty- after all, I didn't seen anyone play a recorder-flute-thing with their nose in that movie.

Buy Beyond the Door at Boulevard Movies and judge for yourself, judgey!

12 comments:

Thomas Duke said...

I don't get the Indian food reference. I'm sure it's something brilliantly pithy, but my brain is a little fried right now, and I'm not catching it.

One obscure Exorcist ripoff that I like is "The Devil's Female" (aka Magdalena:Possessed by the Devil" and "Beyond Darkness", I think), although it's pretty much a piece of crap. However, it's extra sleazy, and the German girl that stars is super hot and super naked throughout (if nudity was a super power, that is). It has that nice Euro trash feel within an Exorcist template.

btw. I like it when the verification letters below spell out an actual word. The verification for this comment is "bummed". No shit.

Lela Richmond said...

I saw this movie on some late-night show when I was about 8 and all I can say is, I kinda wish the floor had lit up disco style. It might have saved the whole picture.

Theron said...

I love this flick. It's probably due to nostalgia's rose-colored glasses (or whatever nostalgia is wearing this season), but seeing the less-popular Mills sister in a rip-off of the most-popular exorcism movie just makes so much sense to me.

Robert H. said...

HOUSE OF EXORCISM, Stacie...

THE POWER OF SATAN COMPELS YOU!!!

Pokemon Postmon said...

I had the 'pleasure' of viewing "Naked Exorcism" a few back. A much more basic Exorcist rip-off (indeed, it was boxed as "Exorcist III") but with enough nuns and WTF moments to perhaps make it worth your while. I know, though, that there is only so much time and so many b-movies to enjoy!
Nose piccolo?!!!

ladracul said...

Well, this DOES look better than Juliet's work on "Passions"... (Personally, I thought the whole thing with that one girl who was more like a stalker with a guy who already had a girlfriend who wasn't unlikable and you're supposed to LIKE her was something that REALLY turned me off from the show...)

TrG said...

For some reason, when I saw this movie as a wee horror nerd, I was really disturbed by the scene where she shatters the big f-in aquarium and then the big f-in fish flop around on the floor and get all dead.

Was this before the days of "no animals were harmed in the making of this movie"?

Stacie Ponder said...

Yeah, the fish! I hate that fish are seen as totally expendable- how many fish have we watched die after their aquariums are smashed?? I think this movie was pre-no-harm, but I ALSO like to think that someone scooped them up and saved them when they got the shot.

It's why I have such a hard time with KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, as much as I love it, and FOOD OF THE GODS. No one needs to actually DIE for my entertainment!

Kensington said...

The TV commercials for Beyond the Door scared the living crap out of 6-year-old me back in 1974.

I mean, come on! First she's looking right at the camera and saying "WHO. ARRRRE. YOUUUU" in a creepy man's voice, then later she's doing the head twist with a very frightening sneer. What six-year-old wouldn't have nightmares?

Stacie Ponder said...

Oh, if I'd seen this as a child, then MY head would have spun around and I'm sure I'd think it's the greatest movie ever. The possessed shit works for me!

Antaeus Feldspar said...

Tried to post this yesterday but apparently had authentication problems -- apparently Juliet Mills says on the commentary track for the movie that the fish didn't come to harm in the making of the movie; she was so worried about them that as soon as they'd gotten the shot she made sure they were saved. (I have not seen the movie or heard the commentary track but I had recently read a review of the movie by Liz at AYCYAS! where she noted her worry for the fish and her relief at hearing on the commentary track that they had been rescued.)

Stacie Ponder said...

Awesome! That makes me happy. Thanks for posting it.