❉ Revisiting ‘the Italian Exorcist’, out now as a limited edition Blu-Ray from Arrow Video.
“I remain to this day of the opinion that Beyond the Door is an underrated and effective horror obscurity. Neither a hidden gem nor a guilty pleasure, if one can see past the usual “Exorcist knock off” stuff and watch with an open mind then I maintain there’s a good film to be enjoyed.”
Psycho killer, chi sei?
For the longest time, I had the strangest dream. ‘Twas of a film (isn’t it usually?), and it involved a car going over the edge of a cliff and then hanging suspended, pickled in time like a gherkin in a jar via the magic of freeze-frame whilst a sinister bearded man intoned sinister things. Thanks to the lax standards of the long-defunct E.B. Videos of Chichester – whose staff didn’t mind renting horror films such as The Stuff, The Incredible Melting Man and Curse of the Devil when they’d quite obviously been selected by a five year old (perhaps they were thrown off the scent by the fact that something like Caravan of Courage or American Rabbit were usually included, though they were usually my dad’s choice) – I had experienced this film at a tender age, though for years its title eluded me. It still almost does, since it has several, depending upon who you ask: the Italian title Chi Sei? (Who Are You?), the original British release title of Devil Within Her (not to be confused with Peter Sasdy’s 1975 Joan Collins vehicle The Devil Within Her, aka The Monster, aka I Don’t Want to Be Born, aka Sharon’s Baby, aka Demons 6 [probably]) and more usually known as Beyond the Door.
Starring Juliet Mills (the Quatermass spawn that wasn’t in Whistle Down the Wind) as San Franciso housewife and mother of two Jennifer Barrett who finds her happy home and very body under seige by daemonic forces and Richard Johnson (nearly-James Bond who memorably led the investigation into The Haunting at Hill House in Robert Wise’s classic 1963 chiller) as the mysterious Dimitri, the movie was helmed by Greek-Egyptian producer-director Ovidio G. Assonitis – under the usual European type of Anglicised pseudonym, as Oliver Hellman – from a script that included the contributions of many writing hands, including much to my surprise future Incredible Melting Man Alex Rebar.
Opening with the sonorous tones of Richard Johnson delivering an autobiographical Sympathy for the Devil-style Satanic monologue (“Of course, you won’t actually see me – unfortunately, in recent centuries that has gone out of fashion… Oh, there was a time when I was always being painted, or impersonated in one way or another – and as you know I’ve always been given the best lines – however, like all of us I have had to learn to adapt to what is absurdly called a rational age and I’ve done so by, shall we say going underground“), we catch a glimpse of a candlelit Satanic ritual before cutting to that footage of Dimitri’s car heading over the cliff’s edge and then freezing mid-air that haunted my childhood memory.
We then movie to the Golden Gate city by the bay San Francisco where we meet Jessica, her music exec husband Robert (Gabriele Lavia, the ill-fated Carlo of Dario Argento’s Deep Red) who’s busy working on a song entitled Bargain With the Devil, and their children Gail and Ken. Their seemingly idyllic life, buoyed at first by Jessica’s revelation of her pregnancy, swiftly takes a turn for the dark as her morning sickness symptoms become ever more severe – including vomiting blood like a bad case of hyperemesis gravidarum Satanicum – and she begins to feel a growing terror that she may die in childbirth or that there is something abnormal about the fateful foetus: a fear that a visit to an OB/GYN who informs her that the baby is developing at a much more rapid rate than normal fails to alleviate.
As their home becomes infested with paranormal phenomena and Jessica constantly hears the whispers and snarls of a demoniac voice, the family must contend not only with her sudden and terrifying mood swings and the ever-present spectral presences, but also the enigmatic Dimitri who has been a lurking presence shadowing Richard before inveigling himself into their lives with offers of aid and demands that modern medicine cannot help – and “the child must be born” to fulfill the will of the diabolical master who holds the contract for his soul after his fatal accident. Can Richard allow His Satanic Majesty’s request and jeopardise the life of his beloved wife and safety of his children to allow the Antichrist to enter the world?
That would be telling.
Described – or, rather, decried – by Alan Frank as “inferior”, “abortive” and having “little finesse” and by Roger Ebert as “scary trash” (one star out of five – one can only imagine what Gene Siskel would have made of it), I remain to this day of the opinion that Beyond the Door is an underrated – if admittedly unimaginative to the point of almost plagiarism – and effective horror obscurity. Neither a hidden gem nor a guilty pleasure, if one can see past the usual “Exorcist knock off” stuff and watch with an open mind then I maintain there’s a good film to be enjoyed. One that I enjoy more than The Exorcist in all honestly – though that may be in large part to the fact that I saw this one first while Friedkin’s film was still in its “banned by the decree of the ‘Moral Majority'” state of exile.
Devilish fun, Beyond the Door was released on Blu-ray by Arrow Video on April 6th in a limited edition (3,000 units) two-disc set including both the 108 minute Devil With Her UK version and the 99-minute US cut, both in stunning 2K restorations, as well as a veritable plenitude of documentary and interview extras, including Possessed, an exhaustive, extensive history of Italian exorcism films. Well worth selling anyone’s soul for!
Disc One – Uncut English Export Version
❉ Brand new 2K restoration of the Uncut English Export Version, released as Devil Within Her (108 mins)
❉ High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
❉ Original uncompressed mono audio
❉ Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
❉ The Devil and I – a newly-filmed interview with director/ producer Ovidio G. Assonitis
❉ Barrett’s Hell – a newly-filmed interview with cinematographer Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli
❉ Beyond the Music – a newly-filmed interview with composer Franco Micalizzi
❉ The Devil’s Face – a newly-filmed interview with camera operator Maurizio Maggi
❉ Motel and Devils – a newly-conducted audio interview with actor Gabriele Lavia
❉ Alternate Italian Chi Sei? opening titles
❉ Alternate Behind the Door VHS opening titles
❉ Alternate Japanese Diabolica opening and ending sequence
❉ Trailers, TV and Radio Spots
❉ Image Gallery
Limited Edition 2-Disc Blu-Ray Contents
❉ Limited to 3,000 units
❉ Brand new 2K restoration of the extended Uncut English Export Version
❉ Exclusive bonus disc containing the alternate US Theatrical Version and Italy
❉ Possessed, a brand-new feature-length documentary on Italian exorcism movies!
❉ Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach
❉ Reversible fold-out poster
❉ Perfect-bound collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by John Martin and Alessio di Rocco
❉ ‘Beyond The Door’ Limited Edition Blu-Ray (Cat No: FCD1973) is out now from Arrow Video. Running time 109 mins. RRP £25. Click here to order direct from Arrow Video!
❉ Glen McCulla has had a lifetime-long interest in film, history and film history – especially the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror. He sometimes airs his maunderings on his blog at http://psychtronickinematograph.blogspot.co.uk/ and skulks moodily on Twitter at @ColdLazarou