... aka: Hinter dem Jenseits (Behind the Hereafter)
... aka: Mati
After directing a handful of episodes of Kojak, Lt. Theo Kojak himself decided to take the plunge and write, direct and star in his very own feature. A vanity project? Perhaps, though it's more likely he was temporarily bitten by the artiste bug after helming a few TV episodes. Either way, the film was not successful on any front, didn't even make it to theaters and Savalas' filmmaking career both began and ended right here.
Dr. Nicholas Mati is a psychiatrist at a mental hospital who plays by his own rules. He's not above a little return slap to the face if need be, playing into delusions or even gambling with the patients. His "alternative treatments" have put him on the shit list of hospital director Dr. Batt (Barney Phillips), who gives him one last warning about his behavior before he takes him in front of the Board of Review for disciplinary action. Despite his facile "love conquers all" philosophy applied to psychiatry, his co-workers like him well enough and try to encourage him to play by the rules long enough for the director to get off his back. In addition to tending to patients, Dr. Mati also teaches. He recommends to some graduate students during a lecture that they forget "cold, clinical labels" and psychological diagnoses because of their stigma and because "specifics are not needed." In other words, approach each person - mentally ill or not - as the unique individual they are, just as he hopes to be seen for who he is: an unconventional doctor with his own unconventional methods.
Whether it be his cab driver (Bob Basso), his doorman (Milton Frome), his colleagues or his patients, everyone seems to want Dr. Mati's advice on just about everything. Little do they know, but he's actually the last person they should be asking as he's losing his own mind. Mati sees his complacent wife Elaine's (Diana Muldaur) painting change from a serene woman surrounded by flowers to a "depressing" mournful woman shrouded in black. He hears a voice on a tape recorder changing, rewinds it, re-listens and the voice is no longer there. His lectures start taking on a grim tone as he tells a future generation of shrinks they're in for a future of disappointment and frustration in their field and will eventually be "stripped of all the smug securities" of their education. And he starts hearing voices in his head, especially those of Leslie Valentine (Laura Johnson), a beautiful yet mysterious student he first encounters thumbing through some classified files she shouldn't have access to.
Just when things can't get any more disorienting for our deteriorating doc, someone with a newspaper clipping about a TV appearance he made in his pocket leaps to his death from the hospital rooftop and a patient mysteriously dies after having hallucinations of stabbing a baby to death in its crib (!) All of that adds to the visions and voices in his head. People and images change right before his eyes as Dr. Mati is eventually overwhelmed with various horror imagery, flashbacks, delusions, paranoia, loud voices and swirling camerawork. Leslie and her roommate Ann (Rita Marie Carr) also find themselves in danger after Dr. Mati links them to the suicide victim.
Oh, so you've seen this before? Same here. And yet, while this psycho-drama isn't great, I feel I must kind of defend it because it's also not nearly as bad as some may lead you to believe. It's not poorly made, the plot is coherent, the acting and dialogue are decent and there are some good scenes as well as some nice directorial touches here and there. What really holds this back is the sheer predictability of it all. There's simply not enough mystery, intrigue or twists in the script, nor enough insight into mental illness, nor enough visual panache, nor enough wit, nor enough of anything to make this stand out from loads of other psycho-dramas. Simply put: A lot of other filmmakers have covered this same ground already and done so with either far more style or for more depth.
The cast includes Walter Brooke as one of Mati's straight-laced colleagues, Tony Burton as a patient, Lilyan Chauvin (SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT) as a nurse, Toni Lawrence (daughter of Marc) as a student, Biff Elliot as a police sergeant, Susan Myers (who had the lead role in the made-for-TV Carrie rip-off The Spell the same year) as Savalas' daughter and blink-or-you'll miss it contributions from Debra Feuer (Night Angel), Denise DuBarry (Monster in the Closet) and former Miss California Melissa Prophet (Fatal Games). Telly offspring Nicholas Savalas, who was briefly in the tabloids years later for dating Tori Spelling and (supposedly) being verbally abusive to her by telling her "10 times a day how ugly [she] was," also has a small role as a student. It was produced by Howard W. Koch, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the time. The backers were Armenian, including Arthur Sarkissian, who'd later have more success producing the Rush Hour action / comedy series.
Actress Melissa Prophet describing how she met and worked with Savalas, including bits about this particular movie. Note: If she actually played a college girl hooker who turns into a devil then that was eliminated from the film as there's nothing even remotely like that here! (February 16, 1986 | By Cheryl Lavin, Chicago Tribune | FULL ARTICLE)
IMDb currently has this as a 1985 release, noting it was filmed in 1977 in the trivia section (Savalas also promoted the unreleased film in May 1977 at Cannes according to a Washington Post article). However, there's a VHS release from Full House Video out of the Netherlands that has a 1982 date on it, as does another European video release I found. I'm not entirely sure if this is the date of the actual video release or the date the film was copyrighted under a new name since there were several title changes. The 1985 release date seems to stem from the U.S. Media VHS release as well as it making its TV debut on CBS that same year. To complicate matters a bit further, TV Guide has this listed as a 1978 release.
So was this first publicly shown in 1977, 1978, 1982 or 1985? According to an article in the Las Vegas Sun dated November 27, 1977 (below), Savalas was still editing the film then, so we can at least scratch the earliest date off. After that, I'm not so sure. I'm going with 1982 to coincide with the European VHS releases until someone can prove me wrong.
One thing many sources do have wrong is that Priscilla Barnes plays Leslie Valentine. Nope! But she can be seen in the first scene as one of many medical students watching Mati interact with patients. She has no lines and isn't even listed in the credits. The fact she's often falsely credited with the wrong part stems from an intentionally deceptive early 80s trade ad in Variety (above) that attempted to give Barnes star billing after she became a household name replacing Suzanne Somers on Three's Company in 1981. Though religion plays absolutely no part in this film, the same ad tried to sell this difficult-to-market film as a religious horror and included an Omen-style upside down cross.