Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Chi sei? (1974)

... aka: Behind the Door
... aka: Beyond the Door
... aka: Demon Beyond the Door, A
... aka: Devil Within Her, The
... aka: Diabolica
... aka: Espírito Maligno (Evil Spirit)
... aka: La cosa è tra noi (Chi sei?)
... aka: Seytan
... aka: Who?
... aka: Who Are You?

Directed by:
"O. Hellman" (Ovidio G. Assonitis)
"R. Barrett" (Roberto D'Ettore Piazzoli)

This is thought to be the most profitable of the glut of Euro Exorcist rip-offs that emerged immediately after the release of Friedkin's film. Unlike with most of the other copycats, Warner Brothers actually stood up and took notice this time, slapping the makers of Chi sei? (titled Beyond the Door for U.S. release and distributed as The Devil Within Her in the UK) with a copyright infringement / plagiarism lawsuit. In the case "Warner Bros., Inc. v. Film Ventures International," filed in October 1975, Warner did not allege that Beyond ripped off the plot of their film per se but had issue with both its depiction of the act of possession itself and its use of similar advertising materials.

According to the lawsuit, "plaintiffs [Warner] claim that the infringement is of the character of Regan and of the cinematic effects used in "The Exorcist" as a means of story expression. These effects include distinctive sounds, special lighting effects, levitation of Regan's body and the bed she is confined to, the spinning of the girl's head 360° and the rolling back of her eyes with pupils covered." The court filing also shows objections to drawers opening and closing, the use of a deep male voice, the head spin (with Beyond's "approximately 180°, or half the spin effected by Regan") and the shared vomiting and adds that the makers of Beyond had "appropriated the manifestations, visual and aural presentation and special effects which, acting together, blend to create the essence of the motion picture 'The Exorcist.'"

Screenings for both films were arranged to determine whether or not cinematic elements (sound and makeup fx, lighting, etc.) had been copied and the courts ended up siding with Warner. As a result, the producers of Beyond had to shell over some money, but the film remained in theaters, where it reputedly raked in a load of money. Just how much? Well, some sources claim as much as 15 million in the U.S. alone (40 million worldwide), which would make this one of the highest grossing horror films of 1975, only behind Jaws and (if you count it) The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The same fate didn't befall William Girdler's possession film Abby (1974), which was also sued by Warner and got yanked from theaters after just a month in release. As a result, it was unseen for decades.

You can't talk about this movie without first mentioning that it contains perhaps one of the least likable families in film history. The husband / father is cocky asshole music producer Robert Barrett (Gabriele Lavia), who doesn't make the best first impression by chewing out a band in his studio and telling them their new single "Bargain with the Devil" has "as much balls as a castrated jellyfish" and "sounds like a jerk off session in the bathroom." Robert is obsessed with fish and fish reproduction (?), refers to his kids as "monsters" (in fact, he seems to hate children in general) and casually tells his wife she's lucky to have him because "I'm an artist, I could be screwing every girl in San Francisco." When she responds sarcastically about how irresistible he fancies himself to be, he tells her if that were the case "I certainly wouldn't be married to you. I could do a lot better." Gee. I think this was intended as playful loving couple banter but, yeah, resounding fail there.

Daughter Gail (Barbara Fiorini) is about ten years old and carries around a dozen copies of "Love Story" with her everywhere she goes. In an effort to make her seem precocious, they make her use hippie lingo ("You gotta stop that or it's gonna blown my mind. Man, if you don't quit cryin' you're gonna have a real bad trip!") when she's isn't cursing up a storm. Younger son Ken (David Colin Jr.) also has a foul mouth ("Asshole!") thanks to the influence of Gail and is so obsessed with pea soup that he drinks it right out of a Campbell's can with a straw (!?) And that leaves us with homemaker / wife / mother Jessica (Juliet Mills), who probably already thinks her life is hell dealing with these freaks but is about to experience even worse.

Right before their son's birthday party, Jessica breaks the news to Robert that she's pregnant with their third child despite religiously taking her birth control. But this will be no ordinary pregnancy. She keeps waking up in the middle of the night, vomits blood, hears male breathing and laughing, becomes angry and violent to the point of destroying hubby's beloved fish tank and slapping her daughter in the face and is sometimes struck with debilitating pain, as if the baby is trying to suffocate her to death. A visit to her doctor friend George (Nino Segurini) reveals that she's three months pregnant even though she was still having her period only 7 weeks earlier. The development of the fetus continues to grow at an accelerated rate while Jessica's behavior becomes more and more troubling. It appears that Paramount, Polanski, Ira Levin and William Castle could have thrown their hats in the ring on that lawsuit as well.

Jessica leaves a trail of mud and worms behind as she floats out of bed and takes a moment out of shopping to pick a discarded banana peel up off the sidewalk and eat it. Dolls attack her kids and when her daughter goes to her for help, her head spins around. She plays with her own puke (throwing it at people and eating it), gets dry scabby lips and red spots all over her face and must be confined to her bedroom in a straight jacket where she screams and rants ("Get out of here, you piece of shit!") in a deep male voice. The kids are shipped off to stay with George's wife, Barbara (Elisabeth Turner), while the doctor and Robert try to find some way to help Jessica.

While all of the possession stuff is going on, a mysterious man named Dimitri (Richard Johnson) is lurking around. He's not only been showing up in some of Jessica's visions but has also been stalking the husband, eventually demanding that "The child must be born!" Dimitri, one of Jessica's former lovers who was supposedly killed in a car accident years earlier, has been allowed by Satan to remain on Earth but only if he sees to it that Jessica give birth to the demonic child she's carrying. Well, actually, he's instructed to rip the fetus out of her, but you catch my drift. If he complies, Satan will possibly allow him to stay on Earth for a few more years. If not, back to hell for eternal torture. He is basically the film's tormented / conflicted Father Karras character.

Though the first hour or so contains some mildly creepy horror imagery and plenty of unintentional laughs and thus isn't completely worthless (though hardly "good"), the final 45 minutes where Jessica is confined to her bedroom is a slow, excruciating, derivative bore that pretty much wipes one's memory clean of some of the funnier stuff that came before. If you must watch, see if you can make any sense out of the three-minute-long sequence where Robert is hassled by a funk band while walking down the street and some guy plays a flute with his nose (?!)

No less than SEVEN writers are credited, including both directors (Piazzoli was also the DOP) and Incredible Melting Man star Alex Rebar. It was filmed in both Italy and San Francisco on a budget of around 350,000 dollars. Due to the film's box office success it was followed by two bogus "sequels," which aren't sequels at all. Mario Bava's (far superior) Shock was released in many markets as Beyond the Door II in 1977. Then, over a decade later, a 1989 Italian / Yugoslavian production filmed as The Train (and aka Amok Train) was released as Beyond the Door IIIBeyond itself was released under a gazillion different titles (see below), with many different cuts in existence; some of which contain different footage not featured in other versions. The full running time far as I can tell is 109 minutes.

Code Red handled both the DVD release in 2007 and then the Blu-ray release in 2017. Both contain commentary tracks plus interviews with Mills, Johnson, Assonitis and Rebar in the 20-minute documentary short Beyond the Door, 35 Years Later (2009).

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