Beyond the Door II (1977) – Horror Film Review

BEYOND THE DOOR II (titled SHOCK in its native Italy) is the last directorial effort from cult figure Mario Bava, the cinematographer-turned-director who created such horror classics as BLACK SUNDAY (1960) and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1965). Unfortunately, this is a weak swan song, a coda that reprises motifs from his earlier operas, but without the bravura brio that elevated those works to the level of macabre art. The film is not without interest to fans with patience to sit through the dull recitatives in exchange for the occasional beautiful aria, but the pleasures are few and far between: the anticipation elicited by the patented slow tracking shots that seem to draw the viewer into the movie; the uneasy shudder as the statue of a hand, propelled by an unseen force, slides along a display case and crashes to the floor; the delirious vertigo of an anti-gravity shot – a prostrate woman’s hair floating up into the hair -that perfectly conveys the mind-spinning rapture of an erotically-charged encounter with her dead lover.

These moments, wonderful though they may be, are not nearly enough to salvage a story that should have been a short subject. Dora (Nicolodi) moves back into her old house, along with her new husband Bruno (Steiner) and her young son Marco (David Colin Jr.) It immediately becomes apparent that Marco is, like Miles in THE INNOCENTS, possessed by – or at least in league with – a spirit from the beyond, in this case Dora’s first husband, a drug-addict who died seven years ago. Over the course of 90 minutes, Dora freaks out over and over again about the strange way Marco is acting, while Bruno (an airline pilot who is often away from home) tells her to get hold of herself.

The film quickly falls into a monotonous rhythm of repetitive scenes: Marco does something suspicious and wanders off; Dora goes searching for him, but he doesn’t answer her call; when she finds him, she accuses him of misbehaving, but he denies it. There is little plot development, and the supernatural manifestations hit a plateau instead of increasing intensity. The result is a frustratingly viscous form of narrative molasses that slows the movie down to a near stand-still. Only toward the end do things pick up. As Marco recedes to the sidelines, his dead father taking center stage, the film finally builds up to a reasonably horrifying conclusion that contains one or two genuine jolts (such as the perfectly timed medium shot wherein Marco dips out of frame while running toward Dora, who opens her arms to catch him as he jumps up, only to find herself embracing her husband’s corpse).

With a trip to a psychologist, who gives Marco a clean bill of mental health while referencing Dora’s past mental breakdown, the screenplay seems to be setting up a Henry James-type interpretation that Dora is hallucinating; however, the haunting is too obviously real for this sub-plot to be much more than a red-herring. It is clear, however, that haunting is related to a guilty secret on Dora’s part, which is revealed in the final reel. Sadly, this makes little sense. (SPOILER ALERT: All the characters know that Dora’s former husband is dead, but it turns out his body is hidden behind a wall in the basement. Dora and her new husband moved out of the house, but now that the missing husband has been declared legally dead after seven years, they have returned. We’re supposed to believe that Dora’s nervous breakdown and her sudden departure from her house – immediately after her husband’s mysterious disappearance – raised no suspicion among the police. END SPOILER)

Visually, BEYOND THE DOOR II is a bit dingy by Bava’s standards, at least in the prints available in the U.S. The budget was obviously low, and most of the film is set in and around Dora’s house. Bava does a good job keeping the limited space interesting, but the photography tends to by muddy. With some notable exceptions, the camerawork is competent, rather than inspired, and the staging is often derivative, providing a virtual greatest hits of past Bava glories: We get objects overturned by an invisible hand (BLACK SUNDAY);  the return of the dead lover (THE WHIP AND THE BODY); the not-so-innocent child (KILL, BABY, KILL); and the guilty victim whose own hands carry out the ghost’s vengeance (BLACK SABBATH and KILL, BABY, KILL). This reuse of familiar imagery may strike auteur-loving critics as an intriguing recurring leitmotif, or it could simply be an example of creative exhaustion. 

Daria Nicolodi is good in the lead role, but little David Colin Jr. – possibly due to his annoying voice added in the English dubbing – is not one of the screen’s great menacing children (neither Damien, nor Miles, nor the Children of the Damned need worry about being usurped). There is a Goblin-esque electronic music score by I Libra that falls somewhere between the soundtrack for Dario Argento’s DEEP RED (1975) and Lucio Fulci’s THE BEYOND (1981) – less a missing link than an evolutionary off-shoot that died out.

BEYOND THE DOOR II is better than its misleading title would suggest (indicating a non-existant connection with the infamous EXORCIST rip-off starring Juliet Mills and Richard Johnson). Nevertheless, it feels less like an original work from one of the genre’s greats than like a knock-off. This feeling is magnified by the presence of Nicolodi, who starred in DEEP RED and co-wrote Argento’s SUSPIRIA (1977); in fact, BEYOND THE DOOR II concludes with the invisible supernatural force knocking over chairs and bureaus, we seem to be a seeing a low-budget version of SUSPIRIA’s finale. Even on his worst days, Bava was better than most of the hacks toiling in the horror genre, but his final film is for fans and completists only.

SHOCK 1977SHOCK (a.ka. “Beyond the Door II,” Film Ventures International. 5/79 [77]). In Eastmancolor. 92 minutes. Produced and directed by Mario Bava. Screenplay by Lamberto Bava and Franco Barbieri. Directors of Photography, Bava and Giuseppe Maccari. Edited by Roberto Sterbini. Music by I Libra. Cast: Daria Nicolodi, John Steiner, David Colin Jr., Ivan Rassimov. NOTE: Although the direction is credited solely to Mario Bava, his son Lamberto later claimed to have co-directed the film, handling most of the on-set chores, due to his father’s failing health.

About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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