Sunday, June 16, 2013

Video Cheese: BEYOND THE DOOR III (1989)

Note: this review originally appeared at as part of a series called Video Cheese. It has been reprinted here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

BEYOND THE DOOR III (1989 - color)
American students again regret travelling the European back-country, and this time find themselves trapped on a demonic train.”

   Leonard Maltin’s video guide mentions a late-70′s Italian Exorcist knock-off titled Beyond the Door, and it’s in-name-only sequel produced around the same time. Since supernatural (at least demonic) horror films are seldom written by anyone with any spiritual knowledge, sitting through them tends to be more aggravating than entertaining. Because of this, I can’t say that I was in a big hurry to view the third film in the series, especially if it had any connection to either the first or second films which go by the same title. I’d be completely lost if there was a back story I needed and didn’t have access to.

    Being better than my expectations, though, Beyond the Door III seems to tell a story independent of any earlier flick. Also a bonus was the fairly eventful plot once things got going. At times, it played like a more fantastic version of Race with the Devil, a classic chase movie where Peter Fonda and his friend (Warren Oates, if my memory doesn’t fail me) witness a sacrifice made as part of a cult ceremony and must flee from the pursuing satanists. Beyond the Door III isn’t that good, of course, it’s a completely different animal. But it wasn’t as bad as I naturally expected it to be.

   Points at least for going in unexpected directions. As we open, a group of high-schoolers (or are they supposed to be in college? I’d think so, based on their ages, but I’m not sure this is spelled out) are flying to Europe to engage in some occult studies or some such, NEVER a good idea in these things! Their guide turns out to be Bo Svensen made up to look like Dracula with a beard. At least Bo seems to be more engaged here than he usually was during this period, actually trying for a complete performance, including an accent. He even looks less craggy than he usually does.

   Okay, there’s one girl in the group, Beverly, who seems seconds away from freaking out at any given moment. Beverly’s mother is an immigrant from the very part of Europe the class will be visiting. It’s pretty clear right from the start that weird things are going to happen to Beverly. Firstly, she has a huge curved birthmark on her tummy (which, I suppose, is meant to look like flames). We’re given a good look at this in the film’s single* nude scene as Beverly showers.

(* I point this out mostly because it's so odd for a film like this to try and actually tell a complete story instead of serve up periodic sex and nudity. That too, was a refreshing and unexpected turn.)

   Beverly's classmates know of this mark. I’m not sure how this works, given that Beverly gets picked on for being prudish so it’s hard to imagine they ever saw her in a bikini, let alone in the raw. Her being a virgin is highlighted, and her supposedly adult classmates really enjoy snickering at this. (I admit, I haven’t been in school for a long time, but would this really be such a big deal and point of ridicule? I mean, I know some jerks would bring it up around girls, but I don’t think the entire class would be hung up on it, would they?)

   Anyway, Professor Bo hands out some medallions to identify the group’s members if they get lost in the field. These look amazingly like Beverly’s giant birthmark. Rather than leave upon seeing her medallion, which you have to figure might ring some alarm bells, Beverly stays with the group. (And despite establishing these medallions, they are never seen again.)

   Meanwhile, Beverly’s mother is horribly decapitated when a car purposefully brakes in front of a cargo truck hauling metal beams, one of which flies through the window of her taxi. Dark forces are already afoot. 

   Bo intercepts a telegram to keep the news from Beverly. They indicate that Beverly notices this, but she still doesn’t make a run for it. In fact, she’ll allow Bo to comfort her with a long embrace moments later!

   On site, the kids hike out to a remote village where an annual ‘passion play’ is recreated, one which dates to before the time of Christ, and involves a beautiful young virgin (snicker snicker). Okay, Beverly isn’t beautiful or anything, but she should be putting the pieces together here. I mean, she’s nervous, but she’s always nervous, so I don’t understand why Bo is able to convince her that she should stay with him for the night.

   I doubt this will shock anyone, but she ends up being drugged. Perhaps not as expected is when unconscious Beverly is felt up by a blind old “Gipsy” woman and proclaimed to be virgin. (By the way, that’s how they spell gypsy in the credits, with an ‘i’ where the ‘y’ should be. It’s their mistake, not mine.)

   Anyway, the other kids are rounded into primitive, almost Ewok village-like cabins. When they’re asleep, the townsfolk nail the doors shut and set the houses on fire. Although they slept through the hammers banging on the doors, the fire finally wakes them up and they make a break for it. One of their number, though, in a sudden trace, burns alive.

   Running away from the village, the kids find an approaching train. Most are able to climb aboard, but one girl falls behind. One of the guys jumps off to help her, but breaks his leg in the process. The two then have to make their way on foot. Meanwhile, the others find refuge on the train when the conductor promises to take them to the authorities. The trip will take some while, though, as the train is “non capitalist” and has no radio to alert the station ahead of their arrival.

   About here it seems the producers had two movies in mind and decided to make both as one picture. One idea involved the kids being tracked by the cult, the other a story about a runaway train. You see, evil forces take control of the train and kill the conductor and engineer (one poor guy actually gets sucked into the furnace) and the train steams along under supernatural control!

  As if that isn’t enough to reckon with, Beverly’s travelling companions start dying in gruesome fashion while trying to stop the train. At this point, you could almost say it turns into an imaginative slasher flick of sorts. Anything after this will be a spoiler, so turn back if you don’t want to learn the rest.

   And now, the rest of our story.....

   As the train barrels out of control, the authorities attempt to derail it, but the train is under demonic control and doesn’t require a track when it wants to leave it! In one scene, the track shifts and the train bulldozes across the wilderness to turn around and start hauling its captives back the way they came from. (A mix of pretty good and pretty bad model work depicts this).

   Now moving in the other direction, the authorities try to derail the train before it can collide with another train coming up the same line. They remove a section of track, but the train speeds right along and finds the track again. The other train is history.

   In another scene, the train changes course into a swamp so it can run over the two kids that got away earlier. I tell you, there are moments when this would be sort of neat were it not so profoundly goofy. One curious detail we learn is that if you’re standing in a rowboat and a train comes crashing into you, your head is cut off…. clean, like under a sword…..and your severed noggin will end up in the middle car of the train…somehow….

   Ultimately, the forces of darkness manage to kill all of Beverly’s friends before the train comes to a stop. She’s then surrounded by the cult.

   Okay, here’s where things get REALLY confusing. There were a couple of other characters on the train. One was a young woman who steals and uses her wits to survive in the third world country where all this is taking place (charmingly, she looks like she never saw a shower, but she’s wearing lipstick). She buys it when she tries to stop the train with a makeshift bomb.

   The other character is this guy who sits in the corner and doesn’t do anything but play a flute. We’ve forgotten all about him until he suddenly enters the plot again: Beverly is surrounded and soon to be offered to Satan himself as a virgin bride, the flute-player removes his hood and seduces her. I was thinking this guy was supposed to the Devil himself, but no. Weirdly, this is only the beginning of the craziness which follows.....

   Beverly is next seen outside the train, dressed like a widow with a sheer front so as to let us again see her goofy birthmark. She’s wearing make-up now too, which I guess is important, but I’m not sure how. Bo arrives to pick her up and ride her back to the village in a horse-drawn buggy. She seems to have embraced this whole wife-of-the-Devil thing, which pleases Bo.

   Later, she’s about to be… Now, how do I describe this. Okay, there’s this big black cube in a barn or something, and glowing smoke occasionally rises from the top. Beverly is placed on a platform with a narrow bed atop it and she lies down near the top of the cube. Then, what looks like a block of ice (?) rises from the top and inside that is a silly-looking rubber Devil…. Words fail me.

   Anyhoo, the “Gipsy” wanders over to give Beverly a last-minute check and then freaks out because Beverly has been deflowered. Now, as important as this supposedly is to this ritual, you’d think they would have checked this status earlier, but I guess “Gipsy” wasn’t around to grope her until this minute…. At any rate, this apparently spoils the whole ceremony and the congregation melts to death. This seems to be a standard means of destroying cults, now that I think about it.

   Beverly is free to go, and I guess the cult is washed up for good. Somehow, Beverly makes it back to the airport and heads for home. In an ancient book her mother gave her way back in reel one–and we haven’t seen it since–Beverly learns that the guy who did… you know….. to her, was a 16th century saint who, I guess, returned to earth just to rob her of her virginity in order to stop a satanic ritual! (The exact nature of the ritual I was never clear on. Was Beverly supposed to give birth to the Antichrist?)

   Talk about wacky! I already had mixed feelings about the whole steal-her-virginity-before-she-can-be-used-by-Satan thing, but this revelation is positively screwball!

  Sadly, this was better than most devil movies I’ve tried to watch. If nothing else, I must tip my cap to the film for going in completely unexpected directions. Multiple times at that. I’m not saying they were always good moves to make, but they did keep me guessing!

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