We’re all out here as variable consumers of horror films; and when we watch enough, we start to notice themes and beats from other movies in those movies. A perfect example? Let’s head on over to Serbia for a serving of demonic matrimony, train trauma, and townsfolk banging rocks together in a little number known as Beyond the Door III (1989). Also Amok Train. If there was any truth in marketing however, it would be called something along the lines of Race with the Devil’s Daughter on the Horror Express. No, I have no advertising experience; why do you ask?
So let’s stick with Beyond the Door III then, because mine is too wordy and Amok Train is an even worse title; besides, what about the continuity? After all, this is the 2nd sequel to a film about a woman who gets possessed, followed by the second film in which another woman is harassed by her possessed son, and ending at the third with a woman being harassed by Satanic worshippers on a train. You’re probably saying to yourself, “Self, that woman has been through a lot in three movies!” and you’d be right, if it were the same character. But no, these are of course unrelated films; the connective tissue of IP overlord and producer of one and three, Ovidio G. Assontis (Tentacles), was even broken by the middle film, AKA Shock (1977), Mario Bava’s final film. And Assontis was angry when distributor Epic International changed the title to BTDIII, because it had nothing to do with the original film. (Maybe scratch that IP label above; seems like it’s an issue he never had a say in.)
So, what do we have between a glitchy IP and a film that unboxes itself like a Russian nesting doll? Something that is familiar yet holds your interest; Beyond the Door III is loaded with ‘inspiration’ from other films. Thank Whomever they at least crib from the finest.
Let’s follow along with a shy and withdrawn teenager named Beverly (Mary Kohnert - Freddy’s Nightmares); she and her classmates from America are heading to Serbia to witness a 2,000 year old pagan ritual. Their guide, whom they meet in Yugoslavia, is one Professor Andromolek, who looks suspiciously like Bo Svenson (Night Warning) in fancy dress and farcical goatee; one boat ride to Serbia later (and a whole lot of leering concern for Beverly from the professor), and the group find themself in the remote village where the ceremony is to take place.
It would seem that the villagers - in cahoots with the professor - need a female human virgin to sacrifice, and Beverly seems to have been pre chosen. For what reason? So that the Prince of Darkness may rise from his abyss, and lay his seed as a future cross-promotion for the coming of the Antichrist. (“Born on Earth and raising Hell! Don’t forget to stop by Dante’s Dip for your free ice cream cone!”)
The kids split from the village post haste, where they hop a passing train in hopes of getting far away from the deranged revelers and back to any semblance of security; but Serbia seems vast, wide, and filled with strangers…
Speaking of cross-promotion, Beyond the Door III uses elements from folk horror as well as the more traditional Satanic song and dance; thank writer Sheila Goldberg (StageFright) and director Jeff Kwitny (Iced) for streamlining the disparate elements into a semblance of coherence. There’s a lot going on for horror fans; in addition to spotting a particular ‘borrow’ or two (or six), the film pays tribute to The Omen series by setting up some of the kills in the same creative manner; I won’t say where or when, but you’ll know, and you’ll smile.
Once those kills are fleshed out (so to speak) and brought to life, the film stops to become a showcase for splattery effects. And truth be told, they’re as uneven as one would expect in a lowdown budgeted, far from home shoot. But they are bountiful, and the gore scenes carry the same energy that the film itself relays: A confidence perhaps not fully earned, yet completely embraced. There truly is almost something for every horror fan to savor in Beyond the Door III. Disposable victims? Check. White contacts for witches’ eyes? You bet. Overzealous facial peels? Ooh yeah. (My favorite kill in the whole shebang.) There’s three more horror homages we hadn’t even talked about.
As I said though, Beyond the Door III somehow - with the aid of excellent cinematography and a table well set for mood - manages to raise itself above others of this time frame and circumstances. My money is on confidence. After all, you probably won’t remember that at any time our heroes could just jump from the train, because you’ll marvel that one of them thought it would be a good idea to run underneath it.
Beyond the Door III is available on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: UNINVITED (1987)