Ambition should never be a dirty word, especially when it comes to micro-budget movies. Especially micro-budget movies shot on a camcorder starring a Yugoslavian actor who goes by the amazing moniker "Lazar Rockwood." Which brings us to the kind of amazing Canadian-made Cube/Saw prototype Beyond the Seventh Door (1987), lovingly presented on DVD by Intervision, who never fail to cover all of your shot-on-video needs.
Released to Toronto cable, Bozidar Benedikt's (also a Yugoslavian immigrant, and the author of over 20 novels to boot) full-length feature debut is incredibly simple in structure and execution, but has a quirky charm thanks to its high concept and even higher lead performance from Rockwood.
Boris (Rockwood - Witchblade), a small-time thief, has just been released from prison, and his first stop is a grungy café where he meets up with his ex-girlfriend Wendy (Bonnie Beck – The Making of a Hollywood Madam), who has a proposal: break into her boss’ mansion and steal his treasure. The catch, that Boris and Wendy find out as soon as they enter, is that each basement room houses a trap, and they must think their way through flooded rooms, spikes, contracting walls, and floor puzzles on the way to the seventh door which offers untold fortune. Will Boris and Wendy make it to the end? Or does her boss have something more sinister in store for them?
From the title alone, one would think Beyond the Seventh Door is a horror movie; certainly the premise described helps it move into this territory as well, and the idea of passing through trap-laden rooms is old hat nowadays. Yet in 1987, the apt comparison would be Raiders of the Lost Ark, although the similarities end there, lest the viewer anticipates a roller coaster, crackerjack ride. You won’t get that. What you will get is an energetic, extremely low-budget charmer that uses its claustrophobic settings (each room is tiny) to tap into some primal fears without breaking the bank. (I’m not a fan of enclosed spaces, and neither should you be).
Benedikt is certainly competent enough behind the camera, and he really does offer up some nifty rooms; in particular a floor puzzle based on word play that is cleverer than any Saw trap. Which isn’t to say it’s flawless; far from it. Even 83 minutes seems too much time to tell a tale that could have easily been pared down to an hour-long Twilight Zone episode, and there are really no stakes besides moving from room to room to get to the prize. But… it’s also fun to see what the next trap will be, and how Benedikt will spring it. There is an interesting turn at the end as well that puts the previous events into a clearer light.
Speaking of light, Lazar Rockwood (if that’s not his real name, I never want to know) blinds the screen with a unique performance that is hard to look away from. Often squinting like he’s blinded by a light, chain-smoking through even the most perilous moments, he delivers each line reading with an askew gusto that is mesmerizing. Beck operates on a more standard leading lady level, but is game for everything Benedikt throws at her.
Beyond the Seventh Door deserves to be seen beyond its late-night local cable lodgings, and Intervision is once again the company that scratches that SOV itch. You’d like an audio commentary? They’ve got you covered with one by Benedikt, Rockwood, and moderated by Canucxploitation.com’s Paul Corope. As if that wasn’t entertaining enough (and trust me it is plenty entertaining), there’s also "Beyond Beyond the 7th Door," a delightful featurette with on camera interviews from all three of our audio commentators. Benedikt is a joyful man, full of energy and a serious love of film. (Of course he owns a movie theatre.) As for Rockwood (who has gone on to a surprisingly full acting career), you really need to hear him describe how to be a good actor. It should surprise you to know it involves cats. (Because of course it does.) And finally, there’s "The King of Cayenne," which takes a look at Toronto mainstay Ben Kerr, who besides playing the dead body in the movie, was a local character who busked the streets every day. Seemed like an entertaining fellow, and the featurette falls right in line with the smiles the disc offers.
It always warms my heart when a movie really goes for it, regardless of budgetary concerns or questionable facilities. Intervision’s Beyond the Seventh Door disc shows that a little ambition can go a long way, even if you just end up in the basement. At least you have puzzles to keep you occupied.
Movie Score: 3/5, Disc Score: 4/5