Chi sei? (1974)
★★ / ★★★★
Jessica (Juliet Mills) and Robert (Gabriele Lavia), a happy couple with two kids (David Colin Jr., Barbara Fiorini), have a new addition to the family: an unplanned baby. Jessica does not realize she is pregnant until strange things begin to happen to her. When she goes to the doctor (Nino Segurini) for a check-up, it turns out she has been pregnant for three months, at least relative to the rate the baby is growing, not a few weeks like she has anticipated. Meanwhile, Dimitri (Richard Johnson), Jessica’s ex-boyfriend, dies in a car accident. In order to live again, he makes a deal with the devil. Given that Jessica’s baby is born, he will have a second chance at life.
“Chi sei?,” or “Beyond the Door,” directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis and Robert Barrett, takes inspiration from William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” and Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” but is only marginally successful because it is not able to maintain a high level of tension and horror for after the initial shock.
The scenes shot indoors embody a claustrophobic feel. When the two children are terrorized by walking dolls, shaking beds, and strange noises, I cared about what would happen to them. As former children, we all know how it was like to be scared out of our wits in our very rooms, after reading a scary story or watching a horror film, even if our parents were just right across the hall. However, the scenes shot outdoors are less successful because the menace is mitigated. For instance, when the husband walks around the city of San Francisco, he is randomly serenaded by street performers. Such a thing does not have much room for a movie like this because the light-heartedness takes away the remaining tension the picture has going for it.
Only one outdoor scene works: when the pregnant Jessica takes a random banana peel off the ground and started licking it ravenously, it dares to get a reaction out of us and we know right away that something is very wrong.
Robert does not understand what is happening to his wife. From a medical point of view, no one seems to be able to explain her condition. The filmmakers might have taken the opportunity to make us guess the heavy thoughts running around in his head. Does he contemplate about an abortion? Perhaps turn to someone who has experience with the occult? Focusing on a private space, the mind, by urging us to pay close attention to the character inhabiting a public space might have been an effective way to lure us into the story instead of us being reduced to wait for the next bizarre occurrence.
I was impressed with the artists’ use of make-up. When Jessica starts to become possessed and talk in a very deep voice, the make-up makes the performance more believable. As the devil gains more control over her body, the make-up makes it look like the character is in the early stages of decomposition.
“Beyond the Door” might have been an experience rather than a worn facsimile if the screenplay has had more original ideas to work with. Taking inspiration from other works is good if done right and consistently, but to be a staple requires taking risks and becoming an example. “Chi sei?” does not do either. It contains two or three solid scares but the rest are regurgitated goo.