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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

DOOR INTO SILENCE -- DVD review by porfle

Lately I seem to be going through a "70s made-for-TV scary movie" cycle. First it was BAD RONALD, then DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, and now, the psychological thriller DOOR INTO SILENCE, aka "Le porte del silenzio." The difference this time, however, is that it isn't made-for-TV, and it was filmed in 1991. But darned if it couldn't pass for one of those mildly eerie low-budget films I saw on "ABC Movie of the Week" when I was a kid.

The credits tell us that this film was written by "Jerry Madison" and directed by "H. Simon Kittay", but the big surprise is that both of those names are pseudonyms for none other than Italian goremeister Lucio Fulci. Equally surprising is the fact that DOOR INTO SILENCE, his final film, has nary a trace of blood and gore, nor are there any zombies or other supernatural creatures.

What it does have is a "Twilight Zone"-style plot padded out to feature length. John Savage (THE DEER HUNTER) plays Melvin Devereaux, a real estate agent headed for his home in Abbeville, Louisiana after visiting his father's gravesite in New Orleans. At the cemetery he meets a beautiful, mysterious woman (Sandi Schultz, later to become Savage's real-life wife) who displays a strange interest in him and even admits that she's following him. Yet she always disappears just before he can learn anything more about her.

Melvin's journey home is an exercise in frustration. Traveling along desolate backroads (Fulci manages to make southern Louisiana look like the end of the world) he's constantly being forced to make detours onto bad roads where he gets stuck in the mud or is forced to drive over crumbling bridges. In one scene, he wanders into the woods and is almost shot by a hunter, who chides him for being scared. In another, his car breaks down and he encounters the woman again in his motel room as he waits for it to be fixed. To make matters worse, Melvin keeps getting stuck behind a ubiquitous black hearse whose driver won't let him pass.

The story unfolds slowly and gives us plenty of time to try and figure out what's going on, although the outcome is pretty obvious. The first scene in the movie shows a head-on collision between a car and a big rig, with the car's clock being stopped at 7:30. During the film, Melvin keeps checking the time and, to his puzzlement, it's always 7:30. Not only that, but no matter how long he's on the road, the sun is constantly glaring into his eyes from the same spot right above the horizon.

As if this wasn't enough to clue us in on what's really happening with Melvin, the casket in back of the hearse has a wreath that sports first his wife Sylvia's name, and later his own. He has a vision while driving in which he enters his hometown mortuary and finds the mystery woman and the hearse driver working there. In the viewing room, all the caskets bear his name and in one of them he finds his own body. Later, he visits his Aunt Martha, who's a fortune teller, and when she reads his palm she informs him he's been dead for several hours. It's as though Fulci couldn't wait for the twist ending and just twisted the whole movie.

Meanwhile we're treated to scene after scene of Melvin's endlessly frustrating trip through rural Lousiana. For the first half of the movie it's somewhat intriguing and suspenseful despite the slow pace, but the story starts to drag when the outcome becomes increasingly obvious and we realize that Fulci is stretching this simple plotline like Silly Putty.

The movie did manage to hold my interest--although the end was pretty obvious, I was still curious to actually see how it would happen. And along the way there are some pretty creepy scenes that have a bit of a CARNIVAL OF SOULS vibe to them, especially when the distraught Melvin disrupts a funeral service and later when his visit to Aunt Martha ends badly. Ultimately, however, the story's resolution is a letdown, and the final "gotcha" shot is about as cheesy as they come.

Fulci's uneven direction seems slapdash one minute, inspired the next. The very low-budget Kodacolor look of the film has a kind of rough-hewn appeal, with an effectively eerie and oppressive atmosphere. Always sort of a peculiar actor, John Savage is fun to watch as he inhabits the harried, confused, and increasingly frantic Melvin Devereaux character with all his distinctive quirks. (One distraction was the fact that every time someone said his name, I kept expecting Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis to respond, "Melvin?")

Sandi Schultz makes a lovely mystery woman, and Richard Castleman is so irritating as the blustery hearse driver that we can understand why Melvin wants to deck him. Also making the most of their small roles are Mary Coulson as Aunt Martha and Jennifer Loeb as a whiny hitchhiker-prostitute with whom Melvin has an uncomfortable sexual encounter. Prolific exploitation filmmaker Joe D'Amato (as "John Gelardi") executive-produced, and Laura "Emanuelle" Gemser is billed as "Costume Designer."

Severin Films' DVD transfer is from a nice-looking print, presented here in full-screen and Dolby Digital 2.0 English mono. It's a barebones disc with no extras.

I reckon Fulci completists will want to grab a copy of this movie sight unseen. Others might be better off renting or borrowing before "going all the way", since this is hardly what most horror fans would expect if their only knowledge of the director is from films such as ZOMBIE and GATES OF HELL. In fact, I would more strongly recommend DOOR INTO SILENCE to fans of Rod Serling's "Night Gallery."

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