Beyond the Door III, Black Demons, and Shadow of the Vampire

Beyond the Door III – 1989, Italy/Yugoslavia, 94m. Director: Jeff Kwitny. Streaming: AMC/Prime, Shudder

Black Demons – 1991, Italy, 88m. Director: Umberto Lenzi. Streaming: N/A

Shadow of the Vampire – 2000, UK/US, 92m. Director: E. Elias Merhige. Streaming: YouTube

BEYOND THE DOOR III (1989) (AKA: Amok Train) A group of American students on some sort of anthropological assignment in Yugoslavia are bamboozled by a backwoods society of Satanists who intend to use most of the youths as sacrifices in an upcoming centennial celebration. Unbeknownst to virginal Beverly (Mary Kohnert), she was marked at birth to be the twentieth century Bride of Satan, and her college chums are to be offered as wedding gifts in the pits of Hell. But that’s not all—there’s also a possessed speeding train, which the teens board in an attempt to escape the clutches of the devil cult. Oops! At this point, you’re thinking what does this stupid in-name-only sequel to a dopey Italian movie from 1974 have to do with anything? But actually, Beyond the Door III is a lotta fun and filled with inventive special effects and a wonderful imagination not typically found in schlocky European horror of the time. It’s rough around the edges and the story makes absolutely no sense, but the characters are likable and the pace is fast, building to an effective climax. Dare I say, this is the best of the offbeat Beyond series. B

BLACK DEMONS (1991) (AKA: Demoni 3) Three moronic college students doing a mix of business and pleasure in Rio drive into the misty hills of some Brazilian backcountry for reasons unknown. The airheads—none of whom seem smart enough to turn on a light switch, let alone attend college—experience car trouble and are befriended by a local douchebag and his girlfriend. Soon, they’re invited to spend a few days at a nearby house—a former plantation that harbors the evil energy of the place’s murdered slaves. One of the travelers (Joe Balogh), who just happens to have a recording of a voodoo ceremony, becomes possessed and summons forth the rotting corpses from the adjacent cemetery to kill his friends. The zombies’ preferred method for death seems to be the removal of an eye, courtesy of a rusty hook. It’s easy to see how Black Demons got lost in the Italian zombie shuffle; it’s dated and unconvincing it its portrayal of Brazilian culture. The acting is bad, the characters are unsympathetic, and the screenplay is uneven. The zombie “rules” don’t even make sense, as some of the zombies remain active during the day, yet others hide from the sunlight. Maybe the writer (director Umberto Lenzi’s former wife, Olga Pehar) got her vampire and zombie lore confused. A good use of foggy graveyards and spider-infested corridors are not enough to recommend this dry rot of a movie. D

SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE (2000) What if Max Schrek, the actor who portrayed the rat-like Count Orlock in F.W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu, was in actuality a vampire? That’s the story behind this fiction-based biopic, and the results are a mixed bag. Longing to make the most realistic vampire movie of all time, German filmmaker Frederick Wilhelm Murnau (a miscast John Malkovich) travels to the far reaches of Czechoslovakia, where his unhappy film crew meet their newest cast member, Max Schrek (Willem Dafoe), a mysterious man hired to play the fanged lead. “Where did you find him?” asks Murnau’s producer (Udo Keir). The director points to a dark tunnel and answers, “In that hole.” The twist is Murnau, in his desperation to make art, promises Max he can feast on several people from his production as long as the vampire gives the director his much-desired Expressionistic masterwork—but the vampire really only has eyes for film star Greta Schröder (Catherine McCormick). More of a black comedy, Shadow of the Vampire presents a clever concept and, in perhaps a warm-up to playing the Green Goblin in Spider-Man, Dafoe’s performance is both humorous and villainous. The vampire-in-reality gimmick starts to wear thin about an hour in, and the last act essentially collapses on itself in an ending that doesn’t rings true to the rest of the film. Still, this is fun stuff when seen in the right light. And Dafoe is killer. B

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