Color, 1987, 76 mins. 58 secs.
Directed by Bozidar D. Benedikt
Starring Lazar Rockwood, Bonnie Beck
Intervision (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)

Though Beyond the Seventh Doorthe current Beyond the Seventh Doorcover art promises a wild supernatural horror film, it's best to go into this very low-budget Canadian oddity knowing what it really is: a Cube-style puzzle box thriller that feels like a feature-length version of the opening from Raiders of the Lost Ark by way of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. That's a pretty tall order for a film with only three speaking roles and set almost entirely over the course of one evening, but that's the kind of adventurous spirit that results in whacked-out little oddball gems like this. Easily catapulting this into the must-see category is the lead performance by Lazar Rockwood, who combines the riveting charisma of Tommy Wiseau and Dieter Laser into one indescribable package.

Recently released from jail after a heist goes south, Boris (Rockwood) hooks up again with cohort and former flame Brenda (Beck), who's not exactly thrilled to see him and working in provocative outfits as some kind of housekeeper to a wheelchair-bound millionaire living in a castle. He repeatedly begs her for one last job to help him get by, and eventually she relents with a plan to break into her boss's estate late at night to swipe a mysterious treasure locked in his basement. Armed with a copy of the key, they make their way through the first locked door -- only for it to shut behind them as a loudspeaker voice (via reel-to-reel tape) informing Beyond the Seventh Doorthem that they're now in a chamber of horrors, albeit with a sporting chance to find the treasure and/or get out alive. Step by step they have to make their way through several passages and door, solving physical challenges or puzzles along the way as they head to the inevitable twist ending.

Quite fun in a pulpy, amateur theater sort of way, this film actually works up a reasonably spooky atmosphere with its claustrophobic, metal and brick locations Beyond the Seventh Doorcobbled together from a variety of buildings and sets in Toronto. A few bits are even genuinely clever, such as the payoff to the best puzzle involving giant letters and symbols on the floor holding the answer to a riddle. There's virtually no character development to speak of apart from allusions to the pair's past relationship (and a hilariously random moment when they take time out for some hot lovin' in the least romantic location imaginable), but the film moves quickly over its 76-minute running time with Rockwood offering at least one or two thespian surprises in every scene. Beck is actually pretty good -- it's easy to see why she had a decent local film career after this -- and has that odd Joey Heatherton habit of keeping her lips pulled up around her teeth in close-ups.

Very obscure and impossible to find on VHS for many years, Beyond the Seventh Door comes to DVD from Intervision with a presentation that's likely the best possible under the circumstances. This was shot on film (though whether it was edited that way is never clarified), likely 16mm by the look of it, and it has a modest appearance with frequent chunkiness and jerkiness that appear to be baked into the master. Beyond the Seventh DoorIt's quite watchable and definitely several notches above VHS, and anyone curious enough to check this out will likely find the aesthetic charming more than anything else. A cheerful audio commentary brings together Rockwood, Croatian/Yugoslavian director B.D. Benedikt, and Canuxploitation's Paul Beyond the Seventh DoorCorupe for a chat about the various shooting locales, the film's inspirations (there was only one -- to write a script for Rockwood to star in), and the editing trickery required to pull off the numerous traps throughout the story.

On the featurette side, "Beyond Beyond the 7th Door" features Benedikt, Rockwood, and Corupe in separate video interviews (21m44s), offering a whiplash-inducing mix of personalities. Among the highlights: Benedikt foraging in an Ontario movie theater as he bemoans the death of theatrical indie films and Rockwood offering some incredibly surreal advice on how to be an actor in relation to a cat watching a bird, or something. ("Think about cat! You got it? Good luck!") You also get a look at Benedikt's literary career, mostly penning novels for the Yugoslavian market that look like Dan Brown on acid. Then there's "The King of Cayenne" (8m39s), an overview of "legendary Toronto eccentric" Ben Kerr who cameos briefly in the film as a nameless corpse with a screwdriver, as related by "artist, entertainer, broadcast" Jaymz Bee and Retrontario's Ed Conroy. It's quite a colorful tale, ranging from an anti-smoking in the workplace crusade to his colorful media manipulation techniques and runs for mayer to his taste for cayenne water. When will someone make a movie about that guy?

Reviewed on October 12, 2017