Monday, May 11, 2020

“The Time Has Come for Your Real Problems” - Beyond the Seventh Door (1987) - Film #177

Although 1987's Beyond the Seventh Door is for all intents and purposes a video game movie, it is surprisingly not based on a video game. The film was shot in Canada and shot on video (two qualities that of course contribute to its classic status) to showcase the talents of the semi-prolific Serbian actor Lazar Rockwood...and showcase them it does.

Unfortunately, some of your universe's critics are ill-informed enough to find fault with Beyond the Seventh Door. Reviewer deheor writes, "This is a truly awful movie that people should watch once simply to have a basis for comparison the next time someone complains about a bad film. No matter what movie is bothering them you can step up and say 'you don't know what crap is until you endure beyond the 7th door'." Reviewer leofwine_draca writes, "And it's fair to say that this is an inept film throughout, with direction that's even worse than the acting." And reviewer danreguly writes, "one has to wonder how and/or why his oh-so-obvious butchery of acting occurred?"

Please read on, if only for the sake of Canada and shot-on-video films...

The film begins at a prison, as our hero Boris, his cheekbones, and his lips--all of them played by Lazar Rockwood--are being released.

He meets his girlfriend Wendy in a cafe and she immediately breaks up with him. Attempting to get her back, he asks, “Would you live with me if I had a castle?”

“Once,” she replies. “Without a castle. Without anything. I was so blind, Boris. I had so many dreams for the future. Our future.” To add insult to injury, she tells him, “Robbery isn’t a job.” (She is correct.)

“I served my time. I paid my debt. Now I’m clean. I’m clean.” For some reason, he tells her the backstory about how he was caught, which involves a panicky getaway driver. He tries to convince her to help him with another robbery. “There must be something with all those story about hidden treasures of the Lord Breston.” (Despite Boris’s use of the article “the,” Lord Breston is a person—Wendy’s boss.)

“All right,” she agrees quickly.

That night, Boris stands outside Lord Breston’s castle (represented by Toronto's famous castle Casa Loma), waiting for Wendy, who opens a door (the first door) to let him inside. Then she shows him to a red door (the second door), beyond which she is convinced the treasure lies. When they reach a third door, Wendy asks, “What do you think we’ll find?”

“Maybe the corpses of...unfaithful servants.”

“Very funny.”

Boris picks the lock, which takes roughly five minutes. After they pass the door, they enter a concrete tunnel lined with pipes—and they inadvertently trip a tape recording: “Welcome to my chambers of terror, whoever you are. But of course, I know what you are. You are a thief. A burglar who has trespassed on my property with the obvious intention of robbing me. To steal my famous treasure that the Lords of Breston have carefully guarded for two centuries. So go ahead, get it. To make things more interesting, and in the spirit of sportsmanship, you may keep that which you find. So, my friend, it seems you now have only one choice: to continue on. Just to show you what I mean, I’m going to give you 20 seconds.”

Boris and Wendy run back to the door. “It’s locked!”

Instead of picking the lock again, they run in the opposite direction, where a door (the third door) nearly closes on them.

For unknown reasons, Boris and Wendy pause to have an argument. Boris is fed up. “I have enough. I have enough of this. I have enough of you. I have enough of everything. I tried.”

“You tried, but they caught you. Face it, Boris, you’re not even a good thief.”

“I’m getting better.”

Then they follow the corridor to the door of a safe in the wall (the fourth door). Boris tries to open the door, but his rumblings only trigger another tape recording, in which Lord Breston offers them a choice: to move forward or die in the tunnel.

Boris says, “There’s no bloody way we’re going to die in here.” He opens his satchel, which conveniently contains safecracker tools. “See, the guy in the jail showed me how to do this.” (It is truly fortunate that prisons make safecracker tools available to inmates so they can learn a useful profession.)

After several minutes of attempting to crack the lock, Boris fails, but Wendy says Lord Breston’s recorded taunting might be helpful. “You mean,” Boris asks, “all those words mean some kind of special significance?”

Wendy figures out Lord Breston’s clue (“Count on your wisdom”). The number of letters in each word are the combination to the safe lock!

The next room, and unlocking the fifth door, involves another letter puzzle, with an alphabet mat on the floor.

Boris stops for a cigarette break.

Lord Breston’s voice says, “My father wears a ring. If properly spelled, my name will bring the solution that you need.”

“That’s it?” Boris asks. “That’s all it is?”

Of course, Wendy immediately thinks of opera. “Remember the Wagner’s opera? Der...or was it Das Rheingold?”

“Sure,” Boris says. “We got opera night once a week in jail.”

“No, that can’t be it. What about The Lord of the Rings?”

“Who the hell was he?”

For some reason, Wendy replies, “That can’t be it, either.”

“What about Saturn?” Boris suggests. “Planet Saturn wears a ring, and it’s a father of his moons.”

“Which one?” Wendy asks. She starts listing the mythical titan Saturn’s children. “Fobo or Foboth. Janus. And I think Tethys.”

“Forget a Tethys. There is no letter Y.”

They try Janus. Boris steps on the tile with the letter J, then the letter A, but a loud popping sound ensues. “It doesn’t appear to be Janus, does it?” Boris asks.

After discussing some more mythological figures, Wendy suggests Rhea. Boris starts to spell out Rhea but the rear wall begins to push in on them, nearly crushing them. Then, for some reason, both of them step on the letter J, which stops the wall.

“What now?” Boris asks.

“I don’t know. We’ve tried everything. Unless...Maybe he means the other Saturn. The one from Roman mythology. The real Saturn, Saturn the god.” (It is good to know in your universe, as in mine, there is a real god Saturn.)

“Go on.”

“He was the god of harvest, and he had children. Among them, Juno, the goddess of marriage.”

They try Juno and it works. The last letter, O, becomes an elevator and they descend to the next level. The whole process takes no more than 10 minutes.

The walk through the fifth doorway into another small chamber.

Boris looks up at a speaker grille on the wall. “Say something!”

Wendy scoffs. “It’s a recording, Boris. It can’t hear you.”

As if to refute her, Lord Breston’s voice says, “You are doing very well. You decoded my little quiz. But from now on, there will be no more hints, my friend. The time has come for your real problems.” He gives them five minutes to get out of the chamber. Frighteningly, there is no indication of what will happen if they fail to get out.

They can’t find anything in the room. “The walls, maybe,” Wendy suggests.

“What the walls?”

“Try them!”

Boris uses a screwdriver to probe the walls. “It’s solid concrete.”

“Maybe not everywhere.”

“What do you mean, everywhere? It’s a full house!”

After time runs out, spikes drop down from the ceiling, but Boris kicks his way through the concrete wall to escape into the next chamber (we shall consider the hole he kicked through the wall to be the sixth door).

Time for another cigarette break. (“You smoke too much,” Wendy says.)

Wendy wants to move forward, but Boris urges caution. He also takes responsibility for their dire situation. “I put you in this mess and I’ll take you out from here,” he says eloquently.

She ignores him, walking toward an opening. Unfortunately, she falls through a trapdoor.

She slides through a chute into another chamber, where she sees an old man’s dead body.

“Don’t look at him!” Boris screams. “Calm down! Where are you?”

“I’m in a new chamber. With holes in the walls.”

“The holes, Wendy. Tell me about the holes.”

“There’s lots!”

She looks at the dead man and infers that he might have drowned. Presumably, water could come from the holes to fill the chamber and drown Wendy next. She also sees a metal hatch screwed to the wall, as well as a screwdriver in the dead man’s hand. For some reason, she is terrified to get the screwdriver (perhaps understandably, as the dead man is clearly breathing). However, she gets the screwdriver from him and starts unscrewing.

Up above, Boris takes another cigarette break.

We watch Wendy unscrewing in real time. “I got one,” she says about the first screw. “Should I continue?”

“Uh, I don’t know,” Boris yells down at here. “Yeah. But be careful.”

Water begins flowing through the holes in the wall.

Of course, Wendy begins to rip up her dress so she can stuff bits of cloth into the holes, stopping the flow of water, though this becomes a nearly futile (and remarkably wet) game of Whack-A-Mole. Meanwhile, Boris retrieves an extension cord from the previous room (it is never explained how or why there is an extension cord there). He drops one end of the cord down the chute, but it is an inch or two too short and Wendy is unable to grab it—a problem that is solved as the water rises.

Instead of climbing out (Boris is afraid the extension cord will break, for unknown reasons), Wendy and Boris wait until the water begins to drain out of the chamber. Then Boris descends through the chute. In the chamber, he warms Wendy up by rubbing her legs and, somewhat disturbingly, kissing her thighs.

“Boris, what are you doing?”

He starts kissing her face. “God, you’re crazy,” Wendy says.

“I know. I’m crazy about you.”

“Boris, make love to me.”

The filmmakers dissolve to the dead man’s eyes as he “watches” them have sex while the water drains.

After their lovemaking session, we watch Boris unscrew more screws (not a euphemism) in real time. Although he is less skilled with a screwdriver than Wendy, he eventually removes the hatch (the sixth door).

In the next room, there is a briefcase full of cash.

Lord Breston’s voice says there is one million dollars in the case, but he gives the intruders a choice. They can walk out of the mansion as honest people. “For behind this last door, the seventh door, you will find a treasure that is far more valuable.”

The seventh door is unlocked and leads to an empty elevator. Wendy tries to convince Boris to leave the money and simply escape—freedom is the most valuable treasure. But Boris says, “Let me just look.”

He takes some of the cash. “It’s real. Why would he blow up all this money?”

Boris discovers that the briefcase is wired to a readily accessible bomb under the sand on the floor.

No fool, Boris starts taking bundles of cash out of the suitcase, because the bomb would only be triggered if the entire suitcase were to be taken. Then he joins Wendy in the elevator and they ascend.

They emerge on the third floor of the mansion, where Boris tells Wendy to go to her room and change clothes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Boris remains in the elevator and returns to the money chamber. “Okay, Mr. Breston,” he tells the speaker grille, “I came for what is mine.”

Boris carefully removes all the money.

The bomb explodes.

Wendy hears the explosion from her bedroom. Lord Breston enters in a wheelchair. “Why so sad, my dear? We both gave him a chance.”

“He was only 36,” Wendy says.

“He was a crook. The wrong man for a girl like you.” He gives her an envelope of cash. “Twenty thousand as agreed.” He adds, “Next time, as discussed, I’ll double it.”

As he wheels out, he says, “And Wendy, one more thing. You really don’t have to make love to all of them, do you?”

In a downbeat ending, she picks up the phone and calls someone named Peter, another one of the many criminals she has set up to lure to their deaths in Lord Breston’s explosive death trap.

Perhaps the finest of Lazar Rockwood's star vehicles, Beyond the Seventh Door is a masterpiece of efficient cinematic construction, with the opening scene of Boris's release from prison mirrored by the ending sequence in which Boris essentially sentences himself to death. The final twist--the reveal that Wendy is the true villain, taking money for luring foolish would-be thieves to Lord Breston's manor--is the proverbial icing on the cake for this delicious cinematic dessert.

The central portion of the film, however, is where true suspense is generated. The audience is left guessing by Lord Breston's sinister mysteries, solved only by Boris's knowledge of opera, Tolkien, and Roman mythology--the traditional disciplines of study of Canadian prisoners. It is perhaps ironic, then, that a man so well versed in such classical knowledge is undone in the end when he cannot figure out how to disarm a bomb connected via a single wire to a highly visible device at the bottom of a suitcase of money.

There are indeed few action films about puzzle-solving thieves walking through doors and unscrewing screws as delightful as Beyond the Seventh Door.