The Doorway

Director: Michael B. Druxman                           
Roy Scheider, Lauren Woodland

I've seen a number of haunted house movies, and what strikes me about most of them are how much stupidity they have in them. The stupidity mostly comes from the characters - for one thing, it's awesome how frequently the characters that move into these possessed houses are slow to catch onto just what is making all that noise and moving things around. Maybe these characters are stupid because writers know it's easy to frighten a complete moron. Since most of us are are smarter than these idiots, why should we then be scared by what we see in the movie? All we are thinking is that it would be nice to see these characters get killed by whatever supernatural force they are encountering.

As you have probably guessed, I'm not that fond of haunted house movies, apart from the occasional exceptions like The Changeling or The Legend Of Hell House, plus the movie being reviewed here, The Doorway. Although it's clear director Michael B. Druxman was at times struggling from being saddled with a low budget and I wouldn't exactly call it a frightening movie, it does have spooky scenes and some jolts. More importantly, Druxman's screenplay is a great deal smarter than those for your typical haunted house movie, having written not only characters that are believable, but whose actions generally are logical and believable for the various situations they find themselves in.

After the opening scene where some maintenance worker comes by to prep up the uninhabited house and finding out the hard way that there's some evil force dwelling there (mandatory in movies like this), we are introduced to these characters. Aspiring actor Rick has found himself and his college buddies Susan, Tammy, and Owen a great job opportunity - the old Van Buren house, long empty, needs to be fixed and cleaned up, and the present owner is offering big bucks and free rent for those willing to sign on. The next few minutes are devoted to their moving in and the start of their clean up, and we get a good idea of what these characters are like. And they are real people. They act like college age students, being serious most of the time, though haven't quite left their adolescence behind. When they talk, their conversations sound real, instead of scripted. They even look convincing, being the right age, and dressed in clothing that real college students wear.

Their reactions to what happens next are reasonable. Tammy is spooked when she find her antique dolls rearranged into obscene positions, and Owen is a little uneasy when he finds on his computer obscene writing in his thesis, but there is still the possibility that one of them had done these things as a sick prank. Besides, even if there's a mischievous ghost, they'll forfeit all that money promised to them, so they aren't eager to leave. When later it becomes clear to the four that none of them have been playing these pranks (in a scene that manages to be funny as well as spooky), their immediate reaction is in no doubt what any of us would do in the same situation. The four friends then decide to go to the college and ask one of the instructors, Professor Lamont (Scheider) to figure out what is going on.

Scheider is very good as the professor. His mood when he reacts to the story the four students tell him is very believable, helped by the natural sounding dialogue of the script. He also handles some more comic moments well, wisely delivering it in a dead-pan manner. There is an undercurrent of humor throughout The Doorway, black at times, but always occurring in a low key fashion. It was wise to have the humor not to be so broad, because otherwise it would have been difficult to take the rest of the movie seriously. Also, the low key attitude of the incidents of black humor actually help to give the movie a little uneasy atmosphere, making the subsequent incidents of horror more disturbing.

The movie's final attempts at humor do seem a little strange and out of place, and some attempts at deriving humor from various sexual moments seem a little forced. In fairness, the movie actually does make sex a key element in the plot, a change of pace from other Roger Corman productions. Still, there are a couple of scenes, such as when the camera s-l-o-w-l-y lingers on Susan's naked body during a shower sequence, that come across as somewhat gratuitous, and remind you that Corman probably wasn't that far away after all. (Though I admit I didn't complain when I was actually seeing this.)

Overall, though, the material in the above paragraph didn't harm the movie, and didn't distract from the more creepy moments. Actually, I wouldn't call The Doorway a full-blown horror movie, since it more concentrates on building and keeping a feeling of uneasiness and mystery instead of going for something more full-blown, which may somewhat disappoint viewers who have prepared for a more gory experience. But that's not to say that there are no bloody or shocking moments. There are a few such incidents, and I think they came across with more of an impact because they came out of nowhere in this more restrained tone. One moment even had me grabbing my remote so that I could immediately rewind and watch what I saw again. Not only did the tone generate a feeling of slight uneasiness, there was an atmosphere of mystery. There was almost always a question or two in front of me that hadn't been answered, and these questions kept me both curious and watching, so I could find their answers.

Since this is a Roger Corman production, I think we can safely assumed this production had Corman saddling it with both a low budget and a rushed shooting schedule. There are some cheap props and sets (especially the basement set) on display, and no scene seems like it took especially long to set up and shoot. Still, the movie looks significantly slicker than other Corman productions of recent years. The movie may look a little dark and grainy at times, but it actually hides a lot of the cheapness, unlike the well lit Corman production where you can see how phony many things look.

Although it takes place in the United States, the movie was actually made in Ireland, (no doubt because of the generous tax cuts the Irish government gives to film companies) and the flat fields of tall brown grass is used to great effect; the house sure looks creepy sitting there in this dismal countryside. On the other hand, there are several sequences where the illusion that we are in the States is shattered by some quite un-American sights. Maybe I'm just more sensitive than other people that will see this movie (since I have parents from Europe who have exposed me to more European culture than the average North American), but I couldn't help but see that the cars looked European, people were driving on the left side of the road, and that the character of the deputy had a suspicious sounding accent.

Despite all of that, I still found The Doorway an enjoyable movie. It may not have had a big production or a lot of guilty pleasure material, but it is a lot smarter than your typical horror movie, Corman-produced or not. Any movie that can keep myself, who had seen plenty of enjoyable "big" movies, interested and entertained despite being limited in its various resources is quite an achievement. It's clear that Druxman is quite talented and resourceful, and I hope he gets a bigger budget and more time for his next movie.

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)
Check for writer/director Druxman's "Art Of Storytelling" book on Amazon

See also: Amityville Dollhouse, The Resurrected, Shadow Dancing