We Revisit a Movie Review from 2016

 

Movie Chat: The Other Side of the Door

 

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The offering this week is a movie that I saw advertised on TV but hadn’t paid much attention to. But having read the review I would like to rent and watch this movie. Sounds interesting. Review by Dave Robertson, who shares info on his guide The Ultimate Guide to Zombies.

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The Other Side of the Door, 2016

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Review by Dave Robertson:

I didn’t know what to expect from The Other Side of the Door. I knew that it featured Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori from The Walking Dead) and Jeremy Sisto (from TV’s Law and Order and other shows), so I figured it was worth a look. I found the movie to be interesting, creepy, and generally a solid effort.

I won’t include any spoilers in my review – and I won’t give away too much of the story -but I will tell you the basic premise. Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Michael (Jeremy Sisto) are a married couple from the United States living in India. We find out, through a flashback, about a traumatic auto accident where Maria and her young son and daughter end up in a car which is slowly sinking beneath the water. The son, Oliver, is pinned in the car, and after frantic but fruitless efforts to save him, Maria grabs her daughter and swims to the surface, leaving Oliver to die. The guilt and depression brought on by this situation causes Maria to attempt suicide. When she begins to recover, her housekeeper, an Indian woman named Piki, tells her of a remote temple. She tells Maria that if she goes there and sprinkles Oliver’s ashes on the temple steps, then locks herself in the temple, that Oliver will appear briefly and she will be able to talk to him, through the door, one last time. She warns Maria sternly that she must not open the temple door under any circumstance. She even makes Maria promise not to open the door. Maria is desperate to speak to Oliver one more time, to explain herself and to say a proper goodbye to her little boy even if it is through the temple door. She sets out for the temple with Oliver’s ashes.

So there’s the set up for what ends up being a pretty interesting horror tale. We know something’s going to go wrong, after all it is horror, but the movie includes enough unique elements and twists to make it original and different.

I enjoy seeing different places and cultures and this movie makes good use of its foreign locale. The locations used in the film are exotic and interesting, from the house where Maria and Michael live, to the street scenes, to the local characters. The plot also made use of local culture and religion to make this a fresh and different entry in the horror genre. Also, when things start to go wrong, the family finds themselves in a foreign, scary place that they don’t completely understand.

The Other Side of the Door received mediocre reviews, but I thought it was well done and entertaining. The acting was good and the story was solid. The foreign setting and religious elements made it unusual, memorable and definitely added to the creepiness factor. There were a few scary parts of this movie that will stick with me, and in the horror genre that means a lot. The movie isn’t earth-shattering. It doesn’t redefine the horror genre. It does provide a few hours of good, eerie entertainment.

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Excerpt from The Ultimate Guide to Zombies

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 Amazon

Zombie History

Reports of zombies first surfaced in Haiti in the early 1900s. The most famous early report came from noted journalist Stephen Bonsal, who made a career of traveling all around the world and reporting on the social and political systems of other countries. In his book, The American Mediterranean (1912), Bonsal wrote chapters on the political and social conditions in Haiti (Hayti as he spelled it). He also published what is generally considered the first description of a zombie.

As Mr. Bonsal recounts the tale, a working class man from Port-au-Prince became sick. The man had recently joined one of the churches run by foreign missionaries. Because of this, the local clergyman came to visit the sick man. On his second visit, the clergyman witnessed the man’s death. At the invitation of the man’s wife and his physician, the clergyman helped dress the man in his grave-clothes, which was a very specific custom in Haiti. The following day, the clergyman and at least a dozen other men, described by Bonsal as “all natives and of good standing”, were present at the man’s funeral. Afterwards they closed the coffin lid, walked the coffin to the cemetery, and saw the dead man buried four feet below ground.

There were no mysterious circumstances surrounding the man’s death, according to his physician, but foul play was evident two days later when the grieving widow visited her husband’s grave. She found the grave empty and the empty coffin, open, next to it. She went straight to the police, who promised a full investigation on the condition that she keep the whole situation to herself. Yep, pretty suspicious. And, by the way, the police never did investigate. The police and other officials did not want to get on the wrong side of a voodoo priest or priestess. Instead, the case would go nowhere and would eventually be forgotten, just like so many other cases involving voodoo. Bonsal referred to this as “the invariable government attitude of suppression or denial in the presence of all Voodoo crimes.”

The case would have died on the vine had it not been for a series of extraordinary and accidental events. The day after the woman’s grim discovery, a mail carrier arrived in town telling a wild and nearly unbelievable tale. This mail man had been diverted from his route by a river that was overflowing its banks. Unable to cross at his normal place, the man had left the beaten path and, at times, travelled cross country. The man had ridden all night and was in somewhat unfamiliar terrain, trying to stay awake, when “he suddenly rode into a great clearing lit by a huge wood fire”. A dozen men and women who had been gathered around the fire rushed angrily at the man. Believing they were thieves, the mail carrier fired at them with his revolver. The mob ran, howling, into the woods, leaving the mail man apparently alone.

According to Bonsal, “The mail rider took a swig of rum to steady his nerves, and was about to beat a hasty retreat back to the flooded trail, which now contained for him nothing so fearful as the mysteriously populated forest, when suddenly, despite the rum, his blood ran cold. A long moan, as of someone in mortal agony, fell upon his ear.”

The mail carrier, according to his own account, fled the clearing in fear, not once but twice, after something inexplicably drew him back. He finally picked up a burning cedar branch from the fire and began to investigate the sound. He found a man dressed in his grave-clothes, tied to a tree, moaning and struggling to get free. The mail rider freed the poor man “who regained his speech, but not his mind.” Because of this, the man could give no coherent account of how he had ended up tied to the tree. The mail carrier put the man on his horse, tied him in the saddle, and led him to the nearest military post.

The military authorities no doubt would have covered up the dead man’s discovery had the mail carrier not gone on to Port-au-Prince and told all who would listen his astonishing tale. The mysterious man was therefore brought to Port-au-Prince where he was recognized by his wife, his physician, and the clergyman who had presided over his funereal. The recognition however, was not mutual. “The unfortunate victim of Voodoo barbarity recognized no one, and his days and nights were spent in moaning and groaning and in uttering inarticulate words which no one could understand.” The poor man was history’s first reported zombie, the apparent victim of a voodoo spell which brought him back from the dead, but destroyed his mind.

Such tales were not uncommon in Haiti at the time. Though it was officially a Catholic country, many rural people still practiced voodoo, or combined the two systems into one. Government officials who were charged with shutting down voodoo practices generally looked the other way. Voodoo continued to be practiced, and people who lived in the backwoods still clung to the old beliefs and superstitions. They still believed that a bokor, a voodoo sorcerer, could put spells on people or create powerful talismans. A regular Voodoo priest was called a houngan, a Voodoo priestess was known as a Mambo. Neither were concerned with putting curses on people or any such nonsense. A bokor, however, was a Voodoo practitioner who “worked with both hands”. This meant that a bokor could be hired to do evil to one’s enemies, or to provide a protective charm against dark magic. They worked both sides of the street, as it were.

A bokor could also, it was said, cause a person to become ill and appear to die. Even a doctor examining the person would declare them dead. Soon after the funeral, the bokor would dig up the person and revive them through magic means. The person would be listless and somewhat uncoordinated. Their speech was typically not much beyond moans and grunts. They would have no will of their own. Their only use would be as slaves, to do manual labor for the bokor. This certainly sounds like the process that was interrupted by the mail carrier, eh?

But that was not the only account by an outsider of these ghastly happenings. In 1929 William Seabrook wrote a book about his time in Haiti, The Magical Island. He was among the first writers to use the term “zombie” and in a chapter entitled “…Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields,” he uses the term thirty-two times! Seabrook may not have been the first writer to use the term, but he certainly gets credit for bringing the word out of rural Haiti and into American pop culture.

Seabrook lived in Haiti and had heard stories of zombies. He described a zombie as “…a soulless human corpse, still dead, but taken from the grave and endowed by sorcery with a mechanical semblance of life – it is a dead body which is made to walk and act and move as if it were alive.” He was even told by a local friend that such a thing was not uncommon in Haiti. Skeptical, Seabrook asked for proof, so the friend took him to a sugar plantation where zombies toiled in the fields. He described the creatures he saw: “The eyes were the worst. It was not my imagination. They were in truth like the eyes of a dead man, not blind, but staring, unfocused, unseeing. The whole face, for that matter, was bad enough. It was vacant, as if there was nothing behind it. It seemed not only expressionless, but incapable of expression.”

This idea of evil magic users turning people into zombies was not just a tall tale told by writers. It was prevalent enough in Haiti that a law was enacted making such actions illegal.

So here were the early zombies, the original ones, stumbling around the backwoods of Haiti, victims of evil magic men, made to toil in the fields. But William Seabrook’s descriptions of the living dead were about to explode onto the American entertainment scene. Zombies were heading to America…

dave

Dave Robertson is a horror and fantasy author living in Montana. From Stephen King books and scary movies his horror habit has grown to include Poe, Lovecraft and zombies. Lots of zombies. His latest book, The Ultimate Guide to Zombies, is a non-fiction guide to “all things zombie”.

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www.daverobertsononline.com

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