Monday, December 26, 2016

I saw the Surreal Terrors of Never Open the Door...

"Never Open the Door" is 2014 experimental outing, recently released on disc, which makes deft use of psychological and otherworldly horror. With a running time of about an hour, the story plays like an enthralling installment of old, anthology show: shot in atmospheric black-and-white and sculpted with all the required twists and turns.

Directed by Vito Trabucco, who co-wrote with Christopher Maltauro, the film begins innocently enough, with three couples enjoying their holiday feast. The dinner actually occupies a decent portion of the film (an extended prelude of sorts), where we get to know the participants, who are portrayed by Matt Aidan; Kristina Page; George Troester; Deborah Venegas; Mike Wood; and Jessica Sonneborn (who morphs into the film's focus). Their gleeful (and often juvenile behavior) sets one up for a generous jolt when the initial scare strikes.

This comes (SPOILER) via a-knockin' at the door, prompting the lovely Tess (Sonneborn) to open it: a big no-no in the context of this picture, as the title warns. Tess is confronted by a tense, bloodied man (Steven Richards) who falls to the floor, dying from a stomach wound. Attempts to call 911 fail, when the folks discover their phones aren't working, or is more a matter of someone (or something) jamming their signals?

The frazzled Tess heads to shower to wash off the stranger's blood, but in the queasy process, becomes plagued by a frightening manifestation. It seems she may be physically transforming, but into what exactly and why?

As the story progresses, Tess disappears, but then reappears with no evident knowledge of what's transpired. Weird...and what's that disturbing growling the folks now hear upstairs, where Tess roamed? (Are there now two Tesses in the house, and if so, what caused the duplication?) All the while, a group of strange, deadpan men surround the home, and the terrified onlookers can only speculate their intent. 

In addition to its anthology-show influences, "Never Open..." feels like a '60s psychological thriller (one of the many offspring of Hitchcock's "Psycho", though with the slow-burn pacing of the master's "Rope"). Its interior setting also reminds one of "Evil Dead" and "Night of the Living Dead". At other times, the film invokes the traditional spookiness of James Whale's "Old Dark House" and the gnawing desperation of Don Siegel's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". One could also argue the story contains elements of John Campbell's "Who Goes There?": the basis for "The Thing" movies. 

Additionally, like any quality, adult-based thriller, "Never Open..." isn't shy about showing some skin. Sonneborn's comely form, nicely framed in the shower sequence, invokes Janet Leigh's in "Psycho" and/or Luana Ander's watery plunge in "Dementia 13". The brief sequence never gets too risque or grotesque, but then nor does any portion of the film, which only ever shows just enough to stoke one's imaginations. (Carlos Vivas' excellent score helps much in this respect.)

Indeed, there's no disputing that "Never Open..." pulls from many sources to tell its tale, but because of its seamless overlap, it never feels like a blatant knock-off. Maybe this is due to the film's taunt acting, writing and direction: superior to what one finds in most indie productions. Also to its chilling advantage, the movie never telegraphs its punches, delivering each scare with the unexpected accuracy of Richard Matheson's "Dying Room Only": another story where events are never quite what they seem. 

The movie's big reveal (and how the man at the door connects to the events that unfold) is surreal as heck, but should satisfy fans of unusual wraparounds. However, those adverse to abstraction will probably frown upon the story's dreamy ambiguity. Nevertheless, "Never Open..." maintains an unnerving magnetism throughout (at least once it gets beyond its party prelude). The film makes one wonder what other unique essays Trabucco could conjure with a longer running time and bigger budget. Then again, who needs either, when an existing effort like this captures so much attention?

"Never Open..." may not be for all tastes, but even if one doesn't fancy the flavor, one will still find the experience bizarrely memorable. ("Never Open..." is available at, where it can be readily accessed and assessed at one's leisure.) 

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