Television anthologies are usually a mixed bag- some episodes fit the programming restraints perfectly, and deliver some of the most iconic images the horror genre has to offer (I’m looking at you Twilight Zone). Other times the episodes feel like an unfinished product, stripped of their real potential due to either time, budget, or censorship. Door Into Darkness (La Porta Sul Buio) feels like more of the same, but the good outweighs the bad.
Filmed in 1971 between the theatrical releases of The Cat ‘O Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Door Into Darkness is the brainchild of Dario Argento. It was finally released upon Italian viewers in 1973 on Italy’s lone television station (at that time) RAI. Door Into Darkness consists of 4 one-hour episodes whose primary theme is murder. The original idea was for each episode to be directed by a different person, but due to some quality issues this idea didn’t exactly work. Similar to the aforementioned Twilight Zone, all episodes begin with an opening monologue by Argento describing the tale we are about to watch.
The first episode is The Neighbor (Il Vicino di Casa) which is about a young couple and their baby moving into a secluded apartment. After noticing their roof leaking water, they meet their eerie upstairs neighbor who is hiding a dark secret. The Neighbor is a solid episode that moves along quite swiftly. The story is quite interesting as our protagonists sneak into the upstairs apartment after their neighbor leaves carrying a shovel. This episode is one of the more suspenseful ones, which adds a layer of terror that is lacking from the later episodes. The primary issue that keeps this from being an excellent episode is the idiotic young couple. A majority of the episode takes place while the newborn baby is left alone in a candlelit bedroom in the downstairs apartment. At one point the couple even has to argue whether or not to go back in to get the baby as they contemplate running away. The Neighbor also marks the directing debut of longtime Argento assistant Luigi Cozzi who would go on to direct the sci-fi films Starcrush and Contamination, as well as the swords-and-sandals epics Hercules and The Adventures of Hercules starring Lou Ferrigno. Also of note is Argento’s on-screen debut as a hitchhiker who the young couple picks up while on the way to their new home.
Episode two of Door Into Darkness is The Tram (Il Tram). The Tram is the story of the discovery of a woman’s body found stabbed and stuffed under the seat of a crowded tram, and the detective who is trying to figure out who did it and how. I thought this was the strongest episode from start to finish, as I was quickly wrapped up in the who-done-it murder mystery; the action is in short demand in this episode as the mystery takes center stage. The only issue here is the large number of suspects who we don’t spend enough time with to really make any of them interesting- this would’ve probably been a better feature length movie rather than being cut down to fit into the one hour window. The Tram was written and directed by Dario Argento under the pseudonym Sirio Bernadotte.
Next up is Eyewitness (Testimone Oculare) which deals with a woman that is driving home late at night when she almost runs into the body of a woman. After investigating and seeing that the woman has been shot, and seeing the killer hiding in the bushes, the woman runs to call the police. Unfortunate for our eyewitness, when the police arrive there is no body to be found. Shortly thereafter the police and the woman’s husband begin to thing the woman is possibly going mad as she believes the killer is now coming after her. This is another strong episode, especially towards the end when all the facts begin to show themselves. I really didn’t have any issues with this episode, just didn’t seem to get quite as engrossed with this episode as I did The Tram. Eyewitness was written by Argento and Cozzi, and the credited director is Roberto Pariante, but after being disappointed in the final product Argento took over and directed most of the final product.
The Doll (La Bambola) rounds out the anthology series with a tale about an escaped mental patient stalking women, looking for retribution for some sort of childhood trauma. During his introduction Argento challenges the viewer to try and figure out who the killer is, but unfortunately that’s not that difficult. This was my least favorite episode of the series as it was dull and predictable, but it is still worth a watch. The Doll was directed by Mario Foglietti, but Cozzi is said to have done some uncredited directing as well.
This is a review of the 2009 dvd release by Mya that is still available from some online stores. The original prints are supposedly gone, and the video and sound quality is not of the highest quality. I personally thought this added to the character of the show and was more a positive than a negative. The only extra feature on this set is the 90-minute documentary Dario Argento: Master of Horror (1991) which is an interesting behind the scenes look at Argento on the set of some of his classics like Opera, Demons, and Two Evil Eyes. Highlights include Argento discussing how and why he does some of the camera tricks that he is known for as well as a look back at some of the special effects. He also discusses why he chose to produce some movies rather than take on the directorial duties himself. Master of Horror also includes interviews from some of his collaborators including Michele Soavi and Tom Savini. Master of Horror was directed by Luigi Cozzi.
Door Into Darkness was originally released on DVD by German-based company Dragon Entertainment in a limited edition set in 2004. This set included introductions to all episodes by Luigi Cozzi who supposedly explained a number of the issues while filming this series including censorship problems and why Argento filmed under a pseudonym (he was afraid directing for television would hurt his reputation).
Despite which copy you can find, Argento completists will enjoy this set. It’s too bad there aren’t uncut versions out there, as that could possibly improve the overall quality, but taking the show for what it is it’s still worth a watch.