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Beyond the Doors

a/k/a Down on Us

      "Our assignment: neutralize the three pied pipers of rock music."

-- Agent Kramer a/k/a The Man in Pig Blue    




Gonzoid Cinema





No more Texarkana dinguses, please!


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The Naked Witch

Common Law Wife

Free, White and 21

Naughty Dallas

The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald

The Eye Creatures

Zontar: The Thing from Venus

Curse of the Swamp Creature

In the Year 2889

Creature of Destruction

Mars Needs Women

Goodbye, Norma Jean

The Loch Ness Horror

Beyond the Doors

Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn


The year is 1984, and we open in a foggy forest somewhere near Cumberland, Maryland, as a trio of hunters make their way along a well worn trail. Then, when their dogs roust a couple of wired down pheasants, the lead hunter shoots them down, smiles, and hands the shotgun over to one of his companions before climbing over a railed fence to retrieve the game. Not counting the dead bird's perspective, all seems serene enough as we innocently cut to a shot of the dogs sniffing for more targets. But then another gunshot shatters the silence, followed by a distressful scream! We quickly pan back to see the man who climbed the fence take another blast to the chest before falling into a bloodied heap.


Smiling sinisterly at the corpse he just created, the shooter sneers, saying rock and roll is dead, and long live rock and roll.

Once that overtly cryptic prologue wraps up, the credits roll over a montage of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison performing live. These credits also reveal that the film we're about to encounter was written and directed and co-produced by the no-budget exploitationeer to end all no-budget exploitationeers, Larry Buchanan -- but let's stick with it, anyway, shall we, as we pick things up after the funeral and move to the dead man's house, where we find out posthumously that the victim was a former G-Man, named Alex Stanley (Sandy Kenyon). We also find out some dirty work is afoot, when his inconsolable widow bemoans the fact that her husband died in a [quote/] hunting accident [/unquote]. She also begs her son, Frank (Steven Tice), to stick around in case those strange men come back. When asked to elaborate, she weaves a tale of two Men in Black types showing up and demanding all of Stanley’s papers. Forcing their way in, the men cleaned everything out of the deceased's home office and left without much of an explanation -- but then came back later, looking for something they obviously missed, and, in the end, still couldn’t find what they were specifically searching for. The suspicious spouse knew it must have been her husband’s briefcase they were after. Seems he left explicit instructions that if anything should ever happen to him, like, say, a [quote/] hunting accident [/unquote] to make sure no one else but Frank got it, and, more importantly, the documents inside of it.

Later, Frank tells his wife, Ellen (Jennifer Wilde), how his father, whom, as we'll discover, Frank never really got along with all that well, used to work for the government doing mysterious, top-secret work, and how he would up and disappear for long periods of time with nary a peep as to where or why. Adding it all up, Frank smells something fishy, too, so they open the briefcase and find a manuscript inside, that starts with the ominous preamble: "If you’re reading this, I’m already dead…" As Frank continues reading, the documents reveal that his father belonged to clandestine government organization called The 39 Steps: a network of covert operatives formed "outside the box" to neutralize the threat of the three Pied Pipers of Rock-n-Roll -- Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison -- by any means necessary...

Wow! What a great idea for a film! The Nixon administration, in another spastic fit of paranoia, authorizes a rogue branch of the FBI to silence the voices of the counter-culture movement through dubious subterfuge and assassination. Sounds fantastic, don't it? And who was the mastermind behind this concept: Larry [expletive deleted] Buchanan. You know, Zontar, Attack of the the Eye Creatures, and Mars Needs Women ... Whoa!

Hey! Wait! Don't click off! No. Stop! Come back here ... Dammit. *sigh*

For those of you still around, you obviously have no idea who I'm talking about. Well, let me begin by saying out of all the gonzoidal auteurs out there, Larry Buchanan has provided more cinematic Waterloos for the viewer than any other filmmaker who ever schlocked a schlock.

Born Marcus Searle Jr. in Lost Prairie, Texas, in 1923, and tragically orphaned not much later, Buchanan was bitten by the film bug early, when the cinema provided some much needed escapism from life at the overcrowded orphanage. When he turned 18 Searle moved to Hollywood and managed to land a job at 20th Century Fox in the props department, and even landed a few bit parts, which led to his studio mandated name change to Larry Buchanan, and then picked up the nuts and bolts of movie-making during a stint in the Army Signal Corps. Putting those skills to use, he honed them further by making several religious documentaries for Oral Roberts, and even served as an assistant director to George Cukor on The Marrying Kind before heading back to Texas to fulfill his destiny as one of the worst, independent no-budget film entrepreneurs of all time. 

Hitting the ground running, Buchanan quickly stumbled, face-planted, and set an unholy precedent with The Naked Witch, a tale of resurrected east Texas witches with grease-paint eyebrows, which also firmly established his modus operandi: a static camera; limited settings; inert plots, with lots of cheap, tell-don't-show inaction; and padding on top of padding be it transition or travelogue, where each elapsed minute of screen time feels like twenty. And the cumulative inanity of it all has been known to drive people mad! Mad, I say! MMNMMAAAAAAADDDD!


Yes, well ... anyways, after an uncredited producing role for the Lolita inspired Common Law Wife, Buchanan's made his first attempt at social commentary with Free, White and 21, where the audience got to choose the fate of a colored man accused of raping a white girl. This, was followed by a brief exposé phase with the alt-history docu-drama The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, where the title character survives Jack Ruby's assassination attempt and faces 12 of his peers, who must determine both his sanity and if he actually did the deed or not. What followed after that was Buchanan's most productive period, when he struck a deal with American International to do a series of color remakes of their back catalogue for Jim and Sam's fledgling television division. Thus, The Day the World Ended begat In the Year 2889, while The She-Creature and It Conquered the World became Creature of Destruction and Zontar, the Thing from Venus. But perhaps the most well known rehash, thanks to the Brains at MST3k, was the remake of Invasion of the Saucermen as Attack of the the Eye Creatures (-- and no, that's not a typo). Or perhaps that honor belongs to Mars Needs Women, for the title alone if nothing else, which is exactly what happens in the movie: nothing.

When the AIP work eventually dried up, Buchanan got back in the documentary business with the moderately effective The Other Side of Bonnie and Clyde and a look at the mating habits of animals in Sex and the Animals. Also around this time our boy got his Bergman on with Strawberries Need Rain, where a girl convinces the Grim Reaper to give her 24 more hours to live so she can lose her virginity. After that, when the 1970's rolled around, Buchanan got back to his docu-drama roots with a couple of low-brow bio-pics, Goodnight, Norma Jean, where Misty Rowe plays a young Marilyn Monroe looking for her big break in the seediest of places, and a profile of notorious gangster Pretty Boy Floyd as interpreted by former teenage heartthrob Fabian. And then came what proved to be my favorite Buchanan flick, The Loch Ness Horror, where Lake Tahoe stands in for the highlands of Scotland and an inflatable pool-toy subs in for the mythical Nessie. Fabulous movie, and truly awful. Check out the video trailer:


Which, I guess, finally brings us up to Beyond the Doors, originally released as Down on Us, a paranoid, conspiracy fueled bio-pic that's seeded with enough truth and half-truths to make the bullshit seem more plausible. And in almost anyone else's hands, that bullshit could have had the potential to be a whole can of awesome, cinematically speaking. But we all know whose hands we got, which then take our own hands and leads us somewheres else that isn't even in the same hemisphere of awesome. Still, we must persevere! Onward, then, as we rejoin the film as it jumps back 16 years to 1968, where we find Jimi Hendrix (Gregory Allen Chapman) finishing his set at some undisclosed venue in New York. Janis Joplin (Riba Meryl) is due to go on next but arrives so late the miffed owner refuses to let her go on -- until the crowd threatens to riot unless the singer is aloud perform ... After the show, the two singers meet up in Hendrix’s dressing room, where we get our first gratuitous topless shot. (The first of many gratuitous topless shots, I might add. Larry! Have you no shame?) And at some point during this impromptu jam session, Joplin wants to know if all the rumors about the size of Hendrix’s *ahem* Texarkana Dingus are true. The answer, to quote Lily Von Shtupp, it's t'woo! It's t'woo!

Okay, next, we jump to hotel room in Amsterdam, where a nude woman watches a news report about the escalating war in Vietnam. In the same room, a prostate Jim Morrison (Bryan Wolf) is rousted out of bed, I assume by the rest of The Doors, for an impending gig -- but not before he mumbles something about dying for rice paddies and napalm ... Now hang on, as we abruptly switch locales and warp ahead again to find Hendrix in the studio laying down some new tracks. Enter a group of Black Panthers, who accuse the singer of selling out to the White Man while his people are dying over in Vietnam. Further berated by a female Panther, who claims his music says nothing and does nothing -- except help Whitey get laid, Hendrix promises to do a song that will wake America up. Satisfied, the Panthers leave, but after they're gone Hendrix smashes his guitar in guilt-ridden anger.

Crash, bang, zoom we go again, and we're suddenly in some sleazy hotel in Oakland, where an FBI agent is getting some nookie from an informant until his pager goes off. Reporting in, he warns the Black Panthers have moved south to Los Angeles, and are spreading their militant doctrine through the campuses and rock concerts; like the one The Doors are currently performing, where Morrison, still in a melancholy mood, spouts some more bad poetry that impresses his female companion. (I'll assume this is Pamela Courson.) He then talks about the leaders of the world becoming butchers using 18lbs. sledgehammers to get their jollies. (Heavy.) ... Now buckle your seatbelts as we flash clear across the country to Washington DC, where Agent Stanley makes a report to his superiors. Opening with a funny, off-color joke about Nixon being crooked, they all laugh and comment on the Commander-n-Chief’s growing paranoia. Seems Tricky Dick is hell bent on setting up an independent security force outside of the FBI. Surprised that J. Edgar Hoover would allow this to happen, Stanley is told Hoover fully endorsed it because he thinks they’re still fighting the Communists. Stanley then emphasizes that all Nixon really cares about is his re-election, and that's why he's so worried about the influence of the counter-culture movement on younger voters. And to help ensure his victory, he wants that perceived threat neutralized -- and that's where The 39 Steps comes in.

Would Nixon really go this far? As paranoid as this guy was, I’ve no doubt he or his cronies could have. Did he actually do it though? I doubt it. The man was crooked but he just wasn’t that clever.

Meanwhile, in one of the films better scenes, Joplin watches a BBC newscast about her performance at Albert Hall, where she told the reporter that there is absolutely no connection between drugs, music and Vietnam. But as the BBC shifts to news footage of the war, Janis shoots up with heroin; then, the images on the TV dissolve into Hendrix’s scalding version of the national anthem at Woodstock. (I think this was the song he promised.) After finishing the blistering set, he passes out backstage.

Later, at the Stanley home, Alex briefs his agents about how the voices of the musical revolution must be silenced -- and silenced quickly. When their meeting is interrupted by some loud music coming from young Frank’s room, his father barges in, destroys the record, and warns his son not to play that type of [N-bomb] music in his house. (So we find out that Stanley not only hates music, but is a bona fide bigot as well. Neat.)

Setting their sights on Hendrix first, the rogue agents track down and kill Rainbow Brown -- the guitarist's source for drugs, and substitute a bad batch of acid with his new supplier. (Don’t take the brown acid, man.) When Hendrix reports for a photo shoot, he gets sick on the tainted drugs but eventually recovers. Next, we find him at The Le George discotheque in New York, where, as fate (-- or a bad movie script --) would have it, Joplin and Morrison are also hanging out. They’re all impressed with the stage show until a bizarre conga-line of transvestites start imitating them, and bash them pretty good, too, for their self-indulgent lifestyles. 

And I almost went blind when one of the "ladies" flashed his own "Texarkana Dingus" to the audience in tribute to Morrison, who exposed himself at a concert in Florida. But, be thankful it at least wasn't old J. Edgar himself in drag...

Recognizing one of the drunken performers as one of the Black Panthers who visited him earlier, Hendrix gets her alone to talk. Seems she tried to reach him before but he was too insulated. As he promises that things will be different -- no more playing with his teeth, etc. -- the singer also confides in her about the bad acid and bad trips that he’s been having lately. He’s also wary of the same "gray faces" that have been lingering at every concert, hanging around backstage in the shadows. Warned that somebody has put a mark on him, he promises to be careful ... Meanwhile, in the club's ladies room, Joplin finds Morrison banging some gal in one of the stalls. When Pam catches them, Morrison blames it all on Joplin. This, with good reason, pisses Joplin off, and a shouting match rages as they make their way outside, where she eventually breaks a bottle over the creep's head. After Morrison leaves, Joplin confesses to Pam about how lonely the life of a rock star is. Truth be told, she’s jealous of the "action" Morrison and Hendrix get, and (-- in a scene that is way too good for a Larry Buchanan flick --) she confesses there are two Janis Joplins: one that makes love to 25,000 people on stage, and the other who always goes home alone.

Meantime, The 39 Steps tighten the noose on Hendrix, who's back in England performing somewhere on the Isle of White. Backstage, he meets the infamous Cynthia "Plaster Caster" Albritton, a gal who wants to capture every famous rocker’s Texarkana Dingus in dental plaster -- starting with Hendrix. 

This is a true story folks, and she’s still doing it today. Immortalized later in the KISS song, Plaster Caster, the only thing they got wrong was they had her being English, when Cynthia is really from Chicago. And yes, Hendrix did get the cast made.

The next morning, Stanley’s agents tamper with the phones in Hendrix’s hotel room. Stanley then checks in with another agent, who assures him Hendrix drank the drink they slipped a mickey into the night before. Inside the flat, Hendrix’s companion wakes up and, unable to roust him, leaves to get some cigarettes. After she’s gone, an agent sneaks in and plants some pills around the bedroom. Begging for permission to just kill Hendrix now, Stanley orders him to stand down and clear out because what happens next has to look like an accident. Later, the girl returns, and she goes into a panic when she still can’t wake Hendrix up. Of course, when she tries to call for an ambulance the call is intercepted by Stanley, who sends in some bogus paramedics to haul Hendrix out. And after they get him loaded up in an ambulance, Hendrix starts to come around and begins to vomit. Moving quickly, one of the paramedics gets him in a headlock and forces Hendrix to choke to death on his own vomit ... That's one down, with two to go.

But first, we have a brief pit-stop in Washington, where an agent reports to J. Edgar that they’ve intercepted a coded message about the termination of a certain target -- a target that doesn’t jive with anything the FBI or CIA is involved in. And when the agent asks if the rumors are true about a certain elite, and highly illegal task force, Hoover ignores the question and comments on the weather. (I love the smell of vomit in the morning.)

Then, things start to speed up as Joplin finishes a recording session and heads home. Inside her apartment, Stanley is injecting and saturating her oranges with lethal doses of heroin. Hearing her approach, he hides in a closet and waits while she runs the tainted fruit through a juicer, which the girl then mixes with some vodka. She drinks it down quickly, becomes woozy, and after she passes out cold Stanley begins doctoring the scene by placing several empty syringes around the body, and then sticks another into her arm just as the phone rings. Ever the cool character, he picks up the receiver and drops it by the singer’s head, gathers up all the evidence, and leaves.

That's too down, with one to go. But, as he lays out his plans to bump off Morrison, Stanely is told that the old Lizard King is already dead. Needing to be sure, the agent heads to Paris and, posing as a reporter, interviews Pam about the singer's sudden and tragic demise. When her story doesn't ring true, coupled with the fact that no one ever saw the body before it was buried, Stanley is convinced that Morrison is still alive. The audience, meanwhile, doesn't need any convincing, for we already know that the last Pied Piper, his health failing rapidly, faked his own death and retreated to a Monastery Hospice somewhere in Spain to recuperate. Why did he fake his own death? In his own words, "Death has one helluva plus -- privacy."

Stanley spends the rest of his career tracking Morrison down, but, by then, he had grown disenfranchised with the government he worked for and lets him go. Years later, the agent planned to blow the whistle on the whole operation by going to Europe to see if Morrison was still alive. After, alive or dead, he would then finish and publish his book, exposing The 39-Steps and what they'd done. Well, he was going to do all that right after a pheasant hunt with some old friends.

A flabbergasted Frank isn’t sure what to make of it all until Ellen suggests he take up his father's final mission and go to the Spanish Monastery and find out the truth for himself. This he does, and upon arrival, asks to see the head monk. Shown some pictures of The Doors' front man, the old man recognizes Morrison and offers to take Frank to see him. Led into the woods, they come upon a cemetery, where the monk comments on how happy Morrison became once he settled in; how he felt he'd finally found peace. Unfortunately, his health was too far gone, and when he died in 1974 they buried him here, in this simple cemetery.

When Frank asks which one is Morrison’s grave, as they are all staked with an unmarked cross, the monk isn’t sure, and says, they don’t mark the graves, for "How else would [the dead] truly be free?"

The End

Whoa. That is, like, deep man. Feh.

Okay, okay, stink bomb that it is, Beyond the Doors had been a Holy Grail for me for a long time. Yeah, this was another one of those treasure hunt movies, where I had the vaguest notion of a plot picked up through word of mouth or perhaps a cock-eyed blurb in some psychotronic compendium, that triggered the "Holy crap, have I got to see this!" reflex. Unfortunately, that internalized pile of tidbits is a mile high and mile long, where they languish until prodded to the forefront by some outside stimuli. In this case, it was back in my college days that my quest for this film began in earnest, when my good buddy Naked Bill and I teamed up to do a weekly cartoon for the school's paper based on, after hashing out the details over several pitchers of beer, a group of super-heroes based on dead rock-n-roll legends. Thus, Atomic Jukebox was born, where The Big E and his heroic Presleyterians waged war against the evil Dr. Bolton and his dastardly Top-40 Gang

Now, I’d heard about and seen brief clips of a film that alleged the government had conspired to kill Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison -- and I know that influenced the forming of the strip. Hendrix made the team as The Purple Haze, a flaming-guitar riding mad-man ala the Silver Surfer. (I point out this character came out about 8 years before Val Hallan rode his Axe on the Justice Friends. So, there. *thhhbbbtthh*) Morrison, obviously, made it in as the Lizard King, a man transformed into a were-lizard after ingesting some bad peyote. Alas, Joplin didn’t make the cut because aside of making her a witch called Pearl, and having an invisible plane that only Morrison could see, there wasn’t much to do with her. So, she was out and Mama Cass was in as Big Mama. After college, I framed some of the original drawings for Atomic Jukebox, hung them up around the house, and whenever I looked at them I’d think about that mysterious inspirational film that I never could find a clue to its identity no matter how many times I reread my old B-movie guides. However, with the advent of the World Wide Web I finally sat down one day and worked the IMDB over until I finally found it! Listed under the alternate title Down on Us, this momentus occasion was quickly tempered, when a closer inspection revealed who was behind it -- that Buchanan guy. Undaunted, I still tried to track it down; and after two years of fruitless searching would you believe I finally found the damn thing at the local video store, where it was right under my nose the whole time. You see, some genius stuck it in the small classics section. That's right. In between Ben-Hur and Casablanca sat Beyond the Doors.

Well, I had expected the worst and wasn’t disappointed. All the Buchanan trademarks are present and accounted for: one familiar set, tastefully rearranged in a hope we wouldn't notice the same furniture, static shots, and tons of bad dialogue. As for the cast, Allen does an okay Hendrix, and, despite the script she’s forced to recite, Meryl is actually quite good as Joplin -- especially when she talks about how lonely she is. Wolf, however, is completely laughable as the overly morose Morrison, with his constant comparing of everything to napalm. And I can’t quite decide if they’re singing on their own or if it’s canned. All the songs used are pretty low on the groups’ hit-lists, too.

However, and to his credit -- his one credit, I do believe Buchanan did a little homework before knuckling out the screenplay for Beyond the Doors. Some of the incidents portrayed hold true to history, while others are based on folklore and several urban legends surrounding these musical giants. Unfortunately, Buchanan seems to be more concerned with shots of topless groupies (-- and one disturbingly bottomless groupie --) than unraveling any great conspiracy in Beyond the Doors. Leave it to Buchanan to take such an inspired premise and make it so utterly null and void in its execution.

In the end, I'm glad that I finally managed to track down a copy of Beyond the Doors, and I’m happy to cross yet another film off that long gotta see list. Beyond that, we're just left with a not so fleeting feeling that we've just witnessed an air-ball that easily shoulda been a slam-dunk.

Originally Posted: 05/31/01 :: Rehashed: 07/20/2010

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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