Color, 1998, 83 mins.

Directed by Mitch Marcus

Starring Brian Bloom, Kimberly Rowe, David Carridine, John Doe / Written by Craig J. Nevius / Produced by Mary Ann Fisher / Music by Michael Portis

Format: DVD - New Horizons (MSRP $19.95)

Dolby Digital Ultra-Stereo

Hard to believe it, but New Horizons has actually made a pretty good little horror film. While Roger Corman's latest film company has generated a few interesting horror titles in the past ranging from not bad (Blood Song, a.k.a. Haunted Symphony) to laughably campy (Burial of the Rats), the ghostly Knocking on Death's Door is by far the best of the batch so far.

Brad Gallagher (soap opera heartthrob Brian Bloom) and his newlywed wife, Danielle (fledgling scream queen Kimberly Rowe) are recruited by Professor Paul Ballard (John Doe), who had a fling with Danielle during her college days, to investigate paranormal happenings at the legendary Sunset House (not Hillside House as the packaging states). Aside from the stereotypical hick neighbors, the couple are tormented by constant intrusions on their lovemaking (falling grandfather clocks, flying red-hot pokers, etc.). Pretty soon Brad's hitting the bottle pretty hard and becoming jealous about Danielle's relationship with their boss. Meanwhile, Danielle, who gained psychic abilities after a bizarre skating accident in her childhood, comes in contact with several ghostly presences within the house. The major ghost identifies himself as "Samuel," possibly the husband of the house' previous owner, a woman named Elizabeth who died under mysterious circumstances.

Aside from a gruesome axe murder during the prologue, Knocking on Death's Door is a welcome return to horror films which rely on atmosphere, character development, plot, and genuine chills to tell a good story. Even the requisite nudity is genuinely erotic, tasteful, and integrated into the story, and all of the performers do solid jobs. Carradine, whose career has suffered as of late even to the point of appearing in Fred Olen Ray films, does better work here than we've seen in a while, and Bloom looks almost unrecognizable as a man being torn apart by both inner and outer demons. Director Marcus does an efficient job of manipulating the viewer through stylish camerawork (and boy does this look good for a recent Corman film!), unsettling imagery, and a beautifully manipulative sound mix with some startling directional effects. The only major flaw is Protis' serviceable but derivative music score, which blatantly apes Wendy Carlos' The Shining (probably because the opening credits also show a couple driving through the countryside).

The DVD presentation is a genuine special edition by New Horizons standards, with the video trailer and four chunks of additional footage included as supplements. The extra scenes (integrated into the entire scenes in which they belong) don't really add a whole lot aside from an extra vision during Brad's fall into the grave near the end, but it's a nice gesture all the same. Most of the trims were apparently made to extraneous dialogue in the usual Corman fashion to keep the film well under a 90 minute running time. While there isn't much here that hasn't already been explored in films like The Changeling, The Haunting, Legend of Hell House, or Poltergeist, Knocking on Death's Door is nevertheless a solid ghost story and a welcome throwback to good campfire-style creepy fun, at the very least well worth an evening's rental.

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