The Wrong Door [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Wild Eye Releasing
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (10th June 2024).
The Film

Ted (Matt Felmlee) is a college student fascinated with sound design; as such, he has been overthinking his radio drama class final to the point where he is going to have to pull an allnighter to get it done starting from scratch. On top of that, he gets a last minute call for his part-time job as a singing telegram to appear at a birthday party in a jester costume. Arriving at an apartment building later that night, he knocks on "the wrong door" after hearing an intense argument and comes face-to-face with unrequited crush classmate Jennifer (Loreal Steiner) who silently begs him for help while an unseen man is overheard urging her to get rid of the visitor. Before Ted can decide what to do, the guy who hired him drags him off to make his birthday party appearance. When Ted returns to Jennifer's apartment later on, he finds her dead but her body disappears when he goes to get help. On the way home, Ted discovers Jennifer's body in his back seat before he is run off the road by her killer Jeff (Jeff Tatum); however, Ted starts to suspect that there is more to the murder than a domestic violence incident since Jeff and his buddy Vic (Chris Hall) believe Jennifer game him an incriminating cassette tape and getting it back is the only reason they are keeping him alive. Once they have backed him into a corner, however, Ted employs his audio tricks to fight back in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse.

A regional indie thriller shot in Super 8 reversal film from Minnesota, The Wrong Door was as much a film school final project as it was an attempt to break into the video market with a low budget horror film. The trio of writers/directors James Groetsch, Shawn Korby, and Bill Weiss along with producer John Schonebaum were specifically inspired by magazine coverage of filmmaker Mark Pirro who shot A Polish Vampire in Burbank in double-system Super 8 using a modified camera from Super 8 Sound (now Pro8mm) and sold it to a video distributor, leading to his subsequent 35mm production Deathrow Gameshow. The project initially budgeted at ten-thousand dollars with each partner contributing a fourth of the amount, but eventually ballooning to more than twice that amount with various lab costs and reshoots is surprisingly coherent considering the number of cooks thanks primarily to a focused performance from Felmlee and Tatum who seems quite earnest in attempting to convey his character's psychosis through facial expressions than dialogue.

Whether a limitation on film stock or scheduling issues, the film feels like it takes some shortcuts in coverage when the camera could get closer although the filmmakers do note that they learned the lesson that they could not judge accurate focus by the tiny Super 8 viewfinder and some footage was unusable and for a film about a character fascinated with sound effects and sound design, it does drop the ball during climax where one character getting a baseball bat to the head sounds like a he is being hit by a spent paper towel roll (indeed, the film's best use of sound is when it goes virtually silent for a "slavish" homage to Father Karras' dream from The Exorcist). The film also feels like the filmmakers were reluctant to take the film anywhere truly dark despite lip service to the character's sense of guilt at failing to save the victim, and the expected revelation and the final "but is it?" ambiguous final shot feels cheeky compared to the tragic and cynical ending of another sound-oriented thriller Brian De Palma's Blow Out (one of the filmmakers mentions Michelangelo Antonioni as an influence but accidentally says the title of the De Palma film rather than Blow-up). The end result is an imperfect but interesting and possibly inspiring effort for DIY filmmakers especially now with affordable tools and cheap or even free software than can produce slicker results along the lines of the more accomplished Ohio-lensed contemporary Beyond Dream's Door.
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Video

Shot in double-system Super 8 with some additional material blown-down to the format, The Wrong Door had a limited VHS release from a short-lived line called Muther Video with cringey introductions by a cranky hostess slagging off the film in sub-sub Elvira style so limited that the filmmakers were even trying to sell self-made copies from the 1" video master to local shops. The film skipped DVD despite the number of boutique labels from the dawn of the format giving the red carpet treatment to such small films. While some of Wild Eye's "Visual Vengeance" line Blu-rays have had to do their best digitizing original video masters, The Wrong Door's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.37:1 pillarboxed fullscreen transfer comes from a new 2K scan of the Super 8 materials. Considering that the film was shot on reversal film with sometimes insufficient lighting, the film looks just okay during well-exposed sequences particularly exteriors shot in overcast conditions while some bright natural light sequences wash out in the highlights. Darker scenes do demonstrate some depth, and some of these scenes shot under more controlled conditions effectively make use of the lighted portion of the frame while letting the rest fall away into darkness, and the newer transfer has a bit more depth in the shadows than the video master seen elsewhere on the disc albeit upscaled to 1080i60 on the 2019 alternate director's cut (66:32 versus the 73:31 original) which tightens things up throughout with the ease of digital editing compared to the cutting on the 8mm reversal original by which the original version was assembled.
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Audio

The Dolby Digital 2.0 track does not appear to have been augmented in any fashion, featuring relatively clear sync-sound dialogue, cleaner-sounding voice-over, scoring, and a few exaggerated sound effects note the crunching dry leaves underfoot early on while the mix could have used a bit more umph from foley effects. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.

Extras

Extras start off with a pair of audio commentaries with the filmmakers, and the technical aspects of both discussions are more interesting than the production anecdotes. On the audio commentary by co-directors Bill Weiss and Shawn Kerby, the pair discuss the division of labor among the four co-directors Schonebaum taking only a producer credit Weiss' fascination with forties and fifties radio dramas on cassette, the difficulty of shooting 8mm at night, the growing budget, working with Super 8 Sound, and the editing process which involved cutting and recutting the reversal original rather than creating workprint (noting moments that could stand to be more tightly-edited like the "five minute primer" on creating a radio show).

The second track is an audio commentary by co-director James Groetsch and producer John Schonebaum who reveal that the credits did not photograph well on 8mm so they had to reshoot it in 35mm, and the opening sequence was also reshot in 16mm. Reshoots were also necessary when they did not realize that the Super 8 Sound-modified camera had a setting intended for low-light and night shooting that they initially neglected using, and that focus had to be measured manually as the 8mm viewfinder was not accurate enough to judge by eye.
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"Men Make Movie, If Not Million$: The Making of The Wrong Door" (43:29) features on-camera interviews with Groetsch, Korby, Weiss, Felmlee, and Film Threat Magazine's Chris Gore whose film review and profit-splitting initial offering of the film for order through the magazine landed the film wider distribution. Topics include the American Cinematographer article about Super 8 Sound and Pirro's video deal for his horror film, splitting the budget between the four of them including subsequent additional expenditures including processing and the video transfer service whose hourly rates increased as they splices kept coming apart necessitating multiple repairs casting the film, the night shoots, and seeking a video deal which sadly did not meet their expectations.

The five separate interviews with James Groetsch (29:43), Shawn Korby (20:48), Bill Weiss (36:42), Matt Felmlee (20:40), and Gore in "Distributing The Wrong Door" (13:32) are actually the raw material from which the aforementioned making-of piece. Although they each include some additional personal details about the subjects, watching the individual pieces reveals just how quite thoughtfully-constructed and assembled that the making-of piece was using this material.

The disc also includes two of the filmmakers' earlier Super 8 projects "Raiders of the Lost Bark" (1:41) and "The Pizza Man" (8:18) as well as the videotaped "The Gale Whitman Show" (21:55), a short-lived comedy series directed by Weiss and featuring Korby in an acting role that depicts the behind the scenes drama of a Minnesota hunting and fishing show.

The disc also includes what is labeled as the Original MUTHER Video VHS Intro (16:30) although it is not specified if these are the raw outtakes or if the intro was sixteen minutes of blown takes which sounds like an amusing way to introduce a film and video line but the viewer might not be in the mood to watch the film after all this an image gallery (1:41), original storyboards gallery (3:17), the Film Threat review, and a Visual Vengeance trailer (0:45) for the film.
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Packaging

The case comes housed in a slipcover with a reversible sleeve, "The Wrong Door" door tag, a foldout poster, and a sheet of twelve stickers.

Overall

The Wrong Door may have been as much a film school final project as it was an attempt to break into the video market with a low budget horror film, but it shows that the creative ambitions of some regional genre filmmakers strayed beyond slashers and monster suits.

 


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