31 Days to Scare ~ Door (1988)

The Facts:

Synopsis: With her husband working increasingly long hours at the office and their young son off at school, Yasuko spends her days alone, fending off a barrage of calls from a variety of determined salesmen, but when one such interaction ends with Yasuko inadvertently trapping a pushy peddler’s hand in her door, his vengeful wrath escalates to unspeakable levels.
Stars: Keiko Takahashi, Daijiro Tsutsumi
Director: Banmei Takahashi
Rated: NR
Running Length: 95 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Writing about movies has given me great opportunities to screen upcoming releases about to arrive in theaters and, more recently, to attend film festivals where I can catch titles that may not be seen for months or perhaps an entire year while they await distribution deals. Then there are the add-ons and rare finds at boutique festivals such as Fantastic Fest, held annually in Austin, TX. These genre gems are programmed in alignment with the niche market of the festival and complement what is already on the roster. Even if I haven’t seen everything out there, I like to think I’ve at least heard of a film’s existence, but year after year, the creative minds working these festivals pull out some winners.

At Fantastic Fest 2023, a mostly forgotten Japanese film from 1988, it has been revived with a new transfer, and it’s one of those discoveries that you almost can’t imagine hasn’t been at least referenced by other filmmakers over the years. Banmei Takahashi’s Door has a simple-sounding title and straightforward premise. Still, it is artfully cunning in ratcheting up the tension and creeping fear until it lets loose in a grand finale that rivals any late ’80s and early ’90s European import shockers that thrilled American audiences.  

Young wife Yasuko (Keiko Takahashi) lives with her husband and tiny son in a well-appointed building supposedly kept secure from outsiders but not secure enough to keep out persistent solicitors. The film’s opening beats track Yasuko’s routines, showing the mundanity of her life with an expectedly demanding son and a husband rarely present enough to pay attention to his wife’s needs. No one mistreats Yasuko, but she’s like a pane of frosted glass; you’re aware she’s there, but until you must try to look through it, it’s not of great concern.  

Multiple calls trying to sell products over the phone arrive throughout the day, disturbing her routine (indeed, a commentary on cold callers that began to run rampant during that era). When one sneaky door-to-door salesman makes it into her apartment complex and knocks on her door, she’s had enough. She can’t hang up on him, so she does the next best thing: slams the door in his face. However, his hand is in the door, and her actions and subsequent lack of genuine remorse set Yamakawa (a scary good Daijiro Tsutsumi) into a spiral of rage.

Door’s second half charts Yamakawa’s tormenting revenge on Yasuko, escalating from mere nuisance to terrifying encounters that grow more violent and unhinged. It’s clear that Yamakawa’s problems don’t stem just from the injury, but he’s taking a lifetime of rage out on the woman, and the price she has to pay is massive. Director Takahashi moves a scant number of pieces, including his wife as the lead, around his playing board as he winds his way to a finale that explodes into horrific, gruesome violence that surprises everyone.

Like most J-Horror, Door has a structure that takes time to set up, only to smash to bits with glee. A justification for the violence must be established for the pain and suffering to make sense, and the writing/directing helps establish action and consequences for all. The performances are wonderful, with both actors navigating unlikable roles at different points for disparate reasons. I could say I wish the entire package were a bit tighter, but we’re talking about a film that’s twenty-five years old and was released when narrative flowed differently. Rarely seen except on import and bootleg copies over the years, Door is set to get a newer release thanks to this refreshed scan that’s been done, restoring Takahashi’s cautionary tale to a moody 80s glory.

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