Six friends break bread for the holidays in a remote woodsy cabin. As their jovial and joyful conversation continues, a wicked evil lurks in the forest. A sudden and harsh knock at the door confuses the group on who would be calling at their isolated retreat and at the late hour. When Tess volunteers to answer the knocking, a stranger spews blood all over her and falls to the ground as she opens the door. With his dying breath, the aging stranger warns them to never open the door. stunned with complete shock and terror, the group doesn’t realize that the very moment the strange dies on their doorstep is the very moment of the beginning of the end as weird occurrences and odd behavior pits friend versus friend, girlfriend versus boyfriend, and spouse versus spouse when staying or fleeing the cabin becomes a life or death decision.
“Never Open the Door” strikes as an odd feature that marries projecting horror genres with resurrecting structures from the past into modern times. The Vito Trabucco directed 2014 released film, who also had producer Christopher Maltauro collaborate on to pen the script, stirs up vintage Alfred Hitchcock cinematography craftwork and mirrors the enigmatic nature of particular and peculiar “Twilight Zone” episodes. Trabucco and director of cinematographer Joe Provenzano voids the film of color to encompass the mood of bygone black and white thrillers and employs composer Carlos Vivas to enchant the story with a classically engaging score that embellishes upon harrowing pivotal moments in the story. Vivas and Trabucco have a prior working relationship under Trabucco’s previous nunsploitation slasher “Bloody Bloody Bible Camp.”
Vito Trabucco casted his staple entourage of actors. If you’ve ever seen “Bloody Bloody Bible Camp,” you’ll recognize many faces with the exclusion of George Troester, who plays the crude, unhitched Terrence. However, Troester does fit into the whole seven degrees of Kevin Bacon theory, being a co-star in “Crack Whore” along side Kristina Page and Steven Richards, Angel and The Stranger in their respective roles. Contemporary scream queen Jessica Sonneborn, the lead actress in “Never Open the Door’s” quasi-dual Tess performance, has a director’s credit under her name for her work on “The Haunting of Alice D” starring the iconic Kane Hodder. The 2014 film also rostered supporting actresses Kristina Page and Deborah Venegas, who portrays in Trabucco’s film as Maria, Luke’s wife. Luke is portrayed by Mike Wood with fellow “Bloody Bloody Bible Camp” co-star Matt Aidan as Angel’s fiance. Whew. Overall, the actors click as a group with a dinner room dynamic that’s natural with slightly pretentious moments that don’t really kill the mood. When the story ramps up, performances start to dwindle and overacting starts to unfold. Mike Wood absolutely murders the shower performance with ghastly exposition, but, again, this might be playing the retro card. Sonnerborn does well as the headliner. Her demon-like twin dominates, but just didn’t receive much screen presence in measly 66 minute runtime.
Continuing with the Tess demon, the black and white style fortunately masks most of the low budget special effects with the aid of some great uses of silhouettes and editing. Evil Tess’s pudgy demon sausage fingers dressed with cheap plastic looking fingernail attachments couldn’t fool a fool that they’re razor sharp, but with jagged teeth and glowing eyes encircled by a pitch black ring, she’s a nightmare inducing boogeywoman. Aside from a pair of demonic dispatches with one involving the razor blade finger caps, the effects were safely contained inside the realm of an independent feature. A few spurts of black blood and a handful of stabbings share a common bound of having being what remains of the effects which were executed well enough to serve the intended purpose. Mostly, “Never Open the Door” relied heavily on editing. Editing that involves characters’ hallucinating future or past events, attributing their frantic confusion and life threatening situation toward an endless loop of purgatory.
Yes, the characters are afflicted with a hell on repeat, switching identities on a continuous horizon that leaves fragments of prior rebroadcasts. From gathering information about the characters, none of them strike me as a damned souls. Tess is a veterinarian who performs the occasional neutering and spade and dates a man nearly twice her age. Terrence just doesn’t want to grow up, but no skeletons appeared from out of his closet. The couples, Angel and Isaac and Luke and Maria, grow suspicious of each others’ intentions that involve jealousy, paranoia, and hatred. Unlike a “Twilight Episode,” “Never Open the Door” leaves open doors of unsolved questions, such as answering the question of how the group came to acquire the house. Before the abrupt knock at the door, the person who located the isolated question seemed to befuddle the entire group. Another loose end lies with the person texting Luke messages about an illicit affair his wife’s having with one of their friends. Again, the loop doesn’t quite close on this interesting caveat.
Maltauro Entertainment presents in association with Baumant Entertainment the Vito Trabucco film “Never Open the Door” on Blu-ray. Unrated in a HD 1080p, the widescreen 1.78:1 is delectably sharp on a BD-25, but that really isn’t a surprise here with a black and white feature barely over a hour long. However, black-upon-black scenes define the Blu-ray with a low bitrate, displaying some blotchy, compression issues. Audio quality is quite fair. Carlos Vivas score channels through a Dolby Digital dual output that caters, again, to a vintage replication, but in creating an atmospheric feature, having surround sound would have boosted the result tenfold. The dialogue is a bit wish-washy, pending on the scene and character positioning, but forefront evident in the quality and that is what really matters. English subtitles are also available. “Never Open the Door” has grand potential in a small package, but trips over it’s own inconsistencies with erratic editing and walled details. Director Vito Trabucco’s vision in modernizing classic techniques and styles merely becomes just that, a vision, and was inches, or rather seconds, away from opening the door for potentially a far greater anxiety-riddled psychological thriller.