During the 1970’s, Italian cinema was at its peak. You probably recall the “Spaghetti Westerns” of that era. What you may not know is that a lot of horror films were also being produced in Italy. Two of them had a little blond kid in them…. namely me, credited as David Colin, Jr. Since it’s October, the month of Halloween, I thought some musings on my movie memories might be appropriate.
In a recent post about my dad, I mentioned that he was one of those people who just knew everybody. He had contacts in the arts, including the film industry. So when he heard that a director was casting for a three-year-old blond, blue-eyed kid for a new feature film, he promptly grabbed me and we headed to an audition of about 200 kids. Perhaps I was the only three-year-old blond-haired, blue-eyed kid in Rome that day, because I got the part. The film was called “Beyond the Door” (also released as “The Devil Within Her” and called “Chi Sei?” — who are you? in Italian) and starred Juliet Mills and Richard Johnson. The movie was shot at the famed Cinecittà studios in Rome and in San Francisco. Notice the image of the “Chi Sei?” movie poster bears the tag line “è un film che fa paura” — a film that causes fear.
In the movie, I played Juliet Mills’ son, and by the end of the film, [spoiler alert] several people are dead and I am possessed by the devil.
For the most part, the film was a fun game to me: I got to swear and be in a room that rocked and swayed like an amusement park ride (and it really did, care of at least two burly men, large wooden levers, and a gimbal), people played with me on the set, and the lovely Ms. Mills gave me two little toy boats for my fourth birthday (shooting ran long, which led to our celebrating my birthday at the set). The film was reportedly made for $350,000 but garnered over $15 million despite, um… mixed reviews (Roger Ebert gave it one star and called it trash). People often refer to “Beyond the Door” as a rip-off of “The Exorcist,” citing a lawsuit by Warner Brothers to shut our movie down. But I don’t think “Rosemary’s Baby” gets enough credit as… inspiration.
After all these years, I still have a script, some photographs, and the baseball player pajamas I wore. There is a giant copy of the Italian “Chi Sei?” movie poster in The Spanish Steps Apartment.
Because the first film was a hit, I was asked back for “Beyond the Door II,” also released as “Shock” (sometimes spelled “Schock,” as you can see from the striking poster at the top of this post, courtesy of horrorpedia.com). The two movies were unrelated: I was the only carry-over from the prior movie but played a completely different character. Fortunately, at 6, I didn’t really know the difference. But then again, this movie went through several title changes during production. The director was the Italian horror film legend Mario Bava, and it starred Italian “scream queen” Daria Nicolodi as my mother and John Steiner as her new husband. [spoiler alert] By the end of the film, everyone is dead except for me, and I’m possessed by the spirit of my dead father.
Almost all of the filming for this movie took place in a house in the country where, between takes, I could happily run around, dodging the snakes in the back yard. While the first film was often referred to as an Exorcist rip-off, this film was original. But quality is in the eye of the beholder. I recall seeing one review which was a turkey (zero out of four stars) with the question “why, why, why did they make a second movie?” Apparently, Italian horror films with beautiful leading ladies made money, that’s why!
From this movie too, I have some artifacts: my copy of the script, and some photographs.
In my late teens, I was surprised to get a call for a third movie. I met with the producers but decided my acting days were over. It might have been for “Beyond the Door III” (a.k.a., “Amok Train” — great title!), but we never got that far in our discussions. That was a good decision, given my questionable acting talent. So I have not acted since. But my movie days were an incredibly fun time for me. I met some lovely people, got to be in the inside of Cinecittà studios (now periodically open to the public), and just had an enjoyable time. My dad tucked my salary away, and it paid for college thanks to the power of compounding returns. All in all, a pretty great childhood occupation!
If you are so inclined to rent the movies, do so at your own risk: you may suffer unintended laughter. And, I don’t get any royalties! But they are a fun look at a little known movie genre, which was a small part of the golden age of Italian cinema. And perhaps they will help you get in the Halloween spirit!