Upon finding out about my weekly TV movie articles, a friend sent me a link to The World Beyond, a TV movie he’d been scared by when it originally aired in the 70s. By doing a little Googling, I found out it was one of two movies (the first being The World of Darkness) featuring the same lead character, Paul Taylor (Granville Van Dusen), and that the two were intended to be part of a series which never came to be. Still, it seems that The World Beyond terrified many people, as evidenced by comments on YouTube, IMDb, and even this webpage dedicated to sharing information about the CBS-aired, Time Life-created television event. So, let’s follow all these folks and step into The World Beyond, shall we?
The movie begins with a hospital scene in which Paul is dying and being brought back to life after a motorcycle accident. He describes in voiceover how he returned from the dead with psychic powers and a responsibility to help people in danger. Jumping directly into the story, we find that Paul is having visions of a mustached man asking him to go to a remote island and help Marian Faber (the lovely JoBeth Williams). Wouldn’t you know it, when Paul arrives at the boat that will take him to the island, the captain, Andy Borchard, is waiting for one other passenger, Marian. She arrives bearing a gift for the captain’s sweet dog, Lover (that’s the dog’s name and stop snickering), and away they go.
Immediately it becomes clear that something is wrong, because only two people live on the island, one of them being Marian’s brother (determined to be the mustached man from the visions) and one of his lifejackets is floating quite a ways from the island. Then they get to the island and Lover attacks Captain Borchard, who by the way is played by Barnard Hughes aka Grandpa from The Lost Boys. There were two things the captain never could stand about that island: being attacked by his dog, and all the damn golems. Yes, golems, or more accurately, a golem, even though that muddies my joke a bit.
Marian’s brother Frank (Richard Fitzpatrick), who always has had a habit of Messing With Things He Doesn’t Understand, has gone and created a soulless, goddamn shit-sucking golem out of mud and then gotten himself killed by it. Terror ensues, as the golem really does make an awful ungodly noise which we hear to great effect throughout the movie, and even though it loses a hand due to it being slammed in a door, the hand goes on attacking folks. There’s also a creepy part where Frank’s ghost actually appears to Paul in the basement and continues to ask him to help Marian. Paul is like, I’m trying, you creepy dead bastard.
Left alone to fight the monster, the castaways have little to do but hole up and wait while drinking Frank’s liquor. I’m always impressed with people in old movies who are able to drink and drink and still get things done. These days nobody has a drink in a film unless it’s the point of the scene, but before people got all pussified about alcohol it was like, “Baby shower? May as well have a drink. Almost time for church? Time for one quick drink. Homeroom starts in eight minutes. That’s enough time for two drinks. We’re enemies because I stole your late father’s company by buying up all the stock while you were in a coma? Fine, but let’s have a drink while we argue.” You get the picture.
Finally they figure out how to kill the golem with a common, non-alcoholic household item, and then it’s back to the mainland for nobody to believe their tale. And yet they are still let go despite being witnesses to a trail of carnage, with Paul and Marian promising to meet for dinner when they both get back to New York where all civilized people are from. If Paul is around, of course, because, as he explains, he never knows where he will be. Which leaves the door wide open for more dead people to call him on the big invisible phone and ask for help.
But they didn’t. I wonder why, since the film is so well remembered. Maybe it’s because, although Van Dusen does some solid acting, the character of Paul just doesn’t give us very much personality. He’s a bit too rational in the face of this irrationality, and as we’ve seen in subsequent “monster of the week” series, the main character needs to be quirky or dramatic. Or spooky. Also, and I usually don’t complain about this, but there are some major plot holes, which is fine for a drive-in in the 70s, straight-to-video in the 80s, or avant-garde in any decade, but that shit don’t fly on TV. We need things tied up in time for the station identification at the top of the hour. For example, we never find out why Frank wrote to Marian to tell her he had to show her something, unless he was just proud of his stupid killer mudpie.
Aren’t golems usually used for revenge killings? Obviously Frank didn’t mean to kill Marian or he wouldn’t have summoned Paul, and even though he does manage to kill his neighbor and only other person on the island, we never find out why he made the golem. It’s too bad, because at the beginning of the film I was all set to proudly show you my discovery of golem as metaphor for the dangers of revenge. Instead we’re left with another cautionary tale about Messing With Things You Don’t Understand, which is contradictory to me, because isn’t the attraction of supernatural horror the fact that we get to take a good gander at something we don’t understand? Also, Marian says she and Frank weren’t close, that in fact she thought he’d forgotten about her until she got a letter summoning her to the island, but then why does she know the name of Captain Grandpa’s dog when she arrives at the boat bearing a gift for said dog?
Whatever. I liked this movie, and I can see why it scared the mud out of many a young viewer back in the 70s. As a bonus, we never get a good look at the monster, so it’s easy to continue to suspend your childhood belief that it wasn’t just a beefy actor covered in mud. It’s probably just as well it didn’t become a series, because our memories of our little time with Paul aren’t tainted by the inevitable ruination of a good show some nine years later when we stray irrevocably from the “monster of the week” formula and spend way too much time slogging through the truth about the ongoing and unnecessarily convoluted mythology of his return from the dead. We have other shows in TV history that fulfill that role quite nicely.
So, Google up The World Beyond, and if you watch it, watch one of the versions that is in parts, because the one that is all contained in one video froze up on me. And don’t be shy about sending me suggestions for my theme days. I may not always cover them, but I’ll like you forever for bothering to contribute.