The Horror Films That Influenced Jay Woelfel's ‘Beyond Dream's Door’

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Beyond Dream's Door is now streaming on Shudder.

Let me start off by saying my first feature film, BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR, had lots of influences, more from what I’d read and experienced from living and being a genre fan for most of the 26 years I’d lived up to at the time I got to make the film. So, movies were not the primary inspiration or influence on my film.

Before I dive into my list, there are two films that have come in in reviews over the years are NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and Stephen King's IT. I won't talk about them here because I made the short film of BEYOND DREAM'S DOOR and wrote the feature script before Elm Street even came out.

In the case of IT, that, too, I didn't' read or see the original TV movie until long after I actually moved to LA after making Dream's Door. Now Elm Street
of course started a whole franchise and that big success helped make my supernatural dream/nightmare idea more commercial, so I'm thankful. 

I’ve never really been asked this question before, so these films I mention are not in any order, other then as they pop into my head so read or don’t read too much Freud into their order, or do, whatever….

Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, let me dive enthusiastically into those films that did.

Before BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR I wrote a script very much under this movie’s Lovecraftian spell. That script has almost been made numerous times over the years under various titles most recently know as THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS. I’ve made more money not getting to make that film than I have been paid to make many others.  But some of the CREEPING FLESH crept into BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR.  It is a PETER CUSHING and CHRISTOPHER LEE buddy film, not that they are buddies in this or many of their films, but if you love them, as you should, you know what I’m talking about. I think this is a terrific film with a twisty plot and unexpected subplots. The dominant backstory is about a pre-human race of pure evil.  You see, Evil (with a very intended capital E for evil.) was an actual race of beings, now extinct as such. What evil we experience in the modern world is only the aroma of Evil, but PETER CUSHING has found a skeleton, the source of the stink if you will.

The creeping flesh eventually covers a skeleton that then comes to life as a scary cool half-formed monster. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading this right now and go do yourself a favor and see it. Chiefly or most obviously Creeping Flesh’s monster at one point goes looking for its missing finger, leading to a great final confrontation with a typically excellently freaked out Peter Cushing. In BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR there is a proof-of-reality missing tooth, or teeth really, that figures into my plot.  In my film one way you can tell who the monster is, is if you watch various mouths for missing teeth you’ll be in on some important information. Oh, and yes, I am the son of a dentist so perhaps that’s why I made it teeth not fingers. So, thank you CREEPING FLESH.

Thank you, too, to HORROR EXPRESS, another LEE/CUSHING buddy film. Central rival/teamed up males against an elusive monster, isolation on a train, brain reading/ swapping monster, visions of lost nearly pre-human world. I can’t pick out anything immediately that influenced BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR but in general nearly all of it. I did consider trying to get CUSHING to play Professor Noxx, a role pretty much written with him in mind, after all he’d done SHOCK WAVES in Florida, why not our film in Ohio? Basically when the original investor fell through we decided we were out of time and money to pursue getting a name in the film. I regret this as for SOME more money, no doubt we could have gotten someone, if not sadly and probably not CUSHING, but at the time it seemed the ONLY way to get the film made was to give up on that ambition.

Speaking of missing teeth, they figure into this film’s biggest scare. I was always into sharks even before JAWS so I felt Dream’s Door’s monster might lose some teeth as sharks regularly do. Another thing about JAWS is it is really the movie that made me want to make films. I built an Orca boat the right size for my G.I JOES to portray all the characters and so a lot of role playing and story creating all stemming from being too scared to go in the water.  Oh, JAWS is a horror film about a monster, there are those who believe that and those you should not associate with. In JAWS, the main character doesn’t like/ doesn’t go into the water. In my film the main character doesn’t dreams or like dreaming.  They both have to face their toothy fears as those around them get consumed by the same internal issues.

 Could BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR be influenced at all by THE BEYOND, you bet though I saw that film as THE SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH.  Fulci had, of course, a graphic close up style of showing gore that I adopted, in part to get away from some special effects that didn’t hold up if you looked at them too long, so I felt we’d shove the blood in the audience’s face, almost forcing them to look away just in time to have impact but keep some credibility.  Also, THE BEYOND deals with a barren nightmare dreamscape—though not as much as I would have liked. Specifically there is a shot I thought about shooting in my film because I felt like I would just be stealing it from Fulci’s.  The shot I didn’t shoot involved a wide shot of a house with a zombie/ghoul in each window as a shadow.  I felt then and now you should have so many influences that your own style takes these films ingredients and you the filmmaker bake them in your oven and come up with something unique to yourself.  I’ve never wanted to just DO a shot from someone else’s film and so left Fulci to his wide house shot.

I guess you could say, if you think that THE BEYOND makes no sense and if you think my film doesn’t either, that both have that in common.  I’d say they both have their own reality and unreality, in the 1980’s any film that wasn’t a bunch of kids getting stalked by a guy with a knife intrigued me and was a breath of fresh air and creativity, so I certainly found that in THE BEYOND even in its SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH over-sized VHS full frame version I saw at the time.

Speaking of not taking shots, if little else, from other people’s films I guess I almost did from DEAR DEAD DELILAH. Made by future best selling novelist and for a time rival to Stephen King, John Farris.  This was before his mainstream success. He wrote and directed this is, a lower budget grimey and occasionally gory film that shocked and intrigued me. I mean they graphically kill Will Gear! Oh, No, you can’t kill Grandpa Walton, only they do! If he’s not safe who is?  There is a memorable beheading scene that I did a close version of at the end of my film. I think Farris is still did it better and not really the same, but it made me want to do some beheading in my own film.

This was the first Pete Walker film I saw, perhaps that’s why I still think of it as one of his best, though it probably isn’t. It’s a slasher film but with a key clever twist that maybe doesn’t totally work, but the idea is so bold that it sort of doesn’t matter. As with Farris’s film this film inspired/ generated only one shot/idea in my film in what we called the Little Ricky or Big Eyed Little Ricky shot in my film. I’d be giving away too much about Walker or my film, to say much more about it, but credit the source, SCHIZO.

Speaking of directors when you start to make movies, or more to the point, as you start to think and look at how a movie is staged and framed and edited, you find some films that feel right to you.  You say, that’s exactly the way that shot should be, or even you may pretend, or in your naïve enthusiasm believe that’s the way you would have done it.  I discovered Curtis Harrington at this key moment in my filmmaking. Specifically with his film, WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO. I still say all these years later, a well-directed film and one of his best films. It’s an interesting horror version of Hansel and Gretel, with an unfortunate, but not ruinously overwhelming, PSYCHO element to parts of it. It’s mostly from the children’s point of view and perception of reality. So it and his influence on BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR is general and almost more important because of it.
They key blue and black nightmare sequence still knocks me out every time I see it. Director Roger Corman seemed to me to have a knack at these kind of nightmare sequences in his Poe series of films.  Probably screenwriter Richard Matheson suggested how HOUSE OF USHER’S scene should look as he wrote in shot descriptions into his scripts even though, then and now, you aren’t ever supposed to. BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR builds, of course, to some key dream sequence which plays like a sort of music video to a poem I wrote for it. The use of heavy blues and other colors in that was inspired by this scene/ montage/sequence in USHER.

Now as I was discovering director’s some giants quickly became and remain favorites. ALFRED HITCHCOCK, MARIO BAVA for instance, especially for their use of color and colors to organize and express elements of the story they are telling visually. Yes visuals and styles impress budding filmmakers but what made me want to make films was how the visuals and styles told the story.  Filmmaking is about telling stories, and not stories that you’ve seen and know backwards and forwards before you see the film. Suspense and mystery I’ve always liked and I always try to tell a story that you don’t know the end of from the very beginning. So HITCHCOCK and BAVA for all these reasons and in too many films to list out here.

So I don’t know about you but I see some patterns forming, monsters, unreality… Certainly both are spectacularly and carefully on display in NIGHT OF THE DEMON.  Sure there are people, including this film’s director, JACQUES TOURNEUR, who may think the film would be better if you never saw the monster at all, but I love the monster and how you see enough to be scared and satisfied you’ve seen it—this I tried to do with my film. The other key element in NIGHT OF THE DEMON is the idea of the passing of the “curse” (actually the alternate title for NIGHT OF THE DEMON is CURSE OF THE DEMON) so the demon can then can drag you into the Demon’s ancient world. to prove it exists and to take whoever is next back into the inescapable past with it. BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR splits the skeptical main character (played by Dana Andrews) quickly into two competing characters who debate and battle each other as much as the monster in my film.

Many of the above films I saw first on television usually late at night sometimes half awake, if you ask me, or half asleep if you ask the other friends who’d stay up with me to watch horror films into the wee hours on various late night horror host shows.  But these televised series horrors also influenced BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR. In particular, oddly enough, THE AVENGERS, a show I only saw after or before some movie was on I wanted to see, I remember an episode from THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT to be very scary as a kid, I’ve never seen it since. But there was something about the atmosphere of the series. Only years later, I discovered reading an interview with one of the series directors, ROBERT FUEST, was that the show has NO EXTRAS. Aside from the few main characters in each episode, there are never any extras or background crowds, the shows take place in an empty world—one in England that feels a bit alien to America in the first place. BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR, as its story and characters slip quickly out of reality, takes place in a largely empty world that grows more and more lonely for the main character BEN DOBBS, and yes, just as a fun fact, his name is a bit of a word scramble of the film’s title, often referred to by us while making it and since as BDD.

Skipping back to features another director I first paid attention  to and referred to once already, is ROGER CORMAN. His films, largely for budget reasons, often take place in essentially empty worlds, especially his Poe films which were the ones I saw first.

Another memorable empty world, back on Television, is THE TWILIGHT ZONE episode THE JUNGLE, by the great Charles Beaumont.  One of the first episodes I ever saw of that great original series, I found it very hard to go down to my bedroom on the otherwise empty bottom floor of our house.   That same downstairs is in BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR as the empty basement of Julie’s house.

A final a very early Television monster is on STAR TREK in the episode THE DEVIL IN THE DARK. One of the few episodes of the series I actually saw when it first ran, so I was very young. This episode also made me afraid of that same bedroom and the long underground hallway that lead to my bedroom. The underground monster that tunnels its own world into existence helped lead to my film’s underground world.  The other element in DEVIL IN THE DARK has to do with a monster that isn’t an animal or beast, like a shark is, but has a mind and feelings and is on the edge of extinction.  As a the Dream Woman says in my film’s case, a dream monster that has been left alone for so long it’s become mad-which I meant as both angry and insane at the same time!

As much as I love JAWS in my own films and in general I prefer monster’s and villains in general who aren’t just mindless killing machines. I want to get inside the monster’s mind like the one inside THE DEVIL IN THE DARK.

So without forcing my memory artificially and while knowingly leaving out many directors and films I should mention, just because they are great and worthy, those are some influences I had before getting to make my first feature film. I hope some of them, at least, aren’t the obvious ones you might think influenced me. A few I mention here I had not realized how they did influence my first film and others I’ve been fortunate enough to make since then.

Watching a film can be a solitary experience, and with horror films a frightening one as well. So, for me, I’ve always tried to share film watching. At first, in those late night Friday night fright shows on commercial television, and then later on some obscure cable channel starting at 2 am, and then later still when a night of film watching started with trips with friends to get a pizza and rent movies before the vide store closed. 

BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR is about an isolated guy and the price he pays for that isolation. The movies I make are ways of sharing my stories with people/ the audience; that audience and the crews that I’ve made films with, have given me friends that saved me and save me, from the same fate. Maybe not a fate worse than death as can happen in movies, but then again are they JUST movies after all? Certainly reality is not what any one of us thinks it is and movies can help us enjoy and explore its dark and endless corridors.
Jay Woelfel, January 2022

Jay Woelfel has spent his career working in all phases of production and post production in film, video, and interactive productions. Jay won the Interactive Academy Award for Best Documentary for TITANIC, a project he wrote and directed which was narrated by Patrick Stewart. It is one of five awards Titanic has won since its release in 1994. In 1993 he won an OBIE and TWO EMMY awards for his production of NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE'S THE BIRTHMARK. (THE BIRTHMARK has aired Nationally on PBS since the award) He edited the Academy Award nominated short film BRONX CHEERS. On the strength of his body of work Jay Woelfel was selected by The United States Information Agency as one of the six best film students in the United States to represent it at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival.

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