Did Jim Morrison meet his maker in a Paris bathtub in 1971? Or did the rock star really learn of a top-secret plan to kill him, causing him to fake his own death and forcing him to hide out in a Spanish monastery, where he actually died of natural causes three years later?
That's the shocking premise of Beyond the Doors, a cheapo film alleging that Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix were all targets of a bizarre government plot to clean up America by exterminating the "three Pied Pipers of Rock."
The film, by conspiracy buff Larry Buchanan (the man who also brought you schlock classics like Mars Needs Women and Zontar, the Thing From Venus), languished on video-store shelves until the release of Oliver Stone's big-budget epic The Doors.
A flop during its initial 1984 release, Buchanan's Beyond the Doors originally played theatres under the title Down on Us, an allusion to the Joplin hit "Down on Me." But according to a spokesperson for Unicorn Video, the San Fernando Valley company that released a video version in 1989, the name change had nothing to do with the recent $40 million Hollywood epic.
Reaction to the video has reportedly been "absolutely terrific," says Unicorn marketing vice president Keith Goldstein. "We lit the fire, excuse the pun, and it sort of exploded from there."
Riding the coattails of Stone's hit, Beyond the Doors' assassination theory has been explored on TV's A Current Affair, and its film clips are now featured in a traveling Jimi Hendrix tribute. The movie reportedly received a "thumbs up" from noted Morrison aficionado Eve Babitz, a former groupie who reminisced about the rocker in recent stories in both the Los Angeles Times and Esquire.
Unicorn is planning a big promotional campaign for Beyond the Doors to coincide with the eventual video release of the Oliver Stone picture.
Buchanan, who created the paranoidal Doors opus, is a legendary figure in the world of cult films, and he swears that his theory about the Morrison murder plot is based on fact.
"It's a true story, absolutely," the 68-year-old filmmaker says during a telephone interview from his office in Santa Barbara. "Nobody has ever challenged anything you see in that picture.
"Obviously, any filmmaker is going to embellish. But remember, we didn't start the embellishment--they did. They--the quote-unquote they--are the embellishers. They're experts at it. They exist, believe me."
The B-movie maestro identifies "them" as the 39 Steps--no, not the Hitchcock movie, but a sub rosa organization allegedly tied to the CIA, FBI, and National Security Agency. (Buchanan refuses to say exactly how he's privy to information that has somehow eluded everyone else. However, he suggests that he might supply clues in It Came From Hunger, his memoirs in progress.)
"They have the rights of termination," he explains. "They can eliminate you in the interest of the so-called national security of this country. What bothers me is that we don't use them when we could. They should have sent five of these guys to Baghdad to take care of Mr. Hussein before this war started." The son of a Texas Ranger, Buchanan first crossed paths with "them" in 1964, when he made a couple of movies inspired by the JFK assassination. Naughty Dallas (a nudie shot inside Jack Ruby's strip joint) didn't raise many eyebrows, but Buchanan insists that "they" were panic-stricken by his other one, The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald.
"We gave Lee Harvey Oswald the trial he was denied by Jack Ruby's bullet," says Buchanan. Less than two weeks after he debuted the film in Milwaukee (yes, Milwaukee), a rash of death threats forced him to pull it out of circulation, he says. "We were given the squeeze," he explains. "The picture was fiction--pure fiction--but it frightened somebody. I'd have to name Nixon. That picture was suppressed!"
Although he continued to churn out drive-in dreck for American International (like Mars Needs Women, the 1966 camp classic soon to be remade by somebody else as a big-budget Hollywood project), he also zoomed in on controversy and conspiracy, unmasking the "true" stories behind the mysteries of such celebrities as Howard Hughes, Jean Harlow, and Bonnie and Clyde.
In last year's mind-boggling Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn (starring Hee Haw's Misty Rowe as one of two Marilyns), Buchanan revealed that Monroe's death was actually a mercy killing orchestrated by a well-meaning friend who administered lethal suppositories.
For Beyond the Doors, Buchanan didn't exactly have his pick of Hollywood stars. He wound up recruiting some guy he ran into at a Pasadena flea market to play Jim Morrison.
Buchanan has yet to see the $40 million Oliver Stone picture in its entirety, but he knows there are huge differences. "Bless him," says Buchanan, whose own picture about the Doors cost $370,000. "He's got enough money that he can afford to re-create a Sixties street that would be the whole cost of my whole movie."
But he doesn't sound bitter. "People like me want to make Oliver Stone-type pictures, of course," he says. "The fates touch some people on the shoulder. Others are not touched, but we still have to put braces on the teeth of four growing children, so we do these pictures."
Sometimes, "they" even savage Buchanan. The trade journal Variety, for instance, called Buchanan's movie on the Doors his "screwiest" conspiracy picture to date. "Certainly, I wince when I read that," he says. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't. But I get over it very quickly because I realize at least I'm a filmmaker. If you're a filmmaker, you'll do it even if you have to go do porno."
No matter what the critics may say, Buchanan's Beyond the Doors is riding a crest of publicity. "Up until now, the film has just kind of been hidden away on the back shelves," he says. "But I see this film as being rediscovered the same way they rediscovered Mars Needs Women."
"The picture was fiction--pure fiction--but it frightened somebody. I'd have to name Nixon.