Saturday, December 4, 2010

In short: The Evil (1978)

Sceptical psychologist C.J. Arnold (Richard Crenna) and his M.D. wife Caroline (Joanna Pettet) have bought themselves a fine new home. It was dirt cheap, which might have something to do with the fact that the house is in fact cursed and haunted.

It's also badly in need of renovation, so C.J. calls together a group of people he once had in a therapy group (at least, if I understand the film right; clarity is not one of its virtues) and a former student (Andrew Prine) coming complete with girlfriend to help bring the house in order. Before you can shout "SPOOK!", the obligatory strange things begin to happen. Loud noises and winds from nowhere are only the beginning. Soon ghosts, very localized earthquakes, and demonic possession with frightening eyebrow growth begin to assault the protagonists. A very malevolent force locks the group inside the house and begins to kill them off one by one.

In the end, it all turns out to be the fault of the gate to hell sealed in the cellar, or rather the fault of the Devil as played by a drunken Victor Buono.

Future boring TV show director Gus Trikonis' The Evil is what happens when a guy with neither knowledge of nor interest in haunted house movies is hired to shoot one based on a script that is as rote and by the numbers as spook house movie scripts come.

Because neither Trikonis nor scriptwriter Galen Thompson have ever heard of the word subtlety, their attempts at scaring their audience consist mostly of auditory attacks in the form of loud screaming, loud "dramatic" music (by one Johnny Harris), and wind noises that at times have a striking resemblance to the noise tie-fighters make. There are no attempts at building mood, no concept of what is frightening beyond shouting at the audience very loudly, and not a single idea used in an interesting way. If I had ever looked for the true inspiration for Jan de Bont's dreadful remake of Robert Wise's The Haunting, this film would probably be it.

As it goes with shocks that aren't and lots of dramatic shouting, The Evil quickly gets tiresome, and - once the demonic possessions and attempts at more bloody effects start - unintentionally humorous.

At least the acting - if I just allow myself to pretend Victor Buono's performance doesn't exist - is as good as is possible with the script. Prine has always been fine in dubious or plain bad films, and the rest of the cast just follows suit and gives this mess a sheen of professionalism it doesn't deserve, as does the solid photography by Mario DiLeo.

It's just too bad that Trikonis just doesn't have a clue what to do with their efforts.



Doug Bolden said...

I would like to point out

a) The burning man effect at the beginning, which makes no effort to have the stunt man look like the guy burning, or to hide the obvious helmet and thick burning suit...

and b) the demonic attack dog sequence in which a tongue-rolling, tail-wagging dog runs the wrong direction (i.e. right towards the camera) while a woman screams.

Oh, and c) the odd racially-tinted exchange when the above dog woman asks the token non-white character something about "If you were a dog..." and said token black lady takes offense. This is after she took very little offense to another woman asking "How'd you even get into this group?"

At one point in time, I asked if the movie was even trying. I have never heard of the Devil in White scene, so for me...I was able to enjoy it in full, painful impact. I'll be sure not to tell my friends before I show them the movie, as well.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

This is one of the cases where I'm pretty positive that nobody making the movie was trying. It's a bit sad, but what can you do?

Concerning this (and other) supposedly wild dogs, I've grown so accustomed to dogs only attacking while wagging their tails and preparing for some major petting that I'm not even seeing it anymore. I'll probably suffer a minor heart attack the next time I watch a movie with proper dog acting.