Evil, The (1978)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2010-10-08 00:14

Written by: Donald G. Thompson and David Sheldon
Directed by: Gus Trikonis
Starring: Richard Crenna, Joanna Pettet, and Victor Buono

Reviewed by: Brett G.

Witness its awakening!

The “old dark house” motif has been around since the early days of horror and has taken all sorts of shapes and sizes since then. They’ve been home to everything from murder mysteries to supernatural spine-chillers. The 1970s especially saw a brief renewed interest in the latter type of film, as a number of haunted house films cropped up throughout the decade. The movement actually culminated with its most famous example, The Amityville Horror, but other lesser known films preceded it. One of these was The Evil, a haunted house movie that was released by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures company in 1978.

Psychologist C.J. Arnold and his wife have recently purchased an old, decrepit mansion that they intend to renovate into a mental health clinic. Along with a team of students, they intend to spend time working on getting the house into shape, as the house has been abandoned ever since its occult-dabbling former owner disappeared over a century ago. Of course, it doesn’t take long for some spooky events to start happening. A mysterious, formless apparition is seen floating throughout the house, and maniacal laughter can be heard in some of the rooms. Arnold himself makes the mistake of opening a hatch in a basement (clearly all gateways to hell are guarded by these), which releases the titular entity, who locks the house down and begins picking the characters off one by one.

As far as haunted house films go, The Evil is pretty standard stuff; I suppose it’s a bit interesting because it’s sort of infused with a slasher film sensibility--the body count is relatively modest, and the cast gets offed in a variety of creative ways. From combustion to electrocution, and a bit of hack and slash in between, this one mixes in the bloodshed just enough to keep viewers on their toes. There’s a requisite amount of build-up and minimal character development to get things moving, but this one is all about the title character, who is here to wreak havoc on the inhabitants of the house. As such, it moves at a pretty rapid pace once the blood starts flowing, which keeps things interesting enough for most of its running time. The background story with the occultist former owner is standard fare, but at least the film attempts to give you the feeling that its characters have been caught up in an epic struggle between good and evil.

The payoff isn’t quite as good as the setup sounds, but the plot climaxes with an interesting showdown. The action surrounding it is also effective enough, as it’s fun to watch all hell break loose throughout the house. The combination of the usual haunted house parlor tricks (slamming doors and windows, assaults by unseen entities, etc.) with the perpetually creepy laughter make for a chilling experience at times. The movie is pretty much a showcase for such mayhem, and it succeeds well enough (though the spectral blob effect may elicit a few chuckles). It’s not the most subtle of films, but it isn’t a total schlock-fest either; instead, it's content to just throw in some decent carnage here and there.

The production is professional in every respect. The acting is solid: Crenna is a typical no-nonsense, yet likeable male 70s lead, and his on-screen wife Pettet is an adequate complement. Like the rest of the cast, she’s mostly there to be victimized by the on-screen events; this leads to some pretty forgettable cast, but at least they aren’t obnoxious caricatures. Character actor Victor Buono has a nice turn in a limited but creepy role. Trikonis’s direction is skillful enough, as he knows how to capture the ominous surroundings and chilling events through unsettling camera angles and by often bathing the film in dark shadows. If you’re going to have an effective haunted house movie, the house itself has to be adequately spooky, and this one is.

Really, “adequate” is the best way to describe this one; it’s a pretty quaint house tucked away in a little neighborhood compared to some of the titans of the genre, but it’s one that haunted house aficionados won’t mind strolling through. If that’s you, then Shout Factory has paved the way for you with its recent DVD release of the film. Part of the “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series, The Evil makes its digital debut alongside Twice Dead in a nice double feature. The presentation is very good--the anamorphic widescreen transfer isn’t without its share of speckles and grain, but it’s an otherwise stellar restoration. The soundtrack is relatively flawless, as all the dialogue is rendered intelligibly along with all the creepy bumps in the night. Special features include an audio commentary with Trikonis, writer Donald Thompson, and director of photography Mario Di Leo, plus trailers for the film. Considering the film has probably been unseen by many for years, Shout Factory did a bang-up job for this release. Give it a spin on a dark, rainy night, when it'll no doubt be the most effective. Rent it!

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