Following The Exorcist and The Omen’s successes, Hollywood abruptly attempted to cash in. In turn, several supernatural and/or Satanic-themed horror movies quickly found their way into theatres. There were box office successes, like The Amityville Horror, along with middling releases that included Burnt Offerings and The Sentinel. As horror rode this occult wave, a few oddities surfaced that included titles like God Told Me To, To The Devil … A Daughter, and Satan’s School for Girls. Somewhere amidst these releases was 1978 release, The Evil. A regular staple of late-night cable television, The Evil amalgamated an odd mix of styles and looks often at odds with what was a pretty standard story for the era.
Pragmatic psychiatrist CJ Arnold and his medical doctor wife, Caroline, buy an abandoned, remote mansion. Year ago, an eccentric Civl War General built the house over top of old sulfur pits. As the house aged, its reputation scared most people away. Now the Arnolds have invited colleagues and friends to restore the building and re-open it as a drug rehabilitation facility. But when CJ unearths a sealed door in the basement floor, he unwittingly unleashes an ancient evil force.
The Evil Takes Some Eccentric Steps Down a Familiar Story
On its surface, The Evil sounds an awful like an Amityville Horror redux. Ancient evil spirits in the basement. Invisible whispers and laughter in empty halls. New owners who won’t leave despite the warnings. Yet despite its superficial similarities, Galen Thompson and Gus Trikonis’ story introduces several odd beats. These eccentric hiccups either make The Evil stand out from its counterparts or make for a murky narrative.
Yet despite its superficial similarities, Galen Thompson and Gus Trikonis’ story introduces several odd beats.
Sure, there’s ultimately still a ‘gateway to hell’, but much of the movie’s mythology feels either convoluted, undeveloped, or wildly random. Nonetheless, The Evil shakes things up when it locks its guests into the house. It’s a swift change in direction that immediately sets the movie on at least a somewhat different course from the decade’s other supernatural thrillers.
Odd Mix of Styles
If The Evil’s story feels like an odd, occasionally confusing take on a familiar narrative, director Gus Trikonis’ style is even more odd. In its opening scene, The Evil immediately shocks with an unexpectedly brutal death. It’s a promise of harder edge more likely found in Grindhouse exploitation flicks than an Amityville knock-off. And Trikonis does periodically re-visits this sort of shock-and-awe approach. One scene with a saw may catch some viewers off-guard – it’s a rare cringeworthy moment. Nevertheless, these few scenes are offset by a more generic ‘haunted house’ style that sometimes veers on hokey.
…The Evil’s sound effects are pretty dreadful.
Much of this hokey feel can be chalked up to the movie’s lower budget as well as a lack of innovation. In particular, The Evil’s sound effects are pretty dreadful. When you can clearly hear a Star Wars Tie-Fighter sound substituting for a roaring dog, you know it’s low quality. Other ‘spooky’ sounds are less convincing than your run-of-the-mill ‘Haunted House’ Halloween soundtrack. And while the movie had budgetary limitations effects, Trikonis doesn’t seem to know how to work around them. As a result, The Evil alternates between some fairly impressive camera shots of its mansion to a more made-for-television aesthetic.
The Evil Benefits from Decent Cast Working Around Thin Characters
No big names turn up in The Evil. However, veteran character actor, Richard Crenna (First Blood) adds a legitimacy to the proceedings. None of the characters are fleshed out beyond fairly one-night ideas. Still Crenna manages to infuse credibility into his ‘rational non-believer’ role. Other 70’s television regulars, including Andrew Prine and Joanna Pettet, acquit themselves quite well. All of the performances exceed expectations.
It’s an almost random appearance and strange performance that either saves the movie or just further plunges it into midnight movie infamy.
But The Evil’s screenplay saddles poor Pettet with an outdated character. Despite Pettet playing a a medical doctor, The Evil forces here into the stereotypically ‘hysterical woman’ role. In keeping with the movie’s odd beats, former 60’s Batman alum Victor Buono (King Tut) shows up as The Devil himself. It’s an almost random appearance and strange performance that either saves the movie or just further plunges it into midnight movie infamy.
The Evil Offers Enough Nostalgic Supernatural Spooks for Cult Horror Fans
From start to finish, The Evil is an odd mix of a movie. Occasionally, The Evil feels like the kind of lean, brutal movies in 70’s Grindhouse theatres. At other times, it’s just another Burnt Offerings or The Sentinel – one of many 70’s supernatural thrillers. And when The Evil isn’t on elf those two things, it’s often pretty hokey. Of course, this probably works to the movie’s advantage, helping it stand out more than it probably should. Never a particularly good movie, The Evil is an oddity that nevertheless holds your attention. For cult-movie-lovers, there’s enough supernatural spooks here to mildly entertain.