THE EVIL (1978)
This 1978 haunted house flick, released by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, spooked me quite a bit as a kid. And upon a recent revisit, I still found it to be a fun, nostalgic good time, but obviously for different reasons. It may be tame and kind of silly by today’s standards, but as 70s B-movie horror entertainment, it’s delightfully effective. The film opens with drunk caretaker Sam (Ed Bakey) grumbling about having to clean up the large old house he now enters. He hears children laughing once inside and follows the sounds into the basement to the cold, dead furnace…which promptly blazes to life and sets him on fire. Creepy old house now has our attention! We soon find the large old house is being renovated by psychologist, C.J. Arnold (Richard Crenna) as a clinic, along with his doctor wife Caroline (Joanna Pettet). They are getting help from volunteers and friends who are going to work and live there over the summer till it is ready to open. Despite some spooky occurrences during the walk-through and local tales that the house and grounds are haunted, they move in anyway and begin work. And as soon as they do, the weirdness begins such as apparitions, strange noises, moving objects and a seemingly friendly pet dog who turns vicious. As a man of science, C.J. refuses to believe there is anything supernatural going on, even when his wife finds a diary that warns of an ancient doorway to evil within the house, that has been sealed and must never be opened. So, of course, when C.J. finds a stone door in the cellar floor sealed by a cross…he removes the cross and opens it. To say all hell breaks loose is far more appropriate than you think, as now the house is sealed by some horrible force and the trapped guests are being tormented and murdered one by one in gruesome ways. Will they find a way to escape with their lives?…and their souls?
Written and directed by Gus Trikonis (Moonshine County Express), The Evil has everything you could want from a 70s B-Movie haunted house flick. There’s cheesy apparitions with dire warnings, levitations, diabolical echoing laughter, an endless thunderstorm, possessions, horrible deaths and even a showdown with Old Scratch (Victor Buono) himself. What more could you want to go along with a six pack of your favorite poison on a Saturday night? Trikonis’ style is pretty straightforward and he takes his material seriously, but he is definitely having fun with his supernatural story, as it’s elements are presented with just the right touch of theatricality and flair. The cheesy dialog and simple FX work all the better because, it is presented sincerely and not made a joke of. It’s not the intense, visceral horror of today’s standards…though there are some violent moments that are still effective…but the film has it’s devious heart in the right place and I appreciate the daring of having our atheist hero actually come face to face with the Prince Of Darkness himself for a James Bond-ish hero vs. villain Tête-à-Tête at the film’s climax. It works better then you think, especially due to some witty dialog and Buono’s malice drenched performance that goes just over-the-top enough without becoming camp.
The rest of the cast take their parts seriously, too, with Crenna giving us a man of science who is resisting the notion that the supernatural things he’s disbelieved all his life may be far too real. And to survive, he may have to turn to the God, whose existence he has always denied. Pettet gives us a solid heroine in his wife and as she’s a doctor, too, she is strong-willed and a fighter, though far more receptive to what she is experiencing than her husband. The supporting cast, including 70s mainstays Andrew Prine and Cassie Yates, all do well in creating likable people out of characters who all face possible doom in the grasp of an ancient evil right out of a bedtime story. It’s treating the material with respect and playing it straight by cast and crew that makes this film so much fun. If it were played for laughs, then we as the audience would appreciate it much less. Our entertainment comes from the fact that it’s all being presented to us in a serious manner, whether it be the house’s former tenant possessing Caroline right before C.J.’s eyes, or his arguing there must be a scientific explanation for a house filled with diabolical laughter locking you and your friends inside. Sure doc…it’s the humidity.
It all comes down to a really entertaining 70s B-Movie horror that, while it may not be perfect and may not scare like it did back in it’s day, still thoroughly entertains for much different reasons and that, is still entertainment after all. A flick made unintentionally campy by the passage of time, but still not without some very effective moments. A prime example of fun, nostalgic 70s B-Movie horror!
Rated 3 (out of 4) delightfully devilish Buonos.