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The Evil
(1978)

Director: Gus Trikonis  
Cast:
Richard Crenna, Joanna Pettet, Andrew Prine


It should probably come as no surprise that since one of my interests is unknown movies, I am interested in a lot more things that appear to me (as well as to many other people) as strange, mysterious, and unknown. For example, there are the remains of certain ancient civilizations that fascinate me; just how exactly did those Egyptians construct those pyramids with a level of technology that was much lower than what's found today? But what really interests me and gets my mind working a mile a minute are certain things that have never been proven to exist or not exist. Sometimes I wonder about Sasquatch, what he could be like if he does indeed exist - though I must admit that in recent years my hope that Sasquatch exists has dimmed with the realization that there aren't that many pockets of wilderness left where he could be hiding. Another subject matter that interests me that hasn't been proven or disproven has been the idea of ghosts, spirits, poltergeists, whatever name you want to give these things. Since I have never been able to imagine myself simply not existing after the day that I die, I like to think that there is some kind of afterlife for us simple souls after we pass away. When this subject matter enters my mind during one of the occasions I like to let my mind wander, I think about what I would do if I were to encounter such a being. What would be my first reaction if I saw a ghost face to face? Well, I admit that I would be a little, ahem, "spooked". But at the same time part of me would be fascinated. I think that I would try communicating with the spirit in question, in an attempt to find out questions like what the afterlife is like, and why this spirit is stuck haunting this particular area instead of traveling around the world and seeing all the sights.

There's one thing about the theory of afterlife spirits that over the years has gotten me thinking long and hard, and that is the idea of haunted houses. I feel I should mention that the supposedly true haunted houses that I have read about over the years are much different than the haunted houses that I have seen in countless horror movies over the years. The haunted houses I have read about for the most part seem to have fairly harmless ghosts. They may make a little noise, they may appear briefly to the mortals inhabiting the houses, but other than those two things they don't do anything else, and certainly not anything that would be considered harmful. But haunted houses in the world of motion pictures, well, that's a whole different game. I'm sure you have seen your fair share of haunted house movies and know what I'm getting at. In the world of movies, haunted houses are filled with spirits that for the most part are malevolent in nature. It doesn't take long after the humans arrive to live in these houses to come face to face with the houses' evil spirts who want nothing better to do than to terrorize the human inhabitants, often up to the point of killing the humans one way or another. I don't question why so many movies go against actual supposed reports of haunted houses to come up with cinematic haunted houses that are so deadly - it definitely makes more exciting cinema. No, what I question more often than not watching these movies is why the heck don't the humans leave the houses when the malevolent spirits have made themselves and their motivations known? Well, sometimes the spirits manage to magically lock all the doors so the humans can't run out. But why not break a window, or climb up the chimney if the doors can't be opened?

I know that with haunted house movies, part of me should check my brain at the door, because if the human inhabitants of these cinematic haunted houses simply left the house at the first sign of trouble, the movie then would end far long before reaching feature film length. But I can't help The Evilmyself. When I watch a movie, more often than not I put myself in the protagonists' shoes and think of what I would do in the same situation - which is more often than not a lot smarter and logical than what the protagonists end up doing. Anyway, this has resulted in the fact that I am not a big fan of haunted house movies. One look at my index pages, and you'll see I haven't reviewed that many. So you may be wandering why I decided to take a look at The Evil, a haunted house movie. The answer is simple - pre-viewing research revealed to me a generally favorable response from the critics who saw it. The events of the movie take place in and around a run down pre-Civil War mansion located in the countryside. Psychologist C. J. Arnold (Crenna, First Blood) and his wife Caroline (Pettet, Casino Royale) have just purchased the house and plan to renovate it and subsequently use it as a drug rehabilitation center. The realtor has informed C. J. that the house is considered jinxed by many, and we not only learn that the house was constructed over sulphur pits that local Native Americans thought were possessed by evil spirits, we also learn that the original inhabitant of the mansion met a tragic end, the subsequent inhabitants of the mansion didn't have any luck with the place, and afterwards the mansion became vacant for decades until the present day. But C. J. is more pleased than worried with his purchase since he managed to get the house for a really cheap price, and he makes it clear he's a scientific-minded person who doesn't believe in any kind of supernatural hokum. Soon a number of volunteers arrive at the mansion to help C.J. and Caroline fix the place up over the next few days. It doesn't take long for the volunteers to start experiencing spooky stuff, but things really start cooking when C.J. goes in the basement and opens a sealed trapdoor - not knowing that the seal was holding back an evil force that soon traps everyone in the house and starts killing everyone off one by one.

As I said earlier, I generally don't like haunted house movies, so before watching The Evil I had a deep feeling that this haunted house movie would be more of the same stupidity. But to my surprise, upon watching it I didn't find it that bad. In fact, I kind of liked it. That is not to say that the movie is without problems, however. In fact, the movie has some flaws that I think some viewers might have issues with, enough that these particular viewers might not end up liking the movie overall. One aspect of the movie that might annoy viewers is that the movie is for a long time leisurely paced. After an opening shock sequence involving a secondary character who painfully learns about the evil force haunting the mansion just before C.J. and his friends arrive, the tone of the movie abruptly becomes more sedate, and more or less remains this way for the next half hour. And when the real horror does start happening to the characters, it's not constantly rearing its head; there are a number of times where the characters are calm and casually talking. All of this personally did not bother me, since I am used to movies from an era where time was often spent building story and characters up, but some younger viewers who are more accustomed to a rapid pace and great action happening constantly right from the start - features found in many modern movies - may not like this slow build up. Another aspect of the movie younger viewers might object to is that while the movie was rated "R" back in 1978, there really isn't that much material that warrants that rating in today's climate. There's no sex or nudity, almost no salty language, and the little blood and gore that's on display you could get away with on modern day prime time television. If this movie was resubmitted to the Motion Picture Association of America today, it is very likely that the movie would be re-rated "PG-13". Maybe even "PG".

But the tameness of the movie when it came to sexual and bloody elements did not bother me, since the movie managed to deliver the goods in other ways (more on that later.) However, I will have to admit that there was one thing about the movie that bothered me - something I think will bother any viewer whether he's younger or older. What bothered me was the climax of the movie, where the evil force that has been making life miserable for the mortals in the mansion finally reveals itself. How it appears as I will not say, though I will say that I thought that its appearance - as well as its dialogue - was absolutely ridiculous. It's a climax that seems to be mocking the viewers after sitting through eighty or so minutes where evil has previously been depicted as serious and deadly. This climax really hurts the movie a lot, and I can see some viewers hating the movie just from this ludicrous depiction of evil. I was bothered a lot by this climax, but all the same I thought a lot of the rest of the movie was worthy. One such way the movie redeems itself is with the depiction of the characters. The characters in The Evil are a lot smarter and more believable than your typical characters in a haunted house movie. When Caroline, for example, first sees a ghost as she is exploring the mansion, she doesn't raise a fuss and appear crazy to others. She doesn't know what to make of it at first, and remains silent. After a few more experiences with the supernatural force, she is eventually convinced, but tries to convince her husband of this in a relatively calm and logical manner. As you may expect, it takes C. J. some time before he is convinced of a malevolent force in the house, even with people starting to die. But the movie makes us see why C. J. doubts for so long. In his introduction, he is portrayed as a logical and scientific kind of man, and when you combine this with the way the horrific occurences unfold before his eyes - in ways where it's possible there's a logical conclusion to what happens - you can understand why he doubts for so long. Although you'll hope he'll see the truth eventually, you won't get frustrated with his doubts because you can see through his perspective.

And refreshingly, unlike most characters in haunted house movies, C. J., Caroline, and their friends show they have some brains by trying a number of different ways to get out of the haunted mansion (ramming a table into a window, using power tools on the door, etc.) as the movie progresses. Although, as you probably expected, their actions don't work, at least you won't get frustrated with them, since they are really trying instead of acting helpless. So The Evil works when it comes to its characters, but what about when it comes to the main reason people will give it a whirl in their DVD player, to be given scares and chills? Well, I am happy to report that despite working with a low budget, director Gus Trikonis manages to whip up a good number of chills. He is helped greatly by managing to shoot in an actual old and creepy-looking mansion, and its dilapidated exteriors and interiors add a great deal of atmosphere. Trikonis adds to the eerie feeling with skilful use of sound - a rainstorm, creepy music - while also knowing when to shut up and use a background of silence equally effectively. There are also some low tech special effects used generally effectively, ranging from shaking the camera to depict an earthquake, to using (usually) invisible wirework to pull objects and people around to make it appear an unseen force is at work. But Trikonis also made sure to spend the money and time for more spectacular effects, such as with there being two lengthy sequences involving people engulfed in flames. Don't get me wrong - I am not trying to make The Evil as some kind of horror masterpiece. It isn't the kind of horror movie that stays in your mind for months after you've watched it. But it commands your attention while you are watching it, and it shows that an old horror movie formula need not be predictable and dumb in order to deliver thrills when you are in the mood for a roller coaster-like piece of cinematic entertainment.

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See also: Amityville Dollhouse, The Convent, The Devil's Tomb

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