Thursday, February 3, 2011

THE EVIL (1978)

It’s rare that a film packed with so many problems still manages to be somewhat likable. In “The Evil,” we have supposedly bright characters doing incredibly stupid things and an ending so crushingly bad that it stunned me out of whatever vengeance I craved toward its filmmakers for squandering a batch of genuinely great ideas. There’s nothing particularly effective about any of the scares, and it struggles to achieve mood, but there's still some over-the-top supernatural action that’s hard not to enjoy. Above all, the quality of the film's special effects are deceptively smashing and a cut above every other aspect of production. While they hurl grand concepts under speeding tires, I still recommend that film maker's should study and steal "The Evil"'s visual accomplishments. This film deserves to be plundered but not imitated.

The set up is preposterous. Richard Crenna plays a psych professor who purchases a sprawling, cobweb-infested mansion with the intention of turning it into a house of mental health. He calls upon a colorful bouquet of former students and, strangely, former patients to help him restore the estate. In other more effective films of this ilk they slowly build upon a sense that something sinister is afoot, but there’s none of that here. Instead, the haunting pretty much explodes in your face. This is a winning point for me, basically because it's different. Hilariously, the egghead characters immediately attempt to dismiss their experiences with their secular education. Yes, static electricity was the culprit that hurled you thirty feel across the room. This is yet another brownie point, but it’s a half-empty one. So much more could have been done with a scenario that pits deadpan skeptics against the ultimate evil. Unfortunately when the movie hits a fork in the road it veers from the intellectual direction, but it also swerves to avoid going down the cheap and narrow path. Instead, it just clunks down the median to become a middle-of-the-road supernatural thriller. There’s just a real lack of commitment to any true direction.

There’s another really cool concept, where there are two opposing supernatural forces within the house; one inherently evil, and another that’s more benign and guardian-like. This idea makes the mind crackle with possibility, but the ultimate approach does not do justice to how great this really could have been. For every good thing about this movie, there seems to be an equal counter weight of crap to balance things out.

And then there are the protagonists. I have a short list of things a movie can do to really piss me off to the point where I smash furniture. I hate it when a writer dumbs down characters that have PhDs. During one scene, professor and pupil attempt to escape by propelling down the side of this sinister building using loose cable during an electrical storm with 40 mile an hour winds. Now, I’m no genius. In fact, I once stuffed a computer monitor full of M80s, lit it, and pushed it off the roof of a two story house. Still, I’d never consider doing what those two guys did, no matter how haunted that house was. I’d find a corner and wait for the weather to clear up first. Furthermore, during the initial tour of the house, Caroline (Joanna Pettet) not only sees the obvious manifestation of an entity, but the ceiling of the foyer caves in on her husband. These are things that common people would generally regard as “bad omens.” The characters are just too smart to be stupid enough to be superstitious, which, again, is kind of a genius stroke. They are doomed by their Ivy League egos. But there’s also a fine line between stupid and stubborn, and characters lean more toward the former.

The one thing for which there can be no amnesty is the presence of Victor Buono, whom most remember best as King Tut from the 1960s Batman TV series. Most of the supernatural violence is kind of cool – until Victory Buono’s cornball laughter comes in and ruins it. His cackling sounds like something off of one of those hokey Haunted House records that some obnoxious asshole who owns a Tiki bar and likes Shag would probably play at his shitty Halloween party.

Check out this trailer, courtesy of henryandmaryx.

The ending, featuring Buono as the devil, is so fucking ridiculous that it must be seen to be comprehended, and it is so bad that it’s actually fascinating. The final moments aren’t gonzo or anything, but the unfortunate choice of scoring gives it a bizarre Disney vibe.

The terrible elements of this film are so bad that they often come full circle to redeem themselves. Still, there are some good ideas that aren’t thoroughly explored. Nevertheless, the seeds are still there and they possess some value that no one's bothered to rescue yet. Overall, “The Evil” is a compelling disappointment with some fun pops mixed in, but it’s nowhere near the league of “Legend of Hell House” or “The Changeling

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