Psychologist C.J. Arnold and his wife, Caroline, have just gotten a great deal on a remote and empty mansion. The old place was built and owned by reclusive eccentric, Emilio Vargas, around the time of the Civil War and has been abandoned for years due to a rather dubious reputation, but the Arnolds think it’ll be the perfect place for a new psychiatric ward. The only downside is that the 200+ room estate is in dire need of quite a bit of work. So C.J. recruits several helpful colleagues and former patients to come over and help him clean the place up.
Unfortunately for C.J. and the rest of the crew, the house has more problems than just a bunch of dust and a non-functioning electrical system. Vargas, it seems, despite being dead for over a century, still inhabits the place and seems to be trying to warn them about something. But in spite of his attempts, the warnings go unheeded and C.J. finds a strange cross in the basement and removes the sign, unknowingly releasing a demonic force that immediately traps everyone in the house. Now it’s a race against time for the group of science-minded individuals to not only come to terms with what they’ve done, but also how to stop the demon and escape the mansion before the evil kills them off one by one.
Or before Vargus turns them all into Statue-Ghosts. Whatever comes first.
The Evil is an interesting little low-budget haunted house/occult film from the late 70s, and thus comes with a lot of the burdens and expectations one associates with that. But while many of its plot points are entrenched in overdone, generic tropes, there’s also several things here that may still peak the interest of those interested in the haunted house sub-genre.
Sadly, though, nothing is as scary as this screenshot may lead you to believe.
First though, let us get the giant ‘meh’ out of the way first. In the case of The Evil, for many that would most likely be the plot. I highly doubt there’s anything here most dedicated genre fans haven’t seen a dozen or so times already. I mean, stop me if you’ve heard this before: A creepy old house built in an odd location out in the middle of nowhere has been abandoned for years. It has a questionable, if not horrible reputation among the locals. Outsiders come in, convinced the stories are a bunch of superstitious nonsense. The place is haunted, but only one person can actually see the ghost and no one believes them. Warnings are made, and promptly ignored. The most rational, and thus the most sceptical, one of the group is the one who dooms them all. A bunch of unexplainable shit happens that everyone tries in vain to explain away in some sort of scientific way (and can’t). Main character has to overcome personal obstacle in order to save themselves (and whoever’s left) from the Big Bad.
And that’s pretty much the plot in a nutshell. So basically it’s comprised of a lot of tried and true methods that have been used countless times before and doesn’t do anything new with them. That, of course, doesn’t make it bad, but it doesn’t do the film any favors if it was trying to make it stand out in any way either.
Feel free to ignore me. I just cheated death itself so I could warn others about the evil within these walls, but you go about your day.
Another downside is the sub-par special effects. Given that the film was low budget and was filmed during the late 1970s, the non-practical effects are left to a minimum. And thank goodness for that, because they stand out like a damn sore thumb and look cheesy as hell to boot. Thankfully, the few practical effects they have are pretty decent. But even in that department they stumble a bit right off the bat when they kill off the first character within the 6-minute mark by burning him alive and you can clearly see him go from a scruffy stick of a man to a ballooned-up pudge muffin wearing a flame-retardant suit.
…So really, you should just be thankful the film focuses more on atmosphere than gore and snazzy effects.
Yeah, sure, that’s the same guy. Whatever you say, movie.
I dub thee Minority Sparky McSparkerstein.
One final thing that is sure to ruffle a few feathers is the films ending. While most movies involving demons and/or the devil prefer to remain vauge and omit any physical manifestations of such characters, The Evil took a chance and said, “Fuck it, let’s show Satan.” Which, when you think about it, is a pretty ballsy move for a film that decided the best way to simulate an earthquake was to jerk the camera back and forth and make the actors throw themselves against various walls. But while I applaud them for their moxie, I also know that the visuals they decided on are not only going to not mesh well with people’s expectations, but that the whole sequence feels a little out of place when compared to the rest of the movie, and not even Victor Buono’s most excellent portrayal of the Devil himself is going to make up for it.
Is it just me, or does he look like a more refined Martin Van Buren?
The general consensus of how most people are going to view this scene.
So what does The Evil have going for it? Well, the aforementioned atmosphere for one. While it may lack in a unique story, it does an admirable job trying to make up for it by nailing the creepy-ass-house vibe. Fuzzy apparitions appear in corners, statues move by themselves and an odd cackling can be heard any time someone is being tormented. Most of it is pretty subtle, but it still manages to be effective.
The other thing it has is some good kills. One guy bursts into flame, another is attacked and thrown down a flight of stairs, one guy almost buzz-saws his hand off and one lady is seemingly dragged off by a black, shadowy demon of some kind. There may not be any gore to speak of, and some of the deaths aren’t that clever, but they’re all unique and some of them are super creepy to boot.
So is The Evil any good? I think so. It’s certainly not anything to write home about, and I don’t think anyone will be adding it to their favorite movie list after seeing it, but it still ends up being a pretty decent little ghost/occult story. The visuals are decent and the music is nice (listen carefully and you’ll hear the sound of a Tie Fighter in there). The plot is pretty generic and the end confrontation with the Devil sort of pulls the film into crazytown and draws you out of the moment, but overall it’s a fun little film that feels like horror movie comfort food. If you’re a fan of ghost stories or just need a more light-hearted horror film to watch, than The Evil isn’t a bad choice. Just don’t expect to be blown away by anything other than the casts excellent 70s fashion sense.
It’s as if the film’s entire aesthetic was summed up in one frame.
The Evil is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
It is also available on DVD and Bluray via Shout! Factory.