The Evil (1978 USA)

During the 70’s there were tons of haunted house flicks that were either TV films or for the big screen. Among this avalanche popped up The Evil– a brave, camp, even humourous attempt to make a haunted house film in the same style as 1963’s The Haunting. But in a very low budget lackluster way. It’s not too bad but there are a number of reasons why it barely works. The story is very simple…a number of people rent a large old house for a prolonged stay only to find, once they moved in, that something sinister lives there. But they find out too late and become locked in – many terrible things happen before the few remaining survivors confront the evil entity itself and try to defeat it. (There may be some epic spoilers there)

Let me start with things that did impress me. First of all the cast are reasonably good, with only a few weak links in there. Joanna Pettet makes a convincing heroine, and most of the supporting cast are pretty good too. And for a while the ghostly apparitions that confront the cast are quite effective, especially the white hazy figure of a man who appears fleetingly and indistinctly at the start of the proceedings. Some off the other effects are not bad either: people are flung about by unseen forces, which looks mostly convincing, and there is an effective scene of an assault on one woman who effectively portrays the situation without looking like she’s doing it all herself. There’s even a brief gore shot involving a circular saw which surprised me! The film appears to be entirely shot on location. And even though it’s evidently not a high budget production, the scenes all look good and are well filmed.

Now for the drawbacks…well, I said the film is set inside what appears to be a genuinely large empty house, but the place is one of the ugliest, drabbest mansions I have seen in a haunted house motion picture. It looks far too modern to have any ghostly atmosphere, and the outside in particular completely lacks any stylish design, with some dismally plain stained glass windows and a ridiculously top heavy tower to round things off. However, it’s certainly huge, and some of the interior rooms look like banqueting halls, although they are all completely devoid of any effective period features…bar one amazing over-sized fireplace that the director wisely sets a few scenes in front of whenever he gets the chance.

Apart from that it’s just a few below-par performances and lame death scenes that stop the tension from mounting as much as it could do, but things roll on in an agreeably entertaining fashion – until, that is…the climax! Oh my giddy aunt. The end of the story has caused much debate among the fans, but I’m afraid I fall squarely on the side of the detractors. The climax of the movie is a huge mistake. You can read about it elsewhere (I won’t spoil it here), but be warned that the force behind “The Evil” which we all knew was lurking in the cellar turns out to be something so un-frightening that you might lose all respect for the film at this point.

Which is a shame as everyone involved in the film is obviously trying hard to make it work. Even the background music swells into completely over-the-top dramatics as each “highlight” appears on screen, but nothing can save things from the really bad closing 15 minutes. Quite hard to get now, as there seems to be no DVD at time of writing and all VHS versions are out of print. As haunted house films go, it’s around the middle mark. It could have been higher in the rankings if the climax had been re-thought, but it’s too late now, so “The Evil” is stuck with it’s reputation as a failure, and all because of the last 15 minutes, which is a real shame as for most of it’s running time, the proceedings are all pretty well handled. Recommended.

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