The Bad Movie Report

The Evil

 Many thanks to Greywizard at The Unknown Movies for tracking down a copy of this for me.


A skeevy caretaker (Ed Bakey) opens up an enormous house after taking a swig from his ounce of dutch courage - as this is the sort of old, scary-looking place that requires very large keys, we think we understand why. As he begins to clean the interior up, he is distracted by Blair Witch noises coming from the basement, and goes down the cobweb-choked stairway to investigate. Opening up the furnace, he declares, "Nothing there!" And is promptly turned into caretaker s'mores by a fireball.

Track <3> - "Disco Inferno" - The TrammpsThis opening segment provides a fair taste of what is to come in The Evil. The caretaker, while following the sounds, utters the same three damned lines over and over: "Who's there? You better come out! I'm coming down!" Ignoring the fact that he's supposedly frightened of the house and is still going into the dark places.... There's that damn basement staircase, in which he must brush huge cobwebs out of his way... obviously, no one has been down that stairway in years. Why does he think there's someone down there?

As the song says, we've only just begun.

CJ Arnold, a psychology professor, and his wife Carol (Joanna Pettet) arrive shortly after our prologue with a realtor in tow. CJ wants to rent the pre-Civil War house for his new Drug Rehabilitation Center. Although the realtor gives him all the usual warning signs for houses you want to stay the hell away from - nobody lives there long, The original owner, Emilio Vargas, built the house over some sulphur pits, the Indians used to call the place "The Valley of the Devils" - and despite the fact that Carol keeps seeing a ghostly figure, CJ decides the place is perfect. The absence of the 'unreliable' caretaker is not too troublesome; CJ says he has "plenty of volunteers" to help him clean the place up.

So now it's time for a roll call of the cannon fodder. First, we meet one of CJ's students, a grad student named Raymond This is either from The Evil or the Art Bell Website(Andrew Prine), who is either teaching a class in psychology or physics... he keeps babbling about the mind, but burns holes in paper with a laser as he does. There is also one of Raymond's students, Laurie (Mary Louise Weller, probably best known as Mandy Pepperidge in Animal House), with whom he is doing the nasty. Both look forward to spending the summer cleaning out Hell House (excuse me, the Vargas Mansion), so they no longer have to be so circumspect about their rutting.

Meanwhile, back at the house, we become acquainted with Dwight (George Viharo), an electrical contractor who owes CJ a favor, and is therefore wiring the house for cheap and setting up generators; and CJ's drug counselors, Mary (Cassie Yates) and her dog Kaiser; Felicia (Lynne Moody) the token black; and Pete (George O'Hanlon), the resident joker, who never quite manages to turn into the picture's Odious Comic Relief.

While the cast divvies up clean-up chores, Kaiser wanders into our old friend the basement and starts digging something up; hearing the animal's sudden, fearful howls, everyone rushes to the cellar, only to find that the dog has turned vicious. After biting its mistress, it disappears into the depths of the house.

Seeing the ghost later, Carol follows it to a study, where an old diary sits on a disused desk. The book's pages are all blank, save one; this one has a cryptic message straight from the Biblical Book of Revelations, all about Beasts and Seals. Carol has a vision of a cross being forged on an anvil... then CJ comes in and spoils the mood.

Speaking of CJ spoiling things, he goes down to the basement to stoke up the furnace, but finds the spot where Kaiser was "I wasn't goofin' off!  I was just restin' my eyes!"digging; curious, he moves aside the loosened dirt and finds an ornate cross buried there, wedged under two loops of metal. He excavates the cross and manages to pull it out of the loops. About this time, Felicia and Mandy.... Sorry, Laurie.... Find the burnt remains of the caretaker in a dumbwaiter. They call CJ away from his discovery, so he never gets to see that the cross was acting like a bolt on a gate, and now that he has removed it, a hatch in the floor blows open, and the titular Evil is loose! This prompts an earthquake throughout the house; doors and windows shut of their own accord. Felicia falls down some stairs, and Dwight, running to assist her, is attacked by a power cable that wraps around him like a snake, electrocuting him (as usual, it is the Working Man who gets it in the neck).

Sfter recovering from their dismay, our heroes try to escape, only to find that not only are all the doors and shutters locked, but all the windows that are not barred are suddenly shatterproof, and any tools that attempt to break said glass are knocked away by some unseen force. Now, having set up our story major, the movie proceeds to squander it by turning into a simple body count film, as each person falls prey to a different death methodology, sort of like a lesser James Herbert novel.That will, assuredly, leave a mark.

Sfter Felicia is assaulted and has her clothes ripped off by an Unseen Force, CJ and Pete the Joker find an open door - leading to the mansion's belltower. Hanging some of Dwight's cable over the side, Pete tries to lower himself to the ground, but finds himself buffeted by Unseen Forces, and then he bursts into flame. Yep, that made sense to me, too. After a pep talk by Raymond, an attempt is made to cut through the front door with a radial saw, only to find it as tough as the windows. Raymond gets hyp-mo-tized and uses the saw on himself, nearly cutting off his hand. Mary runs to get linens for bandages. Of course, the linen closet is on the top floor of the house, and that just happens to be where Kaiser, who is all possessed and stuff, is hiding. They both hurtle down the stairwell to their deaths (I also have to note this movie was either shot when they were still applying tourniquets to such injuries, or CJ is a crappy medic).

"Take THIS, naughty spawn!"Carol awakens from a faint to find the cross from the basement under her couch, and the ghost of Vargas motioning her to come to the central room, where everybody else has gotten possessed. Luckily, the big cross is enough to cast out the Evil temporarily, and CJ begins to admit that there may be something to this God stuff his wife has been rattling on about for years.

CJ does come up with a new (and incredibly desperate) plan. They run more of Dwight's cables (how much did the guy bring?) from the lightning rods atop the house to the burglar bars on the conservatory windows (did I mention that there's a thunderstorm going on during all this? Sorry, I thought that was a given); they hope to use the lightning's power to melt the bars. At least I think that's what they're up to; CJ and Raymond talk about setting up energy fields, and since I am not a psychologist, I know nothing about electricity. Felicia is adjusting the last clamp when Mary's dead body sits up, causing our unfortunate token to jump back against the bars just as lightning strikes. The bars do not melt, but Felicia does (and for an Ancient Evil, our bad guy is quite quick to use the modern conveniences, like electricity, to get the job done).

Yet ANOTHER quicksand death.Mandy gets carried away by A Growling Something In The Dark At The Top Of The Stairs, and Raymond, after being chewed up and spit out by the Something, is either too cowardly or too smart for a rematch. He sees a shutter open by itself, and jumps through a suddenly non-shatterproof window. He finds himself outside, but not safe, as the muddy earth beneath him parts and sucks him under like quicksand, as the shattered window repairs itself, and the shutter closes and locks.

Why didn't ya do this in the first place, Vargas?Let's see, quick head count... yep, just CJ and Carol left. The Ghost of Vargas possesses Carol, and tells CJ that it's all his fault for taking out the cross, and that holy seal must be set back in place to trap the Evil once more. Vargas also reveals that it was he who killed the caretaker, as a warning to them.

CJ and Carol go down to the basement as a new series of quakes rocks the house, eventually causing Carol to fall into the Hellmouth; not only that, she takes the cross with her. CJ follows, to find himself in a fog-enshrouded sub-basement. Carol dropped the cross when she landed, and is having trouble finding it. CJ, while searching, finds himself drawn to a deeper part of the catacombs, which echoes with the sound of laughter.

The psychologist finds himself in a dazzlingly white room, population one: The Evil (Victor Buono) a kindly looking fat man dressed in white, sitting on a white throne. The Evil wants CJ to be his agent and destroy the cross; CJ, though, has recently converted and refuses. The Evil apparently starts sucker-punching CJ's pain centers, but still the psych refuses, as the Evil just gets ooglier and ooglier, until he looks more like a proper Satan. Old Scratch's fun is cut short, however, when Carol pops up and stabs him with the cross. CJ and Carol run, and in an astounding act of convenience, when the Evil pulls the cross from his chest, he hurls it across the room to land just in front of the one doorway out, so our heroes can retrieve it and seal the Hellmouth once again.

The many faces of EVIL!

The doors and windows all open, and Carol and CJ run out into a suddenly sunny day. They see Vargas' ghost in an upper floor window; they then pile in their station wagon and burn rubber. The end.

Well, they still have to explain the five dead bodies in the house (and the guy buried in the front yard), but that's where the movie stops.

My one big question for this movie: Why do guardians of things like Hellmouths always have to be so abstruse? Here we have something rather important like Ancient, Undying Evil sealed in a hole under a house, and the only outward signs that this is the case is a gargoyle in the front yard, facing toward the house, with a cryptic inscription on its base; and the diary, which has only one page of text, and that a Biblical allusion. Wouldn't it have been more appropriate had the inscription on the statue read, "Warning: Devil Sealed Under House"? Forget the diary, shouldn't there have been plaques on the wall of the basement saying DO NOT TOUCH THE F@#KING CROSS? At the beginning, the realtor tells us that the building had been remodeled and used as a girl's conservatory - so why is Vargas' diary still on that dusty desk?

And most galling is Vargas' admission that he killed the caretaker to scare the interlopers off. Good plan, Emilio, but it might have been more successful had you not hidden the body in a dumb waiter! Ideally, the corpse should have been waiting for them at the front door, possibly going, "Boogedy Boogedy!" for effect. Just a thought.

The Guardian of the Hellgate playing coy is not the only maddening thing about The Evil. It is one thing to exploit the concept of The Idiot Dimension * - it is quite another to rub the audience's nose in it, as when CJ forcefully tells Raymond that no one is to be left alone; the very next scene is CJ, wandering about the house. Alone. Then they proceed to continually leave people who are injured alone, that they be visited by supernatural forces - forgivable in Felicia's case, early in the film, but criminally stupid when Carol is left alone, even after everyone is ready to admit that Scratch is in da houze. Luckily for her, it's only Vargas that comes calling.

The attack on Felicia opens up another problem, and one I'm not even sure I should address: the odd, almost subtle racism in the script concerning the character. She's the only woman to get salaciously assaulted, even having her clothes torn off; the only drug counselor with a history of drug abuse ("CJ got me off the horse") and the only character to use strong language in the whole movie. While this does have the effect of giving her the only actual character among the minor female roles, assigning these negative traits to a black character is somewhat suspect. At least (unlike most token characters in body count movies) she's not the first to fill a body bag.

The movie had even more problems after it was released: some audiences found Buono's segment at the end comical and there are versions of the movie floating about with that entire sequence excised. I guess Carol and CJ get the Hellmouth sealed the first time. That's too bad, as it's Buono's scene that gives the movie any claim to its own identity. I'm a Buono fan - I'll watch the worst episode of The Wild Wild West, "The Night of the Eccentrics", simply to watch Buono ham it up (Well, him and a shockingly young and slightly embarrassed Richard Pryor). Buono makes for a nicely casual Evil - he doesn't have to work at doing evil things, they seem to take very little effort from him; gives you a creepy feeling that you don't want to see the results if he really tried. Truthfully, in my dream cast for Forever Evil, Buono was ever the only choice for the bad guy, Parker Nash.

The nagging feeling one gets during a viewing of The Evil is that, although it had a theatrical release, you are watching a "Crap!  I can't believe I'm still in this movie!"made-for-TV movie. Outside of Felicia's single instance of mild cursing, the sight of her in her underwear, and the one gruesome effect of Raymond sliding the saw across his hand (negated in the next scene by simply slapping red paint over his whole hand), there is nothing in this movie that could not have been shown on TV circa 1978. (Why was it given an R rating?) There aren't whole lot of budget-eating special effects; there is a lot of being buffeted about by unseen (and therefore cost-effective) forces. Director Gus Trikonis, in fact, has a career full of TV production, though sharp-eyed MSTies will remember him as the director of Five the Hard Way, aka The Sidehackers.

The best use for The Evil is to show to your Significant Other if he or she doesn't really like horror films: it won't traumatize them, might amuse you, and like a lot of it's brethren, is infinitely and immediately disposable.



Non-scary horror for timid spouses.

- December 12, 1999