Unseen Evil (1999)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Blue Monkey


Eaten Alive

Night of the Demons

Unseen Evil

Lava LampLava Lamp

Our rating: two LAVA® motion lamps.

Even in space, traveling with
luggage can be a bitch.
Just when you thought the days of Evil Dead rip-offs were over, Unseen Evil arrives. It proves that you can make yet another movie that features bickering characters who wander the woods before dying at the hands of a horrible monster. Unseen Evil is a good example of its type, but we're not convinced that the type still needs to be made.

The movie opens with a prologue set sometime in America's prehistoric past. A group of Native Americans hold a ceremony, and like all great ceremonies, it revolves around a naked woman. To be honest we couldn't really tell what was going on, or what it had to do with anything later in the film, but – naked woman! Who cares? This is immediately followed by an impressive computer-generated montage of planets in space. Combined with the naked chick, this is like the best episode of Cosmos ever!

Then the movie flashes forward to the present day. A group of hikers led by college professor Peter Jensen (Richard Hatch) head into the woods. They are looking for a Native American burial mound. The other people with the professor are Native American guide Dana (Cindy Pena), language expert Kate (Cindi Braun), former college student Mike (Frank Ruotolo), and Williams (Jere Jost), who has no distinguishing characteristics other than the fact that he is "the black guy" in a horror film.

Now I will be Lord of the Dance!
The first segment is pretty confusing. As the group hikes towards the mound we find out these five nerdy people have more guns between them than you'll find at one of Charlton Heston's cocktail parties. Remember those nature walks they used to take you on at school? Imagine if the chaperones had sidearms, and you might come up with something close to Unseen Evil. The men spend a lot of time pointing guns at each other and claiming to be "in charge." Eventually we find out that the three men are actually planning on looting the site, and they settle on tying the women up until they get there.

There are two annoying things about this scenario. First of all, why didn't the men just recruit the women into their gang? That would have been a lot simpler than trying to control two hostile people. Secondly, this movie has a lot of bickering in it, even before the monster shows up. We think that the propensity of horror movie characters to argue is the influence of George Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead, but Romero's characters didn't lose their civility until they were faced with an unstoppable assault by zombies. Today's horror films feature arguments about the location of car keys.
Any minute now they'll run
into Bob from IKYIBYAISOYGT.
At the mound (which is inside a cave), the professor finds what he claims are artifacts worth "millions of dollars" that he plans to sell on the black market. We didn't know Native American trinkets were worth so much, but we aren't professors. Some of the trinkets happen to be gold, so we suppose there's some money to be made.

Mike tries on a gold crown that turns out to be a Native American/alien virtual reality machine. He sees the ceremony we saw at the beginning, complete wth nudity, which is pretty much the way we always suspected virtual reality would be used. Shortly thereafter, the people in cave begin to think some sort creature is in the cave with them. Fleeing the cave, they soon realize an invisible monster is stalking them.
"Somebody put me in a
Galactica reunion movie now,
before I do something drastic!"
Low budget filmmakers love invisible monsters because you don't have to show them, thus sparing the expense of actual special effects. The actors have to do most of the heavy lifting, which would normally be okay except that low budget movies tend not to have the best actors. However, to call this monster "Unseen Evil" is a bit of an overstatement. There are several CGI shots of the monster before it attacks the first time, and even when attacking it's usually kind of transparent (think of the camouflage effects from Predator and you'll be on the right track) as opposed to invisible.

As a monster, Hard-to-See Evil leaves a lot to desired. Though it isn't clear at first (heh!), the monster turns out to be only about three feet tall. Nearly-Transparent Evil also doesn't believe in follow-through, as it often attacks people, injures them slightly, and then runs away for no reason. Of course, if it were a truly efficient killing machine, it would have offed these losers in the first five minutes, and then what kind of a movie would we have? A bit of lip service paid to the reasons for the monster's ineffectiveness would have been welcome.

Plot inconsistencies aside, Unseen Evil does have a few things going for it, especially if you have a fondness for b-movies or '70s TV actors. Richard "Captain Apollo" Hatch (the man who surely must hold the most enmity for the first season of Survivor) is appropriately smarmy as an archaeologist who has decided to sell out. Frankly, his delivery here is quite a bit better than the wooden stares and worried expressions that were coaxed out of him during the run of Battlestar Galactica. Also in attendance is our favorite b-actor Tim Thomerson, whose part in the film is limited to that of the park ranger who stumbles into the path of the treasure-seekers. In what couldn't have been more than a day or two of shooting, Tim wanders into the movie and departs abruptly. Too bad.
"Now let's see... I'm dressed as
a cop, and Cousin Oliver is here.
So either I'm drunk and watching
Brady Bunch reruns again, or
I'm in another b-movie."
The real surprise for movie buffs, though, is the appearance of Robbie Rist. Rist, for those of you fortunate enough not to have lived through the '70s and early '80s, was the ubiquitous cute-but-nerdy child actor who plagued shows like The Brady Bunch (remember Cousin Oliver?), The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and – you guessed it – Battlestar Galactica, in its briefly resurrected form, Galactica 1980. This is the first good look we have had at him since he played Doctor Zee, since his other jobs have mostly been voice work on TV and in animated movies. True, his part here is small, but his presence might just be the reason some of you need to rent Unseen Evil when you're next at the local video emporium.

The movie is held together by its cast of unknowns, who grimace and shout and point their guns menacingly at one another as they alternately battle the Occasionally-Seen Evil and protect their own stake in the loot. The script needs polishing (especially the ending) and the effects sequences clash with the existing footage, but Unseen Evil seems to have a cast and crew who care, which is more than can be said for most of the junk that ends up on video shelves these days. Horror fans and b-movie aficianados need to see this film as proof that there are imaginative people still out there, trying to make low-budget horror movies that work.

Own it!

Review date: 03/21/2002

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