Schlocky but entertaining, The Evil takes the haunted-house genre to its logical extreme, resulting in a climax that’s embarrassingly obvious and stupid. Before it totally goes off the rails, however, the movie offers a number of gruesome deaths and touches on nearly every cliché associated with the haunted-house genre—apparitions, inexplicable noises, objects moved about by unseen forces, people possessed by dastardly spirits, and so on. None of what happens is particularly scary, so The Evil plays out like one of those old ’50s horror comics—it’s all about the fun of playing with concepts that might actually be scary if they were executed with greater care and sophistication. Because, rest assured, care and sophistication are not among the elements that cowriter-director Gus Trikonis brings to the party. Trikonis and his collaborators generate a few decent effects, particularly during scenes of people getting thrown around by supernatural powers, but The Evil is bargain-basement pulp through and through.
Richard Crenna, all beardy and serious, plays Dr. C.J. Arnold, a shrink who rents an old mansion for a summer of psychiatric research. Several colleagues gravitate to the mansion in order to help with the project. While the scientists prep the house in anticipation of receiving patients, C.J.’s wife, Dr. Caroline Arnold (Joanna Pettet), sees ghostly visions and strange phenomena, including a fireplace roaring to life without being ignited. Concurrently, director Trikonis shows the house flexing its maniacal muscle, because the live-in caretaker gets burned alive when a magical jet of flame bursts from a furnace. Demonstrating why it is unwise to parse the logic of The Evil, C.J. doesn’t perform the de rigueur act of foolishly unleashing the malevolent entity that resides in the house until about 30 minutes into the story, when he removes a crucifix that’s holding a secret compartment in the basement closed. (Because, of course, that’s what any sensible person would do upon encountering a secret compartment locked with a crucifix.)
The problem, from a story perspective, is that the house has already racked up a body count before C.J. uncorks the hidey-hole, so the story that subsequently unfolds—in which the heroes must reseal the compartment in order to save themselves—doesn’t reconcile with onscreen events. Nonetheless, one doesn’t watch a flick like The Evil for masterful storytelling, and Triknois provides enough mayhem to keep casual viewers engaged. A couple of folks get electrocuted, a dude gets swallowed by the earth, and an unfortunate lady gets most of her clothes ripped off by demonic winds. You get the idea. The acting in The Evil is nothing special, although everyone delivers basically competent work, and it’s a hoot to see corpulent bon vivant Victor Buono show up for a ridiculous cameo at the end.
The Evil: FUNKY