Rude Awakening – Rediscovering ‘The Evil’ (US 1978 – 89 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - February 19, 2014
Rude Awakening – Rediscovering ‘The Evil’ (US 1978 – 89 mins)

With its stately old mansion, ghostly apparitions and malevolent forces, the 1978 horror movie ‘The Evil’ is a bit of an unknown oddity. A pretty good possessed-house story, let down by an ending that is silly rather than chilling. But there is still plenty to enjoy about this entertaining, low-budget horror.

A psychologist and his wife buy an old mansion at a reduced price, and with the help of his students, they set about repairing transforming it into a drug rehabilitation centre. During the repairs however, a mysterious old cross is detached from a stone door in a crypt, causing Satan himself to inflict mayhem and destruction upon these uninvited guests. A simple, yet effective plot, ‘The Evil’ contains some genuinely scary moments, as people are set alight, and thrown about violently by this unknown, malignant force. Being academics, the group are certainly not stupid, but as hard as they try to get out of the building (smashing windows, drilling through doors); nothing is going to let them free.

Solid actor Richard Crenna is his usual serious and likable self here. Sporting a beard (he is a professor after all!), he elevates the movie to a more respectable level, playing his part serious throughout. Best known for his roles in the ‘Rambo’ films, Crenna’s distinguished career goes way back to the fifties, and later included decent parts in such acclaimed films as; ‘The Sand Pebbles’ (’66), ‘Wait Until Dark’ (’67), and ‘Breakheart Pass’ (’75). Richard would later lampoon his own image in ‘Hot Shots! Part Deux’ (’93). A gifted actor, Crenna died from cancer on January 17th, 2003, aged 76.

English born Joanna Pettet plays Crenna’s concerned wife, and it was strange seeing this respected actress in a horror film. Beautiful Pettet had made an excellent film debut in Sidney Lumet’s superb 1966 drama ‘The Group’. Unfortunately, after a handful of good movies, including ‘Night of the Generals’ and ‘Robbery’ (both ’67), her career declined, and Joanna drifted into TV fare and soap opera’s (Knots Landing). Joanna was later in the exploitation thriller ‘Double Exposure’ (’83), and retired from acting after filming the dire ‘Terror in Paradise’ (’95).

A good supporting cast, including Mary Louise Weller (‘Animal House’), Cassie Yates (‘Convoy’) and genre favourite Andrew Prine (‘Grizzly’). Actor turned director Gus Trikonis (he also appeared in ‘The Sand Pebbles’), directs with a degree of talent and imagination. After making the entertaining cult actioner ‘Moonshine County Express’ (’77), Trikonis would wind up directing mostly TV episodes of such prime time shows as ‘Baywatch’ and ‘Hercules’.

The big downside for most viewers was the original ending, where the devil himself finally makes an appearance. This bizarre climax leaves many viewers divided. The jovial portrayal of Satan by the great Victor Buono, gives the ending a more Disney feel than an intended horrifying one.

Overall, ‘The Evil’ is a good little horror, and although it’s pretty formulaic, it does include some decent frights and occasional bloody moments. The cast is better than is usually found in these types of films, and although the script could have done with some work, the movie does keep your attention. ’The Evil’ is definitely one house you should consider entering, just do not disturb anything!

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