Tuesday, 21 April 2009


THE EVIL (1977)


CAST: Richard Crenna, Joanna Pettet, Andrew Prine, Cassie Yates, George O' Hannon Jr. , Lynne Moody, Mary Louise Weller, Victor Buono, Robert Viharo, Milton Selzer, Ed Bakey, Galen Thompson, Emory Souza
DIRECTOR: Gus Trikonis
A Rangoon Production
VIDEO SOURCE: Embassy Home Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 88 min. 23 seconds


The late 1970's and early 1980's were the prime time decade for various big spooky house flicks circulating your local middle of the road drive-in. This of course hit one of it's peaks with the supposedly true life events unfolding in the home of George and Kathy Lutz's newly purchased digs off the coast of Long Island, in THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979). Many of the haunted house pictures of this decade (and in actuality, nearly every haunted house film in general), however, can almost all give an inspired tip of the hat to the classic 1963 Robert Wise chiller, THE HAUNTING - which came some 16 years before anyone had ever heard of Amityville, New York. And although it too came over a decade after Wise's supernatural masterpiece - perhaps still today not enough people are even remotely aware of a fun little possessed mansion creeper that surfaced in 1977, simply called THE EVIL.

Shot in New Mexico, on location at the Armand Hammer United World College of the American West, under the eye of director of mostly down home exploitation fare and TV work (as well as the former husband of the lovely, Goldie Hawn), Gus Trikonis, THE EVIL assembles a reliable cast of name thespians. Richard Crenna - the commanding acting stalwart who would later go on to be perhaps best known as the superior to Sylvester Stallone's vigilante subordinate, John Rambo, in FIRST BLOOD (1982) and the subsequent Rambo sequels, as the decorated Col. Trautman - takes on leading duties here. In one of his first straight horror pictures, Crenna is C.J. Arnold - a distinguished psychologist, who accompanied by his Doctor wife, Caroline (Joanna Pettet), look to set up shop in a gargantuan old, out of the way mansion, with the intent to purchase the creeky structure and transform it into a fully functioning drug rehab clinic. The brooding landmark, as the couple learn from the realtor (Milton Selzer) on the drive up, has somewhat of a sordid backstory attached to it, however.

As the tale goes - the home first belonged to one Emilio Vargas, who was responsible for building the mansion, pre-Civil War, but went into a self-imposed inner exile, rarely spotted after his 30th birthday. Those who knew him would only catch fleeting glimpses of the now strangely white-haired recluse. From there it was turned into a women's music conservatory, only for the school to fold and the gigantic quarters be taken over by the County after several years of remaining vacant. Now, and for the first time in ages, the sole inquiry into the seemingly lonely and hollow dwelling falls upon Dr. Arnold and his wife. Mr. Decker, the realtor, also reveals to the couple that Vargas bulit the mansion on vast Indian territory, rife with natural mineral baths, steam pools and sulpher pits. "Valley of the Devils, the legends called it", Decker tells them. Vargas wanted the home to absorb so much from it's surroundings - including the warmth it produced - that he even placed it directly upon a large fumarole in the Earth's crust. Oddly enough though, his hopes for the continued thriving of the sizeable crevice dried up almost immediately upon the home's completion, along with the fumarole itself and all other geothermal activity in the area. Caroline is soon led to believe that there's far more than nature's work at hand here, though, convinced while coming down the stairs during the grand tour, that she's just spotted some kind of a paranormal apparition. It appears as only a semi-transparent white fog, but somehow she seems to know immediately upon sensing its presence, that it's more than that. This combined with part of the ceiling coming down on C.J., as well as Mr. Decker's brief mention of a few "accidents" having taken place there, and you'd think these folks would go against their better judgement about buying the place. No such luck...and there'll be none to follow either.

It's not long before the deal is finalized and the Arnold's begin preparation for set-up in the new practice. With 200 rooms, there's much to be done, so C.J. enlists the help of colleague, physics Professor, soon to be Doctor and friend, Raymond Guy (Andrew Prine), his student and sleepover mate, Laurie (Mary Louise Weller), and three of his current patients going through the rehabilitation process, Mary (Cassie Yates), Pete (George O'Hanlon Jr.), and Felicia (Lynne Moody). C.J.'s longtime electrician, Dwight (Robert Viharo), is also hanging about, trying to restore the lighting and power throughout the house, which has been down for years. Of course, this is a horror film above all, so these extra folks on hand can only mean more lives for whatever malevolent spirit lies in wait, to vanquish. Its only a matter of time before this superior force - already established as inhabiting the residence at this point in the film - starts into it's reign of unholy terror.
What unfolds from this point on is a solid story from a picture that does its best to, and succeeds at, shifting itself away from what would inevitably be looked at as it's clear cut influences - those being THE HAUNTING, and perhaps to some extent even THE EXORCIST (1973). Instead - albeit with a slight camp flair - THE EVIL establishes itself as a contender for one of the better films of it's ilk, sadly overlooked as much now in 2009, as it in all probability was when it was initally quietly released to theaters in May 1978. The source of destruction and death in THE EVIL both serves as effective, and at the same time provides the catalyst for the aformentioned high camp - which mainly finds its way onto the screen upon the final big revelation. In the meantime though, we get our fair share of ghost spotting, spontaneous combustion, electrocution, poltergeist-like shenanigans, saw blade mishaps, pets turned nasty, re-animation, trembling foundation, quicksand, cobwebs, caverns and cackling laughter in the night. These unfortunate events seem to all be related to the removal of a small, but heavy cross that C.J. discovers in the basement, buried in dust on top of what would seem to be an old, blocky, cement covering sealing up something maybe similar to a fruit cellar. Not even forbidden fruit lies here though. Rather, something more overpowering that forbids life.

The film for the most part and during the bulk, is meant to be taken seriously - although there are moments that stretch credibility and tickle the funny bone unintentionally - such as when Crenna at one point suddenly finds himself engulfed by the entity and unable to control his body, looking like a screaming wolfman as Pettet brandishes the cross wildly. And then there's the finale, which I can't help but get to here in just a little bit. The mansion itself (actually an old World College as mentioned previously) is a perfect match for the movie - overwhelmingly huge, ominous, dimly lit, dusty, full of distant echoes and desolate coldness. Peyton Place, this is not. Director Trikonis and company are also careful not to make the ghostly movements and furniture tossing temper tantrums too mechanical looking.

On the acting front, all invloved seem to be willing participants - maybe in it partially for paycheck, but also all believably having faith in the project before them. Richard Crenna
(BODY HEAT '81, LEVIATHAN '89) is perfect for the role of psychologist, C.J. Arnold - a man seeking logic in everything. Crenna is not nearly as dry as the character though, as when the time calls for it he gets right into the moments he's portraying full on. As stated, mainly remembered for his recurring role in the Rambo films (and for being an excellent character actor all around), but nonetheless, this is a fine Crenna performance. Veteran London born actress, Joanna Pettet (CASINO ROYALE '67, WELCOME TO ARROW BEACH '74), also turns in a strong showing as Caroline Arnold, who shoots down hubby Crenna's "rational explanations", knowing full well there is something devastating among these walls. THE EVIL would be one of Pettet's last feature film roles, rounding things out with much TV work, both in series and television film, before calling it a career following one last appearance in the Philippines-shot actioner, TERROR IN PARADISE (1990).

Among its supporting cast, THE EVIL has the distinct pleasure of housing a spirited performance from the talented and always fun, Andrew Prine (SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES '71, NIGHTMARE CIRCUS '74, GRIZZLY '76) as suave gigolo teacher, Ray Guy. Between slyly spouting off like only Prine can, to bedding his best student and catatonically hacking into his own hand, Andrew is a blast here
who manages to be subdued and over the top at the same time. It would not be the last time Prine would pop up in haunted house horror, also taking the role of Father Tom in 1982's popular prequel, AMITYVILLE 2: THE POSSESSION. Prine is definitely another reason to kick back with THE EVIL. The remaining backing players are all serviceable and add their characters into the mix well, but ultimately fill their parts as victims of the house. Lynne Moody (SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM '73) in particular, is quite decent as recovering heroin addict, Felicia Allen, fresh off the smack and getting attacked by far more than a withdrawl. One of the most memorable scenes in the film has Moody roughed up and stripped down by an unseen assailant - clearly demonstrating a force with a fetish for the flesh.

Alright, it's time. Here comes the part of this review where I break the usual mold and for the sake of speaking about one of my absolute all time favorite character actors, am going to reveal a vital plot development that most viewers likely figured out at this stage anyhow. The greatest supporting performance in
THE EVIL does not come from cult favorite, Prine, or the pretty Joanna Pettet. No, my friends, that honor can only go to one man and one man only... Give it up for the generally jolly Victor Buono as The Devil! Where do I begin with, not only what a treasure to acting Buono was, but what a total hoot he is here playing a Satan dressed to kill...in white! We knew that incessant laughter throughout the film was that of a familiar voice, but when Crenna and Pettet finally get down into the thick of hell (which looks like it was just nailed with two coats of ultra-glossy primer), it is all too apparent that not only is it the lovable Buono, but he's having one fuck of a good time! No seriously - was Victor watching reruns of 'Get Smart' in there? Hell must be more fun than we've been led to believe.

Buono's dialogue is priceless, and he certainly is making the most of his time as Beelzebub, tossing hammy lines about that bounce off Crenna and stick to the walls like magic. "Forgive me, but you are an endless source of amusement.", he scoffs. Demands are delivered to Crenna by Buono for the cross that was happened upon earlier, who makes it clear what value he has for it, inquiring with, "By the way, where is that piece of holy excrement?". Resistance from Crenna's character only assists in making Buono even more outrageous in the part. "I feed on terror, Mr. Arnold. Your puny fears give birth to it and you suckle it like swine until it overcomes you", Victor entertainingly rambles before momentarily taking on the guise of a completely facially transformed grotesque demon. The part is also a wonderful example of Buono's range - a man gone far before his time who could take to the stage, play sociopathic stranglers, dignified white collars, recite Shakespeare and poetry at will, and here, play the epitome of evil - maybe even all in the same night if you'd have let him. He was a genuine treasure in the entertainment business the likes of which you so rarely see today. By the time THE EVIL was being shot in 1977, Buono while only 39 years of age, had been an acting pro for nearly 20 years. Over time, his weight - which was always an issue - has blossomed considerably. Sadly, Victor Buono would have less than 5 years remaining in his life, passing away suddenly on New Year's Day of 1982 at his ranch in California, found deceased by a caretaker in the wee hours of the morning on the dining room floor. The iconic Victor Buono was just 43 when he left us. A sad end to a man who brought so much to so many, yet here, in THE EVIL, Buono is eternally brought back to life in an off the wall and gleeful outing that should be revisited especially to watch him ham it up. If the term "one of a kind" ever fit a particular individual like a knitted sweater, it was Victor Buono without question.

Criminally, THE EVIL has yet to be made available in any other format than home video. This is insane considering some much lesser pictures in the genre that have made their way onto the shiny format. Even more criminal is that some variants of this floating about out there have totally removed the entire sequence featuring Victor Buono! Blasphemy! The source of viewing for this review was the Embassy Home Entertainment release, which is regrettably darker in spots than it needs to be. Some enterprising company needs to honestly take a chance with this title, locate a nice print, and maybe even splurge for some interview bonuses. An Andrew Prine interview on THE EVIL would be most enjoyable I'm sure, as he himself in the past has mentioned the film as being one he looks back on more fondly than some of the others he took on in the 70's. Hopefully this will start to get the message out there that people want to see this on DVD, if for above anything else, a nod to the terrific madness of Victor Buono. Until that happens though, don't hesitate to seek it out!


  1. Mucho Buono, Great Review & a highly informative read. Terrific stuff Devin.
    I had completely overlooked the greatness of Victor Buono from King Tutt in the brilliantly campy Batman Sixties TV show through to this, indeed, overlooked Gem. The Evil needs the shiny treatment for sure.

  2. Thanks, Paul. Buono never failed to entertain, and for the most part, neither did THE EVIL. Hopefully someone with some stroke in the digital world is paying attention;)