The Evil (1978)

Rating: B-

Dir: Gus Trikonis
Star: Joanna Pettet, Richard Crenna, Andrew Prine, Cassie Yates
a.k.a. House of Evil

I really wasn’t expecting much from this, feeling it was going to be some kind of low-rent TV movie about a haunted house. It turns out to be rather more effective than that. While not particularly groundbreaking in any major ways, it does what it needs to, and with enough energy to be more entertaining than expected. In particular, it has a resolutely and almost fundamentalist pro-religion approach, which I have to admire, even as someone of no particular faith. I mean, it basically ends with the devil getting a crucifix stabbed in the heart, and that’s not something you see in your average film, even allowing for the decade being the peak of religious horror.

It also benefits from a really cool-looking building, which in reality was the Montezuma Castle hotel. It hosted a number of American presidents, though by the time of shooting was owned by the Jesuits. In the film, it has just been bought by C.J. Arnold (Crenna) and his wife, Dr. Caroline Arnold (Pettet), who intend to open a drug rehab facility. The husband’s attitude is quickly made clear, with comments like, “I regard most organized churches as organized hypocrisy.” Caroline is not such an atheist, as the film makes equally apparent, by the gigantic cross she’s wearing around her neck. They are joined by Professor Raymond Guy (Prine), who is taking advantage of it being a time when college lecturers banging their students was perfectly acceptable.

The house had already killed its caretaker, and it’s not long before the death toll starts to mount further. Things really kick off after C.J. breaks a seal in the basement, initiating full lockdown mode. Attempts to escape inevitably end fatally for those concerned, whether it’s being struck by lightning when rappelling down the wall, or sucked into the ground in front of a suspiciously demonic statue. C.J and Raymond refuse to believe there could be any of that religious mumbo-jumbo involved. But it’s Caroline, since she appears considerably more open to the house’s vibrations, who will be the key to their survival, especially when C.J. has to face the demonic incarnation of the building’s evil (top) – played by Victor Buono from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, of all people.

A lot of the moments in here are typical ones for the genre, such as a statue that moves when only Caroline is watching it. However, I enjoyed others, such as the dog which seems to end up getting possessed. “When am I gonna make you see? It’s something inside the dog!” screams Caroline at her spouse – a full four years before John Carpenter went there. The special effects are restrained, yet do their job perfectly well, and Trikonis, who’d go on to a solid career in television (including twenty-two episodes of Baywatch!), milks all the atmosphere he can out of his splendid location. While I won’t call this a hidden gem, it was definitely a pleasant surprise.