THE EVIL (1978) Blu-ray
Director: Gus Trikonis
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

A concerned cloudy ghost and an overweight Satan turn life upside down for a group of poor souls in THE EVIL, now available on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory arm.

Psychologist C.J. Arnold (Richard Crenna, WAIT UNTIL DARK) and his doctor wife Caroline (Joanna Pettet, WELCOME TO ARROW BEACH) purchase a dilapidated mansion (since the price was right), with the intention of turning it into a drug rehabilitation center. One weekend, they gather a group of friends, students and patients to help dust, clean up the cobwebs, and get the lofty residence up to par. C.J., who is introduced as not believing in organized religion, removes a cross stuck between the handles of a cellar trap door, and unbeknownst to him and everyone else, releases a smoking, evil force. While Caroline is warned by a friendly apparition (garbed like Napoleon) of the dangers within the house, her headstrong hubby doesn’t want to believe that any supernatural incidents are possible, that is at first. When the evil is unleashed, it basically seals up the house so no one can exit, and with plenty of guests within its walls, victims are going to succumb one after the other in expectedly violent ways.

A rather traditional haunted house thriller with a slim plotline that milks the subgenre for all its worth, THE EVIL is actually entertaining, well-paced hokum, even if it’s not all that scary or logical for that matter. Shot almost entirely on location in a single mansion, the creaky secluded setting, along with tight direction and a fine cast make this one worthwhile, even though it’s hard to understand why the film got an R rating (well, one scene involving a character’s hand and a power saw stills packs a gory punch and is definitely not for the squeamish). Thanks to some able stunt doubles, victims are set on fire or electrocuted by loose wires, so with all the “hell breaking loose” and paranormal antics that occur here, it's kind of ironic that it was shot well before THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (with a 1977 copyright date, the film was released before all the “house” horror pics which dominated the genre along with the endless slasher films in the late 1970s and early 1980s). Doing a decent job of it, especially considering the film’s low budget (you’ll easily spot those wires slamming the shutters and pulling various household objects) and non-studio scenario, director Gus Trikonis had more than a few drive-in flicks under his belt (FIVE THE HARD WAY, THE SWINGING BARMAIDS, MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS, etc.) before concentrating on a prosperous television career after THE EVIL's completion.

Not even 40 years-old at the time of filming, Victor Buono (THE MAD BUTCHER) appears as the rotund “Devil” during the film’s final moments, sporting a white Ricardo Montalban Panama Suit (which must have been purchased at a second-hand fat man's shop) and seated against an all-white background. Several reference books claim that his scenes were omitted from some prints, but is there anyone yet to see a version of this film without him? Debate often surfaces questioning whether or not his appearance ruins things: I myself love Buono, but seeing him during this period — even with face-shifting demon makeup — always reminds me of his two memorable appearances on the “The Odd Couple” TV series in its later episodes. Third-billed Andrew Prine (THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN) is good as the cocky professor having an affair with his much younger student (played by the gorgeous Mary Louise Weller, known for her unforgettable topless scene in ANIMAL HOUSE; she's never topless here, but she definitely goes braless). Also in the cast are Cassie Yates (ROLLING THUNDER), Lynne Moody (a victim of William Marshall’s vampire in SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM) and Milton Selzer (BLOOD AND LACE) as a realtor.

Shout! Factory originally released THE EVIL on DVD as part of its “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” line (it was an independent production distributed theatrically by Corman’s New World Pictures) on a double-disc with 1988’s TWICE DEAD, a Concorde Pictures release. Now bringing it to Blu-ray under the Scream Factory banner, the transfer offers a nice upgrade, created from a 2K scan of the only surviving archival 35mm print. Presented in 1080p HD and in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, it’s easily detectable that this was transferred from a print source rather than a negative element, but that doesn’t mean that the results are not visually appealing. Heavier grain and some picture softness are apparent during the opening credits (where print opticals are on display), but grain becomes lighter and more aesthetically consistent with the image becoming much sharper after that point. Colors are deep, inky and distinct, with the print source showing a few instances of speckling and other light blemishes. The English DTS-HD Master Audio mono track is full bodied enough to compliment the film, with no problematic issues. Optional English subtitles are included.

Carried over from the DVD is the entertaining audio commentary which features director Gus Trikonis, writer Donald Thompson and director of photography Mario Di Leo. Moderated by Scorpion Releasing’s Walt Olsen, the track has the three participants having a good time recalling what it was like making this low budget opus within a former hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico with limited resources, and they relay how they had to use skill and imagination to get the kind of resulting picture they wanted. THE EVIL’s original theatrical trailer as well as TV spot are also included. (George R. Reis)