THE EVIL (1978)/TWICE DEAD (1988)
Directors: Gus Trikonis, Bert Dragin
Shout! Factory

Continuing steadily with its “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” line of DVDs, Shout! Factory digs into the vaults for this double pairing. The two films are very different (and a full decade apart) as far as style and execution, but the duo is ingeniously paired as they're both haunted house thrillers that involve returning apparitions and the violent vengeance that goes along with their returning presence. THE EVIL was an independent production distributed theatrically by Corman’s New World Pictures, while 1988’s TWICE DEAD was released by his Concorde Pictures.

In THE EVIL, 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 ghost of the dangers within the house, her 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 sub-genre for all its worth, THE EVIL is actually an entertaining, well-paced film, 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). With all the “hell breaking loose” antics that occur here, it’s hard to believe this was shot well before THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, and it 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 good job of it, especially considering the film’s low budget 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.

Victor Buono appears as the rotund “Devil” during the film’s final moments, sporting a white Ricardo Montalban suit (which must have been purchased at the 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 verion 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 make-up, always reminds me of his two memorable appearances on “The Odd Couple.” Third-billed Andrew Prine (THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, which, thanks to MGM/Fox, is still not out on DVD) 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). Also in the cast are Cassie Yates (ROLLING THUNDER, which thanks to MGM/Fox is still not out on DVD), Lynne Moody (a victim of William Marshall’s vampire in SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM) and Milton Selzer (BLOOD AND LACE, which thanks to MGM/Fox is still not out on DVD) as a realtor.

TWICE DEAD: In the 1930s, stage actor Tyler Walker (Jonathan Chapin) hangs himself after a love-obsessed candlelit ritual involving a female mannequin. Decades later (1988 to be exact), the decaying house where this all happened still rests in a declining L.A. neighborhood, and a nice but financially struggling middle-aged couple (Sam Melville and Brooke Bundy) move in with their two teenagers, Scott (Tom Bresnahan) and Robin (Jill Whitlow). The kids instantly have problems with a leather-clad punk gang who they discover on their doorstep, and they continually prove to be relentless in their tormenting. Killing her cat and nearly molesting poor Robin in the middle of the night, the firing of Dad’s shotgun is enough to keep these juvenile scoundrels away, but not for long. With the parents away tending to their financial affairs, Scott and Robin are victims to a home invasion by this gang, and even though they manage to turn the tables on their antagonists, the only one who can save them in the end is the wandering ghost of Tyler Walker.

As far as the crop of horror outings from the late 1980s goes, TWICE DEAD isn’t that bad at all, despite its switchblade-wielding, spike-haired lot resembling a bunch of refugees from the previous year’s THE LOST BOYS. The film’s story is played out on multiple levels, including the main character of Scott becoming obsessed with the late actor’s knack for trickery and illusion, and using it against the home invaders for grand guignol type shocks, and the outward gore is then all too real as Tyler’s ghost helps brother and sister by slaughtering all their perpetrators in some rather inventive ways. With its apparition appearing in the reflection of mirrors, and a dark, creepy house as its centerpiece, the film does have a good amount of atmosphere, even if it tends to be hokey. The gore effects are actually quite good, especially considering the budget, and even though there’s not much in terms of nudity (a standard in 1980s teen horror flicks), buxom Charlie Spradling (SKI SCHOOL) does go topless in one of the film’s best (and let’s say electrifying) death scenes. Todd Bridges (of “Diff’rent Strokes” fame, here two years after the series had left the airwaves) plays a neighborhood kid who befriends Scott, and he (or rather his stuntman) meets an untimely fate.

Presented here as a double feature, the disc features a main menu in the style of a grindhouse theater lobby, and you can watch the two features separately or as part of the “Roger Corman Experience”, meaning there’s two trailers before each as well as a classic intermission snipe in the middle. While these transfers don’t look as polished as some of the others in the “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” collection, they still look quite good, both presented anamorphic (1.78:1). Colors are stable and detail is fairly sharp, though both films suffer from some speckling (more so in the case of TWICE DEAD, which has debris and print lines in several spots). The mono audio on both titles is fine, with no noticeable snags.

Each film has a worthwhile commentary, and both are moderated by Walter Olsen. THE EVIL features director Gus Trikonis, writer Donald Thompson and director of photography Mario Di Leo. The three participants have a good time recalling what it was like making this low budget opus within this former hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico with limited resources, and how they had to use skill and imagination to get the kind of picture they wanted. TWICE DEAD’s commentary features director/co-writer Bert Dragin and lead actor Tom Bresnahan, reunited here for the first time in years. The two are very enthusiastic about recalling the shoot (on location in L.A., and most of it in a rented house) and there’s tons of fun scene-specific details and anecdotes within. Actress Jill Whitlow is on hand for a featurette which lasts a little over 12 minutes, talking about such films she appeared in as NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (which has given her a huge following), WEIRD SCIENCE and of course TWICE DEAD, and she concludes with why she left acting to concentrate on her family. There’s a trailer and TV spot for THE EVIL, as well as bonus trailers for KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, DEATH RACE 2000, THE TERROR WITHIN and NOT OF THIS EARTH (Traci Lords) which are playable as a group or as part of the aforementioned “Roger Corman Experience”. (George R. Reis)