If you're seeing ghostly apparitions, who ya gonna call? Judge Paul Pritchard would recommend a psychologist, you loon!
If These Haunted Houses Are Rockin' Keep On Walkin' And Don't Bother Knockin'…
Both The Evil and Twice Dead are brought to DVD for the first time as Shout! Factory continues their Roger Corman Cult Classic line. Fans of schlock cinema rejoice.
Facts of the Case
In The Evil, psychologist C.J. Arnold (Richard Crenna, First Blood) and his wife, Caroline (Joanne Pettet), set about converting a dilapidated mansion into a drug rehabilitation clinic. Their plans go awry, however, when the family dog unearths a secret door in the basement which, when opened, unleashes an evil force into the house.
Twice Dead is the story of the unfortunate Cates family. After inheriting the mansion of the late 1930's actor Tyler Walker (Jonathan Chapin), the Cates' decide to move in, much to the displeasure of both the local gang that have claimed the house as their own and the ghost of Walker that now haunts the residence.
Fans of haunted house movies may very well think Christmas has come early with the release of The Evil / Twice Dead. Although about as scary as a kitten giving a piggyback to a hamster, both movies nevertheless offer up contrasting approaches to the horror genre and make excellent bedfellows. With one eye on the Grindhouse debacle, Shout! Factory offers the choice of viewing each movie individually or back to back, complete with trailers and a brief intermission inbetween.
The Evil, the older movie of the two, having been released in 1978—a full decade before Twice Dead—wastes no time in getting down to the nitty-gritty. Before the opening credits have even finished rolling we've already been witness to the evil of the title tormenting, and then killing an unfortunate janitor. Having then introduced us to Dr. Arnold and his circle of friends, The Evil proceeds with unleashing the (moderately budgeted) forces of hell upon their poor souls, thanks in no small part to the good doctor's Alsatian digging up the doorway to hell in the basement. Pfft! Man's best friend my ass.
Moderately paced, and containing a nice blend of old style scares with a little gore, The Evil is an enjoyable slice of hokum that should make a refreshing change for those versed only in modern horror, and at the same time offer older horror junkies a reminder of how things used to be. Director Gus Trikonis (who went on to work on such TV series as Baywatch and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) oversees a well crafted haunted house movie that is interested more in character and tension than buckets of blood and cheap scares. Despite its relative obscurity, The Evil is at least the equal of many of its peers, both in terms of structure and presentation. This isn't some cheap knock-off, this is a genuine, 100%, good old fashioned horror movie; just like the one's you'd stay up late to watch on TV as a kid. Richard Crenna, a massively underestimated actor, gives a fine performance that grounds the film in something resembling reality, despite the frequent ghostly apparitions and demonic possessions.
The screenplay occasionally suffers from lapses in logic, such as the reasoning given for the janitor's death, but mostly works well, particularly with regard to how Crenna's character gradually comes to accept the involvement of the supernatural forces at play.
The Evil climaxes with a confrontation with the Devil himself in a rather odd scene that seems destined to divide audiences. Whereas the rest of the film is set against dimly lit interiors that make great use of shadow drenched corridors to heighten the tension, the finale is set against a bright white backdrop and is, in all honesty, quite jarring. The sight of a rotund Satan, played by King Tut himself Victor Buono replete in white tuxedo, would be almost anti-climactic had it not been so bizarre. Prone to monologuing, rather than actually committing any foul deeds, this incarnation of Satan is just asking for a crucifix in the nether regions, as well as being oddly reminiscent of the Architect from The Matrix Reloaded. Nevertheless, the scene is certainly memorable, if not necessarily for all the right reasons, and ensures The Evil is not a film you'll quickly forget.
The ten-year gap between the two films in this double-bill highlights the shifts in the horror genre over the intervening decade, with Twice Dead being a more teen-centric movie as opposed to the more adult focused The Evil. The likes of Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street had massively transformed the horror landscape, and Twice Dead ends up being a fun amalgamation of the old haunted house sensibilities and the then new emphasis on teens, gore and supernatural boogeymen.
Like The Evil, Twice Dead wastes no time in setting up its characters, but is less inclined to spend time developing them, preferring instead to start the killings as soon as possible. In an interesting break from the norm, the ghost of Tyler Walker, who one would assume to be the main villain of the piece, is kept in the background for much of the film. Though he occasionally shows up to torment the Cates' kids, Scott (Tom Bresnahan) and Robin (Jill Whitlow, Night of the Creeps), Walker instead plays second fiddle to the biker gang that torments the local neighborhood-and who at one point kills the family cat and attempt to rape Robin. Before long mom and shotgun wielding poppa Cates leave their kids home alone to attend to some business, despite the surely traumatic experience their daughter has just gone through, just in time for the biker gang to decide to reclaim their former abode. In an interesting twist, Tyler Walker's spirit actually ends up being something of a hero, as he helps Scott and Robin defend their home from the gang, slaughtering the delinquents in all manner of inventive ways.
While The Evil plays it straight, Twice Dead is, intentionally or not, a cheese-fest. Films from the eighties, thanks mostly to the dreadful fashions of the period, have dated more so than films from any other decade and this is all too evident in Twice Dead. The biker gang in particular, rather than looking menacing, are laughable and just a little bit campy by today's standards. And yet it all adds to the fun, with the icing on the cake being an appearance from Todd Bridges (Diff'rent Strokes) adorned in some of the decades worst knitwear.
Writer/director Bert L. Dragin shows an eye for invention, particularly with a clever little twist midway through and a sex scene that climaxes in a rather unfortunate, but amusing way. Furthermore, a car chase involving a hearse may very possibly have influenced Bad Boys 2 in its use of coffins as a weapon. Twice Dead is an odd little movie, but still something of an overlooked gem that plays with a number of genre conventions to create something a little different.
Both film are presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, with each possessing a sharp image with good color reproduction. There are signs of aging to the prints, particularly with regards to The Evil, but this all adds to the atmosphere when watching the double bill late at night, as I'm sure was intended. Both films also come complete with an audio commentary. Both commentary tracks combine fun recollections with interesting detail on how specific shots/scenes were produced. Along with a set of trailers, the disc contains an interview with actress Jill Whitlow where she discusses her career in genre cinema.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The shift in horror over the decades, which has seen the genre confuse gore with scares, means that younger horror fans will most likely reject the titles in this double bill. Admittedly neither is frightening in the least, but both represent prime examples of horror in their respective decades.
While it's unlikely anyone would call either film featured in this double bill a classic, it's hard to understand why neither has previously been released on DVD. While Twice Dead shows more invention than most run-of-the-mill late '80s horror, The Evil is certainly a darn sight better than the much overrated The Amityville Horror, which was released the following year and has seen numerous DVD releases. Released together, for the same price as one movie, this set is irresistible, and comes highly recommended.
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