Dr. Arnold (Richard Crenna) along with his wife Caroline (Joanna Pettet) buy an old, dilapidated mansion for cheap, hoping to turn it into a rehab house for addicts and those seeking help. They enlist a group of their friend and colleagues along to spend a weekend getting the place spruced-up and into shape. Everything is going fine, all of the folks chipping in, having some laughs, except for Caroline, who senses something wrong with the house. A dog that belongs to one of the group goes missing and then attacks someone; Caroline sees a strange figure appear and disappear at times; she discovers a mysterious book; and other odd things occur. She suspects the place is haunted, and her suspicions are verified when the house suddenly locks down that night and traps everyone inside. One by one, they start to die…
The Evil is a kind of old-fashioned ghost story that starts slow and gradually builds before it takes a hard left turn and becomes something else entirely. Once those doors shut and the windows become unbreakable, that’s when all bets are off. People die in weird, gruesome ways, and it’s pretty unrelenting. It is in that moment that The Evil goes from being a typical, if well-made, haunted-house story and transforms into a wild horror ride. I mean, one character (played by the mighty Andrew Prine) tries to saw his hand off and another gets roasted on a wire while attempting to climb out to escape. The evil that lives in this house not only toys with its victims, but dispatches them in horrific ways. What started as a plain and ordinary film has now become a madhouse and The Evil doesn’t stop there. Oh, no. We eventually get a very wacky and bizarre ending, where Dr. Arnold confronts the spirit behind all of this malevolence in a misty, cloud-swirling other-dimensional room in the basement: Satan himself! This ending, the staging and look of the Devil, feels like something from the Twilight Zone. And while it is ultimately silly as hell, I admire their chutzpah. A staid, reserved film turns into a raucous, bizarre picture show in the blink of an eye.
This is the kind of movie that will sneak up on you if you’re patient. While the first half is well-executed, creating interesting characters and people you actually care for, it is pretty basic, as are the haunting elements. Richard Crenna is the perfect skeptic; his grim, calculated stares mixed with just enough mockery to make you dislike him but still respect him. And Prine is terrific as always as the oddball believer, the man who’s willing to step over the line into the supernatural before anyone else. Just hold on for the second half of the ride, when the bottom falls out and things get weird. You’ll be glad you did.