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Friday, 11 April 2014

THE EVIL (1978): A Popcorn Horror with Some Substance

Lesson: Never Buy a Fixer-Upper... It's Haunted

3.5 Stars

This is fun movie, ripe with jump scares and interesting female characters (from the perspective of gender theory), but overall it simply doesn’t hold up against other haunted house/ghost films of the time. Amityville Horror (1979), The Fog (1980), Poltergeist (1982) - all of these films far outdo this one technically, formally, and narratively. That being said, it is certainly worth watching, at least once. If you are particularly jumpy, it will probably even get you a few times. If you aren’t… Watch it with someone who is.

Not unlike an old William Castle flick (late 50s, to be specific), the unacquainted characters all gather to make some summer cash fixing up a recently purchased but very old manor. The new owners of the house, Dr. Caroline Arnold and her husband C.J. Arnold (PhD) approach the strange atmosphere very differently. Caroline is immediately suspicious and her discomfort is depicted as irrational through the other perspectives, but eventually her paranoia is completely validated when the house (or the spirit occupying it) becomes violent. 

Notably, Caroline is not the only one who sees the danger, but is the most willing to address it.

(Minor Spoilers)

In an essay on A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), John Markowitz discusses at length the concept of female paranoia and how it is beneficial to the survival of Final Girl characters, an idea he entirely bases on Judith Halberstam’s earlier and broader arguments about Female Paranoia in horror. He writes that because women’s fears in such films are so often dismissed or misunderstood (seen as “pathological”) by other characters and society, it takes “a considerable amount of courage to insist that your fear is justified… Clearly then, it is no simple  matter to acquire, maintain and act upon paranoia”. But in doing so, the Final Girl can survive.

The Evil arguably positions Caroline as the Final Girl; she and her husband escape but it is Caroline’s insistence that something is wrong that saves them. Although C.J. Senses the danger, he is mostly unwilling to accept that something unnatural - or supernatural - is the cause, until he can no longer deny it. What is most interesting about this film is Caroline’s dual and contrasting identities as a female doctor. Her profession insists upon traits of rationality and yet her position as woman allows her special access to a sense of paranoia. For Halberstam, this particular privilege exists only for women due to their need to be aware of danger - in short, women are too vulnerable to not be paranoid. While the implication is unfortunately bound up in traditional gender ideals and stereotypes, its presence in a 1978 film makes the suggestion far more reasonable. 

As a character study, Caroline (and her relationship with C.J.) is well crafted and quite intriguing within the contemporary social context. Sadly, the ending was bit of a let down, feeling disconnected from the rest of the film.