The unfortunate fact about The Evil Within is that the story of its production is always going to be far more compelling than any fictional movie could be. The brainchild of Andrew Getty, the meth-head heir to the Getty fortune, the film was laboured over by its director from 2002 until his death in 2015, when it was still awaiting a final edit, spit and polish. Inspired by Getty’s own decidedly disturbed dreams, the production was filmed in fits and starts over several years, and then subjected to endless post-production tinkering, with bizarre in-camera effects and continual tweaking draining the director of his fortune – the film cost anything between $4 and 6 million, which doesn’t sound very much for an heir to a fortune, but add into this is other questionable habits, and it seems to have cost everything he had.
Because of this, the consensus about the resulting film is that it is a mad folly – at best a curious slice of outsider filmmaking, at worst a complete disaster that is perhaps destined for The Room / Birdemic level camp cult status. But this is the nonsense you’ll hear from people who think all low budget horror is inherently worthless, and should be ignored as the ignorant snobbery that it is. In truth, while far from perfect, The Evil Within is actually pretty impressive, and sometimes rather extraordinary.
Frederick Koehler stars as Dennis Peterson, a mentally handicapped young man living with his gulit-ridden odler brother John (Sean Patrick Flanery) and John’s impatient girlfriend Lydia (Dina Meyer), who wants Dennis placed in a home. As domestic tensions within – and without – the family rise, Dennis discovers that his refelction in an old mirror is in fact a demonic entity – usually portrayed in a strong bit of multiple personality acting by Koehler, but also represented by a demonic Michael Berryman – that has risen out of his nightmares and is now sending him on the path to becoming a serial killer, starting first with animals and then progressing to small children and, eventually, his own loved ones.
This isn’t especially promising as an idea, and the film is sometimes overly talky and slow moving. But you know that you are watching something unusual from the opening scenes, which feature an oddly compelling voice-over and some astonishing nightmare imagery that includes a woman with tiny mouths instead of eyes. These weird dream sequences pop up throughout, and lead to a finale that becomes astonishingly weird and trippy – there are giant spiders, puppet corpses and strange stop-motion effects that make this surprisingly effective as an on-screen nightmare.
Getty’s special effects are bizarre and, even when rather crude, oddly intriguing. An early scene where Berryman staples a zip to Koehler’s back, unzipping him and climbing inside, is genuinely disturbing, and several moments of camera trickery will leave audiences used to CGI scratching their heads and wondering just how the effect was pulled off. Other moments are just very, very odd, and they all seem to work together to create an other-worldly atmosphere.
And it’s great to see Berryman used to full advantage. It’s curious that although he’s a big horror star, he’s rarely cast as a monster – perhaps directors have worried that they would be taking advantage of his natural appearance, but all too often he’s a best a red herring, at worst a comedy stooge. Here, Berryman is genuinely terrifying as the demonic creature.
Within this, the continuity gaffs and lack of a coherent narrative at times somehow works for the film – if this is a nightmare, why should it make sense? Shouldn’t it be disjointed and strange? The fact that the cast all give solid performances within this oddball world just makes it all the stranger. I could almost call this film Lynchian in its twisting of reality and flummoxing of audience expectations.
Getty might not have known how to direct a film conventionally, but thank God for that. Who needs another plodding, predictable, slick slasher movie? I’ll take a strange, malfunctioning and eccentric movie over that any day, thank you very much. And for all the scoffing, this is not a badly made film at all – the camera shots, the set ups and the horror sequences are actually all handled as though the film has been made by a much more experienced filmmaker. Sure, the pacing is suspect… but then, Getty was dead before the film was edited, so this can only ever be an approximation of what he intended the final film to be. Similarly, the title – which makes it sound like a dozen other horror films – was not his choice. The film might have been better served under the original title of The Storyteller.
Of course, if any film warranted an accompanying documentary feature on the disc, this is it. And of course, the disc is entirely bare-bones, without even a trailer. But perhaps that’s how it should be. Perhaps the legend overwhelms the movie. So I’d suggest ignoring everything that you might have read about this film, and instead check it out with an open mind – you’ll be pleasantly surprised by one of the most unique and interesting horror films of the year.