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  Something Evil A Jarring Experience
Year: 1972
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Sandy Dennis, Darren McGavin, Ralph Bellamy, Jeff Corey, Johnny Whitaker, John Rubinstein, David Knapp, Laurie Hagen, Debbie Lempert, Sandy Lempert, Herb Armstrong, Margaret Avery, Norman Bartold, Sheila Bartold, Lois Battle, Bruno VeSota
Genre: Horror, TV MovieBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: When this family, the Wordens, are out in the countryside for a picnic they happen upon a charming farmhouse which has a "For Sale" sign outside. The wife, Marjorie (Sandy Dennis) is enchanted enough with the property to paint it, being of an artistic bent, and the more she recreates it in watercolours the more she realises she wants to live there, away from the rat race in a rural idyll. Her husband Paul (Darren McGavin) takes some persuading, as he works in advertising and wants to be closer to his job in the city, but Marjorie will not be put off and soon they have moved in. But what they don't know is the fate of the previous owner...

Straight after he made such an impact with Duel, a television movie of the week which was so impressive it was expanded into a theatrical release, director Steven Spielberg didn't jump straight into big screen efforts, he actually helmed another, far less well known television movie. It was more of a straight ahead horror yarn which the Spielberg-produced Poltergeist was reminiscent of, though since it was made for a medium where the excesses of the genre which were set about with gusto by the moviemakers were less welcome, it was clear he was mostly relying on camerawork and a wind machine which enjoyed an extensive workout whenever anything supernaturally dramatic was occurring, rather than any blood and gore.

Something Evil nevertheless belonged to the strain of chillers where possession by demonic forces was to the fore, possibly a reaction, conscious or otherwise, to the worries of the older generations in regard to the younger, where nonconformity was not simply confined to youths, but had to start somewhere therefore it was the children you really had to be afraid of. Given Spielberg's sympathy for the little ones, it may be surprising that the Wordens' son Stevie (child star Johnny Whitaker) is the centre of the mayhem, but less surprising when you can read between the lines and see the father too wrapped up in his work for his family is the unspoken reason the evil forces get their way for so long.

And also none too shocking that a mother's love is the most crucial aspect of the resolution. Spielberg didn't actually pen the script, that was down to Robert Clouse, who the next year would be directing Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon (good luck finding a thematic connection between these two efforts), yet he was channelling not only the trend towards Satanic in his plot but a by then familiar trope of horror fiction, quite often in the novels of the day, where a family would move into a seemingly perfect house only to find their dream home becoming a nightmare. Books such as Tom Tryon's Harvest Home (which owed something to Ray Bradbury, as many of these did) and Robert Marasco's Burnt Offerings were popular reads, proving huge Gothic castles were no longer needed.

Or indeed relevant to the style as horror fiction of the seventies stressed the contemporary. In this case, the budget wouldn't stretch to an actual demon - the most we see are a pair of glowing eyes caught on camera as Paul films one of his commercials at the country house, which is quite a nice, subtle touch. So what we get instead are that darned wind machine which is fired up every time hysteria is on the cards, a jar of red jelly which glows, makes crying baby noises and somehow transports itself from the shed to the domestic cosiness of the kitchen store cupboard, and Spielberg's implementation of the fish eye lens to indicate something weird is going on. Needless to say, the tricks may not be too effective these days now we are more jaded by the conventions of the format, but back in the seventies this scared the wits out of a generation of kids, and thus a nostalgia is part of the appeal. Well, that and to see what the most famous film director in the world conjured up right before he hit the big time, just as he was graduating to the movies - not that he ever abandoned TV. Music by Wladimir Selinsky.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Steven Spielberg  (1946 - )

Currently the most famous film director in the world, Spielberg got his start in TV, and directing Duel got him noticed. After The Sugarland Express, he memorably adapted Peter Benchley's novel Jaws and the blockbusters kept coming: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Indiana Jones sequels, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, 2005's mega-budget remake of War of the Worlds, his Tintin adaptation, World War One drama War Horse and pop culture blizzard Ready Player One.

His best films combine thrills with a childlike sense of wonder, but when he turns this to serious films like The Color Purple, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich and Bridge of Spies these efforts are, perhaps, less effective than the out-and-out popcorn movies which suit him best. Of his other films, 1941 was his biggest flop, The Terminal fell between two stools of drama and comedy and one-time Kubrick project A.I. divided audiences; Hook saw him at his most juvenile - the downside of the approach that has served him so well. Also a powerful producer.

 
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