I recently sat through James Wan’s THE CONJURING (2013). I haven’t particularly liked anything else the director’s done but being a horror film aficionado myself, I assumed that all the critical praise and fanfare the movie was receiving meant that that it would probably deliver a few good thrills and chills. It is being hailed as one of the “scariest movies ever made” in some circles so it couldn’t be all that bad, right? Unfortunately I was very wrong. While THE CONJURING is obviously working some kind of magic on a large percentage of viewers I personally found this utterly predictable throwback to ‘70s horror cinema so clichéd, schmaltzy, devoid of compelling characters, lacking in atmosphere and flat out boring that I almost walked out of the theater midway through the movie. It seemed to be a poorly concocted smorgasbord of jump scares borrowed from much better films (THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE EXORCIST, THE HAUNTING, THE CHANGELING, THE BIRDS, HALLOWEEN, THE ORPHANAGE, EVIL DEAD, Etc.) that left me desperately hungry for something more tasty and fulfilling. Afterward I decided to cleanse my palate with a genuine ‘70s thriller about a family tormented by ghosts and combating demonic possession directed by Steven Spielberg called SOMETHING EVIL (1972). This low-budget telefilm rarely gets any attention by Spielberg fans or horror enthusiasts who seem to prefer DUEL (1971) or his later attempt at producing a supernatural thriller, POLTERGEIST (1982). But in some ways I think that SOMETHING EVIL is superior to them both. Why? Read on and I’ll tell you.
While the unlikely premise and tense execution of Steven Spielberg’s DUEL has rightfully earned it a solid place in telefilm history, SOMETHING EVIL has quietly faded into obscurity. This is partially due to the fact that unlike DUEL, SOMETHING EVIL wasn’t released in theaters and for some incomprehensible reason this briskly paced made-for-TV movie has never been officially released on video or DVD although bootleg copies are readily available. The differences between the two films can be found in the focus and execution. Whereas DUEL emphasizes action and centers on one lone individual, SOMETHING EVIL focuses on a family unit while relying on mood and atmosphere to generate terror. And although it suffers from the same problems that afflict many telefilms from the period (cheap special effects, television content restraints, minimal production values, etc.), SOMETHING EVIL benefits from Spielberg’s self-assured direction and a strong cast that includes Sandy Dennis, Darren MacGavin, Ralph Bellamy, Johnny Whitaker, Jeff Corey and John Rubinstein.
Continue reading “Telefilm Time Machine: Steven Spielberg’s SOMETHING EVIL (1972)” at Turner Classic Movies official blog: The Movie Morlocks