It’s always this way–as we approach Halloween season, I fall down the rabbit hole of horror. Since my cohort (who is not a big horror fan) is in classes several nights a week, that gives me a lot of time to explore some of the nooks and crannies of the genre. I like to mix it up with a few newer movies I haven’t gotten to yet, a few classic “comfort food” films, and some older films / classics that I’ve overlooked in the past.
It makes for a month (sometimes more) feast of horror. And typically, I find more gems than turds. As an added benefit, I recently stumbled upon the Top Five Scary Videos channel on YouTube, and the hosts and I are cut from the same cloth–particularly Two Coats Jack who seems to have the same horror sensibilities as me. His long-running feature of “Forgotten” Horror films is an absolute treasure trove that’s steered me towards several films I might have otherwise never seen.
Which brings us to this movie, The Evil Within (a generic title certain to confuse most people trying to find it). Released in 2017, it was plagued by a tougher than usual production. I watched it a few weeks ago and it left a big impression on me, but it took me a while to figure out what, if anything, I was going to say about it. But I knew from the get-go that it needed the benefit of a full blog post rather than a one or two Tweet thumbs up or down. Because it’s complicated.
Written and directed by Andrew Getty, this was the only film he made. And that’s because he wasn’t, in any traditional sense, a filmmaker. He was a millionaire, scion of an oil family, who made this as a passion project. It wasn’t some fly-by-night whim made by someone who thought, “Hey, anybody can make a movie,” like Manos, Hand of Fate, or The Room.
Getty had sets built. He hired name actors like Starship Trooper’s Dina Meyer, Sean Patrick Flanery from a hell of a lot of things you’ve probably seen, Michael Berryman who was famous for the original The Hills Have Eyes, and Fredrick Koehler who did most of the heavy lifting–but more on that later. He built a goddamned drum-playing octopus animatronic for one scene. And working from a script he wrote himself based on a nightmare of his, he launched into what turned into a five-year production process.
Yeah. Five years.
And post-production took another ten on top of that.
Andrew Getty died at age 47 before the film was released–before he even finished post production–killed by a hemorrhaging ulcer due to years of recreational meth use.
Oh, yeah. Maybe that helps to preface this film.
It’s based on a nightmare of a meth–I don’t want to say addict because that’s a judgment I’m not comfortable making–but at least meth enthusiast? Plus, it was made without any studio interference with enough budget to do some truly insane shit. He torpedoed his finances with this film, so it doesn’t look cheap. Andrew was clearly swinging for the fences with this movie which I’ll always respect. I’d be curious what he could have done if he’d lived longer to make another film or two. As it is, we have only the one film.
As for the film itself… it’s problematic.
Here’s a brief explanation by Charles Bramesco, writing for The Guardian in 2017.
Make no mistake, The Evil Within is very clearly the handiwork of a rank amateur under the influence of powerful narcotics. The film was horrifically ill-advised from the very start, working from the premise of a man with learning difficulties who commits grisly murders on the commands of his reflection in an evil mirror. Characters appear and vanish without warning or explanation, long surrealist interludes go nowhere, and the plot constantly veers into tangents that appear to bear little relevance to the rest of the film.
I’ve never met Charles Bramesco, but I think we’d get along, because I have to agree with his assessment of the film. The script isn’t David Mamet, but hey, as horror scripts go, it’s not objectively bad. My biggest quibble is that the central character suffers from massive brain damage, which I consider a lazy and harmful trope that horror is far too quick to use (a point I made in my review of The Devil’s Candy.)
I’ll be honest, that hook made me reluctant to say anything about the film for a while. But there is something absolutely captivating about Fredrick Koehler’s performance here. As we come to understand his condition and relationship with his older brother (played by Flanery), it forms somewhat of a narrative spine that anchors the film when it gets weird.
And trust me. It gets weird. And dark. And surreal. And occasionally sadistic.
I kind of wanted to hate it.
But damn if it wasn’t a fascinating piece of cinema. I’d even go so far to say it’s “good.” Despite all the flaws, it just has too much fierce originality to dismiss entirely. And the final act is such delirious bug-fuckery that it simply has to be seen to be believed. Sweet Jesus with a sidecar of strawberry ice cream… that final act is nightmare fuel. No major studio would allow a film to get that weird.
The Evil Within was streaming on Amazon Prime last time I checked. It reminded me in some ways of surreal horror film The Attic Expeditions, though oddly I prefer The Evil Within. Make of that what you will. If you’re looking for a weird, wild ride, I’d recommend checking it out. Hate it or love it, I doubt you’ve seen anything else like it.
Here’s the trailer in case you’re curious.