Film: Something Evil (1972)

March 3, 2011 | By

Return to: Home Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews / S


Film: Good / DVD Transfer: n/a/ DVD Extras: n/a

Label: n/a/ Region: n/a / Released: n/a

Genre: TV movie / Supernatural Horror

Synopsis: A family moves to a country farm and slowly realize their home and maybe a family member might be possessed by a demonic spirit.

Special Features: n/a




After making his formal debut with the short film Amblin’ (1968), Steven Spielberg directed a number of TV episodes before graduating to feature length projects, starting with Duel in 1971, and following up with Something Evil (1972), and Savage, a 1973 pilot for an unsold series. Only Duel has received the most media attention over the passing years (and rightly so, for the tight direction is superb), whereas the other teleplays have tumbled to the margins as lesser efforts.

Something Evil actually has a solid premise: a New York City ad man moves his family to a serene countryside farmhouse two hours from the city. When his wife Marjorie hears strange noises (an invisible crying baby) and sees weird glowing red goo in mason jars after the midnight hour, she consults with a neighbour who shares a huge interest in the occult.

Marjorie quickly concludes her homestead must be inhabited by a devil – a summation that’s confirmed when a visiting couple are killed on their way home after leaving a party.  (Among the partygoers, future Jaws’ screenwriter Carl Gottlieb can be glimpsed.)

Robert Clouse’s script has cleanly defined characters and some smart, sharp dialogue – elements that undoubtedly inspired Spielberg to have fun creating occult madness out of a small budget – but the length of the teleplay ultimately lead the filmmakers to rush through scenes, which is why the finale comes fast and hard, and certain characters disappear from the story and pop up with bizarre abruptness.

Sandy Dennis (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) gives mother Marjorie far more gravitas than one would expect, and she’s utterly believable as a mom who fears for her children’s safety, eventually tackling the demon face-to-face in the teleplay’s finale. Clouse’s script has her all craft-oriented, and her art manifests itself into little protective amulets and a painted pentacle in the kids’ room that was originally done in jest, but proves quite handy in the finale.

Darren McGavin is stuck playing cynical father Paul, a busy ad man. He’s essentially the family’s non-believer who rushes home whenever Marjorie whines about more weirdness he’s yet to witness.

Ralph Bellamy is initially important as the occult fan who gives Marjorie the materials to defend herself, but his disappearance at the end is very clunky. It is amusing, though, to see him in another occult story, having played the evil Dr. Sapirstein who supervises the pregnancy and birth of the Devil’s child in Rosemary’s Baby (1968).

Bellamy’s aided by a nephew (played by John Rubinstein) who has no other purpose in the drama except to tell Marjorie ‘My uncle’s missing’ and ‘Had you not moved here, he’d be fine. Damn you!’ He’s the most pointless character in the teleplay, and one can only assume he had a slightly meatier role before it was distilled into bit scenes in order to keep the running time locked at 73 mins – the standard length for a TV movie in a 90 mins. time slot.

The same can be said of the weird farmer (Jeff Corey) next door who similarly disappears from the story after Paul tells him to stop whirling sacrificial chickens on their lawn. His sudden reappearance at the end is neither a surprise nor necessary, but he does tell Marjorie whom the Devil now possesses. With less than 5 mins. left in the teleplay, the grand battle is over after some hugs, tugs, and motherly love.

Within Spielberg’s canon, Something Evil is notable for the first appearance of the nuclear family unit moving into an idyllic home, only to find their values threatened by a demonic force that only Love can conquer. (As Bellamy quips to Marjorie, ‘sometimes love is the strongest element.’)

They’ve a blonde toddler daughter and rambunctious son (Family Affair’s Johnny Whitaker), but the son never seems to be at school in the daytime, so the presumption is mom must be a crafty hippy who balances home schooling with clay projects and tacky kitchen mobiles. In Poltergeist, the family unit stays within the idyllic suburban landscape, but the mother’s success in retrieving her child from the demons is similarly dependent on a grand declaration of love.

Visually, Something Evil is very striking, and with Bill Butler (Jaws) behind the camera, Spielberg creates a rich blend of close-ups, montages, dissolves, and low angle, menacing angles that would dominate his visual style in feature films.

Wladimir Selinsky’s score is a bit overbearing at times, but one can attribute its periodic monotony to cues being stretched and repeated.

After his trio of feature-length teleplays, Spielberg finally moved into theatrical films with The Sugarland Express (1974), followed by Jaws (1974). Screenwriter Clouse also stepped away from TV and graduated to film directing, starting with the classic Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon (1973).

Actress Margaret Avery has a tiny role as a voice dubbing artist, and would later co-star in Spielberg’s The Color Purple (1985), playing the juke joint chanteuse Shug, and earning an Oscar Nomination.



© 2011 Mark R. Hasan


Related links:

DVD / Film:  Color Purple, The (1985) — Poltergeist (1982)


External References:

IMDB Composer Filmography


Return toHome Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews S

Tags: ,

Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

Comments are closed.