Suburban Grindhouse Memories: BEYOND EVIL (1980)
SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
This Finger Possessed!
By Nick Cato
While it’s a routine, by-the-numbers haunted house/possession film, 1980’s BEYOND EVIL holds a special place in my film-going life as it was the FIRST R-rated film I managed to get into on my own! Thanks to my Sicilian genes, I actually had a moustache in the 6th grade that (I like to believe) helped me get into many films I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. The fine folks at the (now defunct) Amboy Twin didn’t even blink as I handed them my ticket fee and waltzed to the concession stand for some Saturday afternoon snacks. I can recall about twenty people in attendance, not bad for an early show, and a few of them had no problem letting their opinions be heard as the film unreeled.
BEYOND EVIL opens on an isolated island, where a native couple has just been hitched. They run off into the woods and prepare to do the nasty, when the woman discovers a mansion in the middle of nowhere. Before you can say BOO! a woman’s face appears in one of the windows, just as one of the mansion’s support columns happens to detach itself from the place and crush the poor bride’s arm. The scene is darkly-shot and in the theater was hard to see (I have no idea if the VHS or DVD editions cleared this up), but either way, the film quickly had everyone’s attention.
The next thing I know John Saxon and his wife (played by Lynda Day George) arrive on the island, and I was as happy as a Sasquatch in the woods. Why? Because Saxon had co-starred on a couple of episodes of the 70s TV series, THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, a few years earlier during the classic “bigfoot” episodes, so I was a fan. (Of course Saxon and George would sort-of RULE early-80s horror and exploitation cinema, starring in such classics as CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980), BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980), PIECES (1982), TENEBRE (1982), and MORTUARY (1983), to name just a few). Saxon has arrived on the island to oversee some construction job (I believe he was an architect) and one of his wife’s ex-boyfriends was supposed to get them an apartment. BUT guess where they wind up? Yep–at the aforementioned mansion, which we eventually learn was once the home of a crazed witch. The audience howled in laughter when George said she wanted to know who any ghosts living in her house were!
(PAUSE: I usually write this column STRICTLY from memory, but this time I simply had to peek at a few reviews to spark my brain into action: one thing most reviews raved over was how good the acting was. I’m sorry, folks, but the acting and dialogue is what most people made fun of at the screening I attended. I believe a DVD viewing is in order here. NOW BACK TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED COLUMN…)
In a flashback sequence, we learn the woman who had lived in the mansion began to practice witchcraft to get back at her abusive husband. When he discovered what she was up to, he poisoned her. NOT bothered by the mansion’s history, Saxon and George settle in and it doesn’t take long for typical haunted house happiness to begin.
More laughable than some of the acting here are the low-grade special FX. In one sequence, Saxon is startled by a dopey-looking green light and topples down a spiral staircase, then is almost killed by a falling devil statue. I remember someone yelling “Take the hint!” when Saxon basically brushed himself off and went back to his regular routine. I don’t know about you, but if I heard my new home was once owned by a murdered witch, then saw a devil statue at the top of the staircase, I’d either change the décor or high-tail it back to the city.
The insanity clicks into high gear when Saxon meets his neighbors out front; it’s at this same time the ghost-witch decides to strike, causing George to stab herself, leaving an occultism mark that looks like the one the witch had. While I found the scene a tad disturbing (remember I was a sixth grader at the time), most of the crowd laughed at George’s facial expressions as she jabbed away. I bet I would have, too, had I been a bit older and more experienced with bad acting…
My favorite scene features Saxon kicking ass at the hospital when an orderly or nurse admits to losing his wife’s test results. I was hoping bigfoot would make an appearance at this point, but no such luck. Saxon’s doctor/neighbor soon advises them to leave the house (DUH!) but, of course, they don’t, and more terribly choreographed attacks go down and the FX get worse. One ridiculous scene has George’s ring finger all puffed up. Saxon’s neighbor claims this is a sign she is becoming possessed so he attempts to heal her. Of course he takes her to the hospital to do this and when he removes her wedding ring, things get chaotic, although not in an exciting way.
For some reason that’s never explained, those possessed by the ghost-witch gain the ability to shoot green laser beams from their eyes in embarrassingly bad FX. Each time this happened people screamed X-MEN! or some other dumb comment that really didn’t enhance the viewing experience. Not all grindhouse commentary is witty!
Saxon and George eventually blow up the crypt that holds the ghost-witch’s body, but it only causes her spirit to become more powerful (WHY? YOU tell me!). Realizing they can’t fight her anymore, Saxon shoves his wife’s ring back on her inflamed finger, which somehow slows the witch down, then they jump in their car and floor it, leaving the mansion and the witch to wait for the next couple of suckers.
My biggest problem with BEYOND EVIL isn’t the shady script, the constant haunted house clichés, the bad FX or the lame acting. It’s the fact it received an R-rating. There’s almost no blood, no sex or nudity, and nothing really scary about it. Thinking back, perhaps my moustache had less to do with me getting in than I like to believe. This is EASILY a PG-13 film, although at the time a simple PG would’ve sufficed. It’s a real turkey, but one I at least had fun getting into without adult supervision.
For John Saxon and Lynda Day George completists only. (Also of note here is director Herb Freed, who went on to make the vastly superior slasher film, GRADUATION DAY, just a year later).
© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato