The October Diaries: Something Evil

Illustration by Max Brown
Blurbs by Jesse, Sean & Christof

October 22nd, 2014:
Something Evil

Year: 1972
Director: Steven Spielberg
Format: 16mm
From IMDB: A young couple moves into a farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania. What they don’t know is that there is an unseen presence in the house, and that it wants to take possession of the wife..

Jesse’s Take:

I tagged along for this one because from a filmgoer’s standpoint this was not an opportunity that comes along very often. The chance to see a very early Steven Spielberg made for TV movie on 16mm film was too good to pass up. Somewhere in a deep dark corner of my vast and incomparable cinematic knowledge I knew about the existence of this movie, but I will readily admit that I had forgotten completely about it.

Ultimately my thoughts on the film are going to be very limited due to the fact that I had  travelled up to Washington and while in Washington I had legally consumed some form of candy containing LEGAL marijuana, I had also consumed too much of said candy, so for the duration of the film I was time tripping pretty drastically and at times lost with in my thoughts. I had hoped that being in such a mental state would allow me to be spooked a little bit, because that’s the juice that gets most horror fans going. Right? The fright, the spook, the fear, you know….the good shit, but (and I do not mean this in a braggy or faux manly way) I seem to have a mental block on getting that from these types of films. Case in point, I felt more fear and terror during films like 127 Hours or Gravity than any horror movie I’ve seen in my entire life.

While I have zero thoughts on what actually happened because I was lost in my own mental mire, I can tell you this: I am very glad to had a chance to see this film. It was both a treat and a delight to see a master filmmaker like Spielberg essentially playing in a sandbox. I saw elements of so many films to come from both him and other greats, not necessarily that this little picture was a direct influence on others, but that his ideas and visuals were so clearly speaking in a such a valid cinematic language that people with that level of talent eventually find themselves in similar places or making similar choices.

Even if this rarely seen film were a direct influence to those who followed him, well I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, not even in the slightest. That’s just Hollywood, an industry perpetually inspired, for good or for bad, by the influences of others. Filmmaking is a very special kind of art form with a rich and amazing history, filmmakers have always been influenced by those who came before them, and those working today will continue to influence and shape the future of cinema long after they are gone.

Steven Spielberg Something Evil 1972

Christof’s Take:

Another made-for-TV horror-movie, this time from Stevie Spielberg. This was a special 16mm screening at The Hollywood Theatre. The movie itself was fairly forgettable – mild scares, thin plot, arbitrary climax – but it was good to see an early example of a haunted house/haunted family film, since we’ve seen so many this month. And it’s always nice to see light shone through film, even if the print suffered from “Salmon-vision”, as the presenter warned about the way the color had aged into pinkness.

As is the case with almost all other Spielberg films that don’t quite hit home (and many of the ones that do), what really worked for me were the scenes depicting a family simply being a family. He has a great eye and ear for the ways a family interacts with itself. It may not be your experience of talking to your family, but it’s usually real or true enough to believe. And when it comes to anything supernatural, it comes in handy to have an audience believing in the “real world” aspects of the narrative.

That said, I would love to see Spielberg do a low-ish budget family drama that’s free of war or science-fiction or fantasy or anything biographical. I think portraying families is what he does best.

I’m lukewarm enough on this one that I wouldn’t know if I’d recommend it, which doesn’t really matter, because good luck finding it.

Something Evil Steven Spielberg 1972


Sean’s Take:

This early televised feature from Steven Spielberg came, on our viewing schedule, the day after we watched as John Carpenter took on the the boob tube. We had learned that the the Hollywood Theatre, here in Portland, would be playing Something Evil on 16mm and so we decided to venture out from the living room to see it. We’d couple it with Someone’s Watching Me! from the day before. We thought it might be fun to explore what future filmic titans like Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter were capable of on the small screen before they got the right kind of attention and took their shit to the next level.

I imagine it was pretty evident as soon as it premiered in living rooms across America, even from this early in Spielberg’s career, that he wasn’t going to be just any old tripod director. Meaning, he wasn’t going to just stick the camera on a tripod and hit record. There’s nothing wrong with that approach if done appropriately, but Spielberg was obviously much more interested in picking up the camera and spinning it around and around. He managed to let the few creepy moments the film had to offer stand out — at least on the visual end.  He wasn’t getting a lot of support from a somewhat threadbare script.

When I heard Darren McGavin’s voice, I knew I’d at least have a one dependable presence in the movie. With what he was given, he made the most of it by making me believe in the dynamics of the family. The warmth of later Spielberg movies was already on display too. He instilled a lively, lived-in, energy to a few party scenes. His ability to isolate moments of genuine human behavior in the even the most outrageous of scenarios, a hallmark of his career, helps Something Evil become only slightly boring and not full-on tedious. It was fascinating at times to see hints of what would come later in his career.

In the end, I prefered Carpenter’s abilty to create moments of sustained tension to Spielberg’s flashes of humanity and visual flair. So Carpenter wins this round of the televised-horror war. But I prefer Dark Star to Schindler’s List so, ya know, grain of salt and all that.



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