Stories about houses with evil spirits waiting to possess the innocent is nothing new and in January of 1972 CBS premiered two such movies just a week apart from each other. Something Evil premiered on January 21st and She Waits on January 28th. Although the films do have the common thread of a property with restless entities awaiting the right time to possess a vessel to carry out their nefarious deeds, the two movies have very different locales and stories and both films were directed by Academy Award winners.
Something Evil: A married couple with two young kids, move into an old farmhouse in the Pennsylvania countryside. Paul Worden (Darren McGavin) is an ad agency executive specializing in television commercials, and his wife, Marjorie (Sandy Dennis) is an artist. At first the pair are happy with their new abode, but soon, Marjorie begins to experience some strange occurrences, like hearing a baby crying in the old barn in the middle of the night. After a couple of Paul’s co-workers die in a mysterious car crash while on their way home from the couple’s farm, a neighbor, Harry (Ralph Bellamy) gives Marjorie books on the occult. She then begins to believe that on their property is an evil spirit that is trying to possess her. Paul is unconvinced, as he doesn’t believe in evil spirits. In the end, Marjorie discovers what the Evil’s true plan was and Paul finally witnesses a paranormal occurrence, and the family flees their beloved home.
This film was directed by Steven Spielberg directly after his 1971 television movie Duel. The movie also sports an accomplished cast, with Sandy Dennis also being an Academy Award winner and Darren McGavin being a successful Broadway and Movie actor, and Ralph Bellamy was a Tony Award winner and Academy Award nominee. But even with a splendid cast and a future A-list director, they could not save this movie from its script. The movie itself is appropriately creepy with eerie sounds and disturbing camera angles which add the only real tension within the film. So little really happens before Marjorie begins to unravel that her descent into madness doesn’t feel justified. There are plot points, like the baby crying and the mysterious jars of goo, that are never explored or explained. And the supporting cast, which has some interesting characters, are never fully developed or utilized to their full potential. Spielberg did the best he could with what he had, providing appropriate atmosphere, but the incoherent and sloppy script made this movie feel incomplete and dull, which makes me think if the important bits are on some cutting room floor sacrificed for running time.
She Waits: Newlyweds Mark (David McCallum) and Laura (Patty Duke) arrive at Mark’s childhood home in Los Angeles for Laura to meet his mother. Two years before, Mark’s first wife, Elaine died under mysterious circumstances, but believed to have been suicide. Mark’s mother, Sarah (Dorothy McGuire) has been hearing Elaine and believes that her ghost is waiting for Mark to return to take her revenge. And as the story progresses, it is Laura who eventually becomes the target of Elaine’s angry spirit. What really happened the night Elaine died is at the heart of this haunting. Mark must confront Elaine and expose the truth to save Laura.
Directed by Delbert Mann who won the Academy Award for the 1955 film, Marty. Like Something Evil, this film also has a splendid cast, with multiple award winner Patty Duke in the starring role with David McCallum opposite. Also like the above film, Delbert Mann creates a wonderful creepy atmosphere, using subtle movements of curtains, whispered voices and a haunting melody which reoccurs throughout the film and plays a vital part in the plot. The big difference between the two films is the script. She Waits isn’t the most action-packed haunted house movie, but its story is complete with twists and turns and coherent reasoning behind the possession. The story unfolds slowly, but at least there is a story to unfold. There is a clear reason that Elaine has not moved on and clues are given along the way that foreshadow what is yet to come. In the end, she gets her revenge in a unique but interesting way. Overall, this was a much more enjoyable experience for the audience with a more developed storyline that pays off in the end.
It is interesting that both these films came out on the same network just a week apart from each other and both had Academy Award winning casts and directors, and yet the two films couldn’t be more different in their delivery. Neither film is overly scary or full of action and to today’s standards would probably be thought of as dull. But both these films are a testament to the importance of a good storyline and a well-thought-out script.
Movie of the Week: Something Evil and She Waits
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