Friday, October 27, 2017

#2,448. The Evil Within (2017)

Directed By: Andrew Getty

Starring: Frederick Koehler, Sean Patrick Flanery, Brianna Brown

Tag line: "You Can't Run From a Nightmare"

Trivia: Writer / director Andrew Getty funded the majority of this film on his own

I was about 3/4’s of the way through 2017’s The Evil Within when I received one hell of a surprise.

It happened as two of the film’s characters, John (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Lydia (Dina Meyer), were having lunch in a neighborhood restaurant. For most of the morning, the couple couldn’t shake the feeling that something strange was going on, mostly because they didn’t recognize anyone in town… a town they’d both lived in for years.

Suddenly, John lets out a sigh of relief; he thinks he spots his psychiatrist, Dr. Preston (Francis Guinan), at a nearby table. John walks over, says hello, and pats the doctor on the back. Only it isn’t Dr. Preston; it’s a large man, well over 7 feet tall, who is none too happy that his meal has been interrupted. The moment this man stood up and turned around, I recognized the actor playing him: it was Matthew McGrory, who had portrayed Tiny in Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects

Wait a minute… Matthew McGrory?!? 

It couldn’t be. McGrory died in 2005, shortly after shooting his scenes for The Devil’s Rejects (they even had a tribute to him on that film’s DVD, and I remember Shari Moon Zombie tearing up when she recalled how kind and gentle he was). 

But it was McGrory, no doubt about it. So, what was an actor who died in 2005 doing in a film released in 2017? 

As it turns out, The Evil Within has a production history that would make for an amazing movie in its own right! 

Financed by its writer / director, Andrew Getty (the grandson of billionaire industrialist J. Paul Getty), The Evil Within was shot sporadically between 2002 and 2008, starting and stopping several times due to funding issues, lawsuits, and problems with the cast and crew. Inspired by a series of disturbing dreams he had as a child, Getty - whose mansion served as the film’s main set piece - finally finished principle photography in 2008, then spent the next seven years meticulously editing the movie and creating his own special effects. 

Then, on March 31, 2015, at the age of 47, Andrew Getty died of an intestinal rupture, caused in part (according to the coroner) by his addiction to methamphetamines. The film’s producer, Michael Luceri, who had assisted with some of the editing, then stepped in and finished the movie. 

The Evil Within premiered in Portugal at the 2017 Fantasporto Film Festival, a whopping fifteen years after its very first scene was shot! 

Dennis Peterson (Frederick Koehler), a mentally challenged 30-year-old, lives in a spacious house with his older brother John (Flanery), who has been his caretaker for years. John’s tireless dedication to his brother has caused some friction in his own life. For one, John’s girlfriend Lydia (Meyer) is anxious to get married, but doesn’t want to live in the same house as Dennis. In addition, a nosy social worker (Kim Darby) has been poking around, trying to prove that John isn’t fit to care for a mentally disabled person. Still, John loves his brother, and will do everything in his power to give Dennis as good a life as he possibly can. 

One day, John finds a full-length mirror in the basement, and decides to store it in Dennis’s bedroom. Dennis is none too happy at first (the mirror frightens him), but reluctantly agrees to keep it for a few days. The moment he stares into this mirror, however, Dennis’s reflection begins to talk back to him, and over time it convinces the impressionable Dennis to do some very, very bad things. 

But is it really his reflection that's guiding him, or is it the demon that Dennis believes lives inside the mirror (portrayed by horror legend Michael Berryman)? 

So, the question I’m sure you’re asking is: what effect did the behind-the-scenes troubles that plagued The Evil Within have on the finished film? 

Well, for the first hour or so, The Evil Within is an incredibly tense horror film, a dark, brooding motion picture about a mentally disabled man who transforms into a serial killer before our very eyes (in an on-set interview featured on the DVD, director Getty summed his movie up with the following question: What if it really was a dog that told David Berkowitz, aka The Son of Sam, to go on a killing spree?). These early scenes feature wildly imaginative dream sequences (the one that opens the movie is truly extraordinary); superb performances by its main cast (especially Koehler as the central character); and moments that are guaranteed to shock and disturb you (Dennis’s reflection talks him into killing several neighborhood pets, then tries to coerce Dennis into “upping the ante” by murdering children). 

Alas, the promise displayed in the film’s first hour eventually fades away, resulting in a final 20 minutes or so that are a jumbled mess, with scenes that don’t make a lick of sense (the sequence I mentioned above, in which a confused John and Lydia travel around town, came out of left field) and characters that suddenly drop out of sight. As for the grand finale, it’s visually intriguing but felt rushed and incomplete, leaving the audience in the frustrating position of wanting more. 

How much of this disappointing ending can be attributed to the movie’s production woes is anybody’s guess, but I’m betting that, had Getty survived, we might have gotten a final cut that was damn near a masterpiece. At the pace he was going, it might have taken him until 2025 to finish the damn thing, but if Getty had stayed the course, matching the tone he set early on, The Evil Within could have been something quite special. 

Of course, we’ll never know for sure, and that’s a damn shame.

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