The opening film of the 2017 Dead by Dawn festival,The Evil Within is a work whose offscreen story is as interesting as the finished film, with principal photography taking place intermittently over a period of ten years and the entire project taking fifteen years to complete, writer and director Andrew Getty having died suddenly two years before release with producer Michael Luceri stepping in to take over all aspects of post-production in accordance with his friend Getty’s vision.
With images merging and blending, it opens with Dennis dreaming of a carnival in the desert, sinister barkers “with the joie de vivre of cancer patients” inviting him on rides, his mother by his side as they board the haunted house ride, the darkened tunnel for a moment the only thing which makes sense in a procession of disjointed faces, askew objects and incongruous landscapes.
The ride short and disappointing, Dennis says to his mother that they should get their money back, repeating his demand until she responds – “What makes you think the ride is over? What makes you think it’s ever going to end?” And for Dennis, stumbling through layers of fractured imagining, he is never sure if it does.
In his head and in his dreams, Dennis Peterson moves with agility and speaks articulately; in the real world, he is disabled, cared for to the best of his abilities by his brother John (former young Indiana Jones Sean Patrick Flanery), but Dennis is a challenging and demanding man, headstrong and frustrated at his inability to express himself or escape the nightmares.
Caught up in this is John’s long term girlfriend Lydia (Starship Troopers‘ Dina Meyer), as patient as she can reasonably be with the constant interruptions to any time she might try to spend with the man she has almost given up hoping will one day ask her to be his wife. With manipulative social worker Mildy Torres (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark‘s Kim Darby) telling John that one anonymous tip-off of ill treatment would be enough to have Dennis removed, it might actually be for the best should that happen – for everyone but Dennis.
A film of pain and anger with dreams, nightmares and reality folding over one another and segueing back and forth without any indication to the audience, that is the world in which Dennis is trapped, the audience led astray with false cues and trapdoors just as surely. Bizarre and unconventional in one moment, the scenes of John and Lydia together border on soap opera in their content and presentation, contrasting the unchallenged stream-of-consciousness descent into madness of Dennis’ troubled nocturnal world, though there are other brief moments of clumsiness, perhaps inevitable with the extended schedule.
In the dual role of Dennis and his reflection in the antique mirror which John has installed in his room, wearing the same face but crueller and smarter, Death Race‘s Frederick Koehler is mesmerising as a disabled character for whom the film expects no sympathy, showing him to be damaged and antisocial, but is he driven by his own inner demons or something more literal, the shadow man of his nightmares played by horror icon Michael Berryman of The Hills Have Eyes?
As much a star of the film as any of the performers is Getty’s own historic mansion in the Hollywood Hills which serves as the principal location for The Evil Within, spiralling, labyrinthine and with secrets as old as the walls; an insight into the mind of the man whose own nightmares informed it, while he did not live to see the film reach an audience it certainly deserves one and it should not be dismissed as a curio simply because of the circumstances of its creation.
The Evil Within is scheduled for release on DVD and Blu-ray on 4th September