And I’m not talking Linda Blair. I look at an early Steven Spielberg made-for-TV film and an adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier story.
SOMETHING EVIL (1972)
Although I wasn’t even 3 yet when this made-for-TV film first aired, it brings back major 1970s memories because my mom was pretty much obsessed with it, so I saw it with her at some point before the decade was through.
One of Steven Spielberg’s first full-length films, it stars beloved A Christmas Story dad Darren McGavin (same month he premiered as Kolchak in the first The Night Stalker movie) and Sandy Dennis (Parents, 976-Evil, Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) as a couple that moves into an old country farmhouse with their children. If you’re old enough, you’ll recognize the red-headed boy as the kid from the TV show Family Affair.
When the wife notices a symbol etched into the side of the barn, the farmhand that’s included with the house (?) warns her it’s a pentacle used to ward off evil and that she shouldn’t put any stock in it. What the fuck kind of advice is that? Instead, she crafts loads of necklaces featuring the symbol. Soon after, she starts to hear what sounds like a child crying in the barn at night, sees the farmhand beheading chickens in the field out back, and gets attacked by breezes whenever she leaves the house (scary).
Things finally escalate when guests drive away from the house after a gathering and their windshield is attacked by…evil mosquitoes?
That’s what it seems. Anyway, the car goes off a cliff, so when Darren and Sandy attend a neighbor’s party a few days later, everyone is all excited to talk about their dead friends (WTF?). The host pulls them into a private room and gives the wife a lesson on drawing pentagrams on the floor to create a protection circle (appears to be made in America, at least).
The wife starts practicing magic with her kids when her husband is not home, sees a crying jar of pulsing red stuff in the barn, and gets attacked by another breeze while looking for her missing son in the yard.
This leads to some very brief levitation and demon speak and just the simple words “I love you” to make everything right with the world. Ah, 1970s made-for-TV possession films. To think the director of this film would unleash Jaws on us three years later.
DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)
Author Daphne du Maurier’s writing has made its mark on horror film history, mostly through Hitchcock’s adaptations of novels Jamaica Inn and Rebecca and her short story The Birds.
In 1973, another du Maurier short story was turned into a film shocker at the hands of Nicolas Roeg, who would go on to make the stuff of childhood nightmares in 1990 with The Witches.
As a full-length film, Don’t Look Now comes across as a story that was a short story elongated into a nearly 2-hour movie. It’s loaded with the kind of visual imagery modern cinema just doesn’t deliver as it explores the grief experienced by a couple after the loss of their daughter.
An hour and forty minutes of this to get to the big scary twist ending. In other words, from a horror perspective, it’s a great story that would pack an even more powerful punch as an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie (whose most recent horror appearance was as Grandmother in Red Riding Hood) lose their young daughter in a drowning accident. So expect loads of water imagery. She was wearing a red raincoat, so expect a lot of red imagery. She fell into the water, so expect a lot of falling imagery. Just before she drowned, their son stepped on a piece of glass, so expect a lot of broken glass imagery. After her death, the couple travels to Venice so the husband can help with restoration of a church, so expect a lot of religious imagery.
And expect major sex just because it was the height of the sexual revolution. The couple has a sex scene that goes on forever. It felt even longer to me not only because it’s a heterosexual scene and because Donald Sutherland gets naked, but because it’s set to some of the worst early 1970s European mellow love-making movie music you could imagine.
But let’s get to the important part – the creep factor. The wife encounters two sisters, one of which is blind but clairvoyant. She tells the wife her deceased daughter is happy and safe but has a warning for the husband. When the wife relays the message to her husband and suggests they go see the sisters together, he scoffs at the idea. And yet…he keeps catching fleeting glimpses of a little girl in a red raincoat running around the dark alleys of Venice. Eek!
It truly is a great and unsettling tale, and the focus becomes solely on Sutherland’s character as he has more and more disturbing visions. But the movie begins to drag and get painfully repetitive…until he at last chases down and corners the little girl.
“JUST WALK AWAY, DONALD! YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW!”
It is a zinger ending made for an episode of Tales from the Crypt. Which is why it shouldn’t have taken an hour and forty minutes to get to it. Also, for anyone watching the film for the first time, the plot twist will seem quite cliché, because it has been replicated in numerous horror anthology TV shows and movies in the forty plus years since this film was made.