Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? Remember sitting around a campfire or being huddled under blankets at a sleepover listening to spooky stories of visitors from beyond the grave? It’s a rite of passage, and so are horror flicks. I recall my thirteenth birthday and my choice to rent Friday the 13th (1980), Halloween (1978), and Poltergeist (1982) to indoctrinate myself and the few friends I had invited for a sleepover into the world of horror. We made it through the two slashers a little worse for the wear, but relatively unscathed. But when the ghosts of the late Tobe Hooper classic started to haunt my TV screen, it was game over, for all of us.
You see, some horror movies are great, some other horror movies, not so much. Then there are those that fall somewhere in between, lost in horror purgatory. Those purgatory movies are often forgotten because of their mediocrity and that’s what happened to ordained rabbi-turned film director, Herb Freed’s supernatural spooktacular Beyond Evil (1980).
Despite warnings of a ghostly inhabitant, architect Larry Andrews, played by the late John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984), and his new wife Barbara, played by Lynda Day George (Mortuary, 1983), move to an island house in the Philippines where they soon find that the original owners, Estaban Martin, played by Zitto Kazann (Ghost Town, 1988) and his wife Alma Martin, played by Janice Lynde (Missing Pieces, 1991) both died in the building in a tragic murder-suicide. It seemed Alma was a scorned woman who just so happened to have sold her soul to the devil, dedicating her life to the evil one. Now, one hundred years after her death, she may still inhabit the home.
The bones of this film are solid haunted house fare, telling a truly scary story of the consequences of dedicating one’s self to evil, but its dated ideals and low budget aesthetics don’t hold up as well today. Don’t get me wrong, there is a certain campy charm to the look of this film. There’s a dreamy vibe of nostalgia, that most of these early 80s horror pictures possess hangs in the film’s execution, but the overall look of the film feels like a compilation of b-roll footage held together by a sexist screenplay that treats its most important character like a brainless bimbo. Should this film ever be considered for an updated treatment, however, I’m sure it would fair quite well. The story elements are great ghost story material and very much on-trend with today’s supernatural period tales such as The Curse of La Llorona (2019), The Others (2001), and The Woman in Black (2012).
“The bones of this film are solid haunted house fare, […] but its dated ideals and low budget aesthetics don’t hold up as well today.”
It’s not all doom and gloom, mind you. Saxon and Day George are the standouts in the performance department given what they had to work with. Their chemistry is terrifically tangible with an intimacy that draws the viewer in, allowing them to experience everything that the couple going through. Their talents easily shine above and beyond anyone else in the cast and it’s no surprise that both actors went on to have substantial careers following this movie. In fact, with George Day specifically, the actress got along with director Freed so well, he cast her husband, the late Christopher George (Day of the Animals, 1977) in his next film, Graduation Day.
Lackluster performances and janky camera work aside, the real gift this film delivers is in the writing. There are some nice little intricacies here that most horror films of the time usually gloss over. For instance, Larry’s business associate, Del Giorgio, played by Michael Dante (Willard, 1971) has a strained relationship with his buddy’s new wife that at first seems like a playful butting of heads between the two characters but quickly escalates to a true dislike for one another. And from nothing too on-the-nose either. There is a subtlety to Del’s behavior towards Barbara. He is written in a more obtuse, back-handed way. With small, off-the-cuff comments, he takes small jabs at Barbara, subconsciously chipping away at her new marriage and her self esteem. While Dante’s performance of the character is suspect at best, the writing for Del the sleazy developer is surprisingly rich for a low budget horror movie.
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There is even a whole sub-plot where Del sneaks around pulling a nefarious land development deals to fill a friend’s pockets and even goes as far as to swindle the Andrews, his own business partner. There is no condo that they moved halfway around the world to live in. However, Del manages to smooth things over by setting the couple up in a beautiful century-old mansion on a hill overlooking the ocean. The only catch is, its haunted, but Del, being the sleaze-ball creep he is, plays that problem down as just silly stories to manipulate the couple further ultimately resulting in horrific consequences with an aftermath that changes everyone involved forever. Thanks a lot, Del you dink!
To further the rich character tapestry the writers have woven, the character of Barbara fights throughout this whole movie, showing us just how much of a survivor she is. She doesn’t stop fighting for the whole ninety-five-minute runtime of the movie. Her fight begins against sexism. She is confronted with super slimy Del, who seems more interested in putting her down than anything else and then mere moments later, she is confronted with super pervy Dr. Albanos, played by Mario Milano (The Spectre of Edgar Allan Poe, 1974), who is more interested in getting in her pants than the fact that she is happily married, not even remotely interested and doesn’t even know this guy from Adam. She is even confronted with her super loving, but still sexist, husband as Larry treats her like a china doll who can barely look after herself. In fact, while Larry is clearly concerned about his wife’s well-being, he never once actually tries to help her. He just keeps dumping her in doctor’s laps for them to deal with. This leaves Barbara with no choice but to fight on her own. From there, her fight continues as she begins encountering the spirit of Alma and in the process of fighting a dangerous, vengeful spirit, she fights with her own psyche, battling the feeling that she may be losing her mind in midst of all of this turmoil.
“[Saxon & Day George’s] chemistry is terrifically tangible with an intimacy that draws the viewer in, allowing them to experience everything that the couple going through.”
Freed, with fellow writers David Baughn (Microwave Massacre 2, 2020) and Paul Ross (Kitty Can’t Help It, 1975) also draw on the isolation theme in their narrative. From the beginning, Larry and Barbara are in the throes of isolation. The isolation of being cut off from the mainland and adjusting to island life, the isolation of living in a foreign country where everything including the language is different, the isolation from their friends and families back in the United States, and the isolation of moving into a large empty house located several miles from civilization is all enough to make even a gypsy want to go home.
In a step further, the isolation theme is zeroed in on Barbara and her lonely plight in the face of pure evil. As strange things begin to happen in the house, it’s mostly Barbara whom the entity focuses on. Larry is either at work or can rationalize any extraordinary occurrences to something explainable, but poor Barbara is there at the house all the time. She has no escape like Larry does. She essentially has to face this evil on her own and in the process, she withdraws into her sanity, questioning her every thought.
Even the house’s backstory is flavored with delicious bits of nuance. The tragic story of the house’s original owners and their failed marriage, Alma’s romance with the occult and her allegiance to the Dark Lord, the sharpened stake of that allegiance that is driven into the heart of her relationship with Estaban, and ultimately the murder-suicide plot a desperate man sought out to save both himself and his beloved. This rich tapestry of folklore is a wonderful prologue to this haunting tale with beautiful detail.
The house itself is also one of the best characters in the film. Named Casa Fortuna, this house has all of the classic gothic features needed for a good old fashioned ghost story. Despite its Pacific Rim location, the house and property of Casa Fortuna are right out of any gothic textbook and could be just as easily at home in dreary old England or even drearier old Transylvania. A grand entryway that leads to a twisting spiral staircase, floor to ceiling windows dressed in heavy velvet curtains, vaulted cathedral ceilings, grand fireplaces, and even a crypt on the property give this house an old school Hammer-esque quality. The accompanying power outages, thunderstorms, and things that go bump in the night act as the home’s central nervous system while the ghost of the witch Alma Martin plays perfectly as its soul. If these walls could talk, and in a sense, they can, they would also shoot green lasers from their eyes, which, in a sense, they do.
Speaking of green lasers, the effects in this film are extremely low budget and do not hold up in the slightest. The witch Alma is simply shot with moody lighting and a fog machine while the green glow and laser eyes that come into play later in the film are poorly superimposed over top. At times the technique is so laughable that it takes the audience out of the moment. But if you go into the film knowing when it was filmed and the very limited budget the filmmakers had, it can be overlooked.
“Beyond Evil is […] duped by its very own special effects, but if you can look past that you’ll find a well written gothic ghost story […]”
The elements are there for the scares, no doubt. Between the ghost, Barbara’s slipping sanity, Alma’s penchant for Satanism and witchcraft, a creepy mist that tends to overtake the house, disembodied chanting, and a strange scar on Barbara’s hand that resemble Alma’s initial, the stage should be set for a scare-a-minute ride that audiences won’t soon forget. Unfortunately, they did and the green glow effect is to blame as it accompanies most of the creepy content.
That being said, not all of the creepy stuff is bad. The ghost of Alma is a vengeful one and she has it out for anyone who might get between her and Barbara and she uses her powers from beyond the grave to rack up quite the body count. The fiery demise of Dr. Albanos is the first and perhaps the most poignant. This is where the full destructive potential of Alma’s power is finally realized and from here on in its open game on anyone who gets in the way of Alma’s goal and the bodies quickly pile up.
Beyond Evil is a solid horror film duped by its very own special effects, but if you can look past that you’ll find a well written gothic ghost story with some truly haunting qualities. Have you seen Beyond Evil? Would you place it among the horror greats or the horror not-so-greats? Let us know at our Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook! Until next time fellow fiends, stay creepy!