Something Evil

Year: 1972
Production Co: Bedford Productions
Studio: CBS
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Robert Clouse
Cast: Sandy Dennis, Darren McGavin, Ralph Bellamy, Johnny Whitaker

Ordinarily this movie would have nothing at all to recommend it – it's just another only-slighty-scary haunted house TV movie from the early seventies.

But it's essential viewing if you grew up in the era because it was directed by a young TV director named Steven Spielberg, and it's also interesting because to this day it's the only outright horror movie he's ever directed (unless you want to stretch the definition of the genre and include Jaws).

At the time you're watching for any signal that it was made by a man who'd become the most successful commercial filmmaker of the 20th century, but after it's all over you'll have trouble distinguishing it from any other slightly shlocky haunted house romp or even remembering much about it.

Marjorie (Sandy Dennis) falls in love with a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse and convinces her advertising man husband Paul (Darren McGavin) to buy it and get away from the New York rat race.

Marjorie wants somewhere she can express herself through her arts of painting landscapes and making the distinctive plaques she hangs around the house, talismans that will become more important than she can imagine.

Because as we've seen in the introductory coda, there's something evil in the house, driving the previous occupant to run from the house to the attic of the barn and throw himself off the ledge to his death.

When the pair's young son Stevie is possessed by the evil spirit that lives in the house, Marjorie seeks the help of a local man, Harry (Ralph Bellamy), who has an interest in the occult and thinks he can help her and her vulnerable children, all while Paul just wonders if she's losing her mind from the isolation.

There's nothing innovative or outstanding in Spielberg's last TV director-for-hire gig. After this he made The Sugarland Express for Universal, and following a good box office return Richard D Zanuck gave him a small wad of money and told him to go and make his stupid shark movie out of sight until it was ready to release.

What you might spot however is a recurring theme he later revisited everywhere from Poltergeist (a Spielberg film in all but name) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Schindler's List in its own way – the extraordinary and the ordinary, side by side.

In the case of Poltergeist and Close Encounters it was the humdrum of suburban life and the middle class schmoes who inhabit it interrupted by spirits from beyond the grave and aliens from space respectively, and in Schindler's List is was the banality of evil, showing the mass murder of a race undertaken as dispassionately as a corporate human resources project.

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