Sunday, December 26, 2004

Beyond Evil (1980)

What to do when your asshole best friend involves you in a shady business deal abroad and puts you and your wife up in a haunted mansion stalked by the ghost of a Satan-worshipping Portuguese virago? According to the promo text, all you can do is try to STAY ALIVE!

Beyond Evil is your typical overwrought ghost story with its dramatic tension built off of the musical accompaniment of creepy strings, crashing kettle drums, and the throaty off-camera whisperings of 'demon' voices. Throw in some early visual effects and green rays blazing forth from characters' eyeballs and you've pretty much got the general idea.

The premise seems harmless enough: Sleazeball property developer Del Giorgio (Michael Dante) is building a hospital in an unnamed South Pacific island and invites his doormat best friend and structural engineer Larry Andrews (John Saxon) to join the project. Of course Larry brings his new wife Barbara (Lynda Day George) with him. Did we mention that the greasy Del and kind-hearted Barbara used to be an item? The stage is set for an awkward sexual triangle, but there is worse mojo waiting around the corner.

In an effort to impress his ex-girlfriend/best friend's new wife, Del arranges for the purchase of a giant colonial mansion outisde of town for the new couple, all for no money down and with rock bottom monthly payments. The only catch know.

It seems this particular haunting is courtesy of Alma Martin (Janice Lynde), a beautiful woman bethrothed sight-unseen to a wealthy island merchant a hundred years ago. His philandering ways and contempt for their marraige drive her (naturally) to the practice of black magic and a pact with Satan. When her disgusting husband decides to murder her before her powers become too great, he employs some I'm-sorry-it'll-never-happen-again sweet talk to lower her defenses and a carafe of poisoned wine to get the actual job done. Unfortunately, he was unaware of the depth of her alliance with the devil, who fulfills his part of the bargain by resurrecting Alma just as her husband is about to inter her body in the estate's crypt. She throttles him, them disappears permanently into the spirit world.

Well, it doesn't take a Gothic novelist to see what's going to happen to a woman forced to spend all day in a huge isolated house with an unsavory past. Alma Martin's spirit begins possessing Barbara's mind and body, acting through her to kill off the other main characters. It starts small, with the spirit forcing Barbara to stab her own hand with a knife (something Alma used to do for fun, since her psychic powers allowed her to heal herself instantly). Then inexplicable car crashes and industrial accidents down at the construction site - in addition to Barbara's bizarre moody behavior - begin to make her husband Larry suspect something not of this world may be to blame after all.

Just as Larry discovers best friend Del's dead body in a ravine not far from his own house and things seem to be spinnging out of control, he turns in desperation to local 'healer,' spirit guide and psychic surgeon Doctor Solomen (David Opatoshu). Having shunned the assistance of Solomen and his daughter Lea (Anne Marisse) previously as 'hocus-pocus' and 'mumbo-jumbo,' he finally asks for their help is exorcizing Alma Martin's spirit from his wife's body. In a climactic scene full of chaotic camera work, inhuman moaning and screaming, and rapid makeup changes, the spirit is finally cast out.

Interesting note about the lead John Saxon - he's been in more crappy movies than most people have even seen (over 120) and in true Hollywood fashion, changed his name to his extremely non-ethnic performing name from the decidedly swarthy-sounding Carmine Orrico.


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