HALLOWEEN BLITZ 2021
Back in 1969, I anxiously (but dubiously) awaited the broadcast of FEAR NO EVIL, a made-for-TV horror pic, filmed by Universal for their NBC prime time At the Movies slot. While the ABC TV movies occasionally dealt with the supernatural, NBC/Universal rarely did (ironic, since Universal is the studio most synonymous with the genre).
Imagine my delight when FEAR NO EVIL turned out to be a sophisticated, libidinous look at demon worship among the Jet Set. The lead was the (in my opinion) underrated Louis Jourdan, a very personable (and quite good) actor. He had a command of the screen, big and small, aided and abetted by a plethora of seductive charm. He starred as Dr. David Sorell, a famed psychologist enamored of/with the occult – its mysticism, power, and, as the title indicates, evil. No, he wasn’t a bad guy; he was the hero – a role he’d have to prove to save his friends and colleagues, who seemed to have fallen under a strange and deadly spell.
Of course, the addictive demon worship “drug” is one or all of three things: power, money, sex. So the question remains, why did it take so long to bring this tale to fruition?
The movie was quite a ratings grabber, and, it was, thus, with impatient fervor that I awaited the announced sequel, RITUAL OF EVIL, which would be broadcast the following year. The EVIL pics were so popular (always a major discussion the following school day) that, at one point, rumors abounded that Jourdan and the concept would become an NBC series; therefore, I practically freaked out when (between the two Jourdan telepics’s broadcast) EVIL was tossed aside for Night Gallery. The major hook for Universal choosing Gallery over EVIL (they couldn’t do TWO horror series, although I didn’t know why not!) was the additional carrot of the former bringing host Rod Serling back to TV. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I always thought Gallery was a bit too smug for its own good, and that the later Night Stalker series (also Universal, but for ABC) made better use of the snarkiness via its streetwise protagonist Kolchak (Darren McGavin, who had also appeared in two made-for-TV NS movies). Jourdan was definitely high-brow, which gave the proceedings added class…and genuine believability.
Never mind, they’re all dust now. But the good news is that Kino-Lorber, in a covenant with Universal, has unearthed both EVIL movies, enhanced them with new 1080p High Definition transfers – and unleashed the pair upon the public (housed in a handsome slipcover featuring striking cover art). TV trailers and (for FEAR) an image gallery are included as supplements, along with notable Gary Gerani audio commentary. Suffice to say, my approval from over a half-century ago did not go for naught; they hold up nicely.
FEAR NO EVIL comes from good stock – a story by author Guy Endore (Werewolf of Paris); the chilling script (or teleplay, as they were called), by Richard Alan Simmons, offers us a tantalizing taste of the supernatural in the groovy late Sixties.
Happy, cool couple Peter Varney and Barbara Anholt are having some problems as their wedding looms before them. The usually fun-loving Varney has become prone to violent outbursts, some troubling thoughts and suffers from an increasing (and alarming) number of blackouts. A top computer scientist (then, a novel almost futuristic vocation), the groom-to-be’s close friend and coworker, Myles Donovan, suggests he visit progressive psychologist David Sorell. A gathering at the doctor’s home reveals a number of fascinating guests, including the doc’s close associate Harry Snowden.
Intrigued by Varney’s affliction, Sorell agrees to attempt to help the frightened man – a fear that seems to be connected to the purchase of an antique mirror for the couple’s eclectic digs.
It all goes bust when Varney is killed is a freakish car crash. But the strange trauma experienced by the late patient has apparently attached itself to his stunning would-be bride. Sorell, determined to save the woman from her own destruction…and, possibly, the murderous intent she will inflict upon others, begins the unraveling of a satanic plot, whose leader is a shock to all.
A masterful horror-mystery, FEAR NO EVIL is stylistically handled with panache by the immensely talented director Paul Wendkos (he would explore similar territory on the big screen with the terrific 1971 paranormal thriller The Mephisto Waltz). Excellent color photography (Andrew J. McIntyre) adds to the mood, as does the period score by Billy Goldenberg. The outstanding support Jourdan gets is supplied by an amazing cast, comprising Lynda Day George, Bradford Dillman, Carroll O’Connor, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Marsha Hunt, Katherine Woodville, Ivor Barry, Lyn Peters, and Robert Sampson.
In 1970’s sequel, RITUAL OF EVIL, Dr. Sorell (once again, with Harry Snowden in advisory assist) examines a terrified, young heiress-turned-patient who claims that she has uncovered a cult of Satanists in her upscale neighborhood. Now, for me, pegging the 1% as demon worshipers certainly explains a lot. But Sorell needs more proof – and what he finds is astounding. It seems the affluent, “Beautiful People” are all members of a take-no-prisoners sex cult that consistently lures and/or sacrifices victims to the Devil. The fun begins appropriately on Walpugis Night, but other dates are pegged for their orgiastic shenanigans (“I guess I kinda dig graves,” chides a willing participant).
Led by a self-proclaimed witch (“She turned us all on,” offers a horny specimen, in dialog indicative of the era), the group is flummoxed by the intrusion of Sorell and, more specifically, Loey Wiley (the aforementioned troubled girl), whose up-to-now hidden powers come to light and cause quite a sensation among these lust-craved monsters.
There’s about as much erotic/sacrificial imagery that was permitted for American television in 1970 – some of it still a bit surprising for today. At times, RITUAL appears to have been a slight influence on the far more graphic 1972 Italian giallo/horror All the Colors of the Dark.
Once again, Jourdan (himself, in several scenes, possibly tempted to the dark side by the beauties on view) is excellent, with fine support from Belinda J. Montgomery, John McMartin, Diana Hyland, Carla Borelli, Georg Stanford Brown, Wilfrid Hyde-White (as Snowden), and Anne Baxter.
On this outing, the directorial reins have been handed from Wendkos to Robert Day. While not as adventurous (style-wise), the telemovie, scripted by Robert Presnell, Jr., moves at a brisk pace. Day, no slouch to horror, was the force behind such efforts as The Haunted Strangler and Corridors of Blood.
The camerawork by the great Lionel Lindon is nostalgically reminiscent of the hippie era (rose-colored without being rose-faded), and the pic, once again, contains a score by Goldenberg.
FEAR NO EVIL/RITUAL OF EVIL. Color. Full Frame [1.37:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios. CAT # K25084. SRP: $29.95.