Monday, February 26, 2018

"He's Dynamite in Bed, If That's What You Mean" - Beyond Evil (1980)

Can anything be more exciting to the filmgoer than the opening title "A Herb Freed Film"? Surely not.

Between Haunts (1977) and Graduation Day (1981), Mr. Freed directed Beyond Evil (1980), a supernatural thriller set in the Philippines starring the dynamic duo of John Saxon and Lynda Day George.

Surprisingly, such a pedigree is not enough for some of your universe's respected critics. On IMDB, reviewer coventry writes, "The story isn't exactly original, blending cliché horror premises like haunted houses, soul-possessions, spiritual tribes and witchcraft." Reviewer Whovian says, "This is really quite an awful movie." Reviewer The Bronson Fan writes, "Totally boring movie....Truly bad and stupid with special effects that are poor even for the time."

Needless to say, these reviews are nonsense. Read on for a more balanced portrait of this cinematic gem from the always reliable Herb Freed.

In the opening, a couple in the Philippines gets married on the beach and runs into the forest. Becoming separated, the bride discovers a big white mansion on a hill. She sees a woman’s face in the window. Suddenly, a stone pillar falls on the bride, pinning her to the ground. Fortunately, the townspeople discover her and send for the doctor, who sets her broken arm with tape.

The main body of the film begins at the airport, with newlyweds John Saxon and Lynda Day George arriving on the same Philippine island from Los Angeles. They are met by their friend Del, who has arranged an apartment for them on the island, though they need to spend a few days in a hotel first.

It seems Mr. Saxon has been brought to the island to solve an engineering problem with some condos that are being built. He explains to everyone that certain beams were carrying too much load, and his job is done. Everybody thanks him for his help.

At night, the couple and Del meet some investors at a local club for dinner. Del tells Ms. Day George, “I hope he’s as good with you as he is on the job.”

She replies of Mr. Saxon, “Well, he’s dynamite in bed, if that’s what you mean.”

Not taking the bait, Del informs the couple that there is no apartment for them, but he has arranged for them to buy a house—in face, the sinister house from the opening sequence.

When they tour the house, Del tells them that the place is supposed to be haunted. Sensibly, Ms. Day George says, “If there are ghosts haunting my house, I want to know who they are.” Del launches into a detailed history of the house, which was the property of Alma Martine and her husband through arranged marriage. Hating her husband, Alma learned witchcraft, which of course involves green fog.

Then the two poisoned each other. And the witch snapped her husband’s neck.

That night, in their blue-tinted bedroom, what appears to be the ghost of Alma Martine, her eyes glowing green, stands over the bed...and does nothing.

The next morning, the couple explores their house, only to find a spectacular spiral staircase. (It is not completely clear, but I suspect their new house is equipped with a lighthouse.)

They also find that the villagers delivering their suitcases are so afraid of Alma Martine’s house that they throw the bags in through the front door.

As in all classic haunted house films, strange occurrences soon begin. Mr. Saxon falls over the railing of the staircase and is nearly impaled by a falling Satan figurine. Ms. Day George begins to glow an eerie green color; Mr. Saxon sees the glow bus simply asks if his wife is feeling all right.

Perhaps she is not feeling all right. Later, she explains, “I just feel like the real me took off somewhere and left a yuck in its place. You understand, don’t you?”

Of course, he does understand. But after Ms. Day George sees the witch’s face on the stove and stabs her own hand, Mr. Saxon grows more worried.

It becomes clear very quickly that the ghost of Alma Martine is working to possess Ms. Day George. In fact, the ghost, now tiny, appears over Ms. Day George in bed, beckons to her, and heals her scar from the knife incident.

Ms. Day George explores the family crypt on the property and sees the witch’s ghost in front of her. The witch’s powers allow Ms. Day George to psychically dismantle the car of one of the doctor investors who had recently attempted to seduce the married woman. The car begins to drive itself, spinning donuts in the gravel, then spontaneously exploding while driving off a cliff.

Mr. Saxon has problems of his own as he attempts to deal with the unusual goings-on. He punches some people at a hospital and then visits a faith healer, played by character actor David Opatoshu. Mr. Opatoshu almost immediately convinces Mr. Saxon that the legends are true and the newlyweds need to leave the cursed house. But now Ms. Day George is committed to staying in the house.

On the job site, Mr. Saxon’s character Larry is nearly killed by supernatural construction equipment. He is speaking with an unnamed associate when a crane suspends a load of lumber over their heads. Fortunately, Del sees what is happening and yells, “Look out, Larry!” Del leaps into action, pushing Mr. Saxon out of the way and ignoring the co-worker completely, despite the fact he could easily have pushed both of the men. The lumber crashes down on the other man.

In the aftermath, Del says to Mr. Saxon with remarkable insensitivity, “It could have been worse. It could have been you.”

Del then explains his philosophy: “I thought I was going the right thing getting you that old mansion. I figured what the hell, let’s indulge Barbara. That’s the whole problem right there. You can’t give a broad too much because if you do, she’ll ask for more and more and more, until finally she does you in.”

Mr. Saxon hugs Del, presumably for the quality of his advice, or perhaps because Del agrees to check on Ms. Day George.

When Del does speak to Ms. Day George, telling her she should give her husband a break because she is stressing her out, she suddenly changes, clearly becoming possessed by the witch.

“I swear I can’t figure you out,” Del says, laughing. “One minute you’re putting me down, the next you’re apple cider.”

When Del opens the French doors to a high balcony, Ms. Day George’s eyes glow green and she psychically tosses him off the balcony.

The supernatural danger becomes clear as we see Ms. Day George’s swollen finger, where the witch has marked her.

Mr. Saxon drives Ms. Day George to the faith healer, Mr. Opatoshu.

Meanwhile, back in the house, the witch appears as Ms. Day George, now with the useful ability to shoot green lasers from her eyes.

The lasers turn Mr. Opatoshu’s daughter, who had broken into the house to find some means of defeating the witch, into dust and hair.

Unfortunately for the married couple, Mr. Opatoshu is unable to help. They return to the house again.

In the climax, Mr. Saxon and Mr. Opatoshu decide their only recourse is to burn down the witch’s crypt, which will sever her connection with the physical world. They rig the crypt with explosives taken from Mr. Saxon’s job site and blow it up.

This appears to do nothing, however, as the witch appears to the men, informing them that “she must die so that I may live.” In the final showdown, it is her wedding ring that brings Ms. Day George back, and sends the witch to her ghostly demise.

The newlyweds drive away, but in the final shot we see the windows of the cursed house glowing green.

Beyond Evil is nothing if not a clear demonstration of Herb Freed's range as a director. After the psychological drama of Haunts, and before the kinetic teen slashings of Graduation Day, Mr. Freed journeyed to the Philippines for this tale of supernatural witchcraft. His next film after Graduation Day, Tomboy (1985), would further cement his reputation as a talented cinematic jack-of-all-trades. Such range is perhaps best exemplified by his use of green eye-lasers in Beyond Evil, an effect unique to this film in Mr. Freed's oeuvre. As everyone knows, green eye-lasers are the height of witch-related effectiveness, and Mr. Freed's willingness to portray the estimable Lynda Day George shooting them from her eyes cements Beyond Evil in its place in the annals of cinema.

Of course, any film featuring Ms. Day George with John Saxon would necessarily fall into the category of classics. The veteran actors inhabit their parts skillfully, playing newlyweds realistically and charmingly. The presence of the witch's spirit only adds spice to their marriage, and no doubt their characters went on to live a long and fulfilling life together. One can imagine the couple in the twilight of their lives, cheerfully reminiscing about the time the witch from the Philippines tried to possess one of them by awkwardly enlarging her finger. Perhaps the two of them would laugh as they remembered this incident from their newlywed days, before retiring to the bedroom to enjoy some "dynamite," if you know what I mean. Not actual dynamite. No. Sex. I mean sex.