As our Senior Editor Rob G noted recently, Amazon and other movie services have now made the horror movie THE EVIL WITHIN available for rental. Released with little fanfare alongside the usual Z-level, straight-to-streaming horror dreck, THE EVIL WITHIN might have escaped notice were it not for the story of its production.
It began with Andrew Getty, a wannabe director living in Los Angeles with a peculiar obsession… and an impressive family.
A huge fan of horror movies, porn, and all things dark and creepy, Getty had written hundreds of screenplays, but none had been produced. There was one idea, though, that Getty couldn’t shake: The story of a mentally challenged man-child driven to murder by dark visions he sees in an antique mirror. This tale was personal to Getty; he’d dreamed these things as a child. He’d seen them.
“There were nightmares that persisted,” actor Frederick Koehler told People Magazine. “They were something he really, really battled as a kid… He would say he would have these really horrible night terrors, these nightmares. He was fascinated with the macabre.”
Unlike the rest of L.A.’s would-be filmmakers trying to lift their passion projects off the ground, Getty had money. A lot of money. The grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty and heir to part of his billion-dollar fortune, Andrew decided in 2002 to break the cardinal rule of film production: He spent his own money making a movie.
Completely outside of whatever “system” is left in Hollywood, free of the budgetary constraints that keep most movies in check, and driven by an irresistible creative vision, Getty spent 15 years shooting THE EVIL WITHIN… and smoking meth.
One addiction seems to have fed the other — the speed let him ceaselessly focus on his childhood nightmares, while his real life spiraled out of control in a haze of drugs, paranoia, guns, and twisted relationships with fellow addicts.
The first-time filmmaker bought cameras and lenses instead of renting them, and created his own rigs and practical effects — including stop motion, animatronics, and special effects make-up. He was fanatical in his effort to commit very precise nightmare images to film.
“He was very, very specific,” producer Michael Luceri told People. “He saw this movie fully finished in his head. He wasn’t going to compromise. He wanted people to see the movie that he saw.”
In the end, even J. Paul Getty-levels of money wasn’t enough to finish the movie. The auteur spent everything he had. He sold his AC Cobra sports car and sunk that into the production too. In total, THE EVIL WITHIN cost Getty around 5 million bucks… and he still wasn’t able to finish it.
Getty died in 2015 from an ulcer-related gastrointestinal hemorrhage exacerbated by a toxic level of methamphetamine in his body. He was 47.
The movie, though, didn’t die: THE EVIL WITHIN was completed by the film’s producer, Michael Luceri, and is available to rent or purchase now.
At the risk of reading too much into it, this film seems to reveal a lot about the creator’s strange, troubled life… and maybe says something about the relationship between all artists and their art.
The Evil Within THE EVIL WITHIN
It’s a deeply weird movie — a wildly uneven mix of first-time filmmaker mistakes and shockingly original, surrealistic imagery. Even if you didn’t know the strange story of its production, you would be able to tell right away that THE EVIL WITHIN is not a typical low-budget horror flick; it’s clearly not “entertainment-product” designed to earn a return on investment by capitalizing on a trend and monetizing intellectual property. It’s personal.
THE EVIL WITHIN’s best scenes seem dredged from primordial nightmares — like a B-movie made by Hieronymus Bosch. Its worst sections, though, are laughably bad… more like Ed Wood than John Carpenter.
At its basic level, the film treads over well-worn horror and exploitation cinema ground. In one respect it’s a “nerdy-guy-goes-nuts-and-kills-everyone” story, but the film’s earnestness, seriousness, and over-the-top surrealism separate it from, say, 1986’s FAT GUY GOES NUTZOID, or WILLARD, or a thousand other movies with a similar plot.
Frederick Koehler plays Dennis, the nerdy guy. He’s a mentally-disabled adult who lives with his brother and caregiver John. It hard to not imagine that Getty saw himself in the main character — haunted, desperate, and unable to connect with others because of his disability.
John installs an antique mirror in Dennis’s room (in spite of his protests), and Dennis starts seeing strange things in the looking glass. First, his reflection talks to him soothingly and benignly, while convincing him to kill. First animals, then children, and eventually everyone he loves. The other presence in the mirror is “Cadaver,” played by John Berryman (THE HILLS HAVE EYES) in full-body black paint.
Cadaver is a weird demon or monster that controls the evil version of Dennis, or implants nightmares, or something. It’s hard to really tell… but nailing down the “real-life logic” of a movie like this is beside the point anyway. It’s about dream logic.
Getty was reportedly meticulous about creating the effects in the movie, employing a hodgepodge of non-digital techniques ranging from stop-motion animation to creating grotesque animatronic monstrosities. He wanted to capture the things he saw in his dreams — which must have been terrible nightmares, based on the film’s barrage of terrors.
The film runs into problems when its main character wakes up, though: Getty has confidence shooting his internal visions, but the dark ride derails when it comes to the actual world, and the movie grinds to a halt with endless, interminable scenes of on-the-nose dialogue between characters you don’t care about. Even though it’s “real life,” none of it rings true. It’s all more fake-feeling than the dream world.
Given the paranoid auteur’s troubled personal life — he reportedly had a very hard time maintaining relationships and friendships, sharing his mansion with an ever revolving cast of parasites, drug addicts, and lowlifes — maybe it makes sense that the subtlety of human relationships would prove so much more difficult to realize than his nightmares.
THE EVIL WITHIN’s “normal” brother is so thin as a character that he barely exists compared to Dennis. Getty convincingly portrays the twisted internal life of a haunted lunatic, but he can’t seem to conceive of what a regular person’s life might be like. When trying to portray John’s friendships, for instance, aside from his nagging girlfriend, every single relationship in John’s life is some kind of service worker — clerks at stores, waiters, psychiatrists — as if Getty had no interactions with people he wasn’t paying in some way.
Even with all its problems, THE EVIL WITHIN is a worthwhile movie, and by the time it reaches its truly shocking climax, horror fans won’t really care whether it makes sense. It’s enough to just sit back and absorb the orgy of violence, blood, and unforgettable dream-imagery that come straight from an obsessed visionary’s dreams.
It’s sad that Getty didn’t live long enough to hone his considerable talent… but his one and only feature is still a nice testament to his singular obsessions.
Check out the trailer and tell me you aren’t curious to see the whole thing!