Andrew Getty came into the public consciousness posthumously, via a quiet Amazon.com release of his film, and then his strange story started circulating, eventuating in this piece in The Guardian. I’ll summarize; the millionaire oil baron decided to spend his wealth making a horror film about his meth-fuelled dreams. He spent fifteen years doing this, starting in the early 2000s, and mostly working on post-production special effects alone in his mansion. He died in 2015, and his producer, Michael Luceri, finished the film for him.
The result is a fever dream of schlocky special effects, 90s looking camera angles and a meandering storyline that is by far its weakest aspect. Getty had never made a film before, and by-and-large had full creative control over The Evil Within, which he wrote and directed. Because of this, it’s a film which has moments of brilliance, and others of near-incoherence.
It played on a double bill, right after D’Argento’s Suspiria, unsurprisingly.
The Melbourne premiere was held at the Astor, a fittingly historical theatre in St Kilda, perfect for hosting weird horror films. It played on a double bill, right after D’Argento’s Suspiria, unsurprisingly. The film itself takes a lot from D’Argento’s brand of gruesome props, supernatural storylines and ludicrous dialogue.
The opening is a smorgasbord of horror tropes. The young narrator, Dennis, is walking through a funfair with his mother. There’s the garishly lit horror train, the bandana-clad old man offering warnings, the twist. The tropes are so well-worn that they’re almost made fresh again in 2017. Almost.
The Evil Within is full of these horror cliches. Some work, others are borderline offensive. The protagonist, Dennis, is billed as having learning disabilities, which is a positive thing for representation. But all too often within the horror genre, people with disabilities are portrayed as dangerous and unhinged, and The Evil Within is no exception, despite the fact that he’s also the protagonist. The ending is purposely vague on this front, and there’s room for interpretation, but I’m not convinced that Getty was fully aware of the nuances involved.
Other aspects of the film were surprisingly well-executed. The bad guy, a Tall Grey Scary Man (featured below on the poster) who haunted Dennis throughout the first two acts was actually pretty creepy. The practical effects Getty used coupled with evocations of night terrors and drug visions were both creative and haunting. Even though the dialogue was cheesy, the content struck a chord. There were definitely things that Getty wanted to say, and points he wanted to make about his dreams and how they were making him feel.
Despite the sometimes hilarious narration, during which the audience were laughing out loud, there were certainly moments of tension that went beyond farce. Even though most of the violence was off-screen, the effect it had on our protagonist was the main emotional pull. Some scenes managed to be a mix of funny and disturbing, and there was an overarching feeling of strange disconnectedness that I would usually associate with David Lynch. With Lynch, though, you know it’s highly specific and skilled, whereas with Getty it feels like he half stumbled on it by accident.
I wouldn’t say The Evil Within is a great film, or even a good film. But it is an interesting film, and the story of its creator certainly adds to its notoriety. The moments of drug-addled genius are there, underneath the trite and overwrought storyline, and it’s these moments which make this a film worth watching for horror connoisseurs, or people who are into the strange and unusual. If nothing else, Getty’s legacy surely warrants a biopic. Hopefully it won’t take fifteen years for one to surface.
Watch the trailer here:
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