NO-BUDGET NIGHTMARES: FOREVER EVIL (1987)

Being involved in making a film in any capacity is a series of compromises.

When I was working on Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Fall Of The Original Six we found ourselves running extremely short on running time, so the suggestion was made to add a sub-plot involving a new character: an inventor modeled after Q from the James Bond films. For those unfamiliar, Q provides Bond with his latest gadgets and generally acts like a dickish, crotchety man tired of Bond’s nonsense. Since our film was meant to be action/comedy/satire, then why not add in a reference to one of the campier elements of a famous franchise?

So we went to work designing a scene meant to tie exposition with something visually interesting. We already decided that the climax was going to involve an exploding Toonie (a Canadian two dollar coin) which would be introduced by the inventor, but we wanted this character to also be doing something “inventive” when he’s introduced. After a long period of brainstorming, it was I who ended up voicing the magic words:

“Jello!”

Yes, when our intrepid hero meets his scientist friend in the film, the Q character (played by a very nice, somewhat unintelligible gentleman) would be blowing up various colored jello to see which one had superior ballistic properties. There would be a cacophony of exploding jelly, some clever banter, and the character would pass over the Toonie for later use. The whole thing would end with the main character walking away while the inventor said triumphantly: “And now the pudding!”

Depending on your tolerance for ridiculousness, you might have a visual in your head that could be rather amusing. With endless resources and time, it at least could have been a fun scene. And it was certainly fun to make. But, here’s the final product:

Pretty underwhelming. And believe me, there’s plenty of blame to go around. The transition from page to screen is a tumultuous one, a point beautifully illustrated by Freeman Williams’ series of articles about his experience writing, acting and assisting the creation of the low-budget film Forever Evil (1987). These articles are essential reading for those wanting to get involved in film production in any capacity, and I’ll wait here while you read them. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.

Forever Evil was at the cusp of the initial wave of straight-to-video horror in the mid-80s distributed by United Entertainment Pictures/United Video, which included such luminaries as Blood Cult (the first direct-to-video movie) and The Ripper (with Tom Savini). Having seen those two films and being rather underwhelmed, I’ll admit I was a bit of wary of what I was in for. Thankfully, it’s actually pretty fun (though tragically overlong) supernatural horror film with enough memorably gruesome moments to keep a patient viewer watching. Heck, I’d go so far to say that the first half hour and final half hour are actually good, though there’s a rather unfortunate hour in between that sinks things. It also (unlike many of the features we’ll be profiling in this column) feels like an actual movie.

It’s shot on 16mm film, rather than on videotape or DV, and features perfectly respectable technical credits. Director Roger Evans cut his teeth on the Super 8 film The Jet Benny Show (which I actually owned on VHS as a teenager) and obviously knew what he needed to at least make the whole thing look (mostly) professional and make some sense. Special effects are also very impressive, particularly during the showstopping pregnancy nightmare sequence and the semi-climactic zombie battle at the end. What little money there was went to the right places, and the fact that people are still discussing Forever Evil (it even received a 2 DVD special edition a few years back) is a testament to it making an impact in an era when video stores were swamped with disposable horror.

But it’s not all smiles and sunshine.

The film opens with a scene obviously – and purposely – familiar to horror film fans. A group of friends decide to get together in a remote cabin for a weekend, but an ancient evil soon arrives to cause bloody havoc. Our main character is Marc (Red Mitchell, who looks like a stocky amalgam of Cory Feldman and Bruce McCulloch), who is selling the family’s beachfront property after a fun weekend with his pregnant girlfriend Holly, his brother Jay (Jeffrey Lane) and a few other folks who won’t live long enough to be properly developed. Things seem hunky dory until an unseen evil starts murdering all of the folks one by one, starting with Holly who – disturbingly – is found dead with the fetus ripped from her stomach. The rest of Marc’s friends get dispatched rather quickly, before Marc has an encounter with a zombie whose eye he gouges out before he gets himself hit by a car.

Marc wakes up in the hospital where he’s soon visited by Lieutenant Leo Ball (Charles L. Trotter), who is convinced that his attack was just the most recent in a series that goes back decades; a theory which gains steam once they are joined by the spunky Reggie (Tracey Huffman), who was herself almost a victim of the malevolent force a few years back. It seems that Leo is friends with an occultist/fortune teller named Ben Magnus (played by the writer) who suspects that the whole muddle is connected to quasars, magic and a sub-Lovecraftian ancient God named Yog Kothag. So far, so good right? We’ve got our heroes. Zombies and ancient evil. Heck, what could go wrong?

Well, first we’re introduced to Marc’s grappling hook. You see, Marc dabbles in inventing and his latest brainchild is a wrist mounted grappling hook that has a  built-in auto-repel at the push of a button!  It’s ridiculous, and – of course – leaves the audience waiting for its eventual use, which is also unimpressive. Really unimpressive. Marc and Reggie, who – by the way – is female and dresses like Paula Poundstone’s frumpy cousin, begin an ill-conceived romantic relationship. And we discover that suspect number one is funny-accented Realtor Parker Nash, who may actually be a really, really old follower of Yog Kothag, and has been sending his pet zombie out to kill folks for years. Also, there’s an evil dog (though, sadly, without shifty eyes) and Leo gets unceremoniously bumped off. This entire middle section is interminable, and is held together with countless POV shots, characters waking up suddenly from nightmares, and endless exposition.

 Oh no! A zombie! Actually, this deadhead ends up being no match for the combined might of Marc and Reggie, who shoot, stab, then torch him on the side of the road. But that sucker keeps on ticking! He even manages to stab (?) Marc with a knife, leaving Reggie to have her climactic confrontation with (still funny accented) Nash. It’s all a bit groan-worthy, but it looks great and these final few scenes seem to finally hit the tone the movie had been searching for all along.

Aside from the length – there just isn’t two hours of content here – the biggest problem with Forever Evil is the acting. Red Mitchell went on to appear in a few Hollywood productions before dying tragically in 1994, but his performance here is only slightly more lively than the walking corpse he’s being hounded by. Tracey Huffman as Reggie is even worse, and the chemistry between the two is non-existent. Their relationship subplot becomes totally unbelievable, and since they never sell fear (or much of anything), it’s hard to get caught up in all of the supernatural craziness that’s surrounding them. Two more charismatic actors could have really helped with that slow mid-section, though in their defense the (not totally convincing) post-synced dialogue doesn’t do them any favors.

Thankfully, a few bravura special effects sequences save the day, and it’s these scenes – the self-inflicted abortion, the charred zombie, the magical climax (I’ve always wanted one of those!) – that will stick with a patient viewer. It’s also where Evans seems at his most comfortable. While he manages to wring some tension out of a few scenes, the effects give him license to let loose a bit visually and it really pays off. Bringing a bit more of this looseness into the more vanilla “tracking down the baddie” scenes would have done the film a world of good.

 In a candid interview that will be appearing on Daily Grindhouse in a few days, writer Freeman Williams elaborates on some of his original intentions for Forever Evil and how he hoped to subvert the tired slasher genre. There are echoes of these ambitions still in the film, but unfortunately, it’s never quite as scary or as amusing as it feels like it should be. However, the very fact that it ends up being a somewhat middling horror film with a few dynamite sequences can still be considered an accomplishment. It’s head and shoulders above the other straight-to-video output at the time, and with a bit more time and money, may have been something truly special.

 

three-skulls

Three Nightmares out of Five

 

One Nightmare – No-Budget Perfection, Two Nightmares – Shocking Success, Three Nightmares – Shows Potential, Four Nightmares – Not Much Fun, Five Nightmares – Please Kill Me

 

Join us on Wednesday for an interview with Forever Evil writer Freeman Williams!

 

 

 

Sweetback

 

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Doug Tilley

Doug has been a geek for as long as he’s been alive, but has only been blogging about film since 2008; originally writing for his personal site and eventually moving to Daily Grindhouse where he writes regularly about micro-budget films and film-makers in his No-Budget Nightmares column. At the end of 2011 he started the popular No-Budget Nightmares podcast with Moe Porne, and regularly contributes to a variety of other genre film podcasts. He likes movies, movies and movies.

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