Something Evil (1972) Directed by Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg’s television period is distributed with a stylistic volatility that suggests his cinematic shortcomings as the precocious discovery of the next great American director of the new Hollywood. After creating a spectacle of paranoia and tension in Duel (1971), Spielberg decided to delve into a preternatural atmosphere with the tendentious dynamics of early 70’s horror cinema, curiosities reminiscent of his episodic work on Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. Something Evil is one of the less ceremonious works of Spielberg’s early period, not ruinous at all, but bad enough to claim it’s not one of his best efforts. However, against all odds, it is the one that leaves the most overtones of his famous film mythology that would make him a preeminent populist director. Many Spielbergian themes are centralized here anticipating not one but almost all of the storytelling idiosyncrasies we would see in his most iconic masterpieces.
In Spielbergian parlance, Something Evil could be said to share a gigantic and obvious similarity to Poltergeist (1982) yet it also shares a symmetrical aura with the singular emotionalism that can be found throughout his filmography. Darren McGavin plays a television producer, Paul Worden, and Sandy Dennis plays the wife, a stay-at-home mother and artist, Marjorie Worden. The latter, convinces her husband to buy a farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania; a seemingly idyllic, fresh air and meditative countryside surrounded by nature, the perfect place to raise their two young children. However, once settled in the farmhouse, the bucolic appearance of the place quickly transforms into something unsettling and hostile when Sandy begins to hear strange noises and experience weird supernatural events. The synoptic ritual has every primary element of a narrative in which Spielberg can expose his expertise, however, the writing and overall anemic rhythm never allows its director to fluidly explore the horror material. Although, it is also objective to say, there is a certain immaturity on Spielberg’s part, succumbing irritatingly to formal experimentation without positive results.
It’s supposed to be a horror film but it never feels like one. But there is something profoundly meritorious to be noted, Spielberg’s treatment of the characters is that of a master demonstrating his flair for drama; as in all his films, Spielberg is more interested in his characters than in the phenomenology that surrounds them, spending religious time on family interrelationships and the effects that extraordinary circumstances can have on the ordinary American family. Something Evil notoriously fails in more than one respect, but it leaves the airs of success and talent that were becoming increasingly prominent in the career of everyone’s favorite American director.