Shout! Factory has been releasing a steady torrent of guilty pleasures in recent months. From the fantastically silly/scary Humanoids to the Deep to their superlative Slumber Party Massacre Collection, Shout! Has amassed an impressive assortment of B-movie goodness, thanks mostly to their recent acquisition of Roger Corman’s back catalog. The trend continues with yet another double-feature of pure 80’s Velveeta, The Evil and Twice Dead, two supernatural-tinged cheapies that are as spine-tingling as they are rib-tickling.
The first film in the set, The Evil (1978), stars Richard Crenna as C.J. Arnold, renowned Psychologist, mentor to the equally brilliant Professor Raymond Guy (the always awesome Andrew Prine), and husband to Dr. Caroline Arnold (Joanna Pettet). C.J. and Caroline have recently purchased the palatial Vargas estate - a long-uninhabited and remote manse with a somewhat salacious history - with guises on turning it into a state-of-the-art drug rehabilitation center. C.J. invites a group of his students to help out with the restoration, and as the group settles in, strange things start to happen. Caroline is convinced that the mansion is haunted, having seen the ghostly visage of Vargas, himself, but C.J. – ever rational and scientific – insists it’s all in his wife’s head. That is until they find themselves trapped in the house, and C.J.’s students start dropping like flies. Now, with no scientific explanation for their predicament, C.J. must accept that there’s something supernatural at play, here, and to save his wife and the others, he must embrace a faith he’d long abandoned lest he, too, succumb to The Evil!
The second feature, Twice Dead (1988), is a hilarious bit of horror fluff, focusing on the Cates family, who inherit an old home that once belonged to movie star, Tyler Walker. Not only does the long-abandoned house come with the stigma of being the same home in which Walker committed suicide decades earlier; it also now serves as the headquarters of high-haired punk, Silk (Christopher Burgard), and mismatched gang of stereotypically 80’s movie thugs. With the help of the local police, the Cates family manages to scare off Silk long enough to move in, but it isn’t long before young siblings Robin (Jill Whitlow) and Scott (Tom Bresnahan) find themselves on the receiving end of Silk and his gang’s ire. Silk’s unhinged right-hand-man, Crip (Jonathan Chapin), in particular, takes a shine to Robin, but he’s not alone as the young girl bears a striking resemblance to the long-dead Tyler Walker’s lost love, Myrna, drawing his vengeful spirit into this world.
Neither film in this collection could be considered a classic, but both are highly entertaining in their own right. The Evil is an especially creepy and surprisingly effective bit of gothic goofiness, despite its rather absurd conclusion, while Twice Dead is of the so-bad-it’s-good variety, chockfull of cheesy over-the-top gore, wooden performances, and a laughably inept script. The two films, which couldn’t be more different in terms of overall tone, make for a wonderfully spirited double feature for B-movie enthusiasts. Save for the new widescreen anamorphic transfers, Shout hasn’t given these films too much by way of a technical makeover (meaning there are a fair amount of cigarette burns, occasionally heavy grain, and artifacts), but, seeing as how this is a bargain-priced double feature, it’s not a surprise, and actually lends to the retro grindhouse charm.
What is a surprise, however, are the supplements Shout! Factory dug up for these two films. The Evil sports a commentary track featuring director, Gus Trikonis; Writer, Donald Thompson, and DP, Mario Di Leo, as well as the film’s original trailer. Twice Dead gets even more love, with a commentary featuring writer/director, Bert Dragin, and star, Tom Bresnahan. Also included is an interview with the lovely Jill Whitlow, and trailers.
I had a great time with this set, especially with the surprisingly good The Evil (a film that bears many similarities to John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, and had me wondering if, perhaps, Carpenter may have gotten a few ideas from this little-seen gem). Twice Dead isn’t nearly as competent a film, but, with a cast that includes former Different Strokes star, Todd Bridges, my eighties crush, Whitlow (Night of the Creeps), and a truly horrific soundtrack, I couldn’t help but find myself sucked in by the cheesy nostalgia of it all. Shout! Factory, once again, gives Z-grade material the A-grade treatment, and B-movie fans and Corman fanatics should definitely consider this one a must-buy!