The Evil Within (2017) isn’t a great horror movie. It is a disturbing and, at times, sadistic and hallucinatory nightmare. Not particularly frightening – but, yes, at times just a little bit disturbing!
And it call comes from – I would also suggest –the disturbed mind of its creator who wrote and directed it, Andrew Getty (1967-2015 intestinal bleeding).
Andrew was the grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty (1892-1976 heart failure).
It is reported that Andrew was found dead in his bathroom covered in blood only wearing a pajama top. Found by his ex-girlfriend, who he had a restraining order out because she sprayed him with pepper spray. Something he said was dangerous because of his high blood pressure.
The police had been called to Getty’s mansion over 30 times due to their behaviour, so they were known to police. Apparently, he suffered from many medical issues, and despite his death being thought of as foul play initially, it was deemed natural causes due to intestinal bleeding caused by an untreated ulcer. This was the apparent cause of rectal bleeding and the blood in the bathroom upon Getty’s demise. He apparently had an appointment to see the doctor the day after his death. There are reports of Getty’s abuse of methamphetamines and his heart disease wouldn’t have helped matters. His girlfriend said he took the drug daily.
Whether it was drugs and/or alcohol addiction, the creator of The Evil Within was dead and when he died he left the movie unfinished and it was producer Michael Luceri (1963-) who finished the film.
Production began in 2002, Getty died in 2015 and the film had its first release in February 2017.
Getty said in one of the scant interviews with him that The Evil Within was partially inspired by the Son of Sam murders by serial killer David Berkowitz (1953-). He killed six people around 1977 and Spike Lee (1957-) used the murders as a frame for his Summer of Sam (1999). Not a nice man despite his having converted to Christianity later on. This killer said a demon talking to him through a barking dog told him to kill.
Another aspect of inspiration for the film is said to have been from Getty’s dreams as a child. They were said to have been deeply disturbing for him.
The premise gathered from this is the possibility of demons or other people in close proximity being able to influence dreams or thoughts of individuals either open to suggestion, or who are possibly psychic, or weak… whatever you want to call it! Freddy Krueger visiting your dreams probably isn’t an original idea and neither is the premise when Getty used it too.
The Evil Within has a child – who looks like Getty as a child when we look at photographs – being led to the Haunted House or Ghost Train ride at a carnival by his mother. Telling the tale by narration is this child, voiced and later played as an adult by Frederick Koehler (1975-). He is The Storyteller, the original title for the movie – or is he? He tells a story of being under the influence… in Getty’s case, drugs and alcohol …and of these dreams.
“What makes you think the ride is over? What makes you think it’s ever going to end?,” says a monstrous form of his mother as he departs the ride. And he was only four years old!
The horror hasn’t ended – it has just begun!
The film begins in earnest as Dennis Peterson (Koehler) dreamt a demon turned him on his front while he is in bed in the middle of the night – and entered him. I don’t mean sexually. Not an uncommon experience for some it would seem…
Dennis is brain damaged and thus “mentally challenged” as the result of an “accident” playing with his brother as a child. What we do know is that Dennis’ narrating voice is that of a genius, while his real speaking voice is slow and lacking a large vocabulary. He wakes up from his “demonic” dream standing in front of a mirror somewhere where his nightmare ended. It is a room in his mansion that doesn’t exist.
“I could never know for sure what was a dream and what wasn’t,” says Dennis and the movie moves into its narrative of the “damaged” Dennis, who lives in the mansion with his brother.
His brother who caused his brain injury looks after him despite a girlfriend who would rather her own baby and not “the 30-year old masturbating type”. She wants Dennis put away.
Sean Patrick Flanery (1965-) plays Dennis’s brother John, who presents him with the same mirror in his bedroom that he dreamt about the night before. Much to Dennis’s horror!
“Couple of days, you’re gonna love the mirror,” says John.
The Evil Within was shot largely in Getty’s mansion in the Hollywood Hills, stopping and starting over the years with apparent issues over funding and cast… it’s amazing the end product without Getty finishing it, is a coherent product. He must have been simply tinkering at the end, who knows?
Even though Dennis is “mentally challenged” as a visiting social worker played by Kim Darby (1947-) keeps repeating, his character is far from annoying. In fact, he is rather endearing, which is one of the strengths of the movie. This despite the fact he kills small animals and young children, throwing them in Eskies and large freezers while studying taxidermy in his spare time.
Koehler’s performance is the backbone of the film as is Getty’s direction, which for a first timer, albeit a long time, is assured and professional.
Note Kim Darby was the teenage star of the original John Wayne version of True Grit (1969) and was in the excellent 1973 television movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. That movie about demons living in a mansion I found scary as a child. Was this the reason Getty used Darby? It is a rare latter day appearance by the actress.
“I’m not afraid to look at myself in the mirror anymore,” says Dennis, suddenly trapped in a hall of mirrors, when he innocently enters his bedroom, in a nod to the carnival not being over.
Is it a haunted mirror in his bedroom? Apparently it had been locked in the basement in a hidden room since the early 1930s before being restored by his brother. Or is it all within Dennis’ mind – damaged it may seem – but isolated in the hall of mirrors like cells, both prison cells and the very cells of the brain itself? It is while lost in the hall of mirrors that Dennis gets his throat cut waking him in horror.
“A dream is a story I tell myself, right?,” he asks his brother upon waking. “I tell myself a story. One part of my brain tells another part of my brain a story…”
Dennis wonders why would his brain be telling him horror stories if it wasn’t someone else, like a demon, telling them.
“Or me?,” his brother’s face turns from the mirror with the face of the demon or the “real” storyteller himself. This demon is played by Michael Berryman (1948-) a striking actor made famous by his appearance as Pluto in Wes Craven’s (1939-2005 brain cancer) The Hills Have Eyes (1977). He appears as the carnival ride operator at the beginning of The Evil Within.
That Getty had a younger brother is significant. I don’t know if they got along as kids, whether they shared a bedroom, or even their relationship as time went on. Does Getty blame his brother for some childhood trauma? Or even for his horrific childhood dreams? Who knows, as there is no official biography of Getty’s life.
The mirror, or Dennis talking to himself in the mirror, leads to the murders including the murder of a child or children, which while not shown, remains a disturbing moment in the movie. He is being told by his image in the mirror to commit these atrocities.
Was Getty as mad as Dennis, the voice in his head driving him for fifteen years to look into the mirror which is the movie The Evil Within? Lovingly recreating his own reflection of the nightmares that taunted him ever since he was a child?
Getty was only six when his real life cousin/relative John Paul Getty III (1956-2011) was kidnapped as a teenager while living in Rome. His ear was cut off. There must have been some psychic nightmare or pain which visited the family upon this happening. Getty III developed a drug and alcohol addiction taking a drug cocktail in 1981 which left him a quadriplegic and possible brain damaged after a stroke. More trauma. He, incidentally, was the father of Balthazar Getty (1975-), who starred in the remake of The Lord of the Flies (1990) and David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997).
The demon in the mirror, or the dog which barked orders in the Berkowitz case, says upon the child murder: “When you’re sleeping at night, I’m the one that whispers in your ear… Sorry about the stories I tell, but it’s just a little darker over here!” Disturbed minds can often fall prey to demons and immoral people, it would seem.
This scene shows no mirror as the transformation seems to be singularly Dennis and, as it fades, what is left is the image of the demon or storyteller. It has made its impression. There is no doubt now, it is Dennis alone… and “the dark place” is now in control of him. Whether that dark place is solely within is something which fascinated or obsessed Getty for years. He perhaps tried to escape it through drugs as looking into the mirror creating The Evil Within was not enough in the end as Getty ended up a recluse. But the subtleties of the movie show a lot of work beforehand.
That the “damaged” Dennis is now apparently trapped in the mirror, that’s his excuse now, as he really is one with it as the fading of the demon’s face shot shows. The transference from any demon or storyteller is complete. The Evil Within is planted in Dennis if it wasn’t already there to be awakened.
Despite being ingeniously shot in the mansion, there are a number of outside shots and minor set pieces. One of them is in an ice cream shop where Dennis hopelessly lusts after the pink-attired attendant.
“Would it be so wrong if I did?,” says the damaged Dennis when he asks her out. A crush upon the local shop attendant is all too common among the lonely and isolated. There is a shot here of a rat in a trap which is still living, something used recently in Once Upon a Time …in Hollywood (2019) when Brad Pitt visits the Spahn ranch.
Another is in a nautical themed pizzeria named Monsoon’s where Getty has created some sort of animatronic animal band playing a rather catchy if simple tune by a Patrick Giraud.
“…Looking for a fling with a millionaire..,” is one of the audible lines from the song.
I also don’t know about Getty’s luck with women but 30 call outs by the police doesn’t seem to indicate he had much of a good time with the ones he did have a fling with. Perhaps, in his younger days, where photos show a handsome young man, he might have had better luck. Before the brain damage and influence of drugs and this movie disturbing his perhaps already sensitive mind… a life which may also be influenced and reflected in his disabled cousin Getty III’s predicament. He is the perfect inspiration and his death may have caused a spiral in Andrew. Who knows the true family dynamics?
Getty’s The Evil Within, for us, is that fling, a first and final fling with this millionaire and flawed genius who was clearly and obviously troubled and damaged.
“Go on too long without killing Dennis and the nightmares start,” says Dennis.
That Dennis’s genius is liberated from the mirror… a spontaneous recovery, or he was never “damaged”, or is it a supernatural event in that they swap places in the mirror?… This evil genius goes on a killing spree… culminating in his most ingenious kill, that of his brother’s girlfriend, who goes to the aid of a crying baby in a pram, only to have Dennis erupt from the pram and with the flourish of a magician, plants a knife in her stomach. He then drills holes in her head to create some sort of “living” ventriloquist doll… “It’s show time” in the basement, leading to a crazy LSD hallucinogenic climax, which also uses animatronics.
Here, in this fling with The Evil Within, we are flung deep into the darkness of disturbed genius. In the end, Dennis sees himself as trapped in one of a multitude of parallel universes in the hall of mirrors that is the dark recesses of his mind after never having escaped the carnival ride at the beginning of the film. Locked in a prison and called mad. The worst fate for any misunderstood and flawed genius! And all of us possess the spark of genius to a certain degree, even the “mentally challenged” trapped in a body, seemingly unresponsive to the rest of the world.
Will you find love after this fling? Or will you be left unsatisfied, ripped off and angry? Should we call the police? Will it leave you with nightmares? Probably not, because as Getty is saying, those terrors are either already within, or maybe they are a sibling or a neighbour, sleeping or projecting their thoughts or voices from a darkened room nearby. And does it cut both ways and that was the reason Dennis’s brother attacked him with a baseball bat as a child!? Or are they all simply demons from an even darker place? These Storytellers!
Just a final, if not lighter, note: the film runs over 100 minutes which may seem long, compared to the average horror, but it’s not interminable – anyway it’s art! Also, it is the last credit for incredibly tall actor Matthew McGrory (1973-2005 natural causes) and producer Robert Hickey (c1966-2013), who died after a gun he was placing in a pickup truck at home went off, killing him. It was ruled accidental. They are mentioned along with Andrew lovingly in the credits.