Something Evil (1972) | Steven Spielberg’s early supernatural thriller is a cult TV classic

Steven Spielberg's Something Evil

Marjorie (Sandy Dennis) and Paul Worden (Darren McGavin) move into a Pennsylvania farmhouse with their two children Stevie (Johnny Whitaker) and Laurie where a series of eerie events causes Marjorie to become convinced that a demonic force is trying to possess her. Is she just a neurotic housewife on the verge of a nervous breakdown or is there really something evil lurking in her barn?

Sandy Dennis in Something Evil

1972’s Something Evil was one of four TV movies Steven Spielberg directed for Universal after working on shows like Night Gallery and Columbo. Released a year after his thrilling ABC’s Movie of the Week debut Duel and coming three short years before his big-screen blockbuster Jaws, this modest, low-key tale was made to capitalise on the best-selling book The Exorcist before it was made into a film.

Young Steven Spielberg

While Duel put Spielberg in the frame as a director to look out for, Something Evil proved he could create an effective, chilling piece of telly on a miniscule budget. And thanks to Bill Butler‘s inventive camera work, some chilling sound effects and Allan Jacobs‘ assured editing, Something Evil is elevated beyond the era’s average TV-movie spook fare. It certainly scared me silly when I saw it as a 12 year old and – especially the jar of glowing red jelly and ginger-haired Whitaker’s crazy eyes (surely he was the inspiration for Chucky) – and even now it stands the test of the time. It’s just too bad the the film prints currently in circulation haven’t.

Watch out for Spielberg popping up as as a party guest, and if you are trying to work out where you’ve seen Johnny Whitaker before, we’ll he was Jody in the hit 1960s TV Family Affair and also starred in Sid & Marty Krofft’s Sigmund and the Sea Monsters in the mid-1970s. Cinematographer Bill Butler, meanwhile, went on to work with Spielberg on Jaws before making his name on Grease and the Rocky films, while Jacobs would late edit the cult favorites Blacula, Cleopatra Jones and Bug.

Something Evil screens on The Horror Channel (Sky 319, Virgin 149, Freesat 138) on Wednesday 22 January 2014 at 4pm , Thursday 23 January 2014 at 11am and Sunday 26 January 2014 at noon.

The TV movie is also available on YouTube, but the print is really quite dreadful, so here’s a fan teaser trailer instead.


About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on January 22, 2014, in Horror, Must See and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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