A couple of weeks ago I read the fascinating Guardian story about Andrew Getty — grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty — a first-time filmmaker who obsessively spent nearly 15 years in production on his directorial debut, The Evil Within, only to die at age 47 from a hemorrhaging ulcer related to a history of recreational crystal meth use.
Getty’s film was a work of passion, a psychological art-house horror film that began principal photography in 2002 but continued shooting on and off again for five years as, according to Hollywood Reporter, “Getty labored over every frame, and every element of the filmmaking, insisting on making his own unique camera rigs, and building elaborate animatronic robots and expensive sets.”
Once photography was completed, Getty worked fanatically for years in post-production, having converted one of his mansion’s many rooms into a post-production suite, until succumbing to his fatal ulcer.
Despite being a wealthy heir to an oil fortune, Getty had sunk every bit of his money into The Evil Within—to the tune of between $4 and $6 million, according to film producer, Michael Luceri.
Upon Getty’s untimely death, Luceri completed the film which only had some coloring and editing unfinished.
The film was released with very little fanfare direct to streaming on Amazon. A DVD release shortly followed, and I quickly snatched one up the very day it was made available. I had to see this thing for myself. Any work of art that a man would spend an entire third of his life obsessing over, only to die just short of completion just HAD to be good, or at the very least, INTERESTING.
I was not disappointed in The Evil Within AT ALL. While I wouldn’t call it a perfect film, it avoids the cardinal sin of filmmaking, as described by Frank Capra: dullness. It’s certainly NOT dull. I’d hesitate to use the word “masterpiece,” in describing Getty’s vision, but I’d not hesitate to call it a “minor masterpiece.”
Despite a few instances of some less-than-stellar digital visual effects, a few imperfect performances, and the fact that the film isn’t always quite sure of what it’s trying to be (somewhere between arthouse and exploitation), the film is entirely unlike anything else out there. Though I couldn’t exactly call this a low-budget film (I mean, sure, by HOLLYWOOD standards…), it’s certainly head and shoulders above most low-budget horror, and most of the places where the film has trouble finding its footing can be overlooked as the mistakes of a first-time director. It’s really a shame Getty died before being able to make a second film, having learned from his mistakes on the first. That’s not to say that there’s a lot of mistakes in the finished product. The Guardian piece on Getty and his film was rather unkind in their assessment, comparing it to Ed Wood’s notoriously “bad” Plan 9 From Outer Space. Though I’m a huge fan of Plan 9, I think it’s unfair to lump The Evil Within into that “so bad it’s good” category. The Evil Within has some genuinely effective and jaw-droppingly disturbing imagery, a decent-enough-for-horror premise, and a memorable performance by lead actor Fred Koehler, who plays the mentally challenged hero —a performance which The Guardian unfairly panned as “an unholy fusion of A Nightmare on Elm Street and the fictitious “Simple Jack” from the showbiz satire Tropic Thunder.” Get bent, Guardian.
Finally, one of my favorite character actors, Michael Berryman (from The Hills Have Eyes) co-stars, pushing the creep factor of this thing into the red. It should be noted that the film manages to be memorably disturbing and macabre without ever relying on splatter to shock the audience.
Essentially, I can’t sing the praises of this film highly enough. Now, would I find this film as interesting as I do had it not been for the backstory about the obsessed Getty-fortune heir who died of meth-related complications just prior to completion of his 15-year-long obsession? Maybe not, but sometimes the story of the making adds a little something to the overall enjoyment of the art (I’m thinking Tarantino making Reservoir Dogs after years of working for peanuts in a video store, or Robert Rodriguez becoming a breakout director after making his first film for $7000). Still, even if I knew nothing about this film going into it, I’d think it was a fascinatingly oddball little film—certainly, a cut above 95% of the direct-to-streaming low-budget horror flicks out there.
It’s a little David Lynch, a little Wes Craven, and a LOT of Andrew Getty—it’s rare that a director can pull off creating a first film that is so uniquely their own vision, but The Evil Within is that—it’s definitely its own thing and it gets my highest recommendation.
Check out the batshit trailer here: