Fear No Evil



aka Mark of the Beast : USA 1981 : Robert LA LOGGIA : 95-9 mins

The exhaustive Aurum Film Encyclopedia : Horror (1985, ed. Phil Hardy) contains a glowing review of Fear No Evil: “One of the most impressive demonic-possession films since Rosemary’s Baby and certainly a great deal more interesting than the much-trumpeted The Exorcist. strikingly directed and photographed. excellent special effects.” It would be very handy to know who was responsible for this (unsigned) review – if only to avoid this critic’s future recommendations. Because no matter how many allowances viewers may be tempted to make on account of its budget ($1,500,000) or the young age of its writer-director La Loggia (23), this is an amateurish mess that fails on almost every level.

Shamelessly cobbling together plot-lines from the first two Omen films, Carrie, and, in a last-act fit of desperation, any old zombie picture, La Loggia’s screenplay is the tale of Andrew (former child star Stefan Arngrim) – a pasty-faced, scrawny bookworm who by the age of 18 has realised that he’s in fact the physical incarnation of the devil himself. Luckily for mankind, God has sent two of his top angels to save humanity – they occupy the bodies of a middle-aged woman (Elizabeth Hoffman, who can act) and a shapely student (Kathleen Rowe McAllen, who emphatically can’t) and – setting up a fiery climax in which good battles evil.

It’s not such a terrible premise: placing Lucifer front and centre for most of the movie is a refreshing change, and Andrew (which just so happens to be the name of Rosemary’s baby) isn’t an entirely unsympathetic figure, he just happens to be the devil. Looks-wise, Arngrim may stir memories of Peter Sarsgaard (K-19), Bud Cort (Harold and Maude), Wes Bentley (American Beauty) and even, with his androgynous paleness and skinny frame, Placebo vocalist Brian Molko. Buttoned-down for most of the running-time, he then cuts loose in the histrionic final act and goes flying deliriously over the top, flouncing around a ruined castle in wafty black chiffon and generally camping it up like Jonathan Rhys Myers in Velvet Goldmine.

The castle is the film’s other notable feature – an undatable, sprawling, photogenic pile that would have delighted H P Lovecraft and deserves a much better movie. Fred Goodich’s lighting occasionally borrows productively from Dean Cundey’s work in another Avco Embassy release of the period, The Fog. But that’s really about as good as it gets. As if the over-emphatic original score wasn’t enough, La Loggia’s use of then-current punk tracks is amusingly heavy-handed: “I am the antichrist!” yelps Johnny Rotten over a long-shot of the snooty Andrew. Scene after scene is wrecked by basic incompetence of staging, the cheesy effects, the cumulative absurdities of the plot, and the exposition-heavy dialogue – at times we’re perilously close to the unintentionally hilarious depths plumbed by a more recent devil-nonsense ‘epic’, Revelation. Though, mercifully, not quite.

8th March, 2003
(seen on video, 7th-8th March 2003)

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by Neil Young