‘How can you fight an abstraction? What defense can you use against the infinite?’
Fear No Evil is a 1969 American made-for-television film directed by Paul Wendkos (From the Dead of Night; Good Against Evil; The Mephisto Waltz) from a screenplay by Richard Alan Simmons. It was based on a short story by Guy Endore (author of The Werewolf of Paris).
This film and Ritual of Evil (1970) were pilots for a proposed Universal Television series called Bedeviled. It should not be confused with Frank LaLoggia’s 1981 film of the same title.
Dr. David Sorell (Louis Jourdan), a psychiatrist turned reluctant paranormal investigator, begins looking into a friend’s accident and soon discovers that it may be linked to the sinister workings of a satanic cult and a mirror which may reflect doom for those who possess it…
Airing March 3rd 1969 on NBC, Fear No Evil has the distinction of being considered the first US made-for-television horror film; at least two others had been made previously – Dark Intruder (1965) and Chamber of Horrors (1966), unsold pilots for the series The Black Coat and House of Wax, respectively, which never became realities – but instead of running on television at the time, both films were released theatrically. All three share not only the horror format but also what has become a fixture in the genre, the serious-minded parapsychological investigator, a type that originally debuted in Robert Wise’s 1963 theatrical movie, The Haunting.
In this Universal Television production, pervasive face of 1970’s genre vehicles, Bradford Dillman, plays Paul Varney, a physicist at Interspace and a man haunted by lost memories and seemingly influenced by possible occult forces; Linda Day George, another prevalent face of the decade, as Barbara Anholt, Paul’s fiancée, is the bewildered ingénue desperately trying to maintain her grip on reality after an unforeseen car accident briefly leaves her without Paul’s companionship but in too close proximity to an ominous mirror Paul had absentmindedly purchased just before the accident; television legend, Carroll O’Connor, only three years away from his iconic role as Archie Bunker, plays Myles Donovan, Paul’s co-worker at Interspace and a man that, at times, swings unnervingly between pleasant amiability and vague mendaciousness; Marsha Hunt, a neglected talent from the Golden Age of Hollywood, plays Mrs. Varney, Paul’s mother and the bridge between Barbara’s happy past and perilous future; the fine-tuned, ever-smooth Louis Jourdan plays Dr. David Sorell, psychiatrist and hesitant believer in the paranormal; rounding out the major cast members is the always reliable, and seminal British actor, Wilfrid Hyde-White as Harry Snowden, Dr. Sorell’s mentor and genteel clubhouse lawyer concerning the paranormal.
Fear No Evil’s opening scene masterfully sets the tone for the rest of the movie and expertly whets the viewer’s appetite; it depicts a distressed Paul Varney deep in shadows and frantically racing through L.A.’s famous Bradbury Building at night, careening from door to door, desperately trying to find a way out. He’s obviously experiencing some nightmarish state which has yet to be clarified and which is made eerily manifest by meaty Dutch angles from cinematographer Andrew J. McIntyre and the brilliantly macabre wheels-within-wheels organ music and reverberating voice accompaniment of composer William Goldenberg.
McIntyre’s camera work and lighting are superb throughout the film, with creamy illumination where appropriate in less claustrophobic moments and suffocatingly tenebrous during the darker bits, beautifully intensifying a mounting anxiety and ghoulish dread brought on by possible satanic rituals likely linked to the dark and ornate mirror mentioned previously. Thankfully, Goldenberg repeats this sinister organ and echoing voice motif during heavier scenes but astutely mixes it up by replacing the organ with tinkling chimes, floating wind instruments, and a moody, undulating double base during other more hallucinatory sequences.
Paul Wendkos’ direction, as usual, is solid, and his craftsman’s eye for the moody and ominous comes through with intensity and spine-chilling spookiness. The entire cast delivers on performance, with Carroll O’Connor furnishing what could possibly be the standout in the film; he’s both understated and believable while being edgy and charming, leaving the viewer frequently wondering where he stands in the midst of all the diabolical goings on.
Marsha Hunt comes in a close second, her character at first coming off as slightly cold toward her son’s fiancée but then warming up rather effectively in the second act; her subtle and shocking turn in the third act is just as convincing and surprisingly refreshing, thanks to the shrewd and perceptive script by Richard Alan Simmons.
If a viewer had to tag, the one slight drawback of Fear No Evil would have to be the special effects by Don Record; the mirror sequences, which play a major part in the movie, seem a bit brittle and almost cartoonish, while the flashback/dream episodes have a touch of the flimsy about them. This is only a minor quibble, though, and not really a reflection on Don Record’s skill as a special effects artist, considering this was pretty advanced technical fair for television in the late 1960’s. Essentially, the work probably couldn’t have been done any better at that time, which makes this first official entry in the long and prestigious line of made-for-TV shudderfests legitimately worth your attention and an absolute must for all fans of venerable, well-made horror films.
Ben Spurling, Horrorpedia
” …the story is fascinating and takes some very interesting turns, the acting is strong, and it was quite ambitious […] The biggest problem with the movie is that the dialogue is clumsy at times; it’s full of dialogue that looks better on paper than it sounds coming from the mouths of actual people. Nevertheless, this is a unique and and interesting TV movie that works well as both horror and mystery.” Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings
“This early teleterror is well acted, especially from a fresh faced young Day (she hadn’t yet married Christopher George) and Jourdan is good as Sorel. A bit talky at times, nevertheless this knows when to reel it in when necessary and manages to be decent late nite viewing.” The Terror Trap
Cast and characters:
- Louis Jourdan – Dr. David Sorrell + Swamp Thing; Count Dracula; Daughter of the Mind
- Lynda Day George – Barbara Anholt + Mortuary + Pieces + Day of the Animals + Ants!
- Carroll O’Connor – Myles Donovan
- Bradford Dillman – Paul Varney + Piranha; Bug; Chosen Survivors; Moon of the Wolf
- Wilfrid Hyde-White – Harry Snowden + The Cat and the Canary; Chamber of Horrors; Ten Little Indians
- Marsha Hunt – Mrs. Varney
- Katherine Woodville – Ingrid Dorne
- Harry Davis – Mr. Wyant
- Ivor Barry – Lecturer
- Jeanne Buckley – Miss Barnett
- Robert Sampson – First Party Guest + The Dark Side of the Moon; Re-Animator; City of the Living Dead
- Lyn Peters – Second Party Guest
- Susan Brown – Third Party Guest