Evil Town Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome
Directed by Edward Collins, Peter S. Traynor, Larry Spiegel and Mardi Rustam
Written by Larry Spiegel and Richard Benson
1977 (1985), 83 minutes, Rated R
Released on May 23rd, 2019
James Keach as Christopher Fuller
Michele Marsh as Julie
Robert Walker as Mike Segal
Doria Cook as Linda
Dean Jagger as Dr. Schaeffer
Christie Hauser as Terrie
Dabbs Greer as Lyle Phelps
In the small town of, umm… Smalltown (population 666), people move at a slower pace. Idyllic country living and a strong sense of community offer a relaxed, stress free environment for all. There is something odd about this place, however, as the average age of the residents is fifty-five. There are no young people or kids around and the elderly seem overly friendly to outside visitors. When a group of four friends on a camping trip have car trouble, they pull into town for repairs, but parts are scarce and will take a few days to arrive. Chris, a pre-med student, and his girlfriend Julie along with their friends Mike and Linda make the best of their situation. They cross paths with Lyle, a local shop owner who offers them a place to stay until the repairs are complete. It isn’t long before things take a weird turn and our heroes lives are in danger.
The old folks in town are keeping a secret at the local hospital. Dr. Schaeffer is researching the pituitary gland and its mystical abilities involving the aging process. Employing local residents to bring him fresh subjects, he experiments on the young to benefit the old. This isn’t so much a spoiler as it is a shortcut through lots of wandering around and a revolving door of disposable characters that exist solely for the purpose of advancing Schaeffer’s plot. You may be asking yourself how these old codgers are capable of overpowering the virile youth – the answer lies in the buttermilk doughnuts and tea.
Evil Town is a low-budget horror movie that took an interesting path to completion. What started in 1975 as God Bless Grandma and Grandpa for director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential), a story of the elderly experimenting on young people to extend their own lives, took many detours before it was released. Hanson left the project and producer Larry Spiegel (Remo Williams) was brought on board to shape the material into something called God Damn Doctor Shagetz (1977). The film was poorly received and shelved for the better part of a decade. In 1985, producer Mardi Rustam (Eaten Alive) acquired the rights and shot additional footage involving a new group of characters and recut the picture into its current version, releasing it to the home video market in 1987. The 1980s content doesn’t exactly match the material shot in the 1970s, but the re-tooled script expands the story to include additional violence and some gratuitous nudity.
The original footage from the 1970s production tells a straightforward story of medical science gone awry. The added content rambles from one scene to the next and focuses on a pair of auto mechanics charged with bringing new test subjects to the hospital. The men take advantage of their position and begin hanging on to the female victims for their own sexual gratification before turning them over to the mad doctor. There’s a parade of characters brought in to pad the running time and many die before even receiving a name. There are additional scenes added to the hospital location involving a nurse and an escaped patient, but these add nothing to the mix.
There is an entire subgenre of “elder horror” in which old people are the villains including titles like Grandmother’s House, Mother’s Day and Drag Me to Hell. Evil Town is not a good movie, but it is interesting to watch as an editing exercise. Knowing the production’s troubled history ahead of time makes for a more entertaining viewing experience and helps alleviate some of the confusion. I can appreciate Rustam’s efforts to quicken the pace and up the exploitation value, but it compromises the original story’s integrity. The end result is a mixed bag, but it definitely has its share of goofy moments that make it worth a look.
Video and Audio:
The original film elements have been scanned and remastered for this HD debut and the results are impressive. The material shot in the 1980s sticks out a bit, but colors are evenly matched and flesh tones appear natural throughout.
A DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track gets the job done without being overly impressive. Dialogue levels are clean and free from hiss or other distortion.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
An all-new audio interview with Director Larry Spiegel (32 minutes) catches up with the filmmaker by phone. He talks about his start in commercials and writing for television before coming onboard Evil Town in the mid-1970s to replace Curtis Hanson. He reveals the film was a tax shelter opportunity for the investors and discusses some of the differences from the original edit. He goes on to share stories from his later career and seems genuinely pleased for the opportunity to reflect on this early work.
In 1985, producer Mardi Rustam made a film called Evils of the Night. He took inspiration from this other project and recycled several scenes almost shot for shot, using a different cast, into Evil Town. In the segment Compare and Contrast (6 minutes) we see a handful of these scenes played back to back.
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