Rosemary's Exorcist, or...
Good Against Evil (1977)
a man suffers ill, let it be without shame;
Some of you may remember a television series called Good vs. Evil that ran just a few short years ago. For those of you who missed it, G vs. E followed the adventures of two detectives who essentially work for God. They track down people who have sold their souls to the Devil and try to get them to realize that they have chosen a poor contractual party and obligation. For the sake of credibility, the setting for their beat is Hollywood.
One of the detectives has been doing this job since the 1970's and has changed neither physically nor culturally from the time he started. Result: He's still packin' some residual seventies baaaaaaaadness.
So should you hear about a movie from the seventies called Good Against Evil, you might think that would be the movie that inspired the much later series with a similar name. But that probably wasn't the case. Yes, this movie is a pilot for a series about two guys who essential work for God by tracking down people who are bound to the Devil. But no, nothing quite so witty or original happens here....
We open in 1955. A woman is having a rough time during a delivery. OK, make that a worse than average time. She rants about how "they" want her baby. And she's having unpleasant flashbacks of a man (Richard Lynch) and her recent kidnapping. She finally gives birth. It's a girl. Later, the mother meets with a suspicious, fatal accident involving a black cat. The baby is presented to a room full of diverse people at a classy party. The dream man from earlier takes the baby and holds her up to a statue of a horned figure. (At this point, we are horrified -- by the thought that we have accidentally picked up a copy of Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby (1976).)
Twentyish years later: Twentyish (for this movie's purposes) Jessica Gordon (Elyssa Davalos) is at work. She's a fashion designer at a boutique in San Francisco. While she, her boss Agnes (Erica Yohn), and their deeply Old World Jewish associate Beatrice (Lillian Adams) banter, they hear a car-smack outside. Jessica's car has been hit. She runs outside and finds the somewhat photogenic (and annoyingly cutesy) freelance reporter Andy Stuart (Dack Rambo) examining the large dent & scrape. And thus begins Andy's quest to woo Jessica. She expresses no interest in him, but he's persistent. Within a week, they're dating regularly. (So remember kids: No doesn't mean no.)
The romance has a few ups and downs. And it's eventful: A balding man (Richard Stahl) begins shadowing them, Jessica is told that her fortune involves the birth of a child who will reign in havoc, and Andy is nearly the victim of a suspicious, fatal accident involving a black cat. Jessica agrees to marry Andy. They go to a church to talk to a priest called Father Wheatley (John Harkins). But when Jessica walks toward the altar, the room turns dark and cold. The next day (after Andy is nearly the victim of another suspicious, fatal accident involving a black cat), the priest takes Andy aside and explains it: Jessica has been "touched by Astaroth." Andy's not buying it and becomes angry when the priest suggests that Andy should talk to somebody called Father Kemschler, who is an authority on such things.
Meanwhile, the dream man, who is called Mr. Rimmin, has been visiting with a shadowy, evil being and promising a perfect woman, still a virgin. Later, he pays a visit to Agnes (probably not the virgin in question) and lets her know his displeasure about the recent turn of events. He concludes this meeting with a suspicious, fatal accident involving a closed room full of cats. Jessica comes home that night, and Rimmin is waiting for her. He holds a pocket-watch on a chain. It swings back and forth. She goes into a trance.
Andy arrives at Jessica's apartment the next day. Not only is Jessica gone, but so is everything in her apartment. He goes to the boutique where she works, but it's been closed, and there's a "For Sale" sign in the window. When he goes to see Father Wheatley, he finds the church vandalized with Satanic symbols and the priest swinging by his neck at the end of a rope.
New Orleans: Rimmin and Jessica are met at the airport by Irene (Peggy McCay). With Jessica out of earshot, Rimmin explains that he's only altered her memory of the last two years. But the man she loved is going to be a problem for as long as he still loves her. Irene suggests an accident. (Strangely, cats are not mentioned.) Rimmin refuses (for reasons that would make sense only within the context of a convoluted series pilot) and says he'll have to make him forget her. He has a plan....
Andy picks up the local newspaper and sees a story on the front page (with a suspiciously over-sized headline) about a girl in a coma drawing a strange symbol -- which Andy saw earlier in the vandalized church. He flies to New Orleans and tries to see the girl at the hospital, but no go. But he does run into the girl's mother: It's his old girlfriend Linda (Kim Cattrall)., recently divorced. While she's telling him about her daughter's nearly fatal, suspicious accident involving a black cat, enter a doctor. He tells them that the girl has come out of her coma and will be OK. Andy goes with Linda to her home, where they run into Father Kemschler (Dan O'Herlihy). The priest insists that the little girl's condition is not a physical malady; she has been possessed and must have an exorcism....
The opening scenes have flashes of arty originality. Several of these shots have a cat shadow in the background, straining to catch something. (Actually, the cat is probably trying to get some food placed by his handler, but it's still a nice effect.) For a moment, you think you're going to see a visually creative movie.
We also liked the way the story showed the level of manipulation that Rimmin uses on Jessica. He steals/represses her memories while giving her new ones. It's effectively presented psychological evil. If it weren't for the loose ends, he'd own her reality.
The thing you're likely to remember the most about this movie is how relentlessly unoriginal it can be. The opening sequence suddenly turns into the ending of Rosemary's Baby. Later, a long sequence exhaustively copies the style and content of the exorcism sequence from The Exorcist. Perhaps if a series followed this movie pilot, it would've been rip-off of the week. We're talking Roland Emmerich levels of pop-culture regurgitation here.
There are suspenseful scenes with cats. OK, these scenes were apparently supposed to have suspense. Thanks to my roommate Mr. Peeve (and the article he wrote), I've learned to be amused by how cats are used in horror movies. Those of you who have friends like Mr. Peeve might also be unintentionally entertained by some of the threatening cats in this movie. Our favorite: A frightened woman is mobbed by a roomful of cats. These horrible, vicious beasts of Hell arrive - with their happy tails in the air and their furry little faces darting around for treats. Oh, the brutal terror of the moment! I'm surprised they could show it on TV.
And then there's the hackneyed plot non-justification involving Andy. They can't just get rid of him? There is some dialogue about this matter, but it rather abruptly changes the subject before it resolves anything . They could've just made it, "You know why we can't touch him," and let it be known this was for the audience to figure out with a possibility it might be answered in a series.
Paul Wendkos (director) had a solid career as a movie and TV director before and after Good Against Evil. His most popular stuff included Gidget (1959), The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975), and a pilot move called Hawaii Five-O: Cocoon (1968). But he had mostly dramas and crime stories in his resume. Despite doing a marvelous job with the occult thriller Fear No Evil (1969), he wasn't what you'd call a horror director, and Good Against Evil isn't what you'd call a favorable example of his work.
Jimmy Sangster (screen writer) helped to revitalize and innovate gothic horror in the late 1950's when he wrote the screenplays for The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958), which he followed up with a string of gothic monster and psychological horror scripts that became hits. A few years later, he was out of the loop with The Horror of Frankenstein (1970), which he wrote, produced, and directed. Over the next few years he worked in American television and movies. In the time before Good Against Evil, he was working as a writer and script editor for Movin' On (1974 - 1976), which was a series about the adventures of a couple of truckers. Perhaps the series set-up within Good Against Evil naturally followed that experience. Innovative occult horror, apparently and unfortunately, did not.
Dack Rambo (Andy) already had a regular career on TV movies and other shows, often playing in westerns. Good Against Evil is not his best time as an actor. It didn't catch as a series, but his next project, The Sword of Justice, did - if only for a season. He'd go on to better parts (Jack Ewing in Dallas) and worse parts (Ultra Warrior (1990)). But he gained his most devoted following when he became an activist for AIDS awareness after he became HIV-positive. He died in 1994.
Richard Lynch (Mr. Rimmin) was a stage actor who crossed over to the movies in Scarecrow (1973). He became something of a high grade B movie regular, usually playing bad guys: Evil wizard in The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982), chief terrorist in Invasion USA (1985), and the fan-base favorite, just plain evil in Vampire (1979). He's a good fit as the photogenic bad guy in Good Against Evil, where he's got a Christopher Walken thing going for him. You can visit his official website.
Dignified and hard driving Dan O'Herlihy (Father Kemschler) had some critically memorable parts (General Black in Fail-Safe (1964), Macduff in Macbeth (1948)), but people are most likely to remember him as the substantial CEO on RoboCop (1987), the prankster CEO in Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), and my favorite O'Herlihy character, the "gung-ho iguana" in The Last Starfighter (1984).
This was near the beginning of a TV and film career for Kim Cattrall (Linda), and we note that even back then she was mildly hyperkinetic and had troubles keeping a blouse together. People are most likely to remember her in Big Trouble in Little China (1986) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). Bad movie aficionados know her for City Limits (1985) and Mannequin (1987), and premium cable zombies in America praise her in Sex and the City (1998 ff.). Lately she's becoming better known more for her activism and for being culturally outspoken than for her acting, which I guess is kind of important when your recent resume has stuff like Baby Geniuses (1999) and Crossroads (2002).
Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Girl is the unwitting pawn of a mystic diabolical conspiracy. Boy loses girl. He looks for her and meets a priest; series to follow. A few nifty touches of arty creativity and psychological terror are buried under an astounding avalanche of commercial unoriginality. Scenes with monster cats that are just too cute to frighten anyone. Rationale for making this a series is too convoluted. Good supporting characters played by noteworthy character actors, but the male lead character is unaccountably annoying. Recommended as an example of late 1970's television's ubiquitous occult entertainment. Not to be confused with Good vs. Evil, but could be associated with End of Days.
Originally published on 18 July 2003