In Where Evil Dwells, every night is Halloween.
On June 19, 1984, Long Island teenager Ricky Kasso went to the woods, smoked PCP, ate acid, and stabbed his friend Gary Lauwers in the eyes almost thirty times. During the murder, Kasso allegedly demanded Lauwers to “say you love Satan.” Since Kasso was a Judas Priest fan and admitted to dabbling in Satanism, he helped Satanic panic reach a fever pitch in American pop culture. Kasso’s story inspired everyone from Sonic Youth, who wrote the song “Satan Is Boring” for the album Bad Moon Rising, to paperback shyster David St. Clair, who wrote the distorted exposé Say You Love Satan.
But none of those projects were as inspired as Where Evil Dwells.
A ventriloquist dummy speaks to the camera and sets up the story, then attacks someone with a tiny knife. Ricky Kasso and friends dig up corpses in a graveyard and throw them at cars from a highway overpass. A rollercoaster ride is intercut with a reenactment of Gary Lauwers’ midnight murder. The mannequin gore looks like it oozed from the set of H.G. Lewis’s The Gore Gore Girls, but the relentless eye-stabs are still brutal. Someone pokes roadkill with a stick while a guy wearing a toga eats chicken. Eventually, the movie devolves into a reckless Satanic ritual featuring the whipping of a mummy, homoerotic heavy petting, and a sacrifice to Lucifer himself, who takes the shape of a cigar-chomping businessman in a three-piece suit. The end credits are pulled out of the mouth of a vintage Ben Cooper skull mask and lit on fire.
Where Evil Dwells has no time for linear storytelling. The details of Ricky Kasso’s story are represented, but the focus is on creating a living, breathing nightmare on Super 8 film. Like Tom Hanson’s The Zodiac Killer, this is an interpretation of a true crime that was made while the events were still fresh. But Zodiac Killer is pure exploitation. Director Hanson had no ambitions aside from wanting to “catch the killer” and also catch a big pile of dough. Where Evil Dwells is the opposite — an unfinished, 30-minute juggernaut of experimental sludge-horror that could set the tone for a thousand haunted house dance parties hosted by Lux Interior and Poison Ivy from The Cramps.
Filmmakers Tommy Turner and David Wojnarowicz were part of The Cinema of Transgression, a collective of underground filmmakers in New York City who made movies that felt like they originated on a planet where John Waters’ Mondo Trasho was more revered than Lawrence of Arabia. This is a planet that I’d like to visit permanently. Where Evil Dwells falls more on the “pop” side of the Transgression movement. It’s unsettling, but the experience of watching has more in common with Olaf Ittenbach’s Premutos than a Stan Brakhage short — it’s the equivalent of huffing nitrous in a lucid dream. The soundtrack warbles with pitch-shifted voices, metal songs (AC/DC’s “Hells Bells,” Wiseblood’s “Where Evil Dwells”) from a third-generation cassette dub, and tape-manipulated church sermons. The camera never sits still. The visuals feel like they’re being piped in from beyond the grave. All of this adds up to an experience that’s beyond criticism. This movie is a timeless artifact that remains the most fascinating interpretation of Ricky Kasso’s deranged story. At least until you watch Jim Van Bebber’s My Sweet Satan.
Where Evil Dwells feels like it was actually made by Satan, and that’s the highest compliment I could ever hope to give a movie.