Path of Evil is Just... Well... (Sigh)

Path of Evil opens with a long helicopter shot of the Oregon shoreline.

From this we can learn one of two things: A) The producers rented a helicopter or 2) They invested in some stock footage. Either way, it goes on for thirty second before someone starts talking, but don't worry - they've got time to kill. At 112 minutes, this film is twenty-six minutes longer than the previous entry, and nearly half-an-hour longer than it has any right to be, and they had to pad out the running time somehow.

The puzzling thing about the opening is not the fact of the monologue, which talks about how when the main character was a child, he heard evil voices telling him bad things were going to happen, and that his parents told him to say a prayer to keep things sunny and positive.

That seemingly didn't work out too well for them. Also, since the parents died in 1984, I can't really blame Jake for this, but couldn't someone have sprung for something more expensive than styrofoam for the comically small tombstones? Setting aside for a second the insanity of burying someone at the edge of a cliff (isn't that basically solid rock a foot down? And if not, aren't you encouraging a landslide?), what's going on with the little white crosses next to the little grey tombfoams? Were their pets also murdered?

Here's a tip for aspiring low-budget filmmakers who can't afford a convincing fake tombstone: film a real tombstone from a reverse angle, with the character looking down at it sadly. That way the wrong name isn't in the shot! Also, go at night, so people don't get all up in arms about you filming in their graveyard.

You know, I just realized that I've written four paragraphs about the first three shots of this film, at this rate (and seriously, given the content of this movie, I could keep going at this rate), we could wind up being here for twenty pages, so I'm going to move into another format now, addressing some of the issues the film has, point-by-point.

1 - Can you sue over stolen body language? And also everything else?

I'm not sure you'll remember the killer from Harvest of Fear - other than it was Billy, of course. He had a generic scar-face mask, and wore a hoodie. That was it. Generic slasher film stuff. Billy has, shall we say, upgraded his inspirations for this new series of murders.

Here's the original killer, standing over the dead body of Jake's parents (oh, right, Jake's parents are dead now), wearing a boiler suit and carrying his knife in a downwards stabbing grip. Now here's Billy's version of the same look-

Yup. He's dressed exactly like Mike, and even uses identical ramrod-straight posture. And that's just the look and body language - every single murder scene in this film is shot to resemble something from a Halloween movie.

Observe! He even loves the background lurking! Hey, they may be thieves, but at least they're stealing from the best, right?

2 - Yeah... that completely didn't happen.

While I was attempting to figure out all the lingering mysteries of Harvest of Fear, the thing I focused on most was the puzzle of Jake and Stacey's dead siblings. Since that no longer happened, the filmmakers have decided to give Jake a new tragic backstory: apparently his parents were now two of the victims of the original Harvest Killer!

This, it would seem, gives Jake an additional motivation to go after the Harvest Killer (version 1 or 2), but it creates yet another discrepancy with the first film. We were told - explicitly - that the victims in the first massacre were college kids in town for the festival. Had a Sheriff's deputy and his wife been murdered, it surely would have come up.

More importantly, though, this additional backstory is the first major change caused by the decision to elevate Jake to Main Character status. It isn't the last, nor are any of them in service of a particularly good decision.

3 - This is even less of a sequel than I thought.

How many murders were committed by the Harvest Killer? I thought that would be a fairly easy question to answer, since we're told, unequivocally, that the original murders included 12 victims. Now, a reasonable person might assume that the second set of murders would also be an even dozen, since Billy was attempting to recreate his father's crimes in as much detail as possible.

That's not the case, however. A simple recounting of the first film's murders reveals that there were a total of 17 victims. Fifteen sexy teens/college students, the old codger, and his ne'er-do-well son.

Now I can't imagine that the writers and director of this film made a simple mistake here - after all, this movie was made immediately after the last one by the exact same cast and crew? How could they possibly have forgotten the body count? They were there for filming all of those death scenes, weren't they?

Which means I'm forced to assume this is another of their intentional changes. So who wasn't murdered any more, and why? We don't get any information about any of the victims other than the old man (and even then, it's just in relation to the fact that Carpenter's wallet was found next to his body) - so there doesn't seem to be any plot reason for the alteration.

So why the change in numbers? Could it really be the result of that profound an inattention to detail?

4 - Resurrection creates plot problems

Why couldn't they just leave doctor Carpenter dead?

Here he is, in jail, being interviewed by an academic writing a book about the Harvest Killer. We'll get to that in a minute. First off, though, let's consider just how preposterous it is that he would have been convicted of, or even charged with, any of these murders. The sum total of the evidence against him is that someone left a wallet at the old man's crime scene, and that he picked up a knife in Stacey's house.

If the character is dead, then he can't defend himself, and maybe - just maybe - the frame would hold. If he's alive, couldn't he just tell them where he was during one of those SEVENTEEN murders? After all, there's no way he didn't have an alibi for any of them, right? And that's not even getting into the fact that he tells literally everyone he meets that Billy is the real killer! Why wouldn't they believe him?

Sure, in the previous film, when Billy was just a medical student whose father, the Medical Examiner of a nearby large city (Portland?) sent him to Devil's Lake to do an internship before coming to work in his office, that accusation might have seemed like a stretch. Now, though, Billy's backstory has been... adjusted. It seems that his father was only a medical examiner for a few short years, during which time he and his equally insane wife were brutally abusive to young Billy - abuse that ended when Billy killed his own mother in self-defense! The father disappeared off the radar immediately after the death of his wife, and has never been heard from again!

If you told the police that this new 'Dark Backstory Billy' was the killer, how could they help but believe you? Especially when you add in the fact that he was seen lurking outside the crime scene just before a murder (That's how they got Berkowitz!) and that he doesn't have an alibi for any of the crimes - hell, the one night he spent with Stacey was, not at all coincidentally, the one night nobody got killed.

How could the cops have thought anyone else was the killer?

5 - The Canonization of Saint Jake

Now, let's talk about Jake, the a-hole thug who cheated on his girlfriend and was kicked to the curb as a result. Suddenly every character in the world of the film loves him, worries about him, and bends over backwards to accommodate his sullen, drunken self-pity.

Lee Silver (incompetent cop!) takes him out to bars and tries to talk sense into him!

A local nurse can't stop hitting on him!

The former sheriff encourages him to engage in his own private investigation of the recent murders!

The current sheriff is desperate for Jake to put his life together and get back on the job, despite the fact that he was put on suspension for beating up Billy!

Hell, even Stacey suddenly admits that's she is still (and always has been) in love with Jake, despite the whole cheating incident. Which, in case I didn't mention it earlier, was a situation in which he arrested a college girl for being drunk and disorderly, she offered sexual favors in exchange for being released without charge, and he agreed to those terms.

So, for the record, he's not just a run-of-the-mill dirtbag who got a little drunk at a party - this is a guy who's willing to disgrace his uniform and use his position to extort bribes from vulnerable women. That's a criminal action that fits well under a sexual predator classification - so it's clear that the movie would have to go a long way towards redeeming him in the audience's eyes.

It doesn't do any of that, however. No, Jake never does anything nice for anyone, or has a kind word for anyone, or really ever comes across as a sullen, drunken, selfish dick - this is a man with literally no good qualities. Which just makes everyone's passionate desire to make sure he does well seem absurd.

6 - Does character being assassinated factor in the bodycount?

From minute one of this film, the new 'Dark Backstory Billy' proves to be a much greater scumbag than he'd been last time around. And he was the killer last time.

Despite all the brutal murdering, however, Billy never seemed like he was that bad of a guy. In fact, him being the murderer would have come completely out of left field, had his behaviour upon being arrested not been so utterly bizarre.

That's not the face an innocent man makes. He doesn't protest his innocence, or ask for a lawyer, he simply glares smugly at Jake, taunting him with the fact that he can't be caught. It's at that point that everyone realizes he's the killer.

But other than that? Pretty decent fella.

Not any more, though. Now he's mean and dismissive to everyone, verbally and physically abusive to his girlfriend, really just a monster in every possible way. The filmmakers seem to believe that by making Billy unconscionably scummy Jake will look better by comparison, and we'll therefore accept him as our heroic lead.

Like most of their other attempts, however, it's a failure. The audience is left with two scummy guys at the forefront of the story, and between them is a woman who it's impossible to empathize with. After all, who could feel sympathy for a person so masochistic that she wants to spend time with either of these jerks?

7 - Friday the 13th Part 3D wasn't a mystery

I was going to put 2 in the chapter title, but I guess it's just slightly possible that people who'd seen Friday the 13th wouldn't automatically assume that Jason was going to be the killer the second time around. Although, based on the opening scene, the killer is clearly aggrieved over the beheading of Mrs. Voorhees.

What are the odds that V8 paid for that product placement?
Nothing subtle about that.

Which is what makes the structure of this film so incredibly puzzling. Harvest of Fear was a mystery, which is all well and good. Path of Evil can't be, however, because it's got the same killer! Despite this, the movie still acts like we're not supposed to know who the killer is!

Here's an example from the middle of the movie.

Jake goes off into the woods to get drunk-

And contemplate suicide. He's too cowardly to go through with it, though, so he drives off (still drunk, remember), and hassles the hot nurse and her boyfriend:

Who were just headed off into the woods to have public sex while a crazed murderer stalks the town-

Which is completely a thing that real people completely do. Long story short, they get brutally murdered by the killer - and the fact that Jake is suspiciously close to the crime scene while angry and drunk serves only to make him look suspicious. Not that anything comes of it. With this setup, one might think that a bottle with Jake's fingerprints would be found near the crime scene, turning him into a suspect. Never happens. There is no plot relevance to this incident at all, it's only in the film to make the audience think that Jake might be the killer. Except he can't be, because Billy is.

The film tries so desperately to frame things as a mystery that, towards the end I began to doubt myself, and wonder if I was being tricked - what if Billy really wasn't the killer, and I'd been hoodwinked?

Nope. He's the killer, and the movie was just wasting everybody's time.

8 - Welcome to Floating Island of Isolation, Oregon

I know I harped about this last time, but since they repeat the same stupid mistake here, I'm going to lay it out again.

Before the big showdown at the end, within the film's timeline there are six murders in six days. With Jake under suspension, there are a total of two people in the Sheriff's department. That's three times as many murders as there are cops in the town.

Not only are the FBI and state police completely absent from the story, no one even mentions the possibility of getting some help in to protect the town and track down the killer.

Just saying.

9 - It doesn't really work as a sequel, either

For everything the film Harvest of Fear did wrong (for the record, that was 'nearly everything'), at least by the end of the film everything is wrapped up in a neat little package. The 'murderer' has been caught, Billy's plan worked, and he was able to leave with his head held high, ready to start his career as medical examiner/serial killer along with his father.

Except he didn't follow through on that last part. Instead, he remained in Devil's Lake and started killing people again.

Why on earth would he do that? What could a new series of murders possibly accomplish other than to make it seem like Carpenter was framed, and the real killer is still out there?

Billy has no apparent motivation for his actions, and since he doesn't seem to be acting under his father's wishes, why is he doing any of this?

Why is he still killing in that town, when the only possible result of doing so is drawing attention to himself and his father?

10 - The most pointless subplot ever

While I've covered most of the film's major points so far in this 'review', I've left out an entire section of the film's plot, largely because of how incredibly poorly it gels with the rest of the movie's content.

This is the Professor, who's giving a lecture about serial killers to his class. Everything he says is generic nonsense about intelligent white men, blah, blah, blah, I talk about media portrayal of serial killers all the time in my Criminal Minds reviews, I'm not going to go into it here.

This is Janelle, a former student of his who is writing a book about the Harvest Killer. The film then follows her as she visits Doctor Carpenter, goes over her notes with the Prof, and finally interviews Stacey about Billy and his father, who Carpenter suspects are the original and new Harvest Killers.

Until that meeting with Stacey, though, the two plotlines don't intersect in any meaningful way. Her conversation with Carpenter serves to spell out exposition for anyone who didn't see Harvest of Fear - that's right, even if you didn't already know Billy was the killer, the film tells you (take that, mystery!) - and her sessions with the professor are, like his initial lecture, utterly pointless.

This scene is the one place where the two storylines overlap, and even then it doesn't have any impact on the plot. Sure, Stacey finds out about Billy's new Dark Backstory, but she doesn't tell anyone about it, or use the information in any meaningful way, and she's dead two scenes later. So what does it matter?

At the end of the scene Janelle gets a phone call from Prof, who thinks he's discovered some key new background information on the Harvest Killer, and she rushes off to meet him, disappearing from the film in the process.

When I first watched the film, it was the end of this scene when I figured out what was going on - that the Professor was secretly Billy's absent, serial-killing father. This twist is supposed to allow for a terrifying ending, when, even after Billy's death, Prof is able to exact his revenge on Jake-

Which wraps up the plot nicely. Except for one thing. How did Jake not see that coming? Now that Billy's been identified as the New Harvest Killer, and Carpenter is likely on his way to being sprung from jail, the only remaining suspect for the original Harvest Killings is Prof - yes, he's not living under his own name any more, but the man was a medical examiner in two different cities before abandoning his life. There must be a wealth of pictures of him - how is tracking him down not job #1 for the state cops? This is a chance to solve one of the most shocking unsolved crimes in the history of the state!

Why doesn't Jake seem to understand that a serial killer with a grudge may be out to get him? It's not like he dies the next day or anything - there's been time to bury Stacey next to his parents at their preposterous cliffside graveyard:

Hold on - she doesn't have any family to be buried next to? And what's with the weird gap - oh, right, it's so Jake can get buried between his girlfriend and mother. Which isn't awkward at all, in case you're wondering.

The point, though, is that if there's been time enough for things to settle down, the real authorities to come in and wrap up the case, and Stacey to be buried, there's also been plenty of time for someone to wonder whatever happened to Billy's serial-killing father.

11 - Since I've got nowhere else to put this-

It didn't really fit into any of the other categories, but the killer in Path of Evil has one of oddest quirk's I've ever seen in a slasher film. Despite the fact that he presumably doesn't want to get caught for his crimes, Billy makes a habit of driving his own car to crime scenes-

And leaving it parked in the driveway while he's murdering people inside:

Weird, right?

12 - Oh, and finally...

The film ends in the only way it possibly could, with a vitriolic “Screw you, audience!”

So, wait, it was all a dream that child Jake was having? Or was it a premonition he had of his impending death years later? And hey, what about those voices Jake claimed to hear when he was a child. That was them at the end, right? Does any of that matter?


Okay, then.

So that's Path of Evil. Will we ever get a third film in the proposed 'Harvest of Fear' trilogy that I just made up in my head just now? Probably not. But that won't stop me from hoping!

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