After stumbling home one dark and spooky night Paul Varney (Bradford Dillman) struggles to explain to his gorgeous fiancé Barbara (Lynda Day George) why he felt compelled to buy a creepy antique mirror. Later when their friend, physicist Myles Donovan (Carroll O'Connor) brings them to a party Paul's unusual behaviour intrigues suave parapsychologist Dr. David Sorel (Louis Jourdan). Events take a tragic turn on the drive home when Paul glimpses an horrific apparition in his rear-view mirror, which results in a fatal car crash leaving him dead and Barbara in hospital. Some time later a grieving Barbara moves in with Paul's mother (Marsha Hunt). At the estate she is tormented by visions of Paul or more likely his devilish doppelganger beckoning her from inside the mirror. When Barbara turns to David for help the occult expert discovers a secret satanic cult at work with designs on the young woman's soul.
Predating the more widely-known The Night Stalker (1971) by a couple of years, Fear No Evil helped spark the Seventies wave of made-for-TV thrillers centred around paranormal investigators: e.g. The Norliss Tapes (1973), Curse of the Black Widow (1977) and Gene Rodenberry's Spectre (1977). It was adapted from a short story by Guy Endore. A prolific Hollywood screenwriter and award-winning novelist, Endore dabbled in multiple genres but exhibited a particular aptitude for supernatural mysteries. His most famous genre novel: The Werewolf of Paris was adapted for the screen by Hammer Films as the Oliver Reed classic The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). However, Endore's cerebral, philosophical style held more in common with the refined horror productions of trail-blazing producer Val Lewton than the lurid melodrama of Hammer and is better served here.
Not to be confused with Frank LaLoggia's wilder 1981 horror film of the same name, Fear No Evil tapped into a growing fascination with the supernatural spawned by the increasing influence of the Sixties counterculture, which would only grow more pervasive in the coming decade. To that end the story juxtaposes playful, affable, intelligent protagonists representing the charming, free-spirited side of the Sixties with darker, more ominous activities. Thus creating a sense of a vibrant, life-affirming society unknowingly menaced by sinister forces intent on exploiting and draining that vitality. Perhaps part-inspired by the real-life exploits of Jack Parsons, a rocket engineer and noted occultist who dabbled in Thelemic magick, Endore and co-writer Richard Alan Simmons take an intelligent, non-didactic approach to dismantling Satanic ideology. Charismatically portrayed by the ever-debonair Louis Jourdan, Dr. David Sorel employs psychoanalysis, scientific reasoning, occult lore and basic human empathy to unravel the bogus pseudo-philosophies of his demonologist antagonists. More than a mere metaphysical conflict, his ultimate goal lies in convincing Barbara life is worth living even in the aftermath of senseless tragedy.
This steadfastly humanistic approach is among Fear No Evil's great strengths. If the dialogue is a tad arch and symptomatic of its era, the characters remain vivid and thoroughly engaging while the story is offbeat and gripping throughout. Alongside the magnetic Jourdan, future All in the Family star Carroll O'Connor acquits himself especially well in an intriguing role and the always-watchable Wilfrid Hyde-White pops up as David's sagely mentor. Meanwhile an especially lovely Lynda Day George invests her well-written heroine with a welcome sensitivity. For a made-for-TV movie from this period, Fear No Evil proves genuinely eerie and suspenseful. Certain scenes including Barbara's escape from an invisible force and a flashback to a satanic ritual are remarkably intense and disturbing and the film bows out with a suitably trippy and mind-bending payoff. Paul Wendkos cut his teeth on classic sci-fi serial The Invaders and brings the same paranoid tone to this story, making inspired use of shadowy visuals, tilted angles and a memorably creepy chorus of satanic whispering. Although best known for beloved teen movies Gidget (1959), Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961) and Gidget Goes to Rome (1963), Wendkos had a thriving parallel career crafting supernatural thrillers for the small screen along with the occasional big screen gig like The Mephisto Waltz (1971). His most celebrated work besides this was paranoid conspiracy classic The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) although his later genre outings Haunts of the Very Rich (1972), The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975) and Good Against Evil (1977) were hit and miss. Dr. David Sorel returned to do battle with the occult once again in Ritual of Evil (1970) although plans to spin the character off into an ongoing series called Bedevilled did not pan out.