I am a Pennsylvanian and love my state, so I’ll probably have many Pennsylvania-related posts here. Here’s one on Pennsylvania-related movies.
Something Evil (1972). Directed by Steven Spielberg.
This Pennsylvania Dutch Amityville Horror is set, but not filmed, in Bucks County. It’s an enjoyable enough film if you’re interested in supernatural horror, but Bucks Countians might enjoy the film by looking out for characterizations of and references to their home.
The story focuses on a family from New York City who move to an old farm somewhere near New Hope, which, along with the county itself, are specifically named. Paul, one of the main characters, refers to “Washington’s Corner” at one point. Presumably this is a reference to Washington’s Crossing, though I can’t imagine why they would deliberately change the name. Was it simply an error?
Minor conflicts between city and country folk occur throughout the film. I didn’t live in Bucks County in 1972 – I didn’t live anywhere in 1972 – so I don’t know how rural the county was back then. But I’m sure it was much more so than it is now. Regardless, the film portrays the county as rural and Pennsylvania Dutch. In fact, a central feature of the story is the “hex sign,” that most popular of Pennsylvania Dutch iconography. Here, they, along with supposedly PA Dutch prayers, are employed as magical symbols to protect people from evil. I believe Marjorie, the main character, identifies the hex signs with the Amish at one point. The Amish, however, do not use hex signs. It was other PA Dutch folk who painted hex signs on their barns.
The most striking mischaracterization of Bucks is the land itself. Right away any Bucks Countian, or probably Pennsylvanian in general, will see that the landscape in the film is not local. The movie was filmed in California – and it looks like it. The climate seems semi-arid and the mountains are… well, there are mountains. But the misfit isn’t as bad as in The Deer Hunter, set in and around Pittsburgh, which used the enormous mountains of the Cascades to represent the ridges and plateau of the Alleghenies.
At a crucial moment of the film, Paul has to get from his office in NYC to his home in Bucks as quickly as possible. He asks his secretary to get him a helicopter to New Hope and to have a cab waiting for him at the airport. Was there an airport near New Hope in 1972? Or should we imagine Paul flying in an antique helicopter (is there such a thing?!) and landing at Van Sant Airport, with a cab waiting for him in the fields?