Title: 976-EVIL (1988)
Director: Robert Englund
Cast: Stephen Geoffreys, Patrick O’Bryan, Sandy Dennis, Robert Picardo
So 976-EVIL is a film known primarily for two things: it stars Stephen Geoffreys (‘Evil’ from Fright Night (1985)) and it was directed by Robert Englund. Now, Robert Englund is of course best known for playing Freddy Krueger on the A Nightmare on Elm Street series of films, but he’s also been known to direct a couple of horror films. So far, his repertoire includes a horror film called Killer Pad (2008) about a house that has a portal into hell in it’s basement, a couple of episodes of the Freddy’s Nightmare’s television series and the film I’ll be reviewing today: 976-EVIL. How was this, his first directorial effort?
On this film we meet a nerdy highschool student called Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys) and his cool James Dean type cousin Spike. Spike is kind of ashamed to have Hoax as his cousin because Hoax is such a super nerd, but on the other hand Hoax worships Spike and wishes he could be more like him. One day while reading a magazine, Spike stumbles upon an advertisement for a phone service that gives you your “horrorscope” for the day. Out of curiosity and boredom Spike calls and gets advice from the telephone service, but he quickly gets freaked out by it and quits calling. Unfortunately, Hoax gets hooked with the service and starts calling regularly. It isn’t long before Hoax is doing everything that the horrorscope tells him to do. What evil powers lay behind this telephone service?
Stephen Geoffreys gets Satanic!
Well, I gotta say, this isn’t a bad little horror movie for a first time effort from Mr. Englund. This is the kind of film in which the nerdy teenager who gets beat up and harassed by everybody suddenly gets revenge on all those who wronged him; not unlike Evil Speak (1981), Trick or Treat (1986) or Fear No Evil (1981) all of which have nerdy teenagers avenging themselves through Satanic powers. All of these movies are basically the same film, the teenager gets harassed by bullies in the first half, and on the second half the nerdy dude gets help from Satan and avenges himself. All the bullies get what was coming to them in various gruesome ways. Of course, it’s the little things that make them different. On Evil Speak, the main character connects with Satan through his computer, on Fear No Evil, the nerdy guy ends up being the antichrist, on Trick or Treat heavy metal music connects nerds with Satan and on 976-EVIL Hoax connects with Satan through the telephone service.
You mess with the bull you get the horns!
I liked a couple of things about this movie, for example, the angle about the mother being ultra religious and treating Hoax as if he was still a child. The mother played by Sandy Dennis is depicted as a religious fanatic who watches t.v. evangelists all the time and has paintings and statues of Jesus spread out through out the entire house. She was by far the most animated character in the film, very entertaining, she’s kind of a living cartoon of an over protective/religious fanatic mother. Stephen Geoffreys as Hoax is another plus for the film, he plays Hoax as a sexually repressed young man, who has to resort to watching pictures of naked African women from National Geographic magazine to satiate his sexual curiosities; he also ends up being a peeping tom, spying on his cousin as he’s having sex with his girlfriend. He’s kind of mousy and harmless, trying to break out of his shell. Another bonus on this film is Kevin Yagher’s make up effects for Hoax’s possessed visage. We get a couple of gory moments, Hoax showing signs of possession are very subtle at first and they grow and grow as the film progresses until by the end Hoax looks full blown demonic.
The film has a religious themed WTF?! moment in which suddenly, out of freaking nowhere fish start falling out of the sky as if it was some sort of miracle from God. It brought to mind a similar moment in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999) in which frogs start raining from the sky as if God was so angry at humanity that he performs this miracle to get them to remember he is watching. Funniest thing is that in 976-EVIL, this miraculous event doesn’t seem to phase anyone save for the religious mom who takes it as a sign from God himself. Everyone else keeps living their lives as if nothing had happened, including Spike and Hoax who saw the whole thing happened first hand. I mean, this sort of thing would make the town a freaking media event or something! But no, most of the time the town seems to be completely deserted, lifeless. Actually I liked this feeling the film had, as if the town was this desolated little town in the middle of nowhere. No people on the streets save for the characters in the film and the loose news papers rustling through the streets.
There’s these little inside jokes spread through out the whole movie. Since the movie is based on the premise that this phone service gives whoever hears it satanic powers, everything in the film is Satan related. The coffee shop is called “Dante” (as in Dante’s Inferno) the movie theater is called Diablo (Spanish world for Devil) one scene has a character about to eat a t.v dinner and the box reads “Devil Twins”. The local theater is apparently run by a group of teenagers (!!??) who have the projection room filled with posters from old horror movies like Maniac (1980) and even Fright Night (1985). In order to get your horrroscope for the day, you have to press “666” and so the Satanic inuendoes continue all through out the film, keep an eye out for them.
The big thing about this movie is that it was the film that Stephen Geoffrey’s decided to do instead of returning as many horror fans hoped he would, for Fright Night II (1988). I’m sure a lot of you out there ask yourselves why Geoffreys choose not to reprise his extremely memorable role of ‘Evil Ed’ in the Fright Night sequel and chose instead to appear in 976-EVIL? Fright Night II isnt a bad sequel in my book, but I’m sure it would have been a bit more memorable had Geoffreys returned. Geoffreys reply to this query is that he was looking forward to working with horror legend Robert Englund, a reason that I respect. Sadly, Geoffrey’s followed one bad career move with another, Im sure many of you are already aware of Geoffreys escapades in porn. Still, I think he managed to leave two notable performances in the horror genre, Hoax from 976-EVIL being one of them.
There’s a lot of silliness in this movie, but I guess that’s to be expected in a film from the 80’s, on top of that, were talking about a film whose premise is a Satanic powered horoscope phone service? On this film, telephone booths blow up without explanation! Guys get their hands chopped off and the best thing they can think of doing is using toilet paper from a public bathroom to cover the wound! Another guy gets his face sliced and he can think of nothing better than going to play poker with his buddies afterward! The local movie theater is run by a group of poker playing highschool teenagers! Fish fall from the sky and no one thinks nothing of it! But what the hell, 976-EVIL manages to be entertaining anyways in spite of all its flaws, and that’s what really matters in the end.
Rating: 3 out of 5