976-Evil (1988)

976-evil-posterTagline: Now, horror has a brand new number.

Director: Robert Englund

Writers: Brian Helgeland, Rhet Topham

Starring: Stephen Geoffreys, Patrick O’Brien, Sandy Dennis, Jim Metzler, Maria Rubell, Lezlie Deane, J.J. Cohen, Paul Willson, Greg Collins, Darren E. Burrows, Joanna Keyes, Gunther Jenson,
J.J. Johnston

18 | 105 min | Horror

Budget: Unknown


Review

After mainstream success as the fritter-faced Fred Krueger, Robert Englund swapped his razor-fingered glove for the camera, making his directorial bow with supernatural horror 976-Evil.

Thankfully, Englund’s was a short-lived career.

That’s not to say the movie was terrible. It was adequate. Unspectacular. Banished to mediocrity by cheap sets and bad special effects. But the main problem was the total lack of scares on offer. For all the gore and the violence, this never really felt like a horror movie. There was nobody to care about, nobody to root for, and, most importantly, nobody to fear.  

The plot involves two cousins at opposite ends of the high school popularity scale. Spike (O’Bryan) is a Harley-riding rebel who spends his time gambling with other dropouts in the projection room of the local picture house. Contrarily, Hoax (Geofferys) is a pyjama wearing pansy struggling under the ilk of his Evangelist mother, a roller-haired nut bag who spends her days stroking her collection of housebound cats and preaching the word of the lord.

976-evil

While contacting Satan, Hoax realised he still had some schoolwork left to do.

Hoax idolises Spike, with his Jim Morrison locks and ability to attract babes like fly paper. Driving around on his pop-and-whizz scooter, he dreams of the day when the two of them are finally able to ride across the States together, a fact that girlfriend Suzie (Deane) finds more than a little amusing. Having lived a life of unbridled oppression, Hoax is bordering on the perverted, sneaking over to Spike’s apartment to steal his girlfriend’s underwear or watching them screw through his telescope. The boy is a seriously messed-up puppy.

One particularly shitty evening, Spike finds a contact card for a horoscope hotline, and after dialling 666 – please! – he receives a rather accurate summation of his debt-fuelled day. Soon the devilish voice begins to tempt the cash-strapped biker into immoral acts, but when the messages grow insidious our leather-clad badass gets a pang of conscience, one that almost sees him killed as a consequence. Inevitably, that same card soon lands in the possession of his creepy little cousin, who instead of doing the right thing uses the devil’s influence to realise all of his darkest desires.

976-evil-2

Oh God! An auto-dialer! We’re doomed! Doomed, I tell you!!

After the skies inexplicably rain fish (you heard me) private investigator Marty (Metzler) begins snooping around the crappy neon-lit set, finally tracking down the owner of the death-dealing cards. But all he finds is an auto-dialer, one that had been switched off months earlier and which turns the room red whenever left by itself. Later, Marty intercepts a conversation between Hoax and Satan himself, who in a crummy local phone line found the perfect opportunity for world domination, and the implausible reality becomes immediately clear.

Before long, Hoax is performing satanic rituals in his bedroom, his lust for revenge growing by the day, and after a spate of symbolic murders he begins to transmute into a minion of Beelzebub, taking revenge on the bullies who tormented him and anyone else who decides to get in his way.

976-evil-3

Possession came at a hefty price – particularly for the special effects department.

With pretty much the entire cast laid to waste, it is then up to Spike to confront his demonic cousin after his mother’s home becomes a lousy looking portal to hell. After casual violence and a bullet to the head fail to have the desired effect, the former tough guy turns to trite emotional blackmail in an attempt to defeat the afterlife’s most malevolent force. 

Bet you wish you’d taken him on that cross country ride now, don’t you dipshit?



Best Kill

After stepping outside with two of his gambling tormentors, a newly possessed Hoax returns to the game holding both of their beating hearts, which coincidentally was enough to win the hand.

Most Absurd Moment

Seemingly at the end of his tether, an unnamed man confronts a ringing phone booth pragmatically situated at the end of a long, abandoned alley. Engaging in an O.K. Corral style stand-off, the man finally plucks up the courage to lift the receiver, which subsequently sees him set on fire and thrown fifty feet towards the camera in what is the most unlikely explosion you are ever likely to see. The man later lost a court battle with the insidious telecommunications giant said to be responsible.

Most Absurd Dialogue

After slashing his mother’s throat and leaving her splayed on the sofa, a mutated Hoax has some banter with her vicariously militant parrot.

Parrot: Not on the couch! Not on the couch!

Hoax: (squishes parrot) That’s what the plastic’s for, asshole!


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rtape rtape rtape btape btape

Having spent much time in the presence of innovative director Wes Craven, Englund does an adequate job with the budget at hand, but that’s about as far as it goes. 976- Evil is a trite tale of teenage oppression with a perverted underbelly that Krueger himself would have been proud of. That being said, the movie is never dull, and Geoffreys is a sleazy bundle of fun as the downtrodden Hoax. The actor would later forge a career as a gay pornstar, although when doing so – in spite of what some Evangelists may have you believe – he was not possessed by the devil.

At least, that is my understanding.

Cedric Smarts




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4 responses to “976-Evil (1988)

  1. I remember seeing this years ago, C.J. You are so correct in your assessment of Englund’s directorial effort. The funny thing is this script was written by Brian Helgeland who later went on to win an Academy Award for LA Confidential. He also wrote the screenplay for Mystic River. I guess everyone has to cut their teeth somewhere although Helgeland wrote Nightmare 4. It seems like one of those deals that looked good on paper…..

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    • Hello, my friend!

      That is interesting! I didn’t connect the dots there. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

      I suppose there are several factors that might have contributed to this. Of course, Helgeland was much younger when he wrote 976-Evil, and although talent is something that is innate, life experience is what turns potential into great art. Also, you can only produce what you’re tasked with producing. There is a huge gulf between schlocky B-grade horror – presumably imagined by Englund in this instance – and Clint Eastwood at his painstaking best (Clint is perhaps my favourite director by the way).

      Creative freedom is as much a factor in the work a writer produces, and what we get is not always a reflection of the extent of their capabilities. After all, this is a multi-billion dollar industry, and nothing is left to chance. Nightmare 4 was basically a vehicle for a whole host of special effects; elements such as plot and characterisation were very much peripheral. In regards to 976-Evil, I suppose it would depend on how much influence Helgeland had on the direction of the screenplay. Based on the quality of his later work, I’m guessing not very much.

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      • Clint is one of my favorites by the way as an actor & director. You are absolutely correct about life experiences. Helgeland was young perhaps not as wise to screenplay conventions plus lack of a budget. You can also throw in Englund’s lack of a track record as a director. A myriad of different reasons.

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