Tagline: 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
18 | 105 min | Horror
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 is terrible. It is adequate. Unspectacular. Banished to mediocrity by cheap sets and bad special effects. But the main problem is the total lack of scares on offer. For all the gore and the violence, this never really feels like a horror movie. There is nobody to care about, nobody to root for, and, most importantly, nobody to fear. Still, Englund met future wife Nancy Booth while making the movie, a set decorator who added the graffiti “R + N” to the raw, unedited footage, or “dailies”, shortly after they began dating, so in another way the movie was of great significance in the legendary horror icon’s career.
Nancy…I’m sure I’ve heard that name somewhere before.
The plot of 976-Evil 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 (Geoffreys) 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.
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. 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.
Of course, this is the late 1980s, so instead of relying on his unmitigated supernatural powers, the goat-legged abomination uses evolving technology as a gateway to the souls of humanity―in this case an auto-dialer, which is clearly evil since it is covered in cobwebs and glows red whenever left alone. The fact that the most malevolent force known to man sees a crummy local phone line as his preferred ticket to world domination should tell you all you need to know about the scope of this movie.
Following on from successful support roles in mainstream hits such as Fright Night, Geoffreys is typically memorable as the freakish hoax, tapping into the perverse loner character that landed him his first headline gig. With Craven protege Englund at the helm, spirits must have been high during pre-production, but Krueger’s transient detour into the realms of filmmaking proved too cruddy a platform for the young star to take that next leap, and it is perhaps telling that the actor’s subsequent role was in low-key terrestrial movie The Road Raiders, a derivative A-Team effort that seems almost on par production-wise.
Dubious use of budget aside, the movie suffers from a serious shortage of innovation. Reminiscent of Craven’s sillier cinematic escapades, it lacks the charm and creative spark to justify such nonsense, and when a supernatural movie relies on exploding telephone boxes and death by tarantula as its most memorable set-pieces, you know you’re in trouble.
Still, as a portal into the charmingly cheap horror video boom, this is well worth a look, featuring some pretty memorable make-up design and the kind of lavishly gore-laden embellishments that are sure to please fans with a taste for the Grand Guignol. If you’re anything like me, the second-rate special effects and two-bit set design will probably charm the pants off you too, as will the inevitable pools of neon and theatrical smoke, which ceaselessly cling to proceedings like the ghost of bad movies past.
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!