976-Evil (1989)

Robert Englund

Stephen Geoffreys - Hoax Wilmoth
Patrick O'Bryan - Leonard "Spike" Johnson
Sandy Dennis - Lucy Wilmoth
Jim Metzler - Marty Palmer
Lezlie Deane - Suzie Walker
Maria Rubell - Angela Martinez
J.J. Cohen - Marcus
Robert Picardo - Mark Dark

Genre - Horror/Satanic/Supernatural

Running Time - 92 Minutes

Score - 2 Howls Outta 4

If you stay late at night watching television like I do, you'll occasionally see those hotlines where you have to call some number in order to talk to some "hot-looking" person on the phone. Yeah, the voice may sound feminine and sexy, but we all know it's some hairy dude who's probably a chain smoker saying the things we want to hear. Or maybe it's Nicole Bass or Chyna. I'm sure they could use all the money they can get right about now.

It's kind of weird seeing these hotlines still around, especially since it's easier and cheaper just to use the internet and connect with people on a similar level. These hotlines should have stayed back in the 1980s, where they were extremely popular and made horny, desperate suckers empty their pockets due to the massive phone bill they would receive at the end of the month.

Many television shows capitalized on this craze, such as Married With Children in every other episode at the time [it gave David Faustino something to do on the show]. You knew the film industry would jump on the bandwagon. The most popular film of this fad is probably Robert Englund's directorial debut, 976-EVIL. A hotline that can turn you demonic? Sure, why not? But after watching the film, you're just kind of left asking simply, "Why?"

Spike (Patrick O'Bryan) lives with his wimpy cousin Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys) and his crazy, melodramatic, religious fanatic of an aunt, Lucy (Sandy Dennis). Being rebellious and a badass on Friday Nights, Spike stays home and calls some hotline, 976-EVIL, that's a horrorscope of sorts and predicts your future. Spike doesn't follow some of the horrorscope's advice, leading to strange phenomena like him almost getting run over by a car without a driver.

The horrorscope moves on from Spike and focuses on Hoax, who is tired of being bullied by Spike's friends and wants to do everything in his power to seduce and win over Spike's girlfriend, Suzie (Lezlie Deane). Hoax calls the number, receives some advice to win over Suzie. It almost works but backfires on him at the end. Upset, Hoax decides to follow the horrorscope's advice by drawing a pentagram and using Satanic rituals to have spiders kill Suzie. Feeling guilty, yet addicted to 976-EVIL, Hoax slowly starts turning into a demon. He decides to get revenge on everyone who's done him wrong, leaving Spike, some cop (Jim Metzler), and his principal (Maria Rubell) to stop Hoax from completely opening the Gates of Hell.

is one of those films that has a great idea on paper but doesn't seem to know how to execute it visually to make it work. The premise is there, but it takes too long to get to the point. And when it does get to the point, it fizzles out faster than an opened can of Pepsi. I like to call 976-EVIL a missed opportunity that takes what potentially could have been a very good film and pretty much does nothing with it, leaving it mediocre as hell [no pun intended].

The story idea is great. I mean, a telephone hotline number that possesses you with an evil spirit so you can get revenge on those who treated you like crap? That's pretty cool, especially in the 1980s! And all the elements are here. You have the geek, Hoax, who is pretty much hiding in a shell because of a crazy religious mother and a cousin who pretty much ignores him most of the time. You have Spike, who is the badass "hero" of the story. You have the crazy religious mother that's probably related to Margaret White from CARRIE. You have the cute punk girl/love interest. You have the bullies who you want to see get destroyed. And then you have the cop and principal who don't add much to the film at all. Yet, most of these elements don't really establish themselves together as effectively as one would want. As a matter of fact, most of the scenes in the film are really shoddy and incoherent, just leading into each other without making much sense as to how it's all related at the end. I have a feeling that screenwriters Brian Helgeland [who would write much better works like L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and A KNIGHT'S TALE] and Rhet Topham honestly had a great story but just had issues as to how to tell it in 90 minutes. Especially when the first half of the film moves slow as hell and doesn't really do much to set up the characters or the whole 976-EVIL hotline. We see glimpses of both here and there, but for me it just seems that Helgeland and Topham had the last half of their story down pat but didn't really know how to introduce the elements to lead into the last half. It's a shame because I think with a better first act, 976-EVIL could have been a lot more memorable than it actually is.

I also have an issue with the characters. I guess they're developed enough where we know who they are and where they sort of come from to make the story work well enough. I just don't think they're effective enough to carry the film. Honestly, Hoax is the most developed character of the film as we understand why he is the way he is. His mom is a religious fanatic who presses her beliefs onto the guy in a smothering way. He idolizes his cousin who doesn't rarely care to acknowledge his existence. He's infatuated with his cousin's girl, who likes him because he's nice until she finds out he's carrying around a pair of her panties. He gets bullied by his cousin's friends. The guy has every reason to be antisocial. But at the same time, he comes across as sort of a creep and a stalker. How am I supposed to be behind someone like that? One could relate to Carrie White because she mostly kept to herself and was otherwise normal besides having telekenetic powers. But Hoax is just on the other side of the spectrum and while I felt bad for him, I couldn't see myself being his friend either.

As for the rest of the characters, they're all pretty much stereotypes of other characters we've seen in other movies before 976-EVIL and after 976-EVIL. I found the character of Spike to be a big problem. He's supposed to be the "hero" of the film, but he does nothing remotely heroic. He's a jerk to his cousin. He treats his girlfriend like crap by gambling with his buddies rather than taking her out on a real date. There's an attempt to make him a character of circumstance like Hoax through exposition about his parents dying which led to his aunt taking him in - probably showing why he acts out and attempts to be James Dean. But nothing about him is remotely likeable. Pitting him against the demonic Hoax, who has a great amount of personality, just makes you wish that Hoax wins out at the end.

And what is up with the police detective/investigative reporter guy and the female high school principal? They're presence here is never really explained and they happen to become best friends the moment the two meet. I never understand their agendas or why they were all that important to the story anyway. I don't want a complete background on these two supporting characters, but something could have been nice. The characterizations could have been a lot better.

There is stuff I do like. The special effects by Kevin and Sandra McCarthy are pretty good for a late-80s flick. The semi-transformation scenes with Hoax are pretty cool and reminded me sort of like THE HOWLING in a way. The gore effects are decent, with the sliced hand kill and the beating hearts being the best of the rest. I also liked the spiders death as well, although it's hardly graphic. I know if I were in that position, I'd be freaking out too. I thought the blue/green screen effects, especially at the end, were pretty cheesy though. But I think that may have been the budget's doing, so I can't totally rip on it. The makeup effects by Kevin Yagher are pretty fuckin' sweet though. Demonic Hoax looks really creepy. I dug the look alot.

As for the direction, Robert Englund does an okay job in his directorial debut. It's obvious Englund took alot of the knowledge he gained from working with multiple directors on the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise because he used some of those tricks here. The film is very colorful. The shots are very stylish and professional. There's a lot of atmosphere and mood going on here. I just feel that there wasn't enough tension or suspense in this film, especially during the stalk sequences that were WAY too long and didn't really end up anywhere. You'd think working on slasher films would help you get that part down pat. Guess not. Still, Robert Englund does an admirable job here.

The acting is probably the best part of 976-EVIL. Stephen Geoffreys, who's probably best known as Evil Ed in FRIGHT NIGHT and later for his foray into gay porn [!], is perfect as Hoax. He knows how to play a wacky guy with a lot of social problems to a tee. I actually liked him alot here, even though his character could have been stronger if he were less creepier as a human than he was as a demon. But Geoffreys makes it work. Patrick O'Bryan, who I believe was in NO HOLDS BARRED, is cool as Spike. I'm not a big fan of the character but O'Bryan definitely has the bad boy look and attitude down. I was convinced. Lezlie Deane as punk girl Suzie was cool and sort of hot in a tough, edgy way. She brought a lot of warmth to a character that probably didn't deserve any. She would later work with Robert Englund in the horrible FREDDY'S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE. Sandy Dennis, an Oscar Winner for WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, is extremely annoying as the eccentric Aunt Lucy. Why are all religious fanatics candidates for the mental ward? Dennis could have used more subtlety in her performance. I would have never guessed from this performance that she was an Oscar winner. And there's a nice cameo from Robert Picardo as Mark Dark, the guy behind the 976-EVIL hotline. Too short of a role but it's always nice seeing him in any project. He never stops bringing the goods.


- Ringing pay phones will explode when the phone is off the hook, burning you to death. And cell phones will give you brain cancer apparently. Boy, Alexander Graham Bell was a piece of work, wasn't he?

- Hoax was surrounded by 5 to 6 cats. The guy is not interested in pussy! Stop trying to convert him!

- The sky was raining fish. This vagina obsession is really getting scary. And who didn't douche?

- A killer car tried to kill Spike after he refused to follow his horrorscope. What the hell is this? CHRISTINE? If so, this brings another pussy reference. Either I'm perverted or this movie is telling me I'm obsessed with sex.

- There was a horror marathon with seats costing only $1.99. They can bring back 80s music and fashion, but not the prices? I really need to build a time machine.

- Girls eat when they're angry. I guess Victoria Beckham is a very happy person.

- Performing Satanic rituals to make a crush notice you isn't the way to go. That's not LOVE POTION, NO. 9 you're using. Someone failed to noticed that the 9 was upside down, genius.

- Don't bully nerds to their breaking points. They'll turn demonic on your ass and cut you! Or they'll own your ass to where you have to rely on their computer products just so you can function in this modern age. For you guys who wanted to bully people like me, I hope you're enjoying karma. Nerds and geeks rejoice!!

- Don't be a poker playing bully. You'll lose a hand. Literally.

- Demons love hot Latina chicks. That explains Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony. Wait, he's not possessed? Gee, he sure looks like it!

is not a great movie but it's far from a bad one. Good acting, a great premise, cool SFX and makeup, and some decent direction are highlights for an otherwise mediocre film. If you like your slow moving Satanic possession flicks, you'll probably enjoy this one. I recommend a rental for a late night watch, but probably nothing more than that. I call 976-EVIL an interesting failure. I dislike remakes but I wouldn't mind seeing one for this one.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, it's been years since I've seen his movie!
    I will have to add it to my Netflix Queue. . .

    Thanks for the Review!!


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