There’s something you need to know about Evilspeak right up front: if a flying Clint Howard brandishing a sword and going all Carrie on his classmates isn’t your sort of thing (I’m assuming this doesn’t actually describe anyone because come on), then this bizarre 1981 offering might not do much for you. Hell, I’m a charter member of an imaginary Clint Howard Fan Club (est. 1995, aka Year Zero of the Ice Cream Man calendar), and even I can’t pretend Evilspeak provides much more than the cheap thrills of its insane, blood-soaked climax.
But props are in order to the crazy bastards behind it nonetheless. Where many 1981 horror films were in a rush to repeat the success of the burgeoning slasher genre, Evilspeak is all about retracing De Palma’s Carrie with a Eurohorror vibe. Its prologue feels like something straight out of a Spanish horror flick, as a band of disgraced priests led by Satanic sorcerer Father Esteban (Richard Moll doing his damnedest to resemble Paul Naschy) are excommunicated from the church via lethal force. A match cut takes us from their beheading to a high school soccer match centuries later, where poor Stanley Coopersmith (Howard) is having a rough time.
Not-so-affectionately known as “Cooperdick” to his prep school classmates, he’s subjected to various forms of bullying by both his fellow students and administrators. When he’s sent to clean out a decrepit tomb beneath the school as punishment, he stumbles upon Father Esteban’s manuscript and hopes to turn to the dark arts to exact revenge. Naturally, he enlists the help of a school computer for translation purposes, but it also seems to house the spirit of Esteban himself, which sounds about right. Computers were growing slightly more ubiquitous at this point, but not so much that most people didn’t assume they could serve as the digital conduit for old warlocks and such. Technology is the devil is what I’m saying.
Anyway, most of the film is a pretty repetitive cycle that finds Stanley working his way through Esteban’s cryptic writings while also getting bullied by just about everyone on campus (the lone exception is Haywood Nelson, who actually doesn’t do much besides protest their treatment of Stanley). Occasionally, he takes time to befriend the school chef, who gives him a puppy you figure can’t be long for this world considering Esteban’s repeated demands of a blood sacrifice.
For a movie that features such frequent madness (Demonic pigs! Killer statues! Clint Howard’s hair!), Evilspeak sure is kind of a drag at times, mostly because it mercilessly hammers on one or two notes: Stanley’s a pitiful bastard, and his tormentors are unrepentant assholes. To his credit, Howard is a perfectly pathetic, awkward weirdo, and the bullies (including ringleader Don Stark!) throw themselves into being the most outrageous dickheads imaginable. Over thirty years later, this stuff might be even more palatable given our heightened awareness of bullying and its effects; what played like a schlocky, geeky revenge fantasy back then feels like the rumbling thunder foreshadowing real-life incidents decades later.
Of course, it’s so goddamned ridiculous that it’s difficult to take seriously on that level, what with its gratuitous, nudity laden detours involving the school’s attractive receptionist (Lynn Hancock) and the inexplicable presence of those damned demonic pigs summoned by Esteban’s computer spirit. Even the school itself is bonkers: apparently, it’s a Christian military prep school, which doesn’t make much sense considering the tenants of Jes—well, I guess it actually makes perfect sense, as does the school’s institutionalized tolerance of bullying an bigotry. Wait—is Evilspeak actually a trenchant, satanic critique of Christianity? Considering its hellfire and brimstone smiting of Stanley’s self-righteous enemies, it’s not much of a reach (then again, these guys do have a portrait of Esteban hanging in their sanctuary for some unknown reason).
I wish I could say Evilspeak has that much going on, just as I wish it were really as completely bonkers as it sounds on paper. Instead, like most Carrie riffs, this one all comes down to the carnage perpetrated during the unhinged climax, a sequence that might actually outdo De Palma’s film when it comes to sheer, batshit insanity and over-the-top gore. Heads are split in two, pigs eviscerate Stanley’s classmates, and a Christ statue even gets in on the bloodshed. In this respect, Evilspeak mimics its contemporaries’ preoccupation with gruesome effects work and audience-pleasing splatter. The effects crew is up to the task, as their gags work in concert with a theatric, Grand Guignol sequence that recalls the hallucinatory, violent ambiance of the era’s Eurohorror.
In just about any other respect, though, Evilspeak is as forgettable as many Carrie knock-offs (including the recently released redux, which I’m guessing nobody has thought about until this very second). It’s little more than an especially weird revenge tragedy that doesn’t have a whole lot going for it until it rages to a boiling point and quickly simmers out with a ridiculous credits epilogue explaining what happens to Stanley. Of course, I’d be lying if I said I’m not disappointed that the promise of the computer’s final text hasn’t been fulfilled: Stanley Cooperdick has yet to return, a lamentation that may or may not have fuelled my elaborate theory that Ice Cream Man is actually just Evilspeak 2. A man can dream, damnit; otherwise, he's only left to set his school ablaze and unleash the vengeance of a Satanic sorcerer on his classmates.
Those who dream of a day when Evilspeak graces Blu-ray will have to dream no more, as Scream Factory has anointed the film into its canon. Working with director Eric Weston, Scream has delivered a new, pristine transfer of the film’s restored, uncut version (several instances of graphic violence had to be trimmed to avoid an X-rating during the MPAA’s crusade in the wake of Friday the 13th). The transfer is marvelous and mostly free of print damage and any unsightly digital manipulation, while the DTS-MA mono track manages to be suitably rowdy whenever the film perks up.
The centerpiece of the disc’s supplements is a 27-minute making-of feature in the vein of past Scream efforts, as interviews with the cast and crew take audiences from pre-production all the way through the film’s release. They’re candid as hell about how outrageously shitty the film sounds on paper, but it seems like most involved aren’t too regretful of their time spent here. A trio of interviews are ported over from a previous release, with Howard, Stark, and Joseph Cortese each recounting their various experiences on this and other films throughout the years. Weston’s feature commentary is also retained, as is the film’s theatrical trailer; in lieu of reversible cover art, this release features some alternate art from foreign markets. Judging from the Japanese poster, Evilspeak centers on a levitating, sword-bearing Clint Howard, a topless lady, and a beauty pageant. Close enough.
I actually endured a minor panic five or six years ago upon discovering Anchor Bay’s Evilspeak DVD was woefully out of print, which sent me frantically hunting down a used copy for my collection, a quest that seems utterly silly since that disc is now quite disposable. Maybe I should have conjured up my own demonic computer to let me peer into the future, but, as one character puts it: “I'm not gonna commit no sacrilege, Bubba.” Words to live by.
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