Sony // 1988 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // August 7th, 2002
Revenge is one the line.
Who'd have thought that Freddy Krueger, AKA Robert Englund, would decide to show off his moviemaking chops by directing the by-the-numbers (pun intended) horror show 976-EVIL? Yes, nothing is scarier than a movie about a nerd being possessed by a demon via a 1-900 horoscope line. And who better to play the nerd than horror's answer to Anthony Michael Hall, Stephen Geoffreys (Fright Night)! Also starring Robert Picardo (Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Innerspace) and the late Oscar-winning actress Sandy Dennis (God Told Me To) in a role that simply must seen to be believed, 976-EVIL dials up your darkest dreams on DVD!
It was tough being a nerd in the late '80s. Take it from Hoax Wilmoth (Geoffreys), a geeky teen who lives with his fanatically religious mother (Dennis) and her rebellious nephew Spike (Patrick O'Bryan, No Holds Barred). One night Hoax snoops around Spike's room and finds a 1-900 card that can be dialed up to receive your "horror-scope." Being that he's not too bright, Hoax calls up this number and unwittingly becomes possessed by something evil and deadly...and out for blood! His first victim is his cousin's trailer trash girlfriend Suzie (Lezlie Deane) who Hoax has a crush on. Then it's on to the school bullies who've picked on our poor hero for years. As Hoax delves deeper into his devilish desires, he finds out that the phone call from hell may not be worth the price of his soul!
The world's largest ball of yarn. The Grand Canyon. "Cats" on Broadway. Some things just have to be seen to be believed. 976-EVIL is one such wonder. More specifically, Sandy Dennis' performance in 976-EVIL must be seen -- and heard, and absorbed -- to be believed. Anyone remember Miss Dennis? She was the woman who won an Oscar for her portrayal of George Segal's meek wife in the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton drama Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. All I'm gonna say is that it's a long way down from that movie to 976-EVIL. And yet while the ride may not be respectable, it sure is a hoot.
Dennis' performance is what drives this sub-par horror movie to complete camp enjoyment (but more on that later). Let me first say that Robert Englund is not a terrible director. Nor is he a good director. He's just kind of there. He's not half as good as Wes Craven (the guy who gave Englund his starring role in A Nightmare on Elm Street) and he's not half as bad as Doris Wishman (A Night to Dismember, one of the worst movies ever made). The horror elements are ample if you want them, though they're not particularly exciting or gory (a severed hand here and there, but that's about it).
So if all the elements for a good movie aren't intact, why did I enjoy 976-EVIL so dang much? Well, I'm glad you asked. I've taken the liberty of writing up a short (though incomplete) list of why 976-EVIL is worth seeing:
* Have you ever seen a film where a nerdy guy stands in baby blue pajamas next to an Oscar winning actress (in a huge blonde wig and frumpy nightgown, no less) while the sky rains raw fish? No? Rent 976-EVIL and you'll be in luck!
* Stephen Geoffreys' laugh is something that will stay with you until the day you die. And possibly after.
* The movie is so steeped in its own '80s hokum and so unaware of its own cheesiness that it makes me tear up with happiness.
* The actor who plays Geoffreys' cousin Spike looks eerily like a beefed up version of actor Peter Berg.
* Thrill to the excitement of watching the movie actually try (briefly) to poke around in theology, only to discover that it has no idea what it's talking about!
* Always remember that everyone in Hollywood has to get their start somewhere: this movie was one of writer Brian Helgeland's first scripts. He'd later go on to pen such hits as L.A. Confidential and A Knight's Tale.
Characters seem to come and go as they please. There's a subplot about two religious magazine reporters, though I couldn't really tell you why or what they were doing in this movie. Maybe they accidentally wandered off the set of the Left Behind flick. Stephen Geoffreys, who would go on to star in such well-received gay porn hits as Hunk Hotel and Cock Pit (a personal favorite), is such a freakish little toad that you wonder how he ever survived breathing pure oxygen outside the womb. The always-amusing Robert Picardo shows up alongside his hairpiece in a brief cameo as the owner of the demonic telephone service.
And then there's Sandy Dennis. How can I put this delicately? Dennis makes the actors in a Troma film look like descendants of Meryl Streep. She rants, she raves, she squawks...this is the horror movie performance to end all horror movie performances. Dressed in the gaudiest of outfits and wearing a wig that appears to be made out of 13 poodles, Dennis is adorably loony and off her rocker. If you see only one movie this year starring Sandy Dennis as an outraged Christian with a demonic son...well, your only option will be 976-EVIL. But it will be well worth the surcharge.
976-EVIL is presented in a very disappointing 1.33:1 full frame transfer. Originally shot in 1.85:1 widescreen, this pan and scan transfer is a bastardization of the film's original aspect ratio. While I don't believe that every movie deserves tons of extra features or even thorough 5.1 remixes, I do believe that viewers have the right and option to watch every film in its original theatrical version. While this transfer isn't particularly horrid in terms of colors or black levels, Columbia could have done a better job at making sure that the print was far crisper and cleaner than what's available. Folks, I suggest writing a harsh letter and letting them know that you will not put up with these cruddy pan and scan releases of your favorite movies! Sandy Dennis must be rolling around in her grave...
As for the soundtrack...your guess is as good as mine. The back of the package only lists it as "Audio: English," and Amazon.com doesn't seem to have a clue either. I am guessing Dolby Digital 2.0, though it doesn't really matter -- this is a basic soundtrack that is filtered only though the front soundstage and nowhere else. The dialogue sometimes sounds a tad murky, though otherwise this flat if clear sound mix serves the film well. Also included on this disc are English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, and Chinese subtitles.
Extra features? Ha! Here's a little bit of free advice I've picked up though my years as a DVD reviewer: if the movie is presented in a pan and scan version without a solid soundtrack listing, chances are you're getting diddly-squat for features. 976-EVIL doesn't deviate from this theory; the only supplements available on this disc are two theatrical trailers for Hollow Man and Fright Night.
There is no sane or logical explanation why I enjoyed 976-EVIL. We'll just have to accept it as one of the mysteries of the cosmos.
Columbia is slapped with a major fine for their shoddy work on this title! Sandy Dennis is awarded a posthumous "Best Whacked Out Actress Portraying an Insane Christian in a Horror Movie" award for her stunning performance! Amen!
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Two Theatrical Trailers