October 9th: 976-Evil (1989)
Robert Englund may have picked up a few ideas for his directorial debut watching Wes Craven work; 976-Evil is very much in the style of Craven's 80s output. Unfortunately, this film is quite unexceptional. Englund’s direction is competent, but the film itself is middle of the road: not great, not horrible, just very low-key and unambitious.
976-Evil is a tale of Satan-sponsored nerd-rage revenge (a premise also found in such middle-of-the-road pictures as Evilspeak and The Gate 2). The nerd here is repressed mama’s boy Hoax (that’s really his name), a straight-A student living in awe of his biker cousin Spike. Spike is the black sheep of the family, who’s mother has recently died. His aunt is Hoax’s Christian-Fundamentalist mother Lucy (Sandy Dennis), a cat-collecting fanatic who’s withholding Spike’s inheritance until he turns 18, essentially keeping him hostage.
Despite this unhealthy living situation, things are going alright, until Spike (Patrick O’Bryan) finds an ad for daily “Horrorscopes” in a porno mag. “Dial 666-976-EVIL” the ad says. Drunk enough to try it, Spike calls and inadvertently opens the gates to hell. A strange voice on the other end gives him situation-specific bad advice. With Spike, the advice is about misdemeanor-level. When Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys) decides to call, things get much more intense. In the film’s pivotal moment, Hoax follows Spike and his girlfriend Suzie (Lezlie Deane) to the movies on a date. Spike is derailed at the entrance by his loser pals, all gambling addicts running a high-stakes game in the projection booth (the set for these games is fantastic, with Black Flag and A Clockwork Orange posters everywhere). Hoax shows up to intercept a very pissed-off Suzie. Their first date at a pizza joint is going smoothly, until Suzie finds a pair of her panties in Hoax’s back pocket(!), and storms out. Hoax over-reacts a bit and hexes Suzie in a black-magic ritual involving a giant pentagram and a pizza plate full of poisonous spiders. From then on Hoax becomes an elf-faced demon with claws and a pitch-shifted voice, and its up to Spike to send him back to Satan, with the help of the school principal and a private investigator (J.J. Cohen and Maria Rubell as stock support).
976-Evil is stuck in neutral right until the end. It never takes off. The spark of life found in even Craven’s worst films is missing here. Englund clearly had a lot more to learn. That said, its competent; had the script and actors been upgraded, this could have been a good film. As it stands, 976-Evil is as average as it gets. There is a sequel, which I will try to seek out in the coming weeks.