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976-EVIL (1988)

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Plot Summary:
"People who dial 976-EVIL receive supernatural powers and turn into satanic killers."

Review by
Ryan McDonald
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Review Date: 05 December 2011 My Rating: out of 5


Patrick O’Bryan is Spike, a high schooler who lives with his religious fanatic aunt (Sandy Dennis, having a high ‘ol time) and his nerdy cousin Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys, Evil Ed in “Fright Night”) whom he often protects from school bullies. They both make calls to the title hotline (voiced by Robert Picardo, who as an on-screen cameo later in the film), but while Spike is saved from impending death by advice from the hotline, Hoax’s experience with the ‘horror-scope’ is entirely different. He wants to get some advice on how to win a girl, but after a while he becomes addicted to the evil hotline and somehow it has transformed him into a demon, ready to do away with anyone who crosses him. Lezlie Deane is O’Bryan’s punkish girlfriend, who takes pity on Hoax. Jim Metzler turns up in an extraneous role as a tabloid reporter.

This supernaturally-tinged horror flick marked the directorial debut of Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund. It also gives “Fright Night” scene-stealer (and former gay porn star) Stephen Geoffreys a lead role. Unfortunately, neither acquit themselves terribly well, especially Geoffreys (with seriously thinning hair that makes him look 30ish) who isn’t able to really cut loose until it’s too late. I feel sorry for Geoffreys, his personal life and career went into some very unfortunate areas after this (hardcore gay porn and drug addiction), though I hear he’s in better times in his personal life these days at least. Being cast for the most part as a milquetoast nerd really isn’t to his advantage as an actor, but he’s also kept to the side whilst Englund seems more interested in newcomer Patrick O’Bryan (who looks like the love child of Peter Berg and Craig Sheffer). His character is necessary, but not to the extent that Englund allows, because it affects the pace.

It’s a slow-moving film that plays way too much like a male version of “Carrie” (with a slightly spoofy tone at times), albeit with an interesting visual style that reminds one more of the “Elm Street” series. Actually, at times it even looks like a British New Wave music video. The film has its moments (Sandy Dennis might be aping Piper Laurie, but she’s terrifically loopy nonetheless), but Englund is more concerned with visual style than energy or story momentum, and it’s also a pretty damn stupid film. The idea of a demonic hotline, is the kind of crap you’d expect from “Halloween III: Season of the Witch”, and is never once credibly explained (probably because there is no credible explanation for this nonsense) by screenwriters Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential”, “Mystic River”) and Rhet Topham.

Next to Sandy Dennis (who looks like she kept on drinking after “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”), the cinematography by Paul Elliott (“My Girl”, “And You Thought Your Parents Were Weird”) is easily the best thing in the film, with terrific, Expressionistic lighting in particular. It’s a very colourful film overall. In fact, the opening scene is pretty good, except for the cheap special FX. The FX are pretty bad throughout the film, bargain basement rotoscoping stuff. The makeup by Kevin Yagher (“Child’s Play”, the Robert England version of “Phantom of the Opera”), assisted by Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman (two-thirds of the overrated KNB FX team), however, is pretty good stuff, if barely used. The film also suffers from an awfully loud, overly insistent synth score by Thomas Chase and Steve Rucker (the remake of “And God Created Woman”). It’s just too much. Nice cameo by Robert Picardo, though.

I just didn’t get into this film, it seems like material best kept to a ½ hour form as a segment on “Tales from the Crypt” or something. Stretched to feature length, it’s too slow and far too silly.

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