Of all the horror movies released in 1989 (Nightmare on Elm Street 5, Halloween 5, Friday the 13th Part 8), 976-EVIL was probably the most disappointing. The pedigree of the longtime horror icon, Robert Englund, could not be disputed; he played Freddy Kruger after all and as of 1989 he did it five times. He starred in the Tobe Hooper film, Eaten Alive, as the main character, Buck. Anyone that has seen this movie will know immediately that Buck loves to introduce himself, by name, to the ladies, and explain to them his favorite thing to do, which so happens to be a four-letter word which rhymes with his name. Mr. Englund went on to co-star in the original Sci-fi series, ‘V' as well as dozens of other movies and TV appearances. So when I found out that he was directing a new Horror film I was excited, unfortunately, 976-EVIL did not live up to the hype (or even the movie poster).
In case you have forgotten, or if you've never seen it before:
Director Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund dials up a gothic tale of high-tech horror in 976-EVIL. High school underdog Hoax Wilmoth (Stephen Geoffreys, Fright Night) fills up the idle hours in his seedy little hometown fending off the local leather-jacketed thugs, avoiding his overbearing mother (Sandy Dennis) and dreaming of a date with trailer park temptress Suzie (Lezlie Deane). But his quietly desperate life takes a terrifying turn when his cousin introduces him to an unusual new hobby - phoning in for his "Horrorscope". Hoax is hooked up with a compellingly hideous demonic force that slowly begins to overtake his entire life and now there's more than just a phone bill to pay for anyone who ever dared cross "the neighborhood nerd".
What starts out as a typical nerd out for revenge flick, ends up as a fairly tame and, unfortunately, boring movie. Don't get me wrong, there are a few, fun set pieces, I love the opening of the movie, the abrasive and eerie ringing phone and the massive exploding payphone booth is awesomely fun to watch. The set designs from the gang's clubhouse, wallpapered with horror movie posters to the wasteland that is the boy's bathroom, including spray-painted vulgarities, extolling the virtues of daily cunnilingus and even the Robert Englund "Easter egg" (you have to listen to the Audio commentary to find out, or at least keep reading). And last but not least, the scene where Hoax obediently follows the Devil's instructions and creates a pentagram of salt, surrounded by candles and begins to summon his Spidery minions to attack Suzie. It all seems trite and predictable. In fact, it hearkens back to the movie Evilspeak, where the nerd of that tale, utilized technology to summon demonic powers to exact his revenge, except it was done to greater effect. Stephen Geoffreys, coming off of the successes of Fright Night and Heaven Help Us, could not provide enough quirkiness or creep to give the role the punch that it needed to carry the film.
As for this release, Columbia Pictures Home Video offers up a clean transfer of the movie in 1080p High Definition/1.85:1, Audio English 5.1 DTS-HD. The film does, in fact, look decent and the colors are a robust change from the more washed out VHS cut (more on this in a minute) even though the film itself is rather dark and mostly subdued, here it does lend a great amount of detail to the environments, especially the actors faces and not to mention the details in the gangs hang out (I enjoy picking out the names of the movies displayed on the posters, Maniac, Critters to name just a few) as well as the blood and gore which all pop well, (Hoax enters the poker game with a pair of hearts) not to mention the look of Hoax at the end, when fully possessed by the demon, all come across as bright and crisp.
The soundtrack is nothing to write home about, but, as I mentioned earlier, I do enjoy the twisted sounds of the possessed phones. There's also some explosions, as well, and the environmental ambiance which does its best to create an immersive atmosphere, though it does lack pure definition, I think it's more a fault of the original budget and what they had to work with at the time, than anything to do with the transfer.
This release only boasts of two special features, and I actually enjoyed them both. The first is an all-new commentary with Robert Englund and his wife, Nancy. They spend a great deal of time providing some fun and insightful details regarding the filming, writing, and even the set designs. I recommend this especially for those die-hard buffs that love to get all the inside details, like the Graffiti in the bathroom, "R+N", denoting Robert and Nancy's budding romance (it was her Easter egg to him, which was cool) their enthusiasm for the film, the actors and especially all their hard work, gave me a better appreciation for what they intended this movie to be.
The other feature was the Alternate Home Video version (480i, ~4x3, English DD 2.0, 1:44:39) which brought me back to my Horror Home rental days and would give some of you younger horror fans a great idea of what most movies looked like on VHS. It also includes 12 minutes of additional, if lack-luster scenes, not seen in the theatrical cut.
All in all, 976-EVIL doesn't hold up as well as I would have liked. It brings up a time in the late 80's when 976 numbers (Premium Rate numbers) were all the rage, from Psychic reading to Party lines and the promise of anonymous and hot phone sex. There are a few scares, and some laughs but I would have liked more of each. I would say that 976-EVIL was really just phoning it in...