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Evilspeak (1981)

Evilspeaks

Data incomplete... Human blood required. Thus spake the computer.

Directed by:

Eric Weston

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 88 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

Country: United States

You might not know his name, but I guarantee that you will recognise Clint Howard's face. With his indefinably odd looks, he is, like Steve Buscemi, Danny Trejev and Tony Shalhoub, a memorable 'character actor' doomed forever to play sleazeball antagonist or goofy buddy to some more chiselled, better known superstar – and this is exactly what Clint has done in his countless television appearances and well over one hundred films – some of which have been directed by his (inevitably) more famous brother, Ron 'Happy Days' Howard. In short, Clint Howard is one of Hollywood's unsung heroes, and the opportunity afforded by this re-release of 1981's 'Evilspeak' to see one of his few leading rôles should be welcomed by all those who like to root for the little guy – not least because the film, a satisfying blend of 'Revenge of the Nerds' and satanism, sees our Clint teaching his enemies the consequences of underestimating his special talents.

In the middle ages, a Spanish priest named Esteban (Richard Moll) was exiled to the east coast of the Americas where he erected a chapel before being burnt at the stake for Satanic practises, vowing one day to return. Cut to the present day (although by that I mean the now ancient period known as the early 1980s), and Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard) is an awkward, sensitive orphan admitted to West Andover Military Academy as part of a mandatory welfare programme. Bullied by his fellow-students and brutalised by the staff, Coopersmith is in a kind of hell, having endlessly to carry out punishment details that include slopping out the muddy pigsties and clearing the basement of the Academy's old chapel. Yet when he finds Esteban's pentagram-festooned book in a secret crypt of the chapel and types its Latin text into one of those new-fangled gizmos known as computers (here making their first apearance in horror cinema), Esteban communicates with him from across the ether, promising the keys to the kingdom of Satan's magic. Soon, with the help of a black mass, Esteban's mighty sword, and a herd of ravenous swine, Coopersmith is wreaking unholy vengeance on all his tormentors.

Set, like 'Damien: Omen II' (and the later 'Child's Play 3'), in a boys' military academy, 'Evilspeak' combines the theological discourse of 'The Exorcist' with the supernatural teen empowerment of 'Carrie' (both made in the seventies), but also features the kind of gratuitous nudity and gorily grotesque deaths that would come to characterise eighties horror. The computer effects are lo-fi enough to satisfy anyone nostalgic for the pre-Macintosh era, there is a priest (Joseph Cortese) who regularly utters lines like “The good Lord doesn't want you out of uniform, and neither do I”, and there is an ending left wide open for a sequel which was fated, tragically, never to be made. Still, once you have seen Clint Howard smiting fellow teens as he floats in mid-air bathed in eerie light, it is an image, more ridiculous than terrifying, that is likely to stay with you forever.

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It's Got: A portentous theological citation from Kahlil Gibran to introduce the film; a foetus in a bottle; decapitations galore; flesh-rending pigs; the distraught main character telling his dead dog "we were a team"; a hilarious Christian sermon addressed pre-game to a football team in clunky sporting metaphors ("nobody pulls anything over on the head referee in the big game", etc.); lots and lots of a young Clint Howard doing that whole loveable weirdo misfit schtick like only he can; and of course, gratuitous rollerdisco scenes (de rigeur for the time).

It Needs: A sequel (still starring Clint Howard, of course).

DVD Extras An impressive two-disk set which has everything the Evilspeak completist needs. Disk One features the full US version of the film (88min) in all its gory glory; scene selection; choice of 2.0 dolby stereo/5.1 surround/dts; optional English subtitles; original trailer; bios of Clint Howard and R.G. Armstrong; excellent film notes (7 pages); extensive photo gallery (including much gore); full audio commentary by director/co-writer Eric Weston, star Clint Howard and general production roustabout Warren Lewis, in which it is revealed that the original script was called The Foundling and went through ten drafts, that actor R.G. Armstrong "could say cocksucker like nobody has ever said cocksucker", that the pigshit through which Clint wades was real, that the footage which the MPAA insisted be cut to avoid an X rating in the US is now lost forever - and Clint is extremely nice about everybody and everything, and discusses his predilection for driving home in bloody costume (plus a bizarre anecdote about wearing his uniform from the film years later while out on the town in Las Vegas and subsequently being arrested for impersonating an armed serviceman). Disk Two features a new UK version of the film (100min). The original uncut British master is lost forever, but although the original BBFC 18 version of the film had most of the gore cut out, it did feature several minutes of extra scenes (largely clunky dialogue and uneconomic scene-setting) that had been removed from the US version. The new version restores this extra material to the US version, resulting in the longest version of the film available anywhere, with all surviving gore intact, and in anamorphic widescreen. Disk Two also includes scene selection, and an Anchor Bay trailer reel (The Manson Family, Bubba Ho-tep, Undead, Toolbox Murders). DVD Extras Rating: 9/10

Alternatives:

Carrie, Damien: the Omen II, Revenge of the Nerds, The Exorcist

Summary

In this likeable eighties military academy shlockhorror, the put-upon protagonist quite literally finds the devil in his details.

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