976-EVIL (1988)

976evil_poster

 

  • Writers: Brian Helgeland and Rhet Topham
  • Director: Robert Englund
  • Starring: Stephen Geoffreys, Patrick O’Brien, Jim Metzler
  • Medium: STARZ

 

Synopsis

A kid (Stephen Geoffreys, Fright Night) has an overbearing mother, a tough-guy cousin who looks out for him, and a group of bullies, who make his life a living hell. He comes across a phone number (976-EVIL, of course). The messages on the phone line directs him into a different direction, where he is suddenly the one in charge. The only problem: he may not be the one in charge of his soul and body anymore. Meanwhile, a reporter, who looks into strange religious phenomena, is trying to figure out what is behind the evil phone number.

Review

As far as how well the movie has aged, I’m a little torn on that. I expected it to look a lot worse than it did. That aside, back when the movie was made, these pay phone numbers were all the rage, whether you were calling psychics, handicappers, or whatever. You paid a lot of money per minute. This may be lost on the kids now because 976 numbers have disappeared (at least, I’m not aware of it still existing). You see all the payphones. When is the last time you saw one of those on the street?

976evil_transformation
The very 80s electronic effect

The special effects are surprisingly good, except for the electricity coming out of the telephone, which looked like an older movie. Even then, it wasn’t that bad. The bad guy characters are all stereotypical tough guys from the 80s, guys you just wouldn’t think of as tough if you saw them walking down the street. Strangely, they seem to be the only ones that live in the area. There is a low population of people seen during the film, even in the scenes shot at the school, where everyone seems to somehow be alone. It was fun watching “tough guy” Darren E. Burrows (Ed, TV’s Northern Exposure) playing such a different character.

The film itself is darkly lit and a bit gritty. One of the ongoing horror questions: is it scarier to show, show, show OR is it scarier to intimate at something and let the audience fill in the missing visuals? This movie plays on the second half of the question with the camera shifting from the victims when they are about to get theirs. It works. It allows for the makeup effects to take center stage instead of failing on the explicitness.

There was something about the over-the-top characters that worked for me this time around. I know I had (maybe still do) the VHS when I was growing up and didn’t watch the movie that often. Again, I was expecting to laugh through it, but it was better than I expected. Stephen Geoffreys is likable as the loser who just wants to be cool like his cousin. Sandy Dennis plays the overly religious mother, who acts as a bully in her own right to her son. She definitely plays it up to the camera, but I enjoyed the character nonetheless. Jim Metzler plays the reporter, and he is low key and does a good job. Looking at it without high expectations and from the perspective of a direct-to-video release (instead of the theatrical release it actually got), it really was quite enjoyable. It may have helped that I watched it on my phone. Maybe a bigger screen would have revealed more of the flaws.

976evil_card
If you find this ad, just throw it away

One of the strange things, I thought, occurs after Hoax turns demonic and comes into the movie house where quite a few of the scenes take place. He has sunglasses on, his hair has a longer strand hanging in front of his face, and he is in shadow. In that scene, he looks like a later-day Michael Jackson. I don’t know what that means, but it was an interesting observation.

Rating: 6 rings out of 10 | Patrick O’Brien, who play cool cousin Spike, reprises his role in the sequel. I haven’t seen it, but I’m half-tempted to do so now.

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