GORE IN THE STORE

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976-EVIL ***

Directed by Robert Englund.

Starring Stephen Geoffreys, Sandy Dennis, Lezlie Deane.

Horror, US, 92 minutes.

 

Released in the U.K. on Blu-Ray on October 19th from Eureka Entertainment.

 

Robert Englund will forever hold a place in the horror hall of fame for portraying one of cinemas greatest boogeymen and villains with Freddy Krueger. No doubt though will his directorial debut will go down however as a small footnote, even when counted alongside his non-Kruger work. Hailing from the dying days of the 1980’s horror boom, 976-EVIL is a slight entry which is slightly confused with its own storyline of a phone line that connects the listener straight to Hell, or something.

 

Spike, played by Patrick O’Bryan, is a leather jacketed, motor bike riding high school student living in his Aunt Lucy’s back yard and idolised by his cousin Hoax, Geoffreys. Spike comes across an ad for 976-EVIL, dials it and benefits from its spooky advice. The plots convoluted events soon get around to the much more interesting, and entertaining, Hoax calling on the supernatural call service to get even with the school bullies, who also seem to have an unexplained monopoly on their small towns’ cinema projection booth, and his uninterested school crush.

 

The common hallmarks of 1980’s horror are present and correct here; actors in their clearly visible mid to late twenties portraying high school students, overbearing religious mothers (with impressive wig collections) and a generous amount of pre-CGI effects and make up that were no doubt the films other main selling point alongside its debut director, who failed to bring in the expected audience of gorehounds and horror enthusiasts. Condemning it to the more obscure end of horror film history is the films script, co-written by Brian Helgeland, who a decade later would win an Oscar for L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. The constant shifting of character viewpoints muddles who exactly the protagonist is and holds up the pace while Englund’s direction fails to explore or indulge in the opportunities to further mine the surreal and imaginative edge that Freddy Krueger made his stock in trade with the Elm Street franchise. The lack of a clear and memorable antagonist also marks it out in an age when Krueger, Vorhees and Myers towered over the genre.

The films biggest draw is the performance of Stephen Geoffreys. The actor’s portrayal of Evil Ed, the tragic sidekick from FRIGHT NIGHT, seems to have only grown in stature over the years and this serves as a welcome reminder of an actor who seemed primed to forge an interesting cinematic career before embarking on an entirely different career path.

 

Eureka! have made sure that the films audience gets their money worth with this collectors’ edition and its generous extras. Interviews with Kevin Yagher and Howard Berger, who provided the films impressive make up and effects sit nicely alongside a commentary from Englund and set decorator Nancy Booth, who would go onto become married after meeting on set here. Also included is an uncut version, three minutes longer and unseen since its home video release.

 

Whilst far from essential due to its lack of directorial style and underdeveloped story, 976-EVIL will no doubt appeal to those who remember it and others of its ilk filling up the shelves of their local video libraries back in the twentieth century. Newcomers with an interest in exploring the genre in the 1980’s past Freddy and Jason should also find much of interest here. One wonders what alternate path the careers of Geoffreys and Englund could have taken if the film had found a more appreciative audience on its release. This nicely remastered release may further fuel such speculation.

 

Iain MacLeod.

 

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