Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Play Clinty For Me

There are some phrases that just aren’t used enough in this day and age. Buy one get one free. Huzzah. Off with their heads. You can’t fire me, I quit. These are all well and good, but you know what three words I really want to hear more? 
Starring. Clint. Howard.
And so, upon a reader recommendation and Netflix availability, I present to you Evilspeak, a 1980 Video Nasty-listed horror starring some everybody’s favorite Ice Cream Man. 

Quick Plot: Stanley Coopersmith (or Cooperdick, as his not-very-clever schoolmates like to call him) is an orphan and outcast attending a Catholic military academy. Teased by his peers, misunderstood by his teachers, and set up for some type of major injury by his soccer coach, Stanley’s only salvation comes via a sympathetic but ineffective friend and the fun he has designing a virtual catapult on the school’s sole computer.
All those hours typing come in handy when Stanley, sentenced to clean the school’s creepily dank basement, stumbles upon a collection of Satanic skulls, bobbling jarred fetuses, and most excitingly, a leather bound book of evil invocations. Although the hardcover gets swiped by a sadistic and apparently undervalued secretary, Stanley has enough time to type in a few spells and call upon the spirit of Esteban (Nightcourt’s Richard Moll, refreshingly taking on evil following his Mormon hero in Savage Journey). 

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to summon a minion of the devil. You need blood, mandrake, consecrated host, and most inexplicable, unholy water (which I guess is like urine from a sinner?). Stanley has a few failed tries, some of which succeed in temporarily calling upon some kind of force to break a man’s neck and rile up some hogs. In the meantime, he adopts an adorably underweight puppy from the friendly and unsanitarily shirtless mess hall chef and sets the audience up for a major moment of shouting “nooooooooo!” in true Anakin Skywalker fashion.
I won’t spoil the finale, but it is vital to know that the ten minute climax of Evilspeak is pretty well worth the ride. The film is surprisingly well-paced, giving us plenty of time to follow Howard’s Stanley through his tormented days in a place he just doesn’t belong. The final act that causes the bloody ending is horrendous and makes any viewer cheer on Satanically possessed carnivorous hog chewing, while there’s also enough random camp to please a bad movie fan, like having a heavily faked German accented actor teach Latin. On the other hand, there are random plot holes that go unfilled, such as how not a single faculty member questions the disappearance of the caretaker or the inevitably discovered entrails of the devoured secretary. Still, it’s refreshing to see a geek played as an actual outcast (today, I imagine someone like Zack Efron would simply don a pair of glasses and part his hair on a less flattering side) and characters that deserve gutting and being set on fire getting gutted, set on fire, and, for a bonus, eaten alive by pigs from hell.

High Points
The opening prologue set in medieval times is less than impressive, but transition featuring a severed head turning into a soccer ball is pretty genius
A roller rink scene is included, which naturally earns the film about fifty bonus points
The start of the film’s ending involves a rather well done Jesus-on-the-cross statue coming to life and (SPOILER) shooting its nail into the head of a rather daft priest. Awesome? The word doesn’t do the death justice

Low Points
While Stanley’s build up of bullied anger is fairly well done, it would have been a far more interesting finale had we gotten a little more development of the individual tormentors so that each gruesome death had more measurable weight
Although I was fairly let down by the text epilogue, it did put a smile on my face to see a reference to “Sunnydale Asyulum,” whether Joss Whedon took any inspiration from it or not
For the most part, the score of Evilspeak is adequate and at times, haunting in a choral style. There’s one moment during the finale as Bubba (an oddly named character if ever there was one) tries to escape and is followed by an inappropriately sweet violin melody
Lessons Learned
The purpose of sports is to make us all well-rounded
The good lord prefers his young men in uniform
Computers of the 1980s were far more grammatically considerate than today’s Babblefish and freetranslation.com
Placing a satanic handbook nearby a piggy bank will connect evil forces to wild hogs

Catholic military academies have an impressive stash of Wicker Man-esque masks for its student body to play with
For an extra scoop of mashed potatoes, always inform the lunch guy that you’re an orphan
Winning Line
“I have to go...to study hall.”
If you’re trying to get out of an uncomfortable situation, at least use a more pressing engagement like “math class”, “soccer practice”, or “date with satanically enhanced Richard Moll”
Proof of Cred
According to that far too trusted Wikipedia, Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan (and consultant on a little classic called The Devil’s Rain ) considered Evilspeak to be “very Satanic”

This was a pleasant surprise and fairly un-discussed remnant of that bridge between 70s and 80s horror. It’s well worth a watch, although a tad too unpleasant to pop on so many more times to warrant a buy. The DVD includes a jovial commentary by Howard, writer/director Eric Weston (now directing the Costas Mandylor sure-to-be classic, Hyenas), and production roustabout Warren Lewis is filled with some useful film trivia and random tidbits about everybody’s favorite B-movie character actor (like how he loves horror conventions and often bids for his own memorabilia on ebay). Certainly worth a rental, and not just because it stars the first human recipient of MTV Movie Awards’ Lifetime Achievement Award.


  1. I love this movie! Very underrated, but full of genuine creepiness.

    I love the technology angle.

  2. Darn you Emily! How do you continue to find and review trash that I have yet to see? ;)

    As a fan of the better Howard, I must find a copy.

  3. The tech stuff is pretty neat, especially for a film made in 1980!

    PoT: This was actually a recommended by a reader and one I'd never heard of, although apparently Outside the Cinema covered it back in their very early days. If you love the Clint, you'll definitely find much to enjoy about Evilspeak.

    And I do adore the Clint, but I'm also hesitant to ever say anything negative about the Ron. He's made some duds, but he's also responsible for one of my absolute favorite non-genre films of all time: Parenthod. I say that with no shame at all.

    But were I to have the choice, Clint would be the father of my babies.

  4. I just re-watched this film for the first time in almost 30 years. Back when I was about 10 and first getting into horror movies, there was an old fashioned horror movie show at 2 am, just after SNL. Many a night I watched the lousy last 30 minutes of SNL (I don't know if they save their bad material for later or if I just don't have much appetite for comedy), then watched 30 minutes of 1-900 number commercials until Chiller Theater came on. The very first time I did this, Evilspeak was the film on tap. Even as a kid I wasn't terrified but I did enjoy it, and managed to stay up for the entire thing (there were quite a few flicks I gave up part way through on). I just watched the uncut version and was really pleased with it, I think it's actually better than I remembered.

    But after reading your review, I now wish I had seen the DVD version with commentary. That would have been fun and interesting.

    Howard was born in 59, making him 21 during the making of this film. I didn't realize he was wearing a wig for most of it, although I did notice that his hairline had suddenly receded in the final massacre scene. I wonder why they gave up on the wig then. Damn it, if only I had the DVD with commentary!!

    1. Yay! It's always so fun/weird/educational to revisit something you have fleeting memories of enjoying as a kid. I still don't know that I can every revisit this one though knowing the fate of that adorable puppy!