The October Project, Day 6: 976-EVIL (1988)

My instinct is to write, “I don’t know why, but…”, which is wrong, because I know exactly why. In my head, this movie is strongly associated with Wes Craven. Now, that’s not because he directed it. Or wrote it. Or produced it. Or cameoed in it. It’s because Robert Englund directed it–one of two movies he’s directed (the other was 20 years later–Killer Pad, which I feared was an indirect sequel to a particular Troma-distributed movie, but it’s about a haunted house). If that doesn’t click for you, I’m not exactly sure what you’re doing reading horror reviews, but I welcome you all the same! Englund is none other than the man behind the prosthetics of one Fred Krueger (barring the remake).

Spike (Patrick O’Bryan) and Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys) are cousins across a street who attend the same high school and live under the shadow of Hoax’s mother (Sandy Dennis–yes, from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), as well as a gang of bullies (for Hoax) and poker players (for Spike) led by the Depeche Mode-haired Marcus (J.J. Cohen, with whom I apparently share a birthday!). Spike chances into a card that advertises “horrorscopes” at the number 976-EVIL (with an extension “666”, naturally!) which seem to be vaguely Monkey’s Paw-esque, though not quite so one-note in their cost/return ratio. A bit Faustian, too–but, again, not a single straightforward transaction.

This is a weird movie. In many ways, it screams 1980s horror (gosh, how strange!) in that it is pretty rapidly paced, unconcerned with characterization past a slight curve to the surface, and willing to go gore on occasion. It’s reminiscent of the mid-period Nightmare on Elm Street movies, with its 80s-to-the-hilt fashion (Cohen’s aforementioned hair, and the fashion of Lezlie Deane’s “Suzie”) and coloured lighting. But it’s also kind of strange: there’s not really a core hero or protagonist, at least, not in a distinct fashion. Whether this is incidental, accidental, or intentional–it comes out in favour of the movie.

There’s a P.I. who’s tracking–well, we don’t know what, actually. Maybe the deaths that seem to relate to failed contracts with the number, or something else entirely. It doesn’t really matter. He semi-hooks up with the school principal, again, not really explained, but it just kind of happens. We bounce between Spike’s clearly defined reluctance to embrace whatever manipulations of “fate” the number provides, and Hoax’s whole-hearted envelopment in them, thanks to his place as school nerd abused emotionally and physically by his overbearing, over-religious mother (not quite Piper Laurie’s Margaret White, but in that kind of vein). Sandy Dennis turns in some kind of fireworks-laden camp as Hoax’s mother, absurdly over-the-top in her poofed up hair and floral prints, but delivering the lines with a kind of weird sincerity.

No one really looks great as a person/character, and most don’t quite fall off into reprehensible and vile, either. It’s really, really odd. I liked it, perhaps because of that–it doesn’t seem to take it self too seriously, but doesn’t take that as license for obnoxious self-awareness. The characters aren’t well-explained, but the fact that the editing and direction carries things the way it does means it seems more trimmed down than random and nonsensical–we don’t know why Marty the PI and Angela the principal are palling around, but nothing tells us they shouldn’t be.

I don’t know–I felt like I was neglecting the decades between the 1970s and the 2000s so far, so I figured I’d hit up the ’80s, and this seemed like the ideal candidate based on my rough impression. I couldn’t place Geoffreys’s name, but knew it sounded familiar. It clicked pretty quickly though–“Evil Ed” from Fright Night. Poor Ed. He’s not far off with this character, either. It’s pretty fun to see him standing next to a poster for that movie, though¹. He even gets to do the perverse delight with finding evil and everything, which was great fun to see again.

Overall, if you appreciate the weird aesthetic of 80s (semi-mainstream) horror, it’s not going to be too terrible.

¹Other posters I know I saw in the “Diablo’s” projection booth:

  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Maniac
  • Dawn of the Dead
  • The Dark
  • Critters

and a t-shirt for Return of the Living Dead (now that is a vintage shirt that’d be cool to have. Probably not in that overly-distressed, hand-sleeveless incarnation, though…)

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