The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

976-EVIL (1988)

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Though this movie had a theatrical run, and did pretty well for itself in 1988, grossing just shy of $3 million at the box office, it's always felt like it belonged on this site. It's a video store flick if I've ever seen one. On the other hand, while it's a video store mainstay, I don't remember either me or my friends really liking it, which is why I kept off it for a bit, and why it wasn't reserved for a milestone post. Regardless, we're here now, giving it the DTVC treatment. Also, our buddy The Film Connoisseur has looked at this one too.

976-EVIL takes place in the small town of Garden City, where a guy named Spike is living in an apartment next door to his crazy bible thumping aunt and his messed up cousin Hoax. Hoax idolizes Spike and wants to get away from his crazy mother, not to mention his school where he's brutally picked on by a gang of guys that just happen to hang out with Spike. Anyway, after Spike brings a girl home, Hoax sneaks into his room and takes the girl's underwear and the number to a 976 line that gives people their "horrorscope". From there things go crazy-- and Evil! What could this mysterious force coming through the phone be, and what will happen when it imbues Hoax with the power to stand up for himself?

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Watching this now, I see why I wasn't a big fan of it growing up. It's not only slow moving, but it spirals out of control as it moves to the end. We go from some creepy phone calls to demons and flaming bottomless pits. It felt like a Tales from the Crypt episode that was an hour too long. We have characters like the principal, who's supposed to be a major part of Hoax's life, but she's barely in the film, then shows up at the end and we're supposed to take for granted that she'd have some kind of connection with him. It's something that wouldn't be a big deal if it were only a 23-minute TV episode. Also, the 976-EVIL line isn't really explained. It kills people through phone lines early on, but at the end it turns Hoax into a demon and he turns his house into a freezer. Again, these things on their own work in a short TV show, but in a 90-minute movie, they should all fit, and they don't.

I will say though, a few of the scenes built up some nice tension, and if it had ironed out some of the inconsistencies in the plot and tone, it could've been something really good. Take for instance the scene where Hoax kills Spike's girl by casting a spell that causes tarantulas to spawn out of her TV dinner. The actual execution was fantastic, with the tension slowly ratcheting up, until we hit the boiling point; but the motives for Hoax to do it were so flawed. If you don't know, what happens is Hoax goes out for pizza with Spike's girl while Spike plays poker, but before this, Hoax has already snooped in Spike's room and stolen her underwear that she left behind. Long story short, they hit it off, looks like things are happening, only to have the bullies show up, push him around, and find her panties in his pocket, which causes her to leave disgusted at him. Why then would he be upset with her, especially to the point that he'd cast a spell through the phone with 976-EVIL? It was this kind of unevenness that ultimately killed this one for me.

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Stephen Geoffreys plays Hoax, and the word on the street is he turned down the chance to reprise his Evil Ed role in Fright Night 2 to do it. Maybe it was a chance to work with Robert Englund (did I forget to mention he directed this? He did a pretty good job too). Perhaps even more puzzling, was the fact that about five or six years after this, Geoffreys decided to forgo his film acting career to pursue a career in gay porn. Hey, you only live once, gotta do what you love I guess.

I read a blog post a few years back-- I can't remember where-- that had this movie on a list of films that the blogger felt are best experienced on VHS. I can kind of see that in the case of something like 976-EVIL. I mean, I always prefer a movie in widescreen, and older VHS seldom has that, but beyond that, how much better quality is a $5 DVD with no extras going to be over the VHS? On the other hand, DVD availability gives people greater access, especially through something like Netflix, so there are pluses on both sides. The VHS definitely adds a nostalgia element that DVD can't compete with though.

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I had to finish with Spike's girl, who was in the hottest outfit. Another aspect of the movie that made no sense, how Spike could ditch her when she looked that hot in order to play poker, especially after he'd just had sex with her and gave no indication that that sex was anything but great. We find out later that she was expelled from a Catholic school, and her outfit is derived from her Catholic school girl uniform. She tells this to Hoax, again, making it absurd that he'd hit it off with her like this, almost get in the sack with her, then blame her when the bullies come in and expose his underwear stealing. Hell no, he'd be thinking of ways to make it right, and channel all of his anger at the bullies. Perhaps the film's most egregious offense, eliminating her and her hot outfit so early on.

As far as I know, this is out of print on DVD, but you can get it on either that or VHS used. You can also see it on Crackle if you use them, though you have to pay for their premium service to get it. I wouldn't do that. If you're a VHS nostalgist, I'd just keep my eye out for a used VHS in a bargain bin somewhere and leave it at that. This one isn't really worth it otherwise.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094597/

8 comments:

  1. This was one of those 80's horrors I had to get on VHS even though the DVD was available. It felt 'right' you know. Then I discovered the tape was a longer cut than the DVD anyway, so double win.

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  2. Nice. This was a flick that I remember being really excited about when it hit dial up pay per view. Roughly the same time I was an Englund nut. Definitely came to enjoy it more when I got older. Never have seen the sequel.

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  3. Oh, good point about the VHS vs. the DVD, I forgot that the extended cut is only on VHS. It is one of those nostalgia films that is best seen on VHS though, I agree with you there.

    I remember renting this with friends after we'd seen it at the video store who knows how many times. At the time we didn't like it, but being 23 years out from it does add an element-- it's definitely not a horror movie that you'd see today with the current state of the genre. I'm planning on doing the sequel in a few weeks. If you live in the States it's currently on Netflix Watch Instantly.

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  4. Man, I haven't seen this in forever. Like you, I remember not liking it very much and really only remembering that Robert Englund directed it and that Evil Ed starred in it. I also read that the VHS, oddly, was of a longer cut than the DVD, which is usually the other way around. Good thing I love collecting VHS anyway. lol. Great review!

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  5. I have this one and it's sequel on VHS. I love both of them but thinking about them now I think I liked the sequel more...probably because it was "badder". Still like the first one too.

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  6. I completely agree with you on Spike's girl, killing he roff made no sense to me, though I still had a decent time with this film, I loved the scene where the kid walks up to the guys playing poker and says "i'd like to open with a pair of hearts" then he drops two beating hearts onto the table!

    The sequel also had it's moments, but also had a REALLY bad ending.

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  7. i have fond memories of seeing this movie's poster in the video store, though i have never seen it, i may have to check it out based on that last picture...if/when it shows up on instant watch. they only have the sequel right now.

    in addition to vhs, it's pretty weird to think that newer generations will not know what 976 phone numbers are.

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  8. It's cool to see this one has ginned up some nostalgia for so many, because it did the same for me. And great point SNS, the 976 number is as extinct as the video store-- even more so actually.

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