Evilspeak (1981) d. Eric Weston (USA)
Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard) doesn’t have it easy. His parents were killed in an automobile accident, he’s a bit on the awkward and overweight side, he’s stuck at a military academy with a bumper crop of sadistic bullying jerkwads, the school authorities all think he’s a whiny sob story, and he’s assigned the most menial tasks conceivable, including mucking out the pigpen and cleaning up the chapel’s cavernous basement. It’s during the latter labor that he stumbles across an ancient book of spells, one which may reveal the power to revive the spirit of fallen 16th-century priest Father Esteban (Richard Moll), renowned for his knowledge of the dark arts and gleeful beheadings.
This version of the classic “underdog turned (demonic) overlord” has developed quite the following over the years, due in no small part to its frequent cable television screenings, as well as the hubbub over the MPAA’s excision of many of its juicer bits in order to acquire an “R” rating and its status as an official BFCC Video Nasty. Its portrayal of a sympathetic loser hews close to that of the 1976 screen adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie, with the tormented finally unleashing the powers of hell upon his/her tormentors in a climactic conflagration of death and destruction.
That said, director Weston is no Brian De Palma; there are very few thrills prior to the final showdown and an excess of watching “Cooperdick” get beaten down time and again. Happily, there’s the mid-film WTF sequence where Charles Tyner’s sexy secretary Lynn Hancock concludes her deliciously gratuitous shower scene entertaining a herd of random ravenous boars in the hallway. That’ll teach her to run off with ornately bejeweled tomes of suspect origin.
The biggest novelty, that of the beleaguered brainiac using an early-model Apple computer to translate and conjure Esteban’s spirit from the land beyond, is downplayed so much that its early-'80s storyline innovation will likely be lost on today’s ubiquitous PC-entrenched viewer. “Well, of course he would use a computer – how else would anyone do anything?” Luckily, our picked-on punk still has to come up with some goodies like human blood and unconsecrated host; I fear that when the inevitable remake comes, he’ll just need to break through a particularly thorny firewall and hotlink a .gif or two to download the demons.
The movie’s various iterations over the past 30 years are enough to keep your head spinning like a Georgetown birthday party at the McNeil household. The U.S. theatrical release was cut at the last minute by the distributor, a rush job that resulted in several of the prints going into theaters with the gore scenes still intact. However, most 1983 VHS and cable releases were taken directly from the sloppily edited and neutered 89-minute version. When Anchor Bay released Evilspeak on DVD in the States in 2004, their version reinstated the red stuff, but was still missing a substantial amount of additional footage (some bits containing dialogue, others featuring split-second transition shots). However, their UK release featured the uncut version with all the gore and the extra footage in a two-DVD set.
Shout! Factory now steps up to the plate, and while they don’t offer the full 103+-minute version our tea-loving neighbors to the east enjoy, they come pretty darn close with 97 minutes of chatter, splatter, and piggy-patter in glorious 1080p hi-def. The now-expected generous supplements include a 30-minute “making-of,” which is really just reminiscences with cast members Moll, Hancock, Claude Earl Jones, Loren Lester, and Haywood (What’s Happenin’) Nelson.
There are also three separate interviews with Howard, Joseph Cortese, and Don Stark that are not integrated into the larger program; a little detective work reveals that these were originally conducted for last year’s Code Red DVD release (and it bears mentioning that the quality level is not nearly up to the level of Aine Leicht’s skillfully edited piece. Add to this another interview with SFX master Allan A. Apone, who details several challenges faced on this, his company’s first big project. While the presentation feels a little haphazard, it nevertheless all adds up to over an hour’s worth of fond memories, with all concerned making special notice of what a pleasure it was to be included in a cast of veterans like Tyner, R.G. Armstrong, and Lenny Montana (“Luca Brasi” from The Godfather). Plus, Moll is a hammy riot.
However, what should have been the crown jewel ends up being another notch in Shout! Factory’s growing belt of clunker commentaries as Bill Olsen, President of Code Red, shares the mike with Weston. Now, I realize that S!F had nothing to do with the commentary; it was recorded for CR’s 2013 DVD release and they probably thought, “What the heck? It’s done, we’re including the other interviews as well, let’s move along.” However, one gets the feeling that nobody actually listened to the track, or they would have realized their mistake. It’s a rambling and coarse discourse, with Olsen dissing on Frank Laloggia’s Fear No Evil because that film’s shower scene “had all that gay subtext in it.” He then goes on to call several actors “great big fat guys,” while Weston refers to his star as “looking as though he was made up of spare parts.” No one would crown Clint Howard any beauty contest winner, but that’s just rude.
|"My ears are burning, no, BLEEDING over here!"|
There are also endless declarations that there is “NO CGI HERE.” We get it, it was 1980, and we applaud Apone’s resourcefulness, but if there were a drinking game attached to every mention of computer-generated imagery, viewers would be dead of alcohol poisoning before the 45-minute mark. Finally, Olsen, who clearly has a speech impediment (“Rance Howard” comes out “Lance Howald”) paired with his thick Noo Yawk accent and penchant for mispronunciations (“Antoon LaVey,” anyone?) probably isn’t the best choice for moderator, especially when he indulges in as many time-consuming tangents as his subject. (“Do you know what happened to that painting of Father Esteban?”) The 10-minute passage where they mourn the loss of a certain Hollywood diner might be edifying to some, but fans of, oh, the movie that we’re watching will be losing their minds (or, more likely, digging out their old Anchor Bay discs to listen to the slightly superior track featuring Weston, Howard, and production assistant Warren Lewis).
Ultimately, this long-anticipated hi-def package is as rough and tumble as the movie itself, but those in a forgiving vein should find plenty to enjoy.
Evilspeak hits Blu-ray Tuesday, May 13 from Shout! Factory and can be pre-ordered HERE:
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine