Directed by Eric Weston
Distributed by The Scream Factory
Clint Howard has never been what you’d call a traditional “leading man” in cinema. His roles, which began when he was just a small child, have typically veered toward strange, unusual characters that, while memorable, aren’t the star of the show. He’s bug-eyed, bald, and looks like the kind of guy who could’ve easily been typecast as playing creeps and lunatics. Thanks to his older brother, Ron (maybe you’ve heard of him), Clint was able to secure roles that might have never gone to him otherwise; usually secondary or tertiary characters with a couple decent lines. But his wide-eyed, gangly appearance was perfectly suited to director Eric Weston’s Evilspeak (1981). The film, which plays out a bit like Carrie (1976) for boys, was Howard’s first major starring role. While the subject matter was far removed from anything he’d done before – and the overt satanic elements were tough to swallow at first – the role offered Howard the chance to prove he could be more than a supporting actor with limited range. It also gave horror fans the chance to witness Evil Richard Moll, numerous beheadings, boobs, Bob from That ‘70s Show (1998-2006) killing a puppy, and evil satanic pigs with a hunger for human flesh.
After a prologue set in the Dark Ages, wherein Esteban (a hooded Richard Moll), a satanic priest, sacrifices a young woman by chopping her head off, the action (via one incredible cut) moves to an American military academy soccer game. Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard) has once again blown it on the field, drawing the scorn of his classmates, all of whom hate his guts. Led by the thick-headed jock Bubba (Don Stark), this group of bullies does everything they can to make Coopersmith’s life a living hell, which includes teasing him about the fact he’s an orphan with dead parents. Coopersmith finds no salvation in the faculty either, because even when he’s the victim of a prank the staff still finds him responsible for mistakes out of his hands. Stolen hat? Stripped of your pants? That’ll be a demerit. Coopersmith is sentenced to cellar clean-up duty, where he’ll be supervised by Sarge (R.G. Armstrong), a sloppy, drunken mess of a man who lives in the basement and reads a lot of porn. During his cleaning, Coopersmith finds a hidden doorway leading to a ritual chamber full of satanic books and objects. He takes the book and begins to translate it on one of the school’s computers, but since he can’t get seem to get any time alone he takes the computer down into the cellar and sets up shop in the occult room.
Coopersmith quickly comes to life translating these ancient tomes and working diligently to learn their meaning. Suddenly he has a purpose, especially when the school’s chef, Jake (Lenny “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes” Montana), a hulking, shirtless beast of a man, grills him up a steak and gives him a puppy. Don’t ask why Jake has a litter of puppies under a counter in the kitchen. Coopersmith cares for his dog down in the cellar while transcribing the occult texts, which eventually spell out the items required to perform a blood ritual that will release Esteban. He’s got everything he needs… except for blood. One drunken night, his fellow cadets head down into Coopersmith’s lair while he’s away, hooking up with girls and messing with his project. They stumble upon his computer and see the ritual requirements, leading Bubba to choose Coopersmith’s dog as the blood sacrifice. Problem is the ritual needs human blood, not animal. When Coopersmith learns of what his academic nemeses have been up to, he loses his mind and takes it upon himself to complete the ritual and unleash an unholy barrage of Hell upon his enemies.
Evilspeak tosses in a few sporadic death scenes to keep viewers appeased – all of which are grotesquely realized – but the real meat of the film comes from the undeniable empathy for Coopersmith; or “Cooperdick”, as nearly everyone refers to him. The pathos is palpable as he’s relentlessly tormented by nearly all of his peers. The only one who does stick up for him is the school’s (seemingly) lone black kid, and nobody listens to him, either. When Coopersmith plays poorly on the soccer field, his teammates complain to the coach who – within earshot of Coopersmith – says he can’t prevent him from playing but “if something were to happen to him and he couldn’t play…” Anytime the guys steal his clothes or get him into a mishap, inevitably some faculty member walks by at just the right instant to lay blame on Coopersmith for his inactions. Here’s a guy whose parents are dead, he has no friends, and all he wants it to be accepted. That’s it. He has no grand master plan other than just existing and doing the best he can. And, for that, he gets bullied to the breaking point.
That breaking point comes in the third act, when Bubba has dispatched the one friend Coopersmith had – his beloved little puppy, Fred. The film does a wonderful job of slowly bringing Coopersmith’s inner rage to a boil, and once he has the tools and the incentive to unleash the fury of Hell nothing is held back. It’s nearly impossible to watch the bloody climax and not have a smile plastered across your face. Coopersmith, imbued with the powers of Esteban and his satanic majesty, exterminates with extreme prejudice. And he brings his satanic swine along for the fun! It’s supremely cathartic and insanely satisfying.
The film’s 1.78:1 1080p image was mastered from a “newly discovered 35mm inter-positive source, including all of its long-rumored scenes of bloody carnage.” After getting past the rough optical credits, film grain stabilizes but remains heavy throughout. The print is in pretty good shape, though there are many white flecks, specks, and vertical lines seen throughout. Colors are decently saturated, not enough to really pop off the screen. Black levels vacillate between anemic and rich, usually settling somewhere in between. Don’t expect to see much depth, as this is a fairly flat image. Cigarette burns are present, too. Compression artifacts abound, particularly in darker scenes. Speaking of which, a great deal of visual information is lost to the shadows when things go dim. Compared to Anchor Bay’s old DVD, however, this is practically a revelation. While other Scream Factory titles of this vintage have looked sharper and more robust, this is hardly a total slouch. Just keep expectations in check and you’re likely to be pleased well enough.
As usual, Scream Factory does a bang-up job in the audio department, delivering an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track that carries a hefty weight with it. The score, courtesy of Roger Kellaway, is very reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith’s work on The Omen (1976) thanks to recurring chants in Latin and the use of classical instruments. There’s a harmonious balance of piano and electronic cues, the latter of which are mostly reserved for Esteban’s impending arrival via a series of nightclub-style computer alerts. Dialogue is carried well, registering nicely amongst the score and sound effects. The track is also free of hisses and pops, delivering a clean audible experience. Subtitles are included in English.
The audio commentary with writer/director Eric Weston, as moderated by Code Red’s Bill Olsen, is certainly a lively track. Weston ruminates on the film’s bullying theme, finding it as important in today’s culture as it ever was, as well as touching upon how things would be done differently with today’s technology. Olsen has a… strong personality, sometimes doing more speaking than moderating. The track veers off course a number of times, though usually that’s what makes these things so fun, right? Satan’s Pigs & Severed Heads: The Making of Evilspeak is a rather fun look at the film’s behind the scenes shenanigans, with a number of cast members chiming in on just how bad/weird they found the script to be. All offer unanimous praise for Howard, but it’s Richard Moll’s deadpan delivery during his interview that brings the funny. Weston also laments having to kill a puppy, but he felt the story required something major to send Cooperdi-, er Coopersmith right over the edge. Effects Speak with Allan A. Apone is an interview with alliterative FX maestro discusses how this was his first major picture and they had a lot of work to be done during the shoot. Lots of great anecdotes in here. Cast Interviews contains a trio of interviews with Clint Howard, Don Stark, and Joe Cortese. Finally, the film’s theatrical trailer is included.
4 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5