Monday, January 26, 2009

976-Evil (1988)

Reviewed By: Billy

Someday, in the far future, when there’s been some kind of nuclear apocalypse and the world has been completely rebuilt, people will wonder what it was like in the 1980s. They’ll look for our books and movies and study them like cave-drawings, trying to figure out what language we spoke and what kind of society we lived in. Well – if they want a truly accurate representation of the 1980s – all neon colors, fingerless gloves, and spiked hair – they’ll look no further than a fuzzy VHS copy of 976-Evil. In fact, let’s just make a time capsule right now and throw in Robert Englund’s masterpiece of dated filmmaking; honestly, the only thing that could make this movie any more 80s is if Nancy Reagan popped up at the end chanting “Just Say No!”

976-Evil stars perfectly 80s awkward teen Hoax, played by Stephen Geoffreys, whom some of you know from his earlier work in Fright Night, and others of us know from his later work in gay porn. Speaking of porn, at the very beginning of the movie, Geoffreys is doing something perfectly 80s – looking at topless African women in “National Geographic” (and don’t pretend like you didn’t do it, too – I know JM wasn’t really interested in the Pyramids). Hoax lives with his perfectly 80s religious zealot mother (played by Sandy Dennis, channeling Piper Laurie and Dee Snider), and his perfectly 80s cousin Spike (complete with tank top and greased back ponytail) lives across the street.

The plot here really isn’t that important; there’s this astrological hotline, where the creepy voice on the other end sound suspiciously like our director, and it starts raining fish at Hoax’s house, blah blah blah. You already knew that 976-Evil dialed the Devil, right? And that nerdy Hoax would end up possessed and finally flexing some muscle (exactly the same character arc Geoffreys had in…well…every movie he did)? So let’s not waste any more time on that. Because really, at heart, 976-Evil is nothing more than a collection of gloriously 80s scenes, where Englund seems to have no other intention than to make sure we all remember exactly what decade we’re in. To that end, here are some seminal images from this living history book:

1. The camera gives us a close up shot of red high heels and peg-legged jeans, walking down a studio-constructed sidewalk illuminated by hot-pink lights.
2. Aforementioned high heels and peg-legged jeans belong to a woman with a frizzed-out perm who’s wearing a Miami Vice white coat.
3. Aforementioned woman with frizzed-out perm and white coat runs by a store called Phon-Mart, which sells telephones…that have cords!

Wow…and all that came from one scene. But seriously, Spike has a girlfriend who looks like she’s going to a Halloween party dressed as Cyndi Lauper and the main “tough guy” – wearing a top hat, one dangly earring, and…yes…a tank top – gives Hoax swirlies in the boys’ room. Come on! Even John Hughes wasn’t this 80s.

So what does all this mean to someone watching 976-Evil in the new millennium? Well, to those of us at Tower Farm, it’s kind of like how my grandparents probably feel watching silent movies: a beautiful explosion of nostalgia and nausea. After all, the 80s were the golden years for our kind of horror, so watching this movie is kind of like watching a “Greatest Hits” compilation. On the other hand, the abundance of fruity pink and green lighting and jeans jackets starts to feel kind of claustrophobic about fifteen minutes in, making one appreciate the pedestrian crispness of a modern classic like Valentine.

Thankfully, just when the seasick-feeling is becoming a little too much, Stephen Geoffreys really kicks it into high gear, oiling up his chest and doing crazy pagan rituals on the bedroom floor. There’s nothing better than Stephen going over-the-top (whether in horror or porn), and unlike Fright Night, in which William Ragsdale’s perm stole the show, here Stephen is front and center. Meanwhile, Sandy does her damndest to not only outdo Stephen, but score that elusive comeback Oscar bid (which, thanks to Piper Laurie, every actress of that generation hopes for) in a succession of wigs from the Vicki Lawrence collection; by the end, you’ll be sure you just watched an episode of “Mama’s Family.” Several other perfectly 80s familiar faces show up (and, for some odd reason, often use inhalants, whether they be nasal sprays or asthma puffers…was it dusty on that set?), and a gloriously 80s good time is had by all. There is questionable subtext here; Stephen Geoffreys’ character sure does come off gay (as if that were a shocker), gets called the f-word, and literally burns in hell at the end…but that pretty much comes with the territory in 80s horror. Besides, if Robert Englund were really a homophobe, would he have agreed to be in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2?

Speaking of…Robert Englund always induces a sea-saw of emotions in me; when I enjoy a movie he’s in (see: The Phantom of the Opera and Tobe Hooper’s Night Terrors), I usually like the movie for a reason other than him (see: Jill Schoelen lip-synching, etc.). But when I dislike a movie he’s in (see: pretty much everything else) he’s usually a big part of the reason. But I have to hand it to the man here; in trying to be cutting-edge contemporary, he’s created a perfect piece of petrified horror. And so years from now, when it’s just the aliens and the cockroaches looking over a wasteland once called Earth, I hope they come across my time capsule. If they do, they’re sure to watch this movie and say, “Hey…those humans sure did love their fishnets!”


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