Everybody “did it”. Everybody smoked. Constantly. The kids did what they wanted to do when they wanted to. Some of them dressed like the greasers their parents once were, and others just wore the brightest clothes they could find. Both were cool, and they lived life fast and hard. Damn. The 80s were strange.
The horror movies really reflected this as well, and due to films like The Exorcist and Amityville Horror (and a cultural shift away from a mainstream moralistic society), religion and demons dominated the landscape that were not already dominated by slashers. While the kids in slasher films were marked by their moralistic integrity, the demon side of horror dealt with the consequences of these decisions.
One of my favorite 1980s movies that I remember watching nearly every Saturday was 976-EVIL. While it still holds up today, the 12 year old in me is still thrilled by certain scenes (like the bathroom scene at the theater). I haven’t seen this one in years, and it still holds up pretty well. The makeup and special effects are great. The story is much more enjoyable to me as an adult as it is more understandable, but I see how I was drawn to it as a child as well.
Back in the 1980s, I’m assuming 976 numbers were popular and actually made money. I’m told this by Hollywood, but in my experience, you always hung before you actually had to pay anything. I remember the commercials (especially the Freddy chat line) and I did this often. But I never went any further with the call. That’s not the case in 976-EVIL.
Both our hero Spike (Patrick O’Bryan) and his mousy cousin Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys) are compelled to call a generic horrorscope hotline. While Spike chooses to not cross certain lines, Hoax is abused by the world. Hoax views the power given to him by the demon on the other end as a chance for retribution. While Spike may be selfish, he is not vengeful.
Director Robert Englund does a great job with this script. He introduces us to Spike, Spike is the first to call the number, and Spike chooses the “moralistic” route. Of course, this does draw the ire of the unseen demon and brings Hoax into the role of antagonist. We watch as Hoax descends from wishful fantasies to accidentally killing his love interest to demonic transformation. It’s the old switch-a-roo, and it works wonderfully here. Part of you is rooting for Hoax to stop the abuse raining down on him, and you end up traveling down the road to hell with him (much like the film Falling Down).
Spike is nearly forgotten after he refuses to steal motorcycle gloves at the demon’s will. He reappears at the end of the film and plays a huge role in the finale, but for the most part…he vanishes as Hoax’s power grows. It’s interesting that film takes this approach as the finale is not drawn out. Spike shows up to Hoax’s house (which has been frozen over inside and fiery pit outside), helps some people, and appeals to the part of Hoax still left in the demon with a couple lines. Ironically, as much as I hate this truncated finale, the final outcome is appropriate to Spike’s character. There isn’t a scene where Spike takes the demon inside him and casts himself into the fiery pit. Nope. Selfish Spike launches his cousin into the fire, and he takes to the road for the awesome 976-EVIL II.
This is one of the most iconic films of my youth. I don’t think I realized why it disappeared from circulation until I visited IMDB and realized Geoffreys (more famous for his role as Evil Ed from Fright Night) made his living in the 90s doing gay pornography. It was mainly lost in the DVD conversion of the 1990s, and it wasn’t re-released until 2002.
Of course, you can’t talk about 976-EVIL without mentioning the iconic theater scene. Hoax seeks out the school bullies at their normal hangout: the projection room of the local cinema. They sit up there drinking and playing cards every night (usually with Spike). Well, Hoax shows up and he is ushered out by two behemoths. He returns with their hearts, and the rest scatter. Young punk Marcus (J J Cohen) initially steps up with a switchblade and loses his hand to the Hoax demon. Hoax leaves him to seek out the others, and Marcus runs to the bathroom to wrap his stump in toilet paper. Hoax appears, and makes his way past each empty stall to the hiding boy. As the boy becomes more terrified, we see that Hoax knows the actual stall Marcus is in. He is slamming the doors open to heighten the fear. When he finally gets to Marcus’ stall, we see him approach Marcus via an overhead shot. As a bloodcurdling scream rings out, we span across the top of all the stalls one by one until we return to the original stall. The toilet is overflowing with blood, and the only thing left of Marcus is his hand that Hoax cut off. Outstanding scene, Mr. Englund. Outstanding scene.
(While not the original trailer, this video is awesome and cut together with song 976-EVIL by the Deftones and hits all the awesomeness that was the film.)