Evilspeak (1981)
By: Stuart Giesel on March 18, 2015 | Comments
Scream Factory | Region A | 1.78:1, 1080p | English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono | 97 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Eric Weston
Starring: Clint Howard, R.G. Armstrong, Joe Cortese, Claude Earl Jones, Haywood Nelson
Screenplay: Joseph Garofalo, Eric Weston
Country: USA
Evilspeak is a curious blend of nerd wish-fulfilment fantasy and demonic possession movie, giving it the vicarious thrills that a vigilante picture like Death Wish provides, along with the bloodletting of a slasher that just happens to have a daft supernatural vibe. Admittedly uneven, it has moments of absolute genius when it dares to venture into what-the-fuck territory and a strong central performance from Clint Howard that separate it from its slasher peers. If you ever thought Silence of the Lambs sequel Hannibal suffered from a lack of face-eating pigs, you've found your Holy Grail in Evilspeak.

The film starts with a flashback on a beach in a failed attempt to inject some depth into the story. An exceptionally wicked looking dude in a black cloak – Father Esteban, played by Richard Moll – is cast out from a religious order, but he figures that won't stop him from worshipping Satan, which ends with the beheading of a naked woman, a sequence boasting some hideously weak special effects. We cut to "modern" day where we are introduced to Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard), an awkward, unkempt student at a military college who is disliked, ridiculed and picked-on by jocks and teachers alike. We get a sense of how much Coopersmith is hated when even the coach (Claude Earl Jones) gets in on the action, suggesting that "something happens" to Coopersmith so he can't play in an upcoming match. Nice. Coopersmith is mercilessly bullied, and nothing about him is sacred: his appearance, his name, the fact that his parents are dead – it's astonishing the guy hadn't gone postal or killed himself by now. Basically, the film is setting up this intolerable situation with these A-grade fuckheads in order to ensure that we'll receive maximum gratification when it comes to Coopersmith exacting his revenge. This grotesque level of bullying by all supporting players – save two – can only assure our sympathies lie with Coopersmith. For God's sake, even the hot secretary Miss Friedemeyer (Lynn Hancock) seems to be getting off when Coopersmith is flogged by the school head Colonel Kincaid (Charles Tyner)! Worst of the worst is Coopersmith's arch-nemesis Bubba (Don Stark) and his moronic sidekicks who make Cooperdick's – sorry, Coopersmith's – life a living hell.

Luckily for Coopersmith, he discovers a cache of occult gear whilst cleaning out the basement of the school chapel, including a tome that looks like someone's pissweak interpretation of the Book of the Dead, made up to look like it is hundreds of years old but in reality looks like a dud prop scrawled on by a mentally deficient shut-in. Combined with Coopersmith's fully sick computer skills, he manages to translate the book and, in a series of increasingly unlikely events, brings Father Esteban back to life through a blood ritual. Unfortunately for everyone else, Esteban inhabits Coopersmith, and that's where the blood starts to spill.

With its mix of gory violence and bullshit Satanic rituals, Evilspeak garnered a fair degree of controversy when it came out, landing it on the UK's now-legendary "Video Nasties" list. Of course, looking back on it now, especially through Jake West's superb documentary Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide, we see that the Video Nasties list was a fairly random collection of films. It's quite baffling as to how certain titles came to be listed, whilst others escaped the executioner's axe. However you can see why Evilspeak landed on the list and, thus, secured its place in exploitation cinema history. Even by today's standards the violence is quite strong, at least, in this uncut Blu-Ray release, restoring some of the violence that had been snipped to get a US R-rating. Sure, the effects can be a little ropey at times, but they make up for it with sheer grotesqueness: pigs devour people, impalements and stabbings abound, and the film ends with a series of glorious beheadings that may not be flawlessly executed but make up for it with sheer enthusiasm. On top of that, apparently the censors took umbrage with the Satanic themes – as detailed in Video Nasties, the original UK video release had, on top of the gore, excised virtually all of the Satanic translation stuff, as if the censors were worried that all the computer boffins across the country would suddenly write blood ritual computer programs of their own in deference to the Dark Arts.

In truth, it's hard envisage something as patently silly as Evilspeak influencing kids to do anything (except have a good chuckle), let alone sacrifice themselves to Satan, particularly as the film's computer sequences are most assuredly a product of its time. You know what you're going to get whenever you see an early-80's depiction of the "modern" computer: lots of ridiculous commands that somehow a computer is able to recognise, amazing visuals showing up on a monochromatic piece of shit monitor from 1981 and, in Evilspeak, a computer that somehow has been designed to receive blood as a sacrifice, and the sort of artificial intelligence that, were it ever to manifest in reality would surely spell the end of the human race, Cyberdyne Systems-style. In other words: computers are magical, we don't know how they work and you don't either, so what the hell.

Thank God the filmmakers had the sense to put Clint Howard in the central role. You know how skewed Hollywood's opinion of the loser, the geek, or the loner usually is, particularly in romantic comedies where all they require is the removal of glasses, a change of hairstyle and all of a sudden they're the stunning, gorgeous centre of attention? Well, there's none of that here with Clint Howard's schlubby, everyman features. He's a loser and a loner, object of scorn, and Evilspeak ensures that he doesn't become that "ugly duckling turns into beautiful swan" cliche. And Howard sells Coopersmith, his first starring role, perfectly. Howard's winning central performance aside, the cast is comprised of decent supporting players stuck in one-note roles purely designed to lather as much abuse on Coopersmith as possible until they are handily dispatched. And whilst the film is technically competent, its pacing lags in numerous spots, with director/co-writer Eric Weston unable to find a sure and confident footing until the gory finale. Fortunately, Howard is the glue that keeps the wacky mechanics of Evilspeak together until we get to the truly demented stuff, encapsulated by Miss Friedemeyer's nude shower scene (of course there is one, this is an 80's slasher/horror film after all!) that is rudely interrupted by hungry, demonic pigs.

It's that sort of schizophrenic approach that ensures Evilspeak stands out from the other horror films of the 80's. You get a nice cathartic release from Coopersmith's bloodletting, some chunky moments (including a top-notch head-bisection) and a slathering of the occult and computer-wankery. What's not to like? It's a uniquely odd experience, if nothing else, one that fans can now experience in high-def thanks to another great Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory.
The Disc
Most assuredly this is the best we've seen Evilspeak, unless you happened to have caught it in its original theatrical run. The picture does suffer from some strong grain and flickering in certain shots (most notable against blue skies or ocean) and lots of artefacts, but otherwise Shout Factory have delivered a decent picture considering the film's low budget origins, with natural colour and good detail. The soundtrack is a little more impressive, with dialogue remaining clear against the film's punchy sound effects and Omen-inspired chant-heavy score.

Honestly, I figured Scream Factory wouldn't be able to provide many features for a film as obscure as Evilspeak, but they've delivered the goods with a spirited and detailed audio commentary from writer/director Eric Weston who provides some solid behind-the-scenes info, ably assisted by moderator Bill Olsen.

The disc also contains new interviews with some of Evilspeak's cast in the featurette "Satan's Pigs and Severed Heads – Making Evilspeak". Separate from the featurette are interviews with Clint Howard, Don Stark and Joe Cortese. And the other featurette, "Effects Speak with Allan A. Apone" has the film's effects artist talk about his work on Evilspeak, how he got involved with the project, and the challenges in working with pigs, amongst other things. Evilspeak's theatrical trailer rounds out the disc.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Imagine Revenge of the Nerds with a good heaping of gory violence and about as many laughs (i.e. not many) and you get Evilspeak. Undisputably a product of its time, its curious mix of bloody set-pieces and Clint Howard's solid, sympathetic performance set it apart from the numerous revenge-horror pics of the era. The pacing flags at times, but some wonderful set-pieces ensure the wait is worth it.
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