(Unrated, The Moreno Company, 97 mins., theatrical release date: February 26, 1982)
Satan worship and the underdog story, two great tastes that go together... Wait, that was how I started out my last review, which was of Warlock, a movie good enough to deserve the Reese's-referencing intro. Good God, I need to keep working on my Diane Franklin tribute or else I'll never get the peanut butter girl out of my system. I should be talking TerrorVision...what movie is this, again?
Ooh, boy, I'm watching Evilspeak! Or, as I like to call it, "The Computer Wore Devil's Horns." This is the 1981 movie in which Gentle Ben's playmate concocts the world's deadliest virus to get back at the noxiously sadistic students and staffers who abuse him at every turn. It's based on a story by Stephen King...er, Joseph Garofalo, but what's so familiar about watching a bullied kid pushed into a corner where his or her only salvation is the supernaturally-assisted homicide of his many tormentors? Besides, the main character's name is Stanley, and the movie proper isn't eponymous as opposed to those many genre divas with names like Carrie or Jennifer or Ruby.
Like many a young actor, the incomparable Clint Howard had a small window of time around the dawn of the eighties where he was in his early twenties and could pass himself off as high school characters. So after playing Eaglebauer, the bathroom stall entrepreneur of Allan Arkush's Rock ‘n' Roll High School, he was cast as a teenager in Eric Weston's Evilspeak, specifically an orphaned outcast named Stanley Coopersmith. A puppy-faced charity case enrolled at West Andover Military Academy, the odds are clearly stacked against Stanley's sad psyche from the start. The alpha male clique led by Bubba (Don Stark, Donna's daddy from That ‘70s Show) is tempted to sabotage the weak Coopersmith's pleas for affirmative action on the soccer field by the coach himself. Not even the sympathetic black friend Kowalski (Haywood "Dwayne" Nelson) proves to be much of a buffer. The brutish headmaster Colonel Kincaid (Charles Tyner) berates and paddles whatever discipline he can into Stanley, and the kid's detention duties are to clean up the chapel's dingy basement under the supervision of an alcoholic pederast named Sarge (old reliable R.G. Armstrong).
Is it any wonder that Stanley gravitates toward the tutelage of the ancient occultist Lorenzo Esteban (Richard "Bull" Moll!), an excommunicated Spanish monk who once deduced that "Satan is God" but whose portrait still graces the church walls?! Stanley uses his computer to translate the Latin passages of Esteban's journal, but soon his wicked spirit has been manifested fully into the mainframe (Windows Update can bite me). Stanley tries to perform his own Black Mass ceremonies, but is oblivious to the flashing screen demanding he procure a human sacrifice. Circumstances beyond his control turn out to be in Stanley's favor: first the Sarge has his neck snapped by the possessed PC, and then Colonel Kincaid's frumpy/foxy secretary, Miss Friedemeyer (Lynn Hancock), who confiscated the book with the sole purpose of prying the Pentagram off its front cover, is attacked in the shower by bloodthirsty boars. The tome conveniently teleports itself back to its rightful owner.
Bubba's goon squad inevitably go past the breaking point in their traumatizing of Stanley ("Arf arf..."), and on the eve of the big homecoming game, "Cooperdick" finally succeeds in raising Hell. Except for that gonzo 10-minute stretch of Reckoning Day retaliation, where our levitating loser takes delight in decapitating the Colonel with a broadsword, those evil pigs make an encore and the whole church bursts into a glorious inferno, Evilspeak is just as programmatic and dimwitted as you'd anticipate.
What‘s most damning about Evilspeak is that it's just so boringly base until its wad-shooting finale. Despite a checkered cast of TV icons and character actors which also includes Claude Earl Jones as the passive aggressive coach, Lenny "Luca Brasi" Montana as the merciful chef and Joe Cortese as the Reverend Jameson, there is too much misery for the sake of misery. Much like Jennifer and definitely unlike Carrie, the bullies in this film are charisma vacuums built for maximum contempt, cruel ciphers whose bile-inducing detestability is clearly meant to push the viewer over to Stanley's (and by extension the Devil's) side. There's something potentially mischievous about this blatant manipulation, especially when Jameson's pious sermon built around a sports analogy cross-cuts with Stanley on the verge of his breakthrough/breakdown. But co-writer and director Eric Weston has staged the earlier proceedings way too po-faced and drearily for it to make much difference. If Brian De Palma is fiendishly campy, Eric Weston is flat corny, the single worst attitude an exploitation filmmaker can exhibit.
It takes a leaden touch to make the shameless synergy of cheesecake and sausage factories that is Miss Friedemeyer's bare-naked demise by carnivorous hogs complete and utter tedium. You can claim in defense that Weston's devotion to establishing Stanley's hopeless plight be taken as slow-burn, but the moments of straight schlock such as this stop the film cold and only add to the sense of cynicism. All of the characterizations are purely one-note, even the Methodically gangly Clint Howard in the first lead role of his kooky career, so much so that your defenses actually strengthen rather than crumble.
Like My Bodyguard as re-written by Anton LaVey, only much less compelling, Evilspeak did manage to court some controversy when it was classified as a Video Nasty in England thanks to an uncut print distributed on tape without ratings board certification. In America, the film was clumsily censored so it would pass with an MPAA-approved R, never to be seen in any kind of restored form until Anchor Bay issued a composite print on DVD in 2004. The finale itself is rather cheesy as far as FX work goes, with the many slashed heads resembling stuffed fruit or pointy sculptures, but at least Weston finally delivers those long-awaited thrills. The eeriest image involves a Christ figure's wrist pulsing to life, the embedded nail loosing itself to fire directly into Reverend Jameson's forehead. Also worthwhile are some effectively ominous computer graphics and subterranean set design. And Clint Howard gives a painfully earnest performance, the best this film has to offer, which makes up for in conviction what it lacks in plausibility.
However, that Anchor Bay disc is out of print, so the home video rights moved over to Code Red Entertainment, a company sadly known at this point for becoming a money pit. If you really want to experience Evilspeak, hold off until Shout! Factory issues it on Blu-Ray in the spring of 2014. At least an eighth of the movie will definitely be worth the wait.