Writers: Brian Helgeland & Rhet Topham
Director: Robert Englund
Stephen Geoffreys as Hoax
Jim Metzler as Marty
Maria Rubell as Angela
Lezlie Deane as Suzie
J.J. Cohen as Marcus
Pat O'Bryan as Spike
Sandy Dennis as Aunt Lucy
Synopsis: A young nerd living with his psychotically religious mother, and rebellious cousin, gets sucked into the evil world of 976 numbers. And when I say evil, I mean real evil. Chaos and death ensue.
Hey look, another review! I'm running a little behind, thanks to holidays and a little sickness, but here's a little something to put in your stocking. This time out, I grabbed off the shelf the late 80's horror flick, 976-EVIL, which is pretty much only notable because of its director.
The movie starts off, naturally enough with that title, with the sound of a phone dialing the name of the movie. I've seen worse gimmicks, and this works for the name, I guess. I have to wonder if it's an exact dialing, or if someone just punched in a bunch of numbers.
The phone keeps ringing, as the movie fades in. We eventually see a guy running from something. Maybe he read the script, and is trying to make an early escape. We hear a voice call out, "It's for yoooouuu," and I can't decide if I'm supposed to be scared, or laughing at the silliness.
The guy keeps on running, until we see him come upon a pay phone. Remember those, kids? It starts to ring, and it's the most garbled ring while still being recognisable I've ever heard. It's a simple effect, but I like it. It gives the ring a sense of something being wrong, just a little off kilter.
The guy we've been following finally confronts the phone, and considering he's playing against an inanimate object, he does a surprisingly good job. He really does show a nice mix of fear and desire. He has to pick up the phone, NEEDS to, but he knows he can't. Of course, he can't resist the siren's call (see what I did there?) and he grabs the phone. The glass of the booth shatters, he starts convulsing as electricity rotoscopes everywhere, and he bursts into flames and flies towards the camera. Dead bodies before the credits are done rolling, now that's a good start.
We cut from the burning guy, to outside Dante's Diner, with a sign at the bottom of its window advertising shuffleboard, and the H and L are in a different colour. Get it? Dante? H L? Hell? Har har. As if that wasn't the height of hilarity, we next see the El Diablo theatre, where the neon lights of the logo are burnt out just so that the lit letters spell DIA L. On the upside, the Diablo is doing a continuous horror marathon, for a buck 99 a seat. I would so go to that.
The credit for director pops up, and oooh, it's Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund himself. If he learned anything from Wes Craven, this movie had the chance for some good, campy fun.
In the projectionist booth, we see a bunch of kids hanging out and playing poker. Oh man, the bad hair.
Some greaser named Spike is ready to get out of the game, since he's tapped out, and can't match the pot. They let him bet his ride's pink slip as collateral, so of course he loses. Is this really the 80s? This plot, and some of the style, seems more like the 50s or 60s.
From that little random interlude, we jump to a house filled with cats, climbing over my personal nightmare; furniture covered in snug plastic sleeves that looks like it was specially made for the couches and cushions.
The camera pans across the couch, covered with more cats and more plastic, and finally on the far end, some guy reading a National Geographic and eating a candy bar. While wearing baby blue kid's PJs. I'm guessing he's supposed to be in his teens, but this guy easily looks in his 20s. I feel kinda uncomfortable seeing this.
A parrot squawks about his eating on the couch, and that's echoed by another screech that be he better not be eating on the couch! He says he's not, and stashes the candy bar away before his momma comes in and catches him. This woman has a hair style that I can only describe as an old white woman afro.
We learn the *ahem* kid is Spike's cousin. Momma smacks Hoax (Seriously, Spike and Hoax.) when she sees him ogling the naked native girls in the National Geographic.
With the roar of a bike, we hear Spike return home, and heads up to his apartment over the garage. It's made pretty clear that Hoax idolises the guy something fierce. Considering his only other role model is his momma, I can't say I blame him.
Spike grabs the phone almost immediately and dials a horroscope hotline, with the curiously not suspicious at all extension of 666. The horroscope tells Spike about his money woes, and says they'll all be sorted out soon.
Oh, and it's worth noting that Hoax has managed to set up a pneumatic tube system from his room to Spike's apartment, so he can send him such important notes as "Hi, Spike! Hoax!" We've clearly got the thuggish biker and nerdy brain archetypes going in full force here.
Once everyone has gone to sleep, Spike sneaks into the house to raid the fridge. I can only imagine what momma/his aunt would do if she caught him. Once he's had some milk, he looks for her stash of money, so he can pay off his poker buddies and keep his bike.
Naturally, he gets caught, and is aunt starts shrieking about the 10 Commandments. I'm really starting to feel for Spike, here.
She rambles on and on about Spike's dead mother, her sister, how she didn't raise him right, and he can't have none of that money 'til he's 21. And until that day, she's gonna spend it however she wants! Ok, yeah. Really feeling sorry for Spike.
Spike wisely tries to escape. His aunt follows him outside, still thumping her bible. Then it starts to rain. It starts to rain fish. Momma somehow takes this as a sign that God is on her side. Ok, I may be wrong, but isn't raining fish a BAD omen?
Spike finally gets away, and gets back to his apartment. He's not back in his own room before he's already dialing the horrorscope again. It somehow mentions the rain of fish and how he's no longer poor. If I was in the real world, I would be terribly suspicious of these crazily accurate phonecalls. Then a fish shoots through the tubes, which is ew on so many levels, not the least of which being the stink it's going to leave behind. Inside its mouth is a note from Hoax, asking how Spike pulled the trick off.
We get a quick scene showing us Marty, from Modern Miracle magazine, showing up to interview momma for her rain of fish. Just as that scene is starting we cut right to Hoax getting a swirly. I hate when movies jump like that.
Not surprising anyone, the kids dunking Hoax are Spike's gambling buddies. I wonder if there's an even trade of swirlies to dollars, and letting them do this is how Spike is paying off his debt.
It is a nice touch to have Spike show up and call off the swirling. Making the thug have something of a heart for his family members. Anything to add more dimensions to characters so they're not just caricatures.
After Spike and Hoax hang out a bit more, where we see Hoax's lame little moped, and meet Spike's girlfriend, we also find out that the cousins have plans to drive cross country over the summer.
We jump from there to a random woman walking the streets, and she takes the 976 card out, and sets it on fire. Once it's burning nicely, a phone next to her begins to ring in that creepy cadence again. We hear the creepy voice on the other end, saying they had a deal. She angrilly hangs up and stupidly runs straight past a phone store. They all start to ring. And burst into flames. I forsee a factory recall on those. The phones all go boom, the glass window shatters, and the woman dies from all the glass, and everything.
Back at Dante's, Marty is sitting back trying to find something to eat, when he sees Spike pull up across the street. I presume he recognises him from momma's house, either via photos and/or momma talking about her nephew. It's always nice when the different movies begin to interact a bit more.
Spike grabs a smoke, and pulls out the 976-EVIL card, and quickly checks on his horroscope. This guy is addicted. Horroscopes don't change that much, that frequently, even if we're going to allow that they're real. Which is a whole other can of worms.
Inside the shop, Spike saw a pair of leather riding gloves, but couldn't afford them. His horroscope tells him a real man just takes what he wants, so Spike heads back inside.
And pause. I see where this is going now. Back in the 80s, these 976 numbers were huge, and we still see similar stuff with the 1-900 numbers these days. They were pretty shady, and there was a lot of hand-wringing over moral decay. We've seen much the same with video games, and comics, and almost everything new. Playing with the idea in the heightened, absurdist reality of a horror movie, where one of those numbers is literally evil? That's not a bad idea. Horror movies do best when they translate our fears into entertainment, so I guess this movie gets a few points for playing with the 80s version of nuclear radiation.
Anyways, back to the movie!
Back inside the shop, Spike has grabbed the gloves while the owner is busy being distracted. Surprisingly, Spike actually puts them back. That's another good twist of the character archetype. It would've been too easy to just have him give in, but putting the gloves back really shows a lot about who Spike is, deep down. But once he's outside, the phone starts ringing again.
Spike tells off the horroscope, which is hilarious since this is supposed to be a recording, on some level. For his new horroscope, he gets told to look both ways before crossing the street. Triskaidekafiles lesson #1: Never ignore eerie pronouncements.
Naturally, he steps into the street, and a car randomly starts up and begins barreling down on Spike at a leisurely 5 miles per hour. Marty runs out of the diner dives across the road and saves Spike at the last second.
With his life saved, Spike heads out to pick up Suzie, and they head back to his place for a quickie, with Hoax watching all the while. He tubes over a note to his brother, and really creeps her out. Can't blame her, really.
The two decide to get out of there for some alone time, and head to the movies (And poker). While they're gone, Hoax raids Spike's room and finds the 976 number, as well as a pair of Suzie's panties. Ever creepier, dude.
Hoax is totally unimpressed with the cheesiness of the phone service, but nonetheless follows the horroscope's advice to head to the movies so he can meet the girl of his dreams. Gee, who could that be?
Spike's been too busy playing poker, and Suzie gives up waiting on him, and heads out. Spike grabs her, demands to know what's wrong. The camera pushes in, music swells, and if this lead to a musical number, I was so calling it quits on the movie.
We learn Spike's last name is Johnson. Spike Johnson? Really? I'm going to struggle hard to take the high road here, and not make the obvious jokes. Believe me, it is very hard. Even worse, we learn his real name is Leonard Johnson. I'm not sure how, but that sounds so dirty.
Hoax and Suzie meet up outisde the theatre, and they actually hit it off. Boy, she went from creeped out to accepting kinda quick. They are a total mismatch, yet there's a certain quirky charm to the pairing, at the same time. Even if she is probably just using Hoax to get at Spike.
They grab some pizza, and a spider creeps along, and Suzie totally freaks out. Oh. Oh no Hoax. Don't tell the girl freaking out over a daddy longlegs that you have a pet spider. That's even bigger. You were SO close to getting some, dude.
Hoax lets the spider go, and it's promptly squished by Marcus' heel. Since the bullies haven't beaten up anyone in a good ten minutes, they decide to get their excercise with their favourite buddy, Hoax.
They discover Hoax is carrying a pair of Suzie's panties, and well, you can probably see how well that goes over. Her opinion of Hoax plummets, and the bullies toss him in a dumpster and pound on the sides for awhile.
Hoax seeks help from the same person everyone else does when life is seeming down and tough; the phone horroscope service! The voice on the other end gives him reassurances that things will be ok.
The voice gives Hoax detailed instructions on making a summoning circle, and doesn't try to hide at all that these are dark rites. At what point do warning bells go off? I know some people are gullible, heck these real phone horroscope services were pretty big for awhile. At some point though, someone has to step back and go, "Waitasec..." And to top that off, I can't take Hoax trying to cast demonic rituals seriously while he's wearing blue PJs.
The scene intercuts between Hoax casting his spell, and Suzie making dinner. Mmm, tv dinner goodness.
Suzie pulls the foil off her meal, and spiders pour out, making her go into full on freak out mode. Heck, I like spiders, and I'd do the same. They crawl everywhere, getting all over her, until she is, I'm guessing, bitten and falls to the ground dead.
Apparently, Hoax can see what's happening at Suzie's, as she opens up her spider surprise, since he freaks out, squishes his own spider, and lets out a Nooo that would make Darth Vader proud.
Hoax races over to Suzie's house to check out his handiwork, to confirm what he saw. Good going, kid. Playing with pentagrams always ends well. I can't believe I'm going to say this, but you should've listened to your momma!
Momma's seen the phone bill when he gets home, and takes Hoax's phone away. Now, let's think about this. He just started calling the number that night. A few hours ago, even. They clearly state during this exchange that Spike's line is seperate, so they're not his calls. So how the heck does she have a phone bill itemising that number? If it had been the next day, I could maybe see it. But still, he's only made a few calls, and it is still a stretch even to get a bill the next day with calls that recent. I've never heard of a phone service that sends hourly bills, and has the manpower to keep those bills being sent out under their own power, since the post office doesn't deliver that late, or that often. That's a pretty big plot hole, there.
Hoax is dumb and tells Spike about Suzie dying. He tries to cover it up, saying she was going out with another guy, so he did it for Spike. Spike gets rightly pissed, and tosses Hoax around like the rag doll he is. Their relationship is becoming strained, and with his growing power and backbone, Hoax vows from the floor looking up at his cousin, that someday their roles will be reversed.
Marty has found one of the 976 cards, and does his reporter thing, trying to hunt them down. He finds a graffitied warehouse, and inside finds a bunch of rooms for the various numbers the service provides; betting, a Santa line, and of course sex.
He finds the owner of the business, Mark Dark, played by the uncredited Robert Picardo, whom most people will remember from Star Trek: Voyager. It's pretty clear he's the voice behind the horroscopes, but he's also got a convenient case of laryngitis. I must have caught his after watching the movie.
Marty questions Mark about the EVIL number, and he shows him a dusty, cobwebby closet with a very cobbled together device. It was an early attempt at automation, to try and save money on paying an operator, but he claims he never got the thing working right, and has been shut down for some time.
Meanwhile back in school, Hoax is dissecting a frog, and feels a little sick. He rushes to the bathroom and checks himself out in the mirror, along with a glaringly bad bit of continuity. In the lab, he took off one of his plastic gloves to rub his hand, but when he's looking in the mirror, he has both back on, and takes the same glove off again. I often miss a lot of things like that, but when they're so obvious, even I see them.
Anyways, Hoax is not looking good. He's growing hair in weird places on his face, and losing hair in others. His skin is looking a little worn, and his nails are getting nasty. Put the gloves back on!
Two of the bullies stumble upon their favourite victim, and his nails grow out long and black, which are promptly used to slash up his attackers.
Clawed-hand Hoax returns home and retrieves his phone, which goes over about as well as one might expect with his momma. Remember kids, power corrupts. Momma pushes the issue, and it makes Hoax hit puberty. No wait, they just pitched his voice lower electronically to sound evil.
Marty heads back to the After Dark warehouse uh...after dark, to check the place out after hours. He creeps in and unlocks the 976-EVIL closet, which is bathed in red light until the door opens, and the machine powers down.
Hoax continues to hear the voice tell him what to do, how to become more powerful, but all Marty hears is half the conversation, as the equipment in front of him isn't doing anything. BECAUSE IT'S EVIL!
Hoax demands more power, and he starts glowing like a Christmas tree, causing him to transform even more, making his eyes change into something more catlike.
Marty tries to get out of the warehouse, understandably concerned. A phone rings and he foolishly grabs at it, and quickly receives a shock...of evil!
With his newfound powers, Hoax decides to hit up the bullies' poker game for some much needed revenge. The idiots think they can take on Hoax, even after what he did to them earlier. In fact, one of the bullies that want to take him on is the one he slashed in the face! I get wanting revenge, but one might think it is best to let things lie, no? Two of them take Hoax outside to (try to) beat him him up in nothing more than their boxers. Ahh, unintentional homoerotic subtext.
The remaining bullies keep playing their game, with one of their girls who loses the hand, and starts stripping off her clothes. We listen to far more inane banter than I'd care to remember, until Hoax returns, covered in some blood. I like the subtlety of that, play the beatings off camera, and just make some off-handed references to something bad happening.
Oh, never mind. Subtlety went out the window when Hoax leans in and shows off the two bloody, still beating hearts of his attackers. Oh well.
Marcus gets tossed around by Hoax, he tries to crawl over to his knife, but Hoax steps on his hand and easily holds it in place. He grabs the knife, and uses it to slice off Marcus's hand.
The guy playing Hoax is loving this. It's easy to see why he took the role. A lot of it was wishy washy, but once this stuff kicks in, he goes all out and has a blast with the evilness, and relishes in every second of it. It's quite fun to watch.
The last bully escapes to the roof of the El Diablo with the girl, but Hoax is right there waiting for them, to finish things off. And somehow, I totally believe that this once-a-nerd can take on these bullies. The malevolence, the makeup, something about it really clicks, and I am totally on board for him tearing through these guys like they're cardboard.
Anyways, he takes the last bully and impales him on the trident in the El Diablo's neon sign.
Marcus isn't quite done in yet, and he's desperately trying to stem the blood loss from his stump. It's so painfully obvious that the bloody toilet paper is wrapped around his real, not-removed hand, which is a shame.
Hoax punches in one bathroom stall door after another trying to find Marcus. Each one is louder and more violent than the last. It's an old bit, and been done many times before, but it's still an effective bit of tension.
And the movie dips back into subtlety as the camera pans away from Hoax and Marcus over the tops of the stalls, leaving us to only hear what happens to the bully, so we use our imagination.
Hoax returns home again, and his momma gives him yet another earful, which only leads to more beatings and slashings. It's a good thing she has that plastic on everything. After he kills her, he takes care of the parrot that squealed him out before, and the house starts glowing blue again.
Marty shows up, tries climbing up a trellis to see what's going on, because the first floor windows are no good I guess, but quickly falls back down when Hoax spooks him.
The school principal, who was helping Marty off and on, goes inside to see what's going on, and she just goes in the front door. Why didn't Marty just do that?
The house has been defiled. There's snow everywhere, messages and inverted crosses spray painted all over the walls. Blue light glowing everywhere. They're going to make hell freezing over jokes, aren't they?
She discovers momma's dead body being devoured by her cats, ah poetic justice, I think. Or maybe poetic justice would have been wrapped in plastic.
The sight of the nibbled-on momma freaks her out, and Hoax shows up, looking even worse than he did before. Which is saying something.
The house begins to collapse under the weight of all the snow and ice, or it's being sucked into hell. Take your pick.
Spike shows up out of nowhere and comes to Marty's rescue, but then brings him inside, which is a bit counter productive on that count.
Hoax dangles his principal over the frozen hellpit, but she climbs out with some help from Marty.
Spike and Hoax confront each other, and Spike shoots his cousin in the face. The gun is supposed to be real, but it looks like one of the cheesiest water pistols I've ever seen. I'm not sure if it's a real gun that just looks cheap, a bad prop, or actually is a water gun.
And finally, they get to the promised role reversal. Spike is on the floor, weak and looking up at the much more powerful Hoax. So they of course point out how ironic it is. AND make the freezing over jokes. It's a hat trick of badness.
The reporter and principal try desperately to make their escape across the pneumatic tubes. I'll give the movie this, they set up a lot of stuff, and there's actually pay off. The tubes could have just as easily just been a silly gimmick, but they actually put it into an arguably dramatic scene. That's more than some movies bother to do.
Hoax is having none of this, and shakes the tube, which is already precarious enough without him helping things along. As if that isn't bad enough, a gaping maw of a hellpit opens up beneath them. At least this time there's flames instead of the cold inside the house.
Spike returns after crawling up off the floor, and appeals to his cousin one last time, trying to get him to turn back from his evil ways. He reminds him of the cross country trip they were going to take, and it actually seems to get through. Nooo, it's a love conquers all ending! The world is going to be saved from armageddon because of a roadtrip!
Fortunately, the demon inside Hoax agrees with me at how that's bullshit, and regains control so we can have a proper ending. Spike grabs his cousin and throws him out the window, casting him down into the fiery pit he opened up.
The movie seems over, but we jump back briefly to the After Dark warehouse, where Mark is looking through some files, and the Evilphone starts ringing again, as the movie ends with Robert Picardo finally getting his credit. Nice that they saved such an important role for the first credit at the end of the movie.
And since the credits are rolling, that makes it time for...
Video: A shame the DVD is in full frame, since I'm pretty sure the movie exists in widescreen. But otherwise, a decent video transfer. Sharp colours, a nice amount of grain. Standard look for a 1980s movie.
Audio: A solid audio mix, nothing to get excited over.
Special features: Hahahaha. None.
First kill: This movie didn't waste any time, and gave us our first corpse (The guy running from the ringing phone in the credits) within two minutes. I love when a movie starts off running.
Best kill: This was an easy one. Suzie's death was the best. How do you top being attacked by your own dinner infested with giant spiders? Answer: you don't. Although an honourable mention to the deaths off camera.
Best line: Hoax to that blasted parrot squawking about not eating on the couch, just before he kills it, "That's what the plastic is for, asshole!"
Blood type: Let's see, we have slashings, we have burnings, we have severed hands, we have removed hearts, we've got cats eating a dead woman. Yeah, this movie is pretty high on the gore.
Sex appeal: Not much, typical quick flash of breasts when Spike and Suzie are going at it like rabbits, and that's it. Thankfully. Oh, and almost-naked guys at the strip poker game.
Rating: Oh gods, the puns. The plotholes. The bad acting. The actual movie itself, I gotta give this movie a whole two out of five raining fish.
As for entertainment value, well...there's the puns, and the gore, and the bad acting, and there's a lot in this movie worth laughing at. With a crowd, this movie could be a real blast, so I give it a four out of five greasy 80s reject bullies.