976-EVIL 2: The Astral Factor (1991)
976-EVIL 2: THE ASTRAL FACTOR
WRITER: Screenplay by Eric Anjou
From a story by Rick Glassman
DIRECTOR: Jim Wynorski
STARRING: Patrick O'Bryan as Spike
Rene Assa as Mr. Grubeck
Paul Coufos as Stone
Leslie Ryan as Paula
Debbie James as Robin
QUICK CUT: Hey! Remember that movie I reviewed five years ago? It's baaa-ack! In an almost totally unrealted story, that has at least some tennuous ties, like an evil horoscope phone line that seduces people to do evil deeds.
Spike - Hey! He last appeared before Trisk had this section, and didn't get a clever character write up. In the first movie, Spike was your typical bad boy biker tough guy that somehow ended up being our hero. This time out, he's still our hero, he's got no bad boy traits outside of the leather and bike, and he comes across as kinda wishy washy. When he's not wielding a floating gun.
Mr. Grubeck - This guy is no Hoax. He's the dean of a local college, has way too much interest in the college students, and isn't afraid to use a 976 number to make them love him. Oh, and he can astral project his way through walls.
Robin - The love interest of our two male leads. She's smart, and plucky, but pretty typical damsel in distress territory here.
THE GUTS: WOW, has it ever been a long LONG time since I was last in THIS franchise, right? The original 976-Evil was one of the very first movies Trisk reviewed. A large part of that delay was the movie simply *not* being out on disc for the longest time. And once it finally *was* well...I had to find time in the schedule, and 2014 was pretty booked by that point.
I made it a priority for 2015, and hey, second review of the year! That'll do quite nicely.
Anyways, the sequel gets going with a woman going for a swim in a pool at a local colleg, and a payphone starts to ring. She ignores it, and heads to the showers, letting the movie get in some early nudity. Sadly, ignoring phones in the 976 movies is a bad idea.
The lights begin to flicker and she calls out for Nancy. Sorry, she won't be showing up 'til next month, and I suspect she's going to be busy with that Krueger fella.
She starts to get changed, but grabs a towel conveniently hiding a man in a suit watching her. And before you can say John Reese, he attacks her. I have to wonder how she missed the guy as she walked by the stall he was in, but I guess the mysticism of the phone system explains it away.
Our victim runs for it, as one does, but finds the doors are all chained up. She ducks into a nearby theatre on campus, and the movie goes for a little bit TOO on the nose moment with the theatre promoting the play Faust. That's nowhere near on the nose as the Dante and Hell references of the first movie, but getting there.
Anyways, she rushes through the empty theatre and heads backstage, into the hellish set that's been constructed for the play. I seriously hope that doesn't end up being the best set design in this movie.
The man chasing her catches up, and drops a piece of set from the ceiling into her. I guess it didn't stay stalac-tight to the ceiling, because it stalag-might have pierced her through the stomach.
Meanwhile, a drunken custodian watches the whole thing from the rows of seats.
Part of me says there is no way that killed her, because thanks to all my time in theatre, I know from set building. That thing was probably nothing more than paper mache. At the very *worst* it had chicken wire inside it to hold a shape.
And despite all my funpoking, that is actually a pretty solid opening. There's some good jumps that aren't fakeouts, a decent chase, and payoff. The killer needs maybe some more charisma or style or something, but he's at least doing something.
We get through the credits and find Spike from the first film still running from his problems, and hauntedly staring at strippers in bars, until she commands him to "Go back" and the payphone starts to ring.
But ask not for whom the bell tolls, because only Spike can hear that it tolls for he. Spike foolishly picks it up, and he gets a cryptic message that its time to revisit his past and blah blah blah. He tells off the guy on the phone and the lights of heaven pour into the bar. Scaring away the cockroaches, and barflies, surely.
Oh yeah, this movie is not going to be subtle at ALL, is it?
Meanwhile, in Slate River, the cops are bringing in their suspect, college dean Mr. Grubeck. Shortly after, Robin wanders into the station to get the scoop, but gets shot down and sits in the waiting room, where she finds one of the 976 cards.
On the one hand, why would anyone go, "Hmm! A phone number that spells EVIL? That sounds like a good thing to dial!" But on the other hand, I *am* that anyone who would. The movie keeps having good, moral, normal people doing it though.
But more importantly, Robin holds the card and pulls a Longshot, getting flashes of Laurie's chase. Oh great, sure, let's just bring in psychic powers into this mess. Why not?
Robin finally gets called in to see her father, but on the way runs into Grubeck being transferred from one part of the station to another. She has more flashes, and the only reason Ozymandias isn't coming in to yell at the movie is that they're using only a few moments, and they make sense in context.
After Robin talks with her father, we cut to Grubeck being interrogated, and staring at the drunken janitorial witness on the other side of a two way mirror. He dials the 976 number so he can hear his horoscope. It seems like he's about to be tossed to the wolves, but the cryptic voice grants him the power he needs to raise a little hell.
Meanwhile, Spike stops at a diner, and just so happens to sit in the same booth as Robin, for plot convenience. They try and get away with it by having him say it's all about wanting to find out what the deal is with the diner, but it feels so SO forced and fake. It doesn't even work with him hitting on the cute girl.
But she leaves to go the gym, and Spike scoops up the 976 card she left behind. Every time he tries to get out, they keep calling him back in
Over in his holding cell, Grubeck is having a stroke, and apparently dies, because his ghost starts walking around in a cheap visual effect of them overlaying his image over his still body.
Now, let's hit pause. The subtitle of this movie is the Astral Factor. Longtime Triskelions might remember that as an actual title of an actual movie I actually reviewed awhile ago. Both featuring characters using 'astral projection' of various definitions, to escape prisons. I swear, if this ends as effed up as that movie did, I am walking out.
Grubeck looks around, down at his body, and even stops to take a look in a mirror, and um...A) if he's a ghost, no. B) if he's astral projecting, STILL NO!!
He walks straight through the bars of his cell, and then disappears in a puff of blue light. Damnit, this IS Astral Factor all over again. Save me!
Over on campus, Robin ditches her friends while Ghostbeck watches, and that's when Spike drives up. He asks some random guy where he might find Robin, and he says she's heading this way.
I am sorry, but even Dickens is rolling in his grave with these coincidences.
Spike sits down to spill the plot to Robin, and uh, kinda glosses over giant chunks of the first movie. He just leaves it at, "I've called this number and it gave me things!" That doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the first movie. Did you even watch it??
It's a question of just how much information needs to be passed on, and the answer is, "A little more than that".
Meanwhile, the drunken witness is in protective custody, and waiting for dinner. He checks himself out in a mirror, and you just know something is gonna go wrong. Nothing good happens with mirrors in horror movies.
Naturally, Hans Grubeck sneaks up behind him, and puts his arm around the janitor, but ONLY in the mirror. It's a pretty effective scene, but a bit silly because of Grubeck's hamming it up.
The janitor runs to the bathroom but Grubeck is still staring at him from the mirrorverse.
He grabs a plunger, and Turrell uses it to smash the mirror, and all seems normal. For all of five seconds until the toilet starts gurgling.
Oh no, no nope no, do not do stuff with the toilet. That's just ew, and should be off limits, because that's the one palce people should be safe and eww no.
The toilet must have been majorly clogged, as it proceeds to explode, and Grubeck appears on this side of the mirror. What? Did he need to travel through the pipes from one side of the glass to this one?
Our drunken janitor runs out of the motel room and is about to call his guards, but finds out there's an officer down, killed off screen by Grubeck. Come on, this movie already has so little death, you could've at least shown us.
Grubeck eventually catches Turrell and drags him out into the middle of the road to be hit by a truck and quite literally turned into a fine red mist.
With his work done, Grubeck blinks out of the middle of the road, and reappears in Robin's room, because that's not creepy at all.
Mister Lumpyface isn't looking so good, as he tries to wake Robin up, but he hears another voice, and is reawoken in his cell.
Okay, first of all, why was he rotting away, and getting lumps, but he's perfectly normal back in his cell? Was it some sort of representation of the darkness within? If not, why didn't it stick, if he's being consumed? Second of all, why did touching Robin make her glow, but not Turrell? Odds of these questions being answered is slim.
And of course, since Turrell is dead, and Grubeck never left his cell, it looks like he's not the killer, and has to be let go. Magic sure does screw up the legal system...
The lawyers hash it out and Grubeck waits in his cell, while Spike breaks into the guy's house to poke around and try and further this plot along.
He finds phone records with lots of calls to 976-EVIL, and receives a call from that same number while there. A call so persistent, the receiver jumps off the cradle!
Spike slams it back down, and in response, the whole house slams shut on him, leaving him trapped, and ready to be the victim of household appliances.
Not only does the sink attack him, but the oven explodes flames, and the freezer starts shooting frozen food at him.
What next, the toaster is gonna laugh at him?
The guns waiting to be Chekoved on Grubeck's walls, finally decided to do their thing, and fire upon Spike by unseen forces.
Spike grabs the gun, just as one of the trophy heads on the wall starts taunting him and gets shot up for speaking up.
He shoots the phone and the house opens back up, conveniently enough. Spike heads to the college and finds Robin, showing her the phone bill.
Oh no! He has over 100 calls to the phone number! That means...absolutely nothing, besides having an addiction to expensive phone services!
There was a joke a day line around here when I was a kid, and I called it all the time. It didn't mean I was turning evil or anything. ...Wait.
Fortunately, Robin points out all they have is a phone number, and they try and come up with a plan. She also reminds Spike that Grubeck was in jail when Turrell was murdered.
"You have to remember, we're not just dealing with Grubeck anymore!" How is she supposed to remember that? She doesn't know that! Heck, I'M not even too sure of it! And the rest of the movie doesn't really do anything other than deal with Gruberbeck.
Robin pokes around Hans' office, and answers the phone when it rings. It shocks her, and she sees visions of a car crash caused by Grubeck.
I kinda question this arrangement of Grubeck's with the call center. What does he get out of it? Powers to kill? The thrill of murder? It's not like he's rolling in money, or women, or power. He's a dean at a college, nothing more. There's no social climbing.
Worst deal with Satan EVER. Kill for me! Why? For funsies!
Once Robin wakes up, she tries to convince her father of what she saw, but it doesn't do any good. Because trying to say, "I saw the vision of someone burning through the phone" isn't exactly plausible.
Anyways, the lawyer trying to keep Grubeck in jail is the next target, and she gets a call on her carphone from the number. I swear, this service CALLS more people than people call it. That's gotta be bad for business.
The evil phone takes control of her car, first taunting Lawlor from the radio, then locking the doors and speeding up, despite her attempts to stop.
And somehow, she starts ramming Robin's car in yet another wild coincidence. I guess since she IS there though, might as well take out two birds with one sedan.
The car eventually gets bored toying with Robin, and zooms away, eventually fulfilling the prophecy that was shown to her in the dean's office. I guess you can't escape destiny if she's your copilot.
Grubeck appears from the flames, looking even more lumpy and boily than ever. But I guess that's what you get when you pull a Terminator and walk through fire.
The dean confesses his love to Robin, saying he'll take care of everything, and heads back out into the fires. He couldn't just blink away? Ah well.
We get more scenes of Robin trying to convince people she saw Ghostbeck, but of course, no one believes her, because he's still in his cell taking a nice long nap.
She meets up with Spike, since he'll believe her, and she hands over the note she grabbed from the dean's office. A note that says, "Contact L's, ask for research".
They make the leap, "It sounds like astrology!" But...how? Nothing there is astrological. At all. Not even close. Or adjacent. Or in the same lexicon.
But don't worry, Spike drives off saying he'll contact L, and drives off! To a place *actually called* Lucifer's. That's a bit on the nose, isn't it? Even for these movies.
It's a bookshop, of all things, with Brigitte Nielsen behind the counter. Spike asks for some books on astral projection, and I hope he watches Astral Factor to see how it's NOT done.
And since he *knows* the phrase astral projection, it's kinda obvious what it *is*, did we really need this weird side trip? Couldn't someone had just said something like, "How is he doing it and not leaving his cell?? OH, astral projection!"
But no, we have to have this tortourous research scene that doesn't really even TELL us anything. This is entirely here just to give Nielsen a scene in a movie, isn't it?
While Spike tries to barter for the book, Robin and friend watch movies. No seriosuly, the plot stops dead while they fight over whether or not to watch Night of the Living Dead or Its a Wonderful Life. Breaking my cardinal rule TWICE. Never, ever show better movies in your movie, because it makes me rather be watching that movie.
Eventually, a commercial comes up for a universal remote, hosted by Mr. Grubeck himself, completely with slimy salesman mustache.
If he's projecting, shouldn't he be lumpy and crispy? Ah well.
Grubeck zaps Paula with the remote, and actually puts her into It's a Wonderful Life. One, that beats Forrest Gump by a few years, and two, this movie just took one WEIRD turn down Pointless Lane.
Fortunately, before you can say "Every time you hear a bell, a zombie drags a soul to hell," Paula gets thankfully shunted over to Night of the Living Dead, instead. And no, really, they actually edited the Wonderful Life dialogue to say that.
Which leads to the girl being chased by Christmas/winter zombies. ...Didn't I just review this?
Anyways, the zombies eventually send forth a kid with a knife to unconvincingly stab Paula to death so the actual movie can resume.
...Wait, there's more movie? Damnit.
Now that we're back in colour and out of the land of public domain, Robin brings out popcorn and finds her friend stabbed to death in front of the tv. Mom warned me about going blind, she never said anything about going dead.
Grubeck wanders back into the plot after that weird diversion though, since we're nearing something resembling a conclusion.
Astral Dean calls the cops and uses Robin's voice to tell them she killed her best friend, so he won't be blamed for it, and get off the hook for all his murders, I guess. But what about his subplot of being in love with her? Ah well.
Spike escapes the clutches of Brigitte the bookseller, and tries to stop Grubeck with a fireplace poker. And where normally the iron would work well, he's not a traditional ghost, so has little to no effect.
The dean hears someone at his cell and beams out, leaving the kids to deal with whatever's coming next, like cops.
And FINALLY back in his body, Grubeck's face is starting to reflect his astral self. Because that makes sense.
Our heroes run around trying to come up with a plan and Robin doesn't think there's anything they can do. "Sure there is," sayeth Spike. "We can kill him." Well! Thanks for THAT bit of insight, Spike. I never would have thought to kill the bad guy.
Spike says they just have to kill the body, and the astral spirit dies with it. And as long as he's in jail, they have nothing to worry about. Yeah, sure, tell that to the janitor.
Anyways, Spike says he'll draw the ghost away while Robin gets her murder on. That sounds like a great first date idea.
Spike's brilliant plan gets even more brilliant by literally driving to the jail and calling out Grubeck.
The ghost steals a truck and chases the biker away from the police station. ...And I just typed that. Meanwhile, Robin drives in to do her part of the plan.
So we bounce between the loud actiony truck chase, and Robin quietly stalking through the police station, until she finds another dead body of one of the officers.
It might've been nice to try and establish a close friendship with Officer Jodie. They had a scene or two together, but nothing really came of it. But this would've been a good way to make it personal, and have her be more driven to do what she clearly doesn't WANT to do right now.
Back on the road, a game of chicken gets underway, and Grubeck tries to block the road with his truck, and it would've worked, except Spike slides himself and his bike under the truck.
However, not before he throws a flare at the trailer, causing it to explode. And I mean EXPLODE.
Now, in fairness, the truck DID say "Apollo Chemicals" on the side. So I can't quite say, "What was even IN That truck?!" to make it go BOOOOM like that.
But still, that is one heck of a very specific plan.
After the trucksplosion, it's back to Robin, heading towards Grubeck's covered bed with a loaded gun. I want to buy this from Jodie's death, but damn, not quite.
I'm half expecting it to be her father, but instead she pulls back the blanket and it's Ghostbeck instead, having astrally jumped from the explosion. Who ya gonna call? Grubeckers!
And AGAIN, the bad guy gets kneed in the groin. I asked to see this more, and that is *instant* delivery!
Robin escapes, and we cut back to a dazed Spike, recovering from the explosion he caused. ...And then Spike's astral form steps away from his body.
Seriously? This is what we're going for? A ghost fight?
Robin drives around until she finds a cliff conveniently overlooking the wreckage, and sees Spike's body laying there, thinking the worst. Or the worst until Grubeck grabs her from behind.
Spike pops up as Grubeck tries to get Robin to say she loves him, and the biker punches Grubeck off the cliff. And surprisingly, he's actually dead from that.
The two heroes kiss, and Spike fades into blue. But that's not enough, he then proceeds to become sparkles, and float up into the sky, in a cheesy display of early 1990s effects.
He then explodes into more what in the sky, and...I...what?! How did this end up being more WTF than the other Astral Factor?!
I hope Spike at least goes and says hello to Santa on the moon.
The cops show up and they try and wrap up the plotlines. SOMEhow that was the real Grubeck, I guess because they recovered his body at the bottom of the cliff. But maybe then they shouldn't have made him LOOK like Ghostbeck.
And Spike died in the crash, using his astral body to save the girl. I guess he must have been KINDA alive until he spirit punched Grubeck, but man are we playing fast and loose with the rules here.
Not to mention that no one believes Spike did it, since he's kinda dead and way over there. This let's the movie throws one final insult by having the cops and Robin's dad take her away for Grubeck's murder.
Wow, no one's riding off into the sunset this time out. This movie threw the mother of all unhappy endings at us.
Do I even need to mention the final shot of a ringing, laughing phone?
Yeah, no. Nope. I'm done. Pushing away from my desk, throwing my hands in the air, and walking away
Video: While no one will say this looks great, I am legitimately surprised it looked THIS good, for being crammed on a disc with three other movies. The colours are solid, and the blacks are nice, and everything's pretty visible.
Audio: A solid performance from a mono track.
Sound Bite: "Maybe God isn't the only one who works miracles, sure as hell..." Grubeck, cool as a cucumber, trying to get his phonecall.
Body Count: A nice showing, considering this has a relatively small cast.
1 - Clocking in at six minutes, and a decent chase, Laurie Glazer gets pinned to the Faust set by a falling stalactite.
2 - Turrell finds a dead cop outside his motel room, and I call foul.
3 - But they make up for it when Turrell gets run over by a truck.
4 - Lawlor the lawyer gets driven to her fiery demise and crashes into a power station.
5 - After being sucked into the tv, Paula gets killed by It's a Wonderful Night of the Living Dead.
6 - And another body is killed off screen, and we find out when Robin discovers Officer Jodie.
7 - Spike dies in the truck explosion
8 - Ghost Spike punches Real Grubeck off the cliff
Best Corpse: Turrell may not have been set on fire, but his body gets sprayed all over the highway quite nicely.
Blood Type - C+: A few smatterings across the movie, with the bulk of the effects being devoted to Grubeck's slowly rotting face. Also, I gave major points for Turrell's bursting.
Sex Appeal: After a brief scene of breasts in the shower kicking off the movie, there's not much else to speak of.
Drink Up! Every time Grubeck shows up with a bubbly, peeling, icky face.
Sights and Sounds: Ahh, another movie where I had choices. So many weird scenes, but also annoyingly slow too. I decided to go with Paula being sucked into the tv, because I'd rather be watching either of those movies...
Movie Review: Like so many sequels before it, this does not live up to the original. And the original wasn't that great to begin with. 976-EVIL had two things going for it: The weird charisma and creepy acting of Hoax, and Robert Englund trying to direct. The sequel has neither of those things. Grubeck has some charm, but he is largely a bland bad guy with some cool powers. He has some great moments where he chews the scenery like nobody's business, but it ends up being too funny and not enough creepy. The biggest flaw of this movie is an overly simple plot that is padded out way too long, with lots of diverting scenes that ultimately go nowhere. What was the point of the movie scene? Yes, it killed off Paula, but was such a diversion from the plot, for so much time...and the movie is filled with them. On top of that, this is barely a 976 movie. The elements feel tacked on, even though they carried over the main character. Remove the stuff about the phone, which never really played ANY role in the movie, and this could have been any generic horror movie. It just feels like a lame knock off. Two out of five talking boar heads, and that's largely because the plot is okay.
Entertainment Value: This movie is weird, largely for the same reasons as it's bad, as usual. There's some random scenes that leave you scratching your head about why that's there. Too much time spent with minor characters. It's like the movie was never quite fully edited. More time maybe getting some different takes, and maybe trimming some scenes, would've made for a tighter film. But I do still like those weird diversions, and Grubeck is quite the ham. The scenes with him tormenting Turrell are gerat, and that the movie had the balls to re-edit Night and Life into one movie with Christmas zombies is...admirable, on some level. Overall, a weird movie that had a tone that's so all over the place, and no real clue what it wanted to be. But I still give it three out of five exploding trucks, but it's not really a proper sequel to 976-EVIL.