Director : Eric Weston
Screenplay : Joseph Garofalo and Eric Weston (story by Joseph Garofalo)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1981
Stars : Clint Howard (Stanley Coopersmith), R.G. Armstrong (Sarge), Joseph Cortese (Reverend Jameson), Claude Earl Jones (Coach), Haywood Nelson (Kowalski), Don Stark (Bubba), Charles Tyner (Colonel Kincaid), Hamilton Camp (Hauptman), Louie Gravance (Jo Jo), Jim Greenleaf (Ox), Lynn Hancock (Miss Friedemeyer)
Eric Weston's low-budget teenage revenge shocker Evilspeak gave consummate character actor Clint Howard, best known as the younger brother of director Ron Howard and the child star of the 1970s TV series Gentle Ben, his first (and, subsequently, one of his only) starring roles. He plays Stanley Coopersmith, a chubby, awkward, ruthlessly picked-up orphan at a vicious military academy. Coopersmith is the type of kid who clearly doesn't belong; he can't get along with any of the other boys because they despise his clumsiness (he causes them to lose a cherished soccer game in one of the opening scenes), and even the teachers look down on him because he's such a misfit (largely because of the torment he endures from the others).
Coopersmith is clearly intended to be a male version of Carrie White, a teenager who has so much stacked against him that he has no chance of winning even a small victory playing by the rules imposed on him. While Carrie had the gift/curse of telekinesis, Coopersmith isn't supernaturally endowed. However, he does know how to use a personal computer (this being 1981, that was something of an achievement that sets him apart from the others), and he is lucky enough to be assigned to clean the basement of the academy, where he stumbles on some long-buried chambers filled with the devil-worshipping relics of Lorenzo Esteban, an excommunicated 16th-century Spanish monk-turned-heretic who spends his brief time on screen with a lowered-head scowl straight out of a Stanley Kubrick film.
It is at this point that the screenplay by Joseph Garofalo and director Eric Weston starts becoming hopelessly convoluted, despite the obviousness of the movie's simple revenge premise. By using the computer to translate Latin incantations written by Eseteban, Coopersmith unleashes evil forces (Satan? Esteban? Both?) that are just slightly out of his control. He becomes obsessed with the ancient books in the basement, although he doesn't really do anything with them until the very end, when he's pushed over the brink by the school bullies who finally go too far (animal lovers will be particularly appalled at their ruthlessness). Meanwhile, the unleashed demonic forces apparently possess a bunch of pigs that are conveniently kept on school grounds, and in the movie's grossest/silliest sequence, they barge in and kill a cruel secretary while she's showering (it's like a cross between the Psycho shower scene and Food of the Gods).
For most of its running time, Evilspeak is all about buildup (one gets the feeling the aforementioned pig attack scene was included just to throw in some nudity and violence before the big climax, lest the audience get bored and leave prematurely). The treatment of Coopersmith by the school bullies, led by the smarmy Bubba (Don Stark, now best known as Donna's badly coiffured, swinging father on That '70s Show), gets progressively worse and worse until all hell breaks loose-literally.
Fully possessed by the power of Esetban/Satan, Coopersmith decimates a pre-soccer game rally in the chapel with fire and brimstone and a very large sword that slices and dices everyone that the demonic pigs don't get to first. Despite the movie's relatively low budget, this sustained orgy of vengeance is well-done, and horror aficionados will get a kick out of the grisly splatter effects, many of which had to be trimmed in the U.S. to receive an R-rating during theatrical release. Of course, because Howard has made Coopersmith into a sympathetic character with whom we can identify, his explosive revenge has an extra emotional kick to it, although it pales in comparison to Brian De Palma's aesthetically brilliant depiction of Carrie White's rampage in Carrie (1976).
Evilspeak gained a bit of notoriety in the early 1980s when it was placed on the infamous "video nasty" list in England alongside The Evil Dead (1983), I Spit On Your Grave (1978), and virtually any Italian film with the word Cannibal in the title. Some of its effects are notably grisly, but overall it's a fairly benign horror movie that drags out its thin premise for too long before delivering the goods. The sometimes confusing plot doesn't help either, but Clint Howard fans can certainly relish what he considers one of his finest performances.
|Audio||English 1.0 Monaural|
|Supplements|| Audio commentary by director Eric Weston and star Clint Howard|
Original theatrical trailer
|Distributor||Anchor Bay Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||July 13, 2004|
|Evilspeak is presented in a new anamorphic widescreen transfer in an extended cut of the film that has never been seen in the U.S. Apparently, as much gory footage as could be found was reinserted into the film, although I suspect the restored footage amounts to less than a minute (most affected by the restoration are the pig attack scene in the shower and Coopersmith's final rampage, particularly a scene where one character has his heart ripped out). The transfer is generally solid for a low-budget movie that's nearly 25 years old. Colors look a little faded and the image is a bit soft, but that's to be expected. The image is generally clean, with no noticeable blemishes aside from little bits of white speckling here and there. The grain structure is enough to give the image a nice filmlike look without being too grainy.|
|The original monaural soundtrack sounds clean.|
|Star Clint Howard and director Eric Weston team up for an audio commentary (Warren Lewis, who describes himself as a "general production roustabout," also appears from time to time), although, truth be told, this is clearly the Clint Howard Show. Howard really loves this movie and talks a lot about what a great experience it was. He's an interesting guy to listen to, and he often has to nudge Weston along to get him talking. They reminisce about the production of the film and discuss the various cuts that were made to it in the U.S. and in England. The only other supplements are an original theatrical trailer (in anamorphic widescreen) and a nice stills gallery of production photos, lobby cards, and international advertising art.|
Copyright ©2004 James Kendrick
All images Copyright © Anchor Bay Home Entertainment