Robert Englund (director)
92 min (length)
19 October 2020 (released)
15 October 2020
This schlocky 80s horror was directed by ‘Freddie Krueger’ himself, well, Robert Englund that is. Although 976-EVIL offers the occasional comic relief the evil spirit of Freddie seems to have stood behind Englund’s director’s chair – whispering “More nasty shocks… more nasty shocks” into his ear.
Things are off to a scorching start when a man walks to a public phone box (remember those?) only to burst into flames minutes later and ejected into the air. At the same time, constantly humiliated high school underdog Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys), who lives with his religious nut of a mother, Lucy (Sandy Dennis) and her assembly of countless pussycats in a seedy small town, has bugger all to do except trying to fend off a gang of local leather-clad thugs – something he usually fails in succeeding. Enter cousin Spike (Patrick O’Bryan) who also lives with Aunt Lucy and Hoax under the same roof. Although Spike does his darn best to protect Hoax from the thugs his cousin resents him nonetheless, seeing how Spike is everything that nerdy little Hoax is not: better looking, taller, gutsier and a success with the gals, in particular trailer park slapper Suzie (Lezlie Deane) who tolerates Hoax but doesn’t exactly return his feelings.
Frustrated and bored, things seem to get a little more lively for Hoax when Spike introduces him to a new pastime which involves 976-EVIL, a novelty phone line which outwardly claims to specialise in ‘Horrorscopes’ but in reality is masterminded by the almighty Devil himself. While Spike loses interest faster than the body-count rises, Hoax, on the other hand, seems totally hooked (no pun intended). Soon a mysterious and frightening change transforms him from nerdy loser to someone you had better not mess with! When Suzie and Hoax end up in a local pizza restaurant following a chance meeting, conversation seems to go well at first… until Suzie spots an eight-legged beastie crawling across the table though Hoax reassures the hysterical blonde bimbo it’s merely a harmless ‘Daddy Longlegs’. Just as he proceeds to place it safely outside the restaurant door with the prophetic words “See you later, little fellow” the gang of nasty thugs arrive and step on it… before dragging Hoax back to the eatery where they smear pizza all over him before they knock him to the ground.
Back in her mother’s place, a still hungry Suzie prepares to heat up a foil-covered frozen meal while back in his mother’s place, an angry Hoax draws a big pentagram on the floor (Englund must have felt inspired by Hammer’s ‘The Devil Rides Out’!) before placing his….pet tarantula inside the circle. At this point, arachnophobes should look away for it gets seriously nasty, with your humble reviewer (the biggest arachnophobe of them all) partially hidden behind a pillow! Just don’t look at your screen when poor Suzie lifts the foil cover from that cooked meal… and just don’t wait at what happens next, unless you belong to those folk who don’t mind watching hordes of hairy spiders crawling about… yikes!
That’s not the only shock in store for soon one leather-clad thug after another loses limb and life in the most dastardly way. All the while a mysterious man called Marty (Jim Metzler) tries to find out what’s really up with the 976-EVIL phone line and by doing so risks his own life. Could a guy called Mark Dark (Robert Picardo) be the evil puppet-master? The tense showdown is admittedly impressive and Hoax’ catchphrase “Now hell HAS frozen over” turns reality…
Stephen Geoffreys almost reprises his ‘Evil Ed’ part from the 1985 cult horror FRIGHT NIGHT (a much better film!) while the rest of the cast are mainly reduced to uttering dumbass dialogue. Sandy Dennis must have wondered what prompted her to accept the part of the overtly religious Lucy who also seems to wear different, utterly ridiculous looking wigs in every scene.
Admittedly, 976-EVIL delivers cheap thrills for those chilly nights in - and thanks to COVID-19 many of those lie in store for us. The film is good fun if you are prepared to curb high expectations a grade or two lower and the special effects really are ace. Even the bonkers concept sounds promising but doesn’t quite deliver the goods.
Newly restored, 976-EVIL is available on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK ad the first print-run (2000 copies only) features a Limited Edition O-Card slipcase. As an added big bonus there’s also the 105 min long extended Home Video version of the film – let’s hope that doesn’t mean even more spiders!