Thursday, March 31, 2011

Freddy Directs: "976-EVIL" (1989)

Back in the late '80's, one had to call 976 numbers for every occasion, from phone sex to hearing Michael Jackson's tour plans. Nowadays, we have the internet, but Robert Englund's first and only directorial effort (so far) is still an entertaining change from the horror norm.

Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys) worships his ne'er-do-well cousin Spike (Patrick O'Bryan). Hoax's mother Lucy, played by the late great Sandy Dennis, is another matter. She is a religious fanatic who keeps her thumb firmly on top of her nerdy offspring. She is a cross between Piper Laurie in "Carrie," and Ann Sothern in "The Killing Kind," donning wigs and giving more attention to her cats than her son.

Spike calls a mysterious phone number, the title, for his "horrorscope." Soon, the horrorscope begins to get a little more personal, egging Spike on to commit small crimes. We know what happens when people try to get away from the horrorscope, usually bloody deaths by phone. Spike goes out with and sleeps with Suzy, as Hoax looks on. Hoax meets up with the dumped Suzy later, but she gets mad at him as well. By this time, impressionable Hoax has stumbled onto the mysterious phone number. In the film's best scene, Hoax accidentally kills Suzy with a few dozen spiders exploding out of her TV dinner. The horrorscope begins changing Hoax into a demon, and he starts taking revenge on everyone who ever picked on him. As Spike tries to figure everything out, so does Marty (Jim Metzler), a tabloid reporter who comes to investigate a weird fishfall that Lucy takes as a miracle from heaven. Teaming up with the boys' cute principal, they find the 976 company who runs the number. Mark Dark (Robert Picardo) runs the place, and shows that the horrorscope line has not been hooked up for months. The bloody climax brings the major players together, and Hoax's fate is decided. The final scene before the end credits shows us the real person behind the phone number.

I do not really know why, but I thoroughly enjoyed this film more than I should have. There are some slow scenes, and Englund overextends himself in some of the special effects scenes. However, the young cast is up to the task, and Sandy Dennis is a scream. If you have read my reviews before, you know how much I hate "funny" horror villains, but here the film is an over the top comedy, so the humor works.

The art direction is like a nightmarish crayon factory. There are weird lights and day glo colors everywhere, it is like the Warren Beatty version of "Dick Tracy" on acid. The set is also bizarre, as there is graffiti all over the place, from the high school to the movie theater to the eventual climactic home of Hoax and Spike.

While the ending is a letdown, "976-EVIL" is not the worst film ever made. It is nice and average, and better than I thought it would be. (* * *) out of five stars.