Friday, August 30, 2013

Evilspeak (1981)

... aka: Computer Murder
... aka: Evilspeaks

Directed by:
Eric Weston

The Howard brothers were both fairly successful child TV actors of the 1960s; Ronnie on The Andy Griffith Show and Clint on Gentle Ben. As what happens with many other kid stars, their appeal was put into question as they moved into adulthood. Ronnie had luckily managed to snag a starring role on the very popular Happy Days series in 1974, which kept him in the public eye well into the 80s. By the time the show was winding down, Ronnie was nearing 30 years of age and starting to lose his boyish looks (not to mention his hair), so it was time for a change in career. Wisely, he'd already begun Plan B while he was still gainfully employed on Days. He'd made his directorial debut in 1977 with the successful Roger Corman production Grand Theft Auto and from there eventually carved out a reputation as a reliable mainstream director with such hits as Night Shift (1982), Splash (1984), Cocoon (1985) and Willow (1988) to his credit. He'd hit his peak when he won himself an Oscar for his work on A Beautiful Mind (2000). Clint on the other hand just kept acting. While Ronnie had a squeaky clean appeal in his youth; Clint was quite the opposite. Unattractive, short, squatty, flat-faced, whiny-voiced, gap-toothed and eventually balding himself, Clint's on-screen career destiny would be playing geeky schlubs, weirdos, perverts, psychos and borderline retarded backwoods rednecks in low-budget B movies. Evilspeak - an outcast's revenge tale - would be one of his only top-billed starring roles.

If you remember CARRIE (1976), some of the opening scenes here are going to look awfully familiar. Instead of Sissy Spacek being tormented in the locker room by her classmates after fouling up a volleyball game, here we get Clint Howard being tormented in the locker room by his classmates after fouling up a soccer match. Things are set at the West Andover Military Academy, which is full of macho jerks in need of a punching bag and poor Stanley Coopersmith fits the bill perfectly. He's pushed around, nicknamed "Cooperdick" by his peers, branded a "welfare case" by much of the staff and is made fun of for being an orphan. They unplug his clock so he'll be late for class, rub boogers on his books, blame him for things he's innocent of and do other things just to ensure he's going to be in need of disciplinary action by the school's staff. The aptly named Bubba (Don Stark) seems to give him the most grief and has three friends who help him make Stanley's life as unpleasant as possible. Because the academy forces athletics upon the students, the Coach (Claude Earl Jones) makes a little nudging aside to Bubba that if Coopersmith is injured and cannot play then so be it. There are only two people at the school who are somewhat nice to the poor kid; fellow student Kowalski (Haywood Nelson), who frequently defends him, and grizzled cook / janitor Jake (Lenny Montana), who cooks him special meals and gives him a puppy.

The military academy was built upon a cursed plot of land once owned by an order of evil Spanish monks, who had to flee their home country in the sixteenth century for practicing black magic (and holding human sacrifices) and eventually settled in America. All that comes into play once our luckless protagonist is forced to clean out the cellar of an old church for Father Jameson (Joseph Cortese), who's every bit as mean as the guys at school. Put under the not-so-watchful eye of violent drunken military vet bum Sarge (R.G. Armstrong), Coopersmith eventually discovers a hidden room full of books, skulls, weapons, candles and other ancient relics, begins using a computer to translate one book from Latin to English and starts messing around with black magic. He hits a standstill once the spells call for human blood to complete the ritual, but lots of abuse and one dead puppy later, Stanley's ready to finally take the plunge to get his revenge.

A serviceable, entertaining and well-made revenge tale for the most part, Evilspeak is flawed but better than it's reputed to be. There's plenty of blood and gore (enough to land it on the coveted British "video nasties" list), a solid cast, decent special effects and adequate production values. Echoes of the aforementioned Carrie aren't limited to the opening but are apparent throughout. The film spends the majority of its time dealing with the lead's maladjustment before the deserving parties get what's coming to them during the last fifteen or so minutes. Carrie unleashed her telekinetic fury at the prom; trapping everyone inside the gymnasium, setting the place ablaze and using her powers to knock off all those who have wronged her (and a few unlucky bystanders who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time). In this film, Coopersmith traps everyone inside a church, sets the place ablaze and uses his Satanic powers to knock off those who have wronged him (and a few unlucky bystanders). The difference is this one's much bloodier. A heart is ripped out of a chest, a hand is ripped off, a spike from a crucified Jesus flies out of the statue to impale a head and there are no less that four decapitations... and that's not even including a scene where someone's head gets twisted around backwards!

One aspect that provides additional interest (and some genuine amusement) is the inclusion of rabid, flesh-eating hogs (!), which seem to be connected to the book Coopersmith is translating. The book is stolen from him by the colonel's hot-bodied secretary Miss Friedemyer (Lynn Hancock), who attempts to remove a silver pentagram from the front cover. This riles up the pigs, who eventually show up at her apartment, attack her in the shower and rip her guts out in a very gory shot that was removed from many prints of the film. The piggies also show up again at the finale and help to dispatch the bad guys. The Satanic forces manifesting themselves through computer technology was perhaps a novel idea back in 1981, though these elements (and the accompanying computer graphics) have dated it somewhat.

Though he's sometimes annoying in these things, I quite liked Howard in this particular role. He gives an earnest performance and is able to make his character somewhat sympathetic. Everyone else is fine in their respective roles. Hamilton Camp plays a sniveling teacher who ends up impaled on a chandelier, Charles Tyner is the asshole head colonel and Katherine Kelly Lang (1985's Night Stalker) plays the winner of a Miss Heavy Artillery (!) beauty pageant. Future Night Court TV star Richard Moll is also here to spit in a priest's face and then decapitate a topless peasant girl with a sword in the opening scene (set in Spain in the mid sixteenth century).

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