"Data incomplete... human blood needed"
Bumbling military cadet Stanley Coopersmith is constantly costing his football team their matches but, due to the rules of the academy, everyone enrolled has to get some game time. When his teammates start to make his life hell to get him kicked him off the team, Coopersmith hides away in a forgotten tomb underneath the school where he finds a black mass book belonging to a sixteenth century Satanist. His uses his computer to help him translate the book, realising that he can conjure an evil spirit to help him get his revenge on his tormentors.
A dated horror outing from the early 80s, Evilspeak has been on my radar for years but I’d never really made an effort to watch it. The fact that it was infamously banned in the UK as part of the ‘video nasties’ scandal of the 1980s over its gory climax and its Satanist themes always meant I would check it out at some point. But as the film, just like me, turns the big four-zero in 2021, I thought it would be time to tick another previously banned film off my list (the irony being that most of them have been released uncut since their initial bans).
However, Evilspeak doesn’t hold a candle to its reputation, and you’ll end up asking yourself what all of the fuss was over with this disappointing tale of revenge, sort of a mutated cross between Carrie and all done up with an unhealthy dose of then-modern computing. Evilspeak was made at a time when home computers were becoming a thing. This fantasy technology, lifted straight out of a science fiction story, was now popping up in your home and there was a genuine fear that they would take over the world. Computers back then were special, seen as something unique and of status. Now as you read this, look around you and see how many devices you have. Currently as I type this review, I’ve got a desktop PC, an iPad and an iPhone all within close proximity, not to mention an xBox One, an iPod, hell even the alarm clock and Fitbit have more powerful processing capabilities than the computers of the 80s. The fact that a computer plays such an integral part of the narrative shouldn’t be lost on modern viewers. I guess a lot of films from this era suffer from the same issues of trying to base their effects around then-modern technology because nearly forty years later, it looks ridiculously dated. The computer and the associated graphics and screens look primitive and a little laughable nowadays. One non-horror film springs to mind when I think of a comparison and that’s the unofficial James Bond film Never Say Never Again, with the silly war games sequence between Bond and Blofeld being the perfect example of computer effects that were already out-of-date by the time the film was released.
I can give the computer elements a pass purely for the time it was made. What I can’t give a pass to is the rest of the film. Evilspeak’s major problem is its horrendous lack of pacing. The story basically builds towards the revenge-filled climax where the bulk of the kills happen and therefore not a lot happens in the build-up. Howard is not a good enough actor to pull off the sympathy card, in fact even I was growing irritated with Coopersmith’s dorkiness, and even though you will feel a bit sorry for him, you will never truly like him as a character. There’s just something peculiar about him which prevents audiences from fully cheering him on, unlike say Sissy Spacek’s Carrie. The decision to keep Coopersmith’s revenge solely focused on one scene at the end (albeit a decent one) is baffling and the rest of the film is just a slow, drawn-out drag to this point as the audience is forced to play the waiting game to get to all of the good stuff. The audience has already sat through the prologue so we know where the film is going but it takes Coopersmith almost the entire film to catch up.
Even then, the gore-soaked finale doesn’t quite live up to its billing. The sight of gormless Clint Howard, floating up from a fiery pit in the floor and clenching hold of a rather sharp sword, won’t send any shivers down your spine but a few chuckles to your ribs. There is some gore but it’s not the most graphic you’ll see. A few heads are decapitated with some nice prosthetics, a few spikes are drilled into heads and there’s a bit of blood splashed around. Apparently, a lot of the gore and nudity footage was edited out before release and has since been destroyed so there’s a good chance we’ll never truly see how gory this was intended to be. The film’s most notorious set piece occurs earlier in the film, as a buxom secretary is attacked and eaten alive in her shower (for the requisite nude sequence) by a group of pigs that break in. Pigs might not be the scariest things in the world but there’s something unsettling by the way this sequence is shot, the classic grimy 80s vibe matching well with the filthy nature of the pigs and the horrific thought of being killed this way.
Evilspeak is an offbeat film which is more memorable than it had any right to be and would probably demand a re-watch at some point to see whether I still felt the same way. It’s not engaging for large stretches, the pace is all over the shop and there’s too much crammed into the finale to make up for lost time in the rest of the film. But yet I can still remember it vividly a few days after watching, which is always a good sign. Thankfully/sadly (take out whichever you feel necessary, the computer’s final warning that Coopersmith Will Return has never materialised.
Director(s): Eric Weston
Writer(s): Joseph Garofalo (screenplay), Eric Weston (screenplay)
Actor(s): Clint Howard, R.G. Armstrong, Joe Cortese, Claude Earl Jones, Haywood Nelson, Don Stark
Duration: 97 mins