Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summer of Slash: Evilspeak

Like The Bogeyman and Superstition, Evilspeak was another example of the popular tendency around the early ‘80s to mix slasher elements with supernatural horror – thanks in part to the financial success of films like The Exorcist and Carrie as well as the advent of the commercially successful slasher template created by Halloween and taken to new heights by Friday the 13th. This was an interesting time to be a horror fan because you would get odd little hybrid movies like Evilspeak; yeah, it might be a bit of a cheat to feature this film in a series on the slasher film, but as I’ve stated numerous times: if I weren’t able play fast and loose with the format of this series, I’d probably go crazy. So it is with Evilspeak: a film that is mostly a knock-off of Carrie that has some of the clichés made famous by the slasher subgenre.

There’s not much to say about the plot of Evilspeak: it’s a film with the same ‘ol tired revenge storyline. Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard) is an orphan who attends a military school. Stanley is a nice guy, but he’s an outsider at the school, and so, naturally, we get scene after scene of the “jocks” picking on him and humiliating him. During a soccer game, Stanley makes a fool of himself and the team and costs them a win. The players want the coach to kick Stanley off of the team; however, the Academy has a strict policy stating that every student plays at least two quarters. The coach then suggests to his other, better, players that if something were to happen to Stanley, then his hands wouldn’t be tied and he wouldn’t have to play Stanley in a game. This sets off the typical horror storyline that include all kinds of goodies we expect to see in slasher film (and which seem lifted right from Carrie).  

Of course the outsider/nerd character getting picked on is going to get revenge. This is played a little differently than most of these types of storylines in slashers where the person, usually at some point in the past, was picked on and some sort of tragic accident occurs leading the characters to believe the person is dead only for them to show up at some sort of reunion or whatever and hack their way through the parties responsible. In Evilspeak, however, the person responsible for the murders is known from the onset as the movie takes the above notion and tweaks it a little bit by having Stanley invoke evil to do his killing for him. And that’s actually the downfall of Evilspeak.

After Stanley is punished by Colonel Kincaid (the kind of dumbass character in these movies that is so aloof to what’s really happening, but it doesn’t matter because Charles Tyner gives a gloriously hammy performance) and sentenced to clean the catacombs of the church (the hell kind of punishment is that?). While cleaning, Stanley comes across decapitated skeletons and a diary belonging to a satanic leader from the Dark Ages, Father Esteban (who was established in the opening five minutes of the movie). Stanley takes the diary back to his dorm and uses his computer to translate it; when he begins translating, he notices a cryptic message from Esteban that reads: “I will return.”

And that’s the setup for what then is nothing more than a whole lot of padding. Stanley gets picked on, the adults act like aloof jackasses (which they’re wont to do in these kinds of movies), the students threaten Stanley and kill his pet, and Stanley unleashes evil and kills all of his classmates. It’s a helluva time getting to the good stuff – and there is some good stuff if you’re into pigs eating people, lots of decapitations, and hearts being ripped out of people’s chests – as the film is essentially 70 minutes of setup for a 10 minute payoff. So whether you get anything out of this movie is totally dependent upon your ability to sit through mediocre, sorta-well-made crap. And that’s the main problem with a movie like Evilspeak: there isn’t anything that’s so-bad-it’s-good and there isn’t anything that’s sneakily original or well-made about this particular horror film. It’s just kind of there and continues to exist in the minds of horror fans because of its violent ending (more on that in a bit).

Before I finish this up, I do need to talk about Kincaid’s secretary, Miss Friedemeyer. Miss Friedemeyer is there as a cruel joke I think – that’s the only way I can make sense of her – as she sits around looking all saucy and naughty (remember, she works at an all-boy’s school) as the kids come into the office to see the Colonel. When Stanley has to see Kincaid about his latest punishment, I swear this is this odd scene where Lynn Hancock, the actress, doesn’t understand that her character is a secretary at school for high school boys. There’s not a lot of decorum going on here at West Andover Military Academy. Hancock has a howler of a scene where after stealing the diary that Stanley found, she takes it home and begins caressing the jewels on the cover. This sets off some kind of evil shockwave as the pigs that Stanley is feeding (I love that this military academy has pigs) begin to act all crazy. Just before the inevitable happens, Miss Friedemeyer decides that it’s time to take her clothes off for the requisite T&A. Oh, Evilspeak, you lazy bastard of a movie. So that’s the movie Evilspeak wants to be, you see, not a loving homage to Carrie (the movie it wants us to think it is by trying to get us to empathize with Stanley being picked-on constantly), but a movie where this happens: after our saucy secretary disrobes, the pigs that Stanley was feeding break free from their sty, run into Miss Friedemeyer’s bathroom, and then proceed to eat her while she’s in the bathtub. Boobs and violence, folks. Don’t tell me this doesn’t sound like a slasher movie.

Evilspeak is one of those movies that have always sounded a lot better than it is. It has something of a reputation as a cult movie that horror fans need to seek out; however, it’s dreadfully boring. Yet, it still exists somewhat in the forefront of the conversation about b-horror films from the ‘80s (especially that golden age between 1980-1984) and that reason is quite simple to understand, really: gore. To be more specific, the kind of gore that can get your film heavily cut in the UK and placed on the “Video Nasties” list by the DPP – who, by the way, were just being dicks at this point by placing this movie on their list of banned films since the violence isn’t the issue here but the DPP’s insistence on banning movies about Satanism, too. Aside from some pretty banal Satanism and one fantastic gore scene at the end, I can’t really see what the fuss was about (but then we can say that about 90% of the “Nasties,” can’t we?); furthermore, I can’t imagine being a kid in the ‘80s trying to get a copy of this to see just what exactly is in the film to earn it the infamous distinction as a Video Nasty. I mean, it must have been hell to get through for people waiting to see what the big ado was as the first half of the film is pretty basic, boring stuff. I can even imagine that if the DPP took a look at 10 minutes of this movie, they would have been so bored they wouldn’t have given a damn whether the uncut version was on video shelves across the UK (but, again, we could say that about 90% of the “Nasties”).

That ending, though…that ending is something else, man. Perhaps it was the rate of the violence at the end that did the film in with the DPP as the final 10-plus minutes is just a torrent of gore as possessed flesh eating pigs torment the students, Stanley chops off heads left and right, a statue of Christ shoots its nails into a priest’s skull (okay, that one probably got it noticed), and a heart is ripped out. All in a little over 10 minutes! It reportedly was a lot more violent than even the uncut version that exists on DVD; Howard and the director, Eric Weston (hey, that’s the first time I’ve mentioned his name!), have tried to find the cut footage, but their efforts have been for naught as they fear it has been completely destroyed. That says something about how Howard, at least, feels about this film – that he’s willing to still try and piece together the original version (I can’t say about the director because it appears he hasn’t done much since), yet I don’t see why he cares that much about restoring the ending as it doesn’t seem to warrant such fervency since the ending holds none of the weight that the end of Carrie has. Because despite Howard’s attempt to create a character we care for, Evilspeak just isn’t interested in being anything but schlock horror.

There’s not much else to say about Evilspeak. Yeah, it’s schlock horror (which I’m fine with most of the time), but it doesn’t even go out of its way to be memorable schlock horror. It’s all just so mediocre. And that’s one of the worst feelings a horror film can elicit. The ending is a standout, but it’s too much work to get there, and if I’m going to have to work that hard to wade through a movie that isn’t even 90 minutes, then I’m going to at least need some so-bad-it’s-good cheese to carry me through to good, gory ending. Instead, the first 70 minutes (essentially) goes through the motions of the template Carrie made popular (and I must say, Clint Howard is likeable and watchable in the lead, and, as mentioned earlier, damned if he doesn’t try hard to make something out of this) by adding the revenge element of slasher movies like Prom Night and Terror Train where a ridiculed misfit enacts revenge on the “cooler” kids that abased them. It’s a tried and true formula for the subgenre, and the film has its moments (the pig scene, the laughable portrayals of the characters Miss Friedemeyer and Colonel Kincaid), but it’s all a slog to get through and really for only the hardest of the hardcore horror fans (read: completists like me).


  1. Well, gosh. As you can tell by my avatar, I have a particular liking for this film. I agree with you 100% that it's pure schlock, but I find it hugely enjoyable nonetheless. Of course, it's no Carrie - how could it be? - but somehow, it just works for me. It is a bit of a slog to get to the spectacular ending, but there's enough there to keep me interested. The film opens well, with Richard Moll (better known as Bull from Night Court) as Father Esteban, acting all "eeevil" as he decapitates a topless woman on a beach. The segue from her head flying through the air to the football almost seems like an homage to Kubrick. ;) Also, I love the idea that a Satanic priest who was banished from Spain subsequently ended up in America! The scenes in the church crypt are fairly eerie, and then, to top things off, we get a scenery-chewing performance by R.G. Armstrong. All this, plus the pig scene and the deliriously gory climax equals a whole lot of fun in my opinion.

    1. Yeah. I just couldn't see what a lot people see in this movie. I think the padding just got to me and kind of put me in a bad mood. The ending almost makes up for it, but not quite. There are all kinds of wacky things in the movie like the Spanish priest's spirit (as you mention in your comment) ending up in an American church, but the cheese was too few and far between for my liking (that is, when watching schlock horror).

      Howard is great and is somewhat of an odd, cult icon in horror circles (especially with his self-aware, goofy Ice-Cream Man), but his performance and the buckets of gore at the end couldn't save it for me.

      Oh, and thanks for mentioning Bull...I stupidly omitted that! It was funny seeing him act all satanic.