31 Days of Gore: Evilspeak (1981)

It’s October. Time to talk horror. This year I’m reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

When you hear Evilspeak was not only one of the UK’s Video Nasties, but the studio had to cut seven minutes of footage to get an R-rating in the states, you expect bucket-loads of blood. Unfortunately, these facts speak less about how much gore you’re going to get and more about how absurdly silly things were in the era of Thatcher and Reagan. Violence-wise, Evilspeak is surprisingly tame for a horror movie in which the Carrie-like protagonist uses Satanic rituals (and, uh, an Apple IIe computer) to summon demonic revenge.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t pay the twenty bucks for Scream Factory’s awesome Blu-Ray edition—you probably should—I’m just saying it’s not the film gore hounds might expect. Yeah, there are some really great practical effects in there, but the promotional material makes you believe you’re in for something more splatter-filled like the original Evil Dead. You’re not.

Richard Moll (yes, the bald guy from Night Court) plays Father Estaban, the long-dead leader of a long-dead cult of Satan worshipers. In the opening scene we see him disrobe an attractive woman before chopping her head off with a sacrificial sword. The effect looks suspiciously crunchy, like—I don’t know—maybe a mannequin filled with red food coloring and corn syrup. I’m pretty sure people’s necks don’t shatter like plaster when struck with a sharp blade. And believe me: I’m really not knocking the effect. It actually looks really cool in the sense you’ve never seen anything like it before.

Fast-forward a few hundred years later to a modern military academy. The orthodox church on the grounds was inexplicably built on top of Father Estaban’s Satanic church. This isn’t rediscovered until Stanley Coopersmith (the insanely awesome and awesomely insane Clint Howard) finds a hole in the cellar’s brick wall. I’m surprised to learn middle age Europeans were practicing Satanism in what would later become the United States. Hell, the fact that Estaban’s church still exists at all raises more questions than answers, but I’m willing to go with it. Why? Because this movie is fucking awesome, that’s why.

Coopersmith, who’s referred to as “Cooperdick” by his classmates, is the quintessential outcast in movies like this. The first time we see him he gets his ass smeared across the soccer field. The next time we see him, a prank leads to him being late for class. His tardiness, of course, leads to the administration themselves bullying him. Coopersmith’s only refuge is the computer lab and the secret church beneath the church. This is pretty much all the movie has to offer for the next seventy minutes or so, but it feels less like the typical padding of a horror movie and more like a satisfying slow burn.

When a secretary steals one of Coopersmith’s books, I legitimately felt bad for him. When the other kids destroy Coopersmith’s catapult, I felt bad for him there, too. And when they discover the dog he’s been hiding in the secret church, I really felt bad for him. Thing is, the movie doesn’t fail at anything it tries to do, it just sustains the same note for a little too long. That is until the glorious and horrific ending.

The climax isn’t just satisfying. It’s actually better than Carrie (do keep in mind I’ve never really cared for Brian De Palma films very much). To see Clint Howard levitating around the church, terrorizing his bullies with a giant sword, is cheese of the finest flavor. All Evilspeak promised to do was entertain me and I can’t say I wasn’t tickled by its intentional absurdity. I don’t know why nearly half the characters are in it, especially Haywood “What’s Happening!!” Nelson (who escapes the carnage as well as most of the movie), but man, that ending makes all the little flaws worth it.

The special features on the Blu-Ray are only a little more than bare minimum. The retrospective offers some amusing anecdotes; it was fun to learn Clint Howard had to wear a hairpiece for this film. In an even better video on YouTube, Howard says the film was special to him because he lost his virginity during the production. It’s a film that’s special to me, too, and not only because it got one of my favorite character actors laid.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

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