Historical Halloween: Evilspeak (★★★)

EvilspeakEvilspeak is a 1981 horror film directly inspired by Carrie, but takes a turn away from Stephen King’s text by honoring the burgeoning world of personal computers. This is Carrie meets WarGames (a film this movie predates by two years) while also boasting Satanic killer pigs, dog homicide, and a deranged Clint Howard. None of this should work in the film’s favor, and Evilspeak represents everything cheesy about the ’80s, but it also opens up questions towards the nature of good and evil and our own political climate at the time.

Stanley Coopersmith (Howard) is a cadet at a military academy. With no friends and deceased parents, Stanley is a loner continuously bullied by several older cadets. Stanley eventually stumbles upon a way to conjure Satan, left over by a defrocked priest accused of Satanism. With the aid of his computer, Stanley ends up enacting a black mass to seek revenge on those who have wronged him.

Evilspeak made the video nasties list purely for its gory climax and dabblings with Satanism; significant issues were cited regarding Stanley’s translation of the demonic passages onto the computer for the audience to read. If the Brits only knew of the horrors people would read on computers in a few decades. The movie did decently here in the US, although it was released in New York and Los Angeles a year after production, and was released in Britain in 1987 with three minutes of footage cut. The uncut version of the movie received British film certification in 2004, although Howard and director Eric Weston maintain the “uncut” version isn’t truly uncut (several additional sequences are feared lost).

The film certainly hearkens back to similar “revenge of the nerd” stories (although the eponymous film wouldn’t come out till 1984). Stanley Coopersmith, a character so nerdy even his name is bad, is continually punished for his perceived flaws and generally can’t catch a break. His only friend is the film’s lone African-American while the bullies are practically “good ‘ole boys” coming from privilege. There is a sly political commentary to the film’s events outside of the typical “the meek shall inherit the Earth…by any means necessary” plotline. Ronald Reagan just began his first term in office and desperately cut funding to everything but the military during this time. The bullies’ parents like the prestige of the military and religion, thus they invest in the school. Meanwhile, those who run the school are corrupt themselves; the soccer coach tells the team if they want to win the big game something “should happen” to Coopersmith. For all Coopersmith’s time at the academy, they’ve done nothing to make him a man but realize the cruelty of humanity, thus turning him into a mindless Satan worshipper in the process.

From the first minute Clint Howard comes on-screen, buck teeth, slightly overweight, it’s hard not to feel sorry for him. He’s such a loveable guy, but his reticence and stammering show why he has trouble making friends. His only true companion is a little dog he gets from the school janitor. If you’ve watched horror movies, ever, you should know what happens to the dog by the end. However, after seeing what happens to push Stanley over the edge, the audience kind of understands. Sure, there’s not much excuse for turning your soul over to Satan, but these are ClintHowardEvilspeaksociopaths he’s dealing with. If Stanley is the face of the off-kilter loner, Don Stark as Bubba is unmitigated evil. Howard and Stark agreed to maintain their distance during film to increase their hostility towards each other and it works. Stark is the jock, but he’s also got a veneer of psychopathy that’s disturbing. If this guy wasn’t a Satanist already (and he isn’t in the film), he would fit right in.

There are the requisite ’80s moments: The computer itself for example. Who knew one could conjure up the Devil with a few lines of code in 1981? You also get gratuitous nudity from a character who is viciously attacked by pigs for simply having the book in her possession. Speaking of, the only female characters here are blonde bimbos or the school secretary (the aforementioned “gratuitous nudity”) who wants to be a Satanist…needed some light reading? There’s no explanation for how she fits into things other than having her be naked in front of a fireplace – as all women do, am I right? – and dying naked in a shower. Also, I mentioned it briefly already, but if you’re anti-animal cruelty this movie has a fairly intense, albeit not too graphic, moment that is upsetting.

The gory ending is ripped right out of Carrie, but that’s okay because the rest of the film is compelling up till then. The actual introduction of the Satanic monks at the beginning never comes off as mythological as it thinks it is, but this is a movie where the achievements outweigh the flaws.

Evilspeak has is share of ’80s cheese, but underneath that is a stark, sensitive, and at times biting, look at the world of the 1980s. Clint Howard plays Stanley Coopersmith with pathos and he’s complimented by a cadre of baddies waiting for comeuppance. If you’re in the mood for a film that isn’t Carrie, check this out.