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Directed by Robert `Freddy Krueger' Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Phantom of the Opera), 976-EVIL (1989)...interestingly enough I once dated a woman who had the same phone number...stars Stephen Geoffreys (Fright Night, At Close Range) as a nebbish mama's boy who becomes entangled with satanic forces through a 976 phone number after becoming weary of suffering the torments of his nerdly existence. Also appearing is Patrick O'Bryan (No Holds Barred), Oscar winner Sandy Dennis (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), Lezlie Deane (Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare), J.J. Cohen (Secret Admirer), Robert Picardo ("Star Trek: Voyager"), and Jim Metzler (River's Edge).
Stephen Geoffreys plays an annoying, smarmy, little doofus (i.e. his standard role) named Hoax Arthur Wilmoth, a high school student who lives with his mother Lucy (Dennis), a holier than thou, pestering, overbearing, unpleasant woman whose home is full of cats, religious icons, and furniture wrapped in plastic. Living in the apartment above the garage is Spike (O'Bryan), Hoax's cousin and part time student/professional juvenile delinquent, and, subsequently, Hoax's idol. After losing the pink slip to his motorcycle during a poker game with some other greasy delinquents, Spike comes across a magazine insert featuring a 976 phone number, one that give you your `horrorscope', whatever the heck that is...anyway, Spike calls, and soon his fortunes change, but he has sort of a falling out with his skeevy girlfriend named Suzie (Deane). After Hoax suffers various embarrassing situations at the hands of Marcus and his goon squad (including, but not withstanding a toilet shampoo in the boys' bathroom at school), he also comes across the flyer and begins calling, but where his cousin Spike got turned off on the experience (after a mysterious near death incident), Hoax becomes hooked calling regularly, so much so he begins to go through various physiological changes, along with attaining some interesting new powers. This newfound power allows Hoax to do something which he hadn't be able to do before in terms of standing up for himself, and even returning some of the pain and suffering on those who've abused him over the years. Things get out of hand, though (big surprise), as a demonic force begins to take control of Hoax resulting in a number of deaths. As Spike finally realizes what's going on, it may be too late as Hoax is no longer Hoax, but a demonic entity intent on bring about the Armageddon...
I remember seeing a film similar to this, one released back in 1981 called Evilspeak, featuring Clint Howard as a military school who invokes satanic forces in order to help him overcome various, abusive elements within the school. Given the similarities I found Evilspeak to be much more entertaining, mainly because it had a solid story, which really isn't the case with 976-EVIL, but also due to the fact I like Clint Howard a lot more than I like Stephen Geoffreys, the latter whose character elicited no sympathies whatsoever due to his inherent creepy and skeevy nature (and that was before he became possessed). There was some potential here, but the follow through falters seriously resulting a relatively tepid horror film with demonic overtones. I actually thought Robert Englund did very well in directing as he obviously knows how to set up shots but real weakness here is in the material. The plot is terribly anemic, and suffers from a lack of positive, forward flow. The film feels a lot like just a series of sequences strung together, some not matching up entirely with that which followed. Can anyone who's seen this film tell me the point of Jim Metzler's character? He plays a private investigator snooping about, apparently interested in the various goings on, but it's never detailed what exactly he's looking for or who actually hired him. Seems like his character was tossed into the mix as a means to a bit of expository crud in terms of the guy who operates the Horrorscope number, played by Robert Picardo. The story skimps on details throughout, and while I've seen this in other films, in terms of the filmmakers giving the audience the credit of having the intelligence to fill in the blanks, that's definitely not the case here given the overall shoddy nature of the story. If you can get past this aspect there are some fun bits, including Hoax developing a lizard like appearance and his voice dropping a few octaves (he finally became a man, albeit one possessed by a demon). There was a really odd part for me in the movie, one that features Marcus and his meager gang (four, including Marcus), all of whom hung out in the projection room of a local movie house (apparently one of them had a job in the theater as a projectionist). At one point, near the end, as evil Hoax arrives to confront them, we see them playing strip poker. Okay, fine...except there's only one, skaggy girl in the room, and she's fully dressed whereas Marcus' friends are in their boxers. Would you really want to engage in such a game where the majority of the players are male, and the one female involved is better at cards (as indicated from her fully dressed form) than said males? Another strange aspect, given Robert `Freddy Krueger' Englund's direction I was half expecting a decent amount of blood, but there's really not that much as the goriest bits took place off screen. Lezlie Deane provides a nice topless shot, if you're into that kind of thing. All in all 976-EVIL was mildly entertaining but I'd not something I'd recommend someone to go out of his or her way to see unless it was a really cheap rental or playing on cable. A sequel, of which I haven't seen, titled 976-EVIL 2: The Astral Factor (1992) was released, with only Patrick O'Bryan returning in the role as Spike.
The picture on this Columbia/Tristar DVD release, presented in fullscreen (1.33:1) pan and scan, looks decent enough, but I don't understand why the studio couldn't have released this in its original aspect ratio. Sure the film isn't all that great, but I find it annoying not to be able to see the film in its original aspect ratio. As far as the audio it's presented in Dolby Digital stereo, and comes across well enough. There aren't any extras included, other than a couple of trailers for the films Hollow Man (2000) and Fright Night (1985), both of which are better than this feature (of the pair I'd recommend Fright Night). There are subtitles available in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, and Korean, for what it's worth.
A strange note on Stephen Geoffreys, a few years after this film, specifically after appearing in Roland Emmerich's excremental feature Moon 44 (1990), Geoffreys began appearing in a number of hard core homoerotic features under the pseudonym Sam Ritter, apparently after developing a serious issue with drugs, according to information available on the Internet Movie Database.