Though I’m a complete sucker for this kind of thing, you could understand how even by the standards of 1988, the year that also bought us Ghoulies II (1988), Slaughterhouse Rock (1988), and Rabid Grannies (1988), that 976 – Evil (1988) with its juvenile Satanic possession plot, might have come across as a bit of late-decade bunkum. However, Mr. Freddy Krueger – AKA Robert Englund, this time wearing not the unmistakable wide-brimmed fedora of his child-killing anti-hero, but the off-screen director’s hat, brings us a darkly twisted, hugely entertaining horror movie, which somehow manages to be way more memorable and fulfilling than you’d ever expect it to.
Though it’s never made clear where the film is set, although it’s definitely some kind of weirdly generic backward American suburb, where no one and I mean no one EVER cleans the toilets, 976 – Evil, location-wise, feels incredibly familiar. To a teenage Brit like myself growing up in the eighties, the mise-en-scene replete with its seedy picture house, grimy backstreets and neon-lit diners, almost feels like home, so ubiquitous where these hack and slash movie hallmarks, that even now, my trips to the cinema are still accompanied by popcorn tinged seventeen-year-old me flashbacks.
The story centres around Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys), a sheltered button-down nerd type who is henpecked by his fanatically religious mother (Sandy Dennis) and mercilessly bullied by the local high school rough kids. The one guiding light in his fairly appalling life is his rebellious cousin Spike (Patrick O’Bryan), who blasts about the town on his beloved Harley, like a cross between Kevin Bacon and The Fonz, ratcheting up debts in various underground poker circles. After humiliating himself in front of Spike’s girlfriend, when she discovers that he’s stolen some of her underwear, Hoax turns to a phone-in ‘Horrorscope’ to get some assistance. After taking the advice of the mysterious helpline, the unfortunate misfit slowly starts to transform into a powerful demon creature and so begins his quest for vengeance.
Englund’s directorial debut, despite initial evidence to the contrary – the original poster reveals nothing more than a cheap cash-in on the Elm Street franchise – is a powerfully adept piece of scary storytelling. Not only does the movie riff on the era’s Satanic Panic, which saw the Christian right and organizations like the PMRC lose their minds about non-existent threats to the social order when bands like Twisted Sister and Judas Priest were unsuccessfully scapegoated in the public courts, it also provides us with one of the best examples of the ‘weirdo gets superpowers and takes his bloody revenge’ sub-genre of films. Hoax is a quietly weird, genuinely odd kid, and while we might feel sorry for him initially, our sympathies dissipate as the tale goes on, and it is Stephen Geoffreys’ nuanced performance, among other things, that raises 976-Evil from some of its more throwaway contemporaries.
As usual Eureka have done a bang-up job with both this beautifully presented rerelease, which includes tonnes of extras including commentaries, interviews, and a swish new booklet.
A full list of special features is listed here
- Limited Edition O-Card slipcase [First Print Run of 2000 copies ONLY]
- 1080p presentation on Blu-ray
- DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 audio options
- English subtitles (SDH)
- Audio commentary with director Robert Englund and set decorate Nancy Booth Englund
- 976-EVIL: home video version [105 mins, SD]: An extended version of the film from its original home video release on VHS
- New interview with producer Lisa M. Hansen
- New interview with special make-up effects artist Howard Berger (The Walking Dead)
- New interview with special effects technician Kevin Yagher (Nightmare on Elm Street)
- Limited Edition Collector’s Booklet [2000 copies ONLY] featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann
Released 19th October from Eureka Entertainment