|Rhet Topham and Brian Helgeland
|Stephen Geoffreys, Patrick O’Bryan, Jim Metzler, Sandy Dennis, María Rubell, Lezlie Dane, J.J. Cohen and Robert Picardo
“Would it possible to enter the game…with a pair of hearts?” – Hoax
Description lifted from the Blu-ray cover:
High school underdog Hoax (Geoffreys) fills up the idle hours in his seedy little hometown fending of the local leather-jacketed thugs, avoiding his overbearing mother Lucy (Dennis) and dreaming of a date with trailer park temptress Suzie (Deane). But his quietly desperate life takes a terrifying turn when his cousin Spike (O’Bryan) introduces him to an unusual new hobby – phoning in for his “horrorscope”. Hoax is hooked up with a compellingly hideous demonic force that slowly begins to overtake his entire life and now there’s more than just a phone bill to pay for anyone who ever dared cross “the neighbourhood nerd”.
I know it’s a cop-out using the description on the cover but I was having trouble writing it down. The above description is fine but also in the mix is a reporter named Marty (Metzler) who turns up on Lucy’s doorstep the day after a chunk of fish has rained down on her property. Lucy sees the event as a testament to her devotion of faith and righteous ways and how she should continue disciplining her son Hoax and cousin Spike. For some reason (never explained well enough) Marty starts digging deeper into the matter by interviewing Hoax as well and trying to reach Spike. As events unfold Marty starts believing that the raining fish constitute a warning rather than a blessing. This is actually a significant part in the overall story and it doesn’t get fleshed out in the theatrical version of the film but rather in the extended VHS cut of the film.
But the main part concerns how Hoax gradually goes evil when he continually dials the 976 number and takes the advice from the “horrorscope” and eventually turns to dispatching his high school tormentors in grisly ways before heading home to take care of his mother and cousin. But the film begins with focusing on Spike, his card buddies (who are the ones tormenting Hoax) and his initial meeting with Suzie. Spike’s date with Suzie is what really kickstarts Hoax’s descend to hell.
Also fleshed out fairly well is the overbearing Lucy and her treatment of Hoax that undoubtedly has contributed to his insecurities and eccentricities. Then there’s the investigation by reporter Marty who seeks assistance from school counsellor Angela (Rubell) who knows Hoax and Spike. Eventually Marty’s investigation leads him to the building where the 976 calls are going and meets with the mysterious Mark Dark (Picardo) who runs the operation.
There’s a lot going on in “976-Evil” and the script has a bit of trouble relaying everything successfully. Hoax’s transformation into an evil entity is well done though and Geoffreys’s performance is really good. When he starts his reign of terror we’re treated to a host of excellent set-pieces that are gruesome and well pulled off visually speaking. Englund’s (Freddy Krueger himself) directorial debut is technically assured and the film has a splendid atmosphere and it’s quite stylish at times with good camera work. Looks like he learned a thing or two from the likes of Wes Craven and others. Practical effects work is also really fine; done by Kevin Yagher (from the likes of “Child’s Play” and the “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th” series) who does wonders with make-up effects and even in the finale when hell literally freezes over in Hoax’s house the effects look impressive for their time.
On the Blu-ray there are two versions of the film to watch. There’s the theatrical version in full HD that runs 92 minutes and then an extended VHS cut of the film that’s in full screen SD that runs 105 minutes. The latter is a much better viewing experience despite the loss of pristine HD quality. Everything that’s expanded upon in the longer cut gives more coherence to the overall story and improves on every major character. Reporter Marty makes more sense here and has a lot more screen time showing how his investigation evolves. Metzler is also really good in his part and some comedic sequences that were axed certainly add to his character. Also of importance are added scenes of his interaction with counsellor Angela that make her grand presence in the finale more understandable. Little bits like a longer moment in the initial meeting between Spike and Suzie gives added depth, a backstory on Spike and Lucy expressed in a single line in a restaurant where Spike meets Marty, a single scene that shows Hoax’s awkward crush on counsellor Angela and Marty interviewing Hoax all add to a more accomplished film. There’s even a bit more of Robert Picardo and scenes with him and Metzler are good.
Englund’s directorial debut deserves to be well known among horror buffs. It boasts good visual style and atmosphere, decent horror set-pieces and effects and uniformly fine performances; especially Geoffreys and Metzler (in the extended cut). Sandy Dennis is also quite good as the overbearing mother. All in all; “976-Evil” comes highly recommended.