Shudder Streaming: Evilspeak (1981) - Reviewed

Courtesy of Shudder
It took years of overcoming censorship, branding by the Video Nasties and critical reappraisal for jack-of-all-trades director Eric Weston’s filmmaking debut Evilspeak to be finally recognized for the coming-of-age Satanic masterwork of horror that it is.  Though a decent moneymaker in limited theatrical release, the low-budget creature-effects driven bloodbath was cut to ribbons by the ratings boards across the globe with its chief actor Clint Howard insisting there was a significantly longer cut that doesn’t exist anymore.  Whatever the case, this came at the height of high-school oriented science-fiction horror leaning heavily upon old CRT computer monitors and oversized keyboards, making Evilspeak something of a time capsule whose gross out gory charm only continues to grow with time.

Something of a gender inverted reimagining of Brian De Palma’s Carrie involving an orphaned military enlistee named Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard) who is mercilessly harassed if not outright physically assaulted by Sadistic fellow students in cahoots with an already corrupt faculty, Evilspeak finds the poor sap stumbling upon a mysterious text which may hold the key to his dreams and everyone else’s nightmares.  Diving into and digesting the book with the help of an Apple II desktop computer which appears to be connected to a long-deceased Satanist named Esteban, the film soon begins mixing the metaphysical and otherworldly with that of the computer screen, including but not limited to a bevy of increasingly psychedelic visual effects illustrating the ghost rising from within the machine.
Treading between the likes of such computer heavy occult thrillers such as Gog, Demon Seed and Nightmare Weekend, the film capitalized on the rising trend of home/office desktop computers and the boundless possibilities for real and horror movie world applications.  In this case, as Coopersmith faces heavier bullying going as far as threatening to murder his little dog, the sad soul gets further ensconced in the demonic, building towards a firey light and effects heavy finale replete with levitation, decapitation and heart ripping that earned the film its Video Nasty notoriety in the UK.  More to the point, this might be the most overtly Satanic leaning coming-of-age horror film of its kind prior to such modern horror fare as The Witch, making us sympathize with the hero/heroine as they jettison their moral compasses.

Playing heavily on the geeky screen persona of now beloved character actor Clint Howard who makes the film’s poor punching bag of a military cadet into something we completely empathize with even when he starts turning evil and bodies start falling by the jaws of mad ravenous pigs set loose by the now demonically possessed computer.  The surrounding cast of supporting actors, including such veterans as R.G. Armstrong, Joe Cortese and Charles Tyner, are tasked with being so ceaselessly reasonlessly cruel to Stanley Coopersmith, like the Stallone film Lock Up its meanness to the protagonist is so strong it nears incredulity.
Still, realism takes a backseat to the growing fantastical proceedings that unfold onscreen with steadily gorier effects whose over-the-top viciousness feels earned by the end of this otherwise goofy melodrama.  As pure horror fantasy, Evilspeak more than delivers as it careens toward an Alucarda inspired finale of Hell, fire and brimstone.  It also utilizes a number of optical screen effects rendered by Dream Quest Images in their first movie who would go on to do such seismic fare as Blade Runner, Predator and The Crow, marking the beginning of an important career of fueling dozens of beloved special effects heavy movies.

Released to heavy censorship and controversy before an unrated director’s cut of sorts surfaced years later, the surviving film isn’t in the best shape with cigarette burns on the reel changes and print damage as well as cracks in the image.  It is also unclear just how close this unrated version is to the director’s original vision despite Eric Weston’s full participation in the HD remastering.  Now long out-of-print and expensive on third-party sites, the best available option for now is the Shudder streaming service which licensed the Code Red transfer for now.  A real shame because what’s here is 80s computer/synth heavy demonic horror fare that functions both as a nostalgia piece as well as a good horror vehicle for Clint Howard, one that isn’t in jest but intends to horrify and thrill daring horror moviegoers who like their dark tea a little heavier and spicier than usual.

--Andrew Kotwicki