*This review contains spoilers!*
In 1988, it was safe to say that horror was in a very healthy place. The slasher movie franchise was a big hit worldwide, with the Halloween, Friday the 13th and Hellraiser series of films all releasing what were arguably the strongest films in their respective franchises up until this point, and also cult classics like Pumpkinhead, Maniac Cop, Killer Klowns From Outer Space and Night of the Demons, among others, being released. And not only that, the box office-breaking slashers above had a new challenger in the shape of a little doll named Chucky in the same year’s Child’s Play.
But one franchise and character seemed to do better than any of the above. The franchise: A Nightmare on Elm Street; the character: Freddy Kruger. From 1984’s classic introduction to Freddy each sequel was more successful than the last, so by the time it got to Elm Street‘s fourth entry, The Dream Master in 1988, what better way for New Line Cinema to reward their most successful character -or at least the actor that played him, Robert Englund – than let him direct his own film: 976-EVIL.
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The first thing to commend Robert Englund and those involved with the making of 976-EVIL on is that it is definitely not a generic slasher movie. This might seem like too much of an obvious move but at the same time, New Line Cinema demanding a slasher wouldn’t have been a surprise considering the huge success of the Nightmare on Elm Street series. But here Robert Englund went for a somewhat gothic tale using modern technology as a source for evil. Albeit done in a very 80’s fashion. But this was 1988 after all.
976-EVIL concerns awkward high school kid Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys), who is the focus of school bullies as well as his overbearing and overtly religious mother (Sandy Dennis). It’s only Hoax’s rebellious cousin Spike (Patrick O’Bryan) that can help him get out of the sticky and embarrassing situations he ends up in. That’s if Spike can keep his hands off local rocker beauty, Suzie (Lezlie Deane), the young lady that Hoax also his eye on.
But in among the normal high school hi-jinx something darker is happening. Something called a “horrorscope” has started becoming a trend across the town. But this isn’t just someone reading your star sign news to you over the phone. It seems that something evil is at play here – maybe even the devil himself. And as Hoax finds out, messing with the dark side can have dangerous consequences.
Unfortunately for 976-EVIL it takes a while for us to get to the dark side and dangerous consequences part of the film. Although it’s always good to get to know the characters in a film, particularly Hoax in this case, it feels like it takes far too long to get to what the audience want: the scares, the creepiness, the gore. To be fair, when the good stuff finally arrives it is a lot of fun, and when Hoax is possessed by a demonic force it is certainly fun to watch him get his bloody revenge on those that crossed him. Just like a cheesier, satanic version of Carrie!
In that respect, Englund delivers. Even if it takes a while, deaths – including being attacked by poisonous spiders (look away, arachnophobes) and a few nice brutal kills at a poker game between Hoax’s bullies – definitely provide an entertaining watch for horror fans. and contain some witty lines; while the “hell freezes over” final scene is exciting and also quite ambitious for its time, thanks to fine practical effects from Robert Kurtzman and Howard Berger, known for his work on The Walking Dead.
Although, unfortunately, far from a hit at the time, 976-EVIL can now be looked upon fondly by 80’s horror fans and collectors, whether they are revisiting the film or discovering it for the first time while making their way through the myriad of 80’s cult classics. Eureka Entertainment are releasing this slice of pure 80’s horror cheese on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, as part of their Eureka Classics range, with special features including: an audio commentary with Robert Englund and Nancy Booth Englund; a new interview with producer Lisa M. Hansen; a new interview with special make-up effects artist Howard Berger; and a new interview with special effects technician Kevin Yagher, known for his work on Nightmare on Elm Street.
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And if that wasn’t enough, this edition of 976-EVIL comes with the original home video version of the film that was on its VHS release, which is more than ten minutes longer than the standard version that’s also here. Also, a limited edition collectors booklet is available with the film, that has new writing on 976-EVIL by Craig Ian Mann, which makes for an interesting and informative read. Containing shots from the film too, it is essential for fans.
Overall, 976-EVIL may take a while to get going but it is pure 80’s horror entertainment after that, with pretty much everything you could ask for from a film of this type: fun performances, one-liners, scares, gore, a babe and a rockin’ soundtrack. Add in those classy extras and you’ve got a great package all round. A worthy purchase for 80’s horror lovers.
976-EVIL is out now on Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment.