Color, 1981, 92m.
Directed by Eric Weston
Starring Clint Howard, R.G. Armstrong, Joseph Cortese, Claude Earl Jones, Haywood Nelso, Don Stark, Charles Tyner
Code Red (US R0 NTSC), Anchor Bay (US / UK R0 NTSC/PAL), VMP (Germany R2 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Prism (UK R2 PAL)
Apart from slashers, two things proved to be big at the box office for horror movies in the '70s: the occult and persecuted teens with paranormal abilities. It was only a matter of time before filmmakers decided to conflate the two together, and in 1981, audiences got two variations: Fear No Evil, a tale about the Antichrist coming of age in high school, and the film under discussion here, Evilspeak. Clint Howard, former child star and brother of Ron, stars as an orphaned cadet named Stanley Coopersmith at a military school populated by the most sadistic gang of bullies imaginable among its staff and student body.
With only a small puppy for company, Stanley really gets the brunt of it from the other guys on his soccer team, who taunt him mercilessly day in and day out. One day Stanley discovers a dusty catacomb beneath the school and gets his hands on a mysterious book with a pentagram on the cover, which obviously ties in to the film's opening scene with a dreaded satanist named Esteban (Night Court's Richard Moll!) holding a black mass by the sea. Soon Stanley's using the book and a handy Apple computer to conduct black magic, including the summoning of a bunch of evil, flesh-eating devil pigs. That still isn't enough to summon the full devilish wrath of the book, however, and after the tormenters finally go one step too far, Stanley decides to unleash a torrent of pain and mutilation on everyone around him.
The premise for this film alone made it stand out among its peers when Evilspeak opened during one of horror's busiest and most beloved periods, and while you couldn't really call it scary in the traditional sense, it definitely delivers gallons of blood and a fun sense of retribution against loathsome characters who really deserve it. Rarely granted leading man status despite his role on TV's Gentle Ben, Howard was no stranger to drive-in patrons thanks to Rock 'n' Roll High School and Eat My Dust; however, this was his first real plunge into big screen horror, and he really gives it his all (though not quite as much as his later role in Ticks, which is impossible to forget). The rest of the cast is a memorable batch of character actors including a domineering sergeant played by R.G. Armstrong (The Car), Joe Cortese (Windows) as the school priest, Claude Earl Jones (Dark Night of the Scarecrow) as the soccer coach, busy Charles Tyler from Cool Hand Luke and The Longest Yard, and even Don Stark from TV's That '70s Show as the vicious Bubba.
This actually marked the debut feature for director Eric Weston, who went on to programmers like Marvin & Tige and Hyenas, and he manages to keep things moving along efficiently on the way to the big finale, which is really the film's main claim to fame. You've seen other stories about put-upon teens getting even, but it's safe to say no other movie could ever offer something as bizarre as a demonic Clint Howard levitating in the air lopping off heads with a sword while bloodthirsty swine charge the screen.
Unfortunately the heavy gore content of Evilspeak landed it in trouble in several countries, with most of the grisly highlights hacked to a bare minimum to get an R rating in America; even worse, it was banned as a Video Nasty in the UK even after suffering cuts, only getting an uncut release decades later. The VHS version in the US from Fox was identical to the edited R-rated version, as were TV broadcasts. In 2004, Anchor Bay released an American DVD sporting the full-strength version for the first time in its native country complete with an audio commentary (featuring Weston and Howard) and the theatrical trailer. The same edition came out later that same year in the UK as a single-disc version, but in an interesting twist, an even longer unreleased earlier cut was also included for a two-disc release as well. That longer cut is really more of a curious variant, as the 92-minute unrated version is really as close to a director's cut as we're likely to get. (Supposedly a handful of additional effects shots originally in the film have been lost for good, especially at the end of the pigs in the bathtub scene.) The 99-minute print on the bonus disc basically contains a number of minor scene extensions and superfluous dialogue, some of which popped up in the TV version, but it's mainly for completists and not really the best way to watch this for the first time.
The 2013 reissue from Code Red obviously raises a few interesting questions, namely which version it would contain and whether the transfer would improve on the adequate but flawed Anchor Bay one taken from a pretty rough, erratic 35mm source. Happily it's good news on both fronts as this contains the 92-minute unrated version in a drastically improved new HD transfer from the interpositive, supervised by the director. The extra gore scenes in particular look much better, and you can finally make out for once what's actually happening in some of the darker shots. It's a real shame this one hasn't been given the Blu-ray treatment yet; its '80s horror cult status more than justifies it, so hopefully soon this version will get ported over in all its hi-def glory. The Code Red disc also presents more extensive extras than before including a new audio commentary with Weston and the label's Bill Olsen walking through the making of the film, pointing out all of the character actors and discussing the Santa Barbara locations and technical obstacles during the practical effects scenes. Howard switches over to the front of the camera this time for an 11-minute video interview in which he talks about his hairline already receding before the shoot (which necessitated a rug), his trepidation over the satanic elements of the script, the joy of working with real and mechanical pigs, and his pride in the final product. Stark comes next with a 10-minute video piece covering his casting in New York, the mentorship of Claude Earl Jones, and his angle on the oft-repeated story of how he and Howard deliberately wouldn't socialize with each other during the shoot to maintain the tension between their characters. (Weston makes a brief on-camera cameo, too.) Finally Cortese gets interview number three, running just under seven minutes, in which he talks about working with Weston on this and another film, his thoughts on his big last scene, and a few other highlights from his career. Finally the DVD wraps up with the theatrical trailer and bonus ones for titles like Death Machines, Just Before Dawn, The Police Connection, The Vampires' Night Orgy, The Folks at Red Wolf Inn, Stigma, and the mighty Raw Force.
Reviewed on August 16, 2013.