At an American army base, a young cadet is subject to endless bullying. After discovering a black magic book in a secret temple beneath the base, he decides to gain revenge on his tormentors by using its dark secrets. Featuring Clint Howard, brother of Ron, star of TV's 'Gentle Ben', and the voice of Roo in the Disney 'Winnie the Poo' cartoons.
Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard) is a miserable, pathetic sad sack, the bottom of the totem pole with no hope whatsoever of improving his station amongst the other cadets at the military academy he attends. He's practically the epitome of the social outcast by which every such cliché character has since been modeled. Stanley is a complete loner who finds refuge in books, computers, and intellectual curiosity, and he's timidly awkward like the terrified, near-paralyzed puppy he adopts from the cook. He's an easy target of abuse and bullying, constantly reminded by almost everyone around him of being a special-case orphan, admitted to the prestigious school solely for improving its status among the general public.
Coopersmith has got to be one the best and most pitiful high school saps ever shown on film, and Howard, who has since had a great career as a recognizable character actor, is phenomenal in the role. He has the perfect mannerisms and speech to make the character ridiculously sympathetic — you can't help feeling so heartbreakingly sorry for him because he quite literally has no one he can relate with. Well, he does have one friend in Kowalski (Haywood Nelson, Dwayne from one my favorite TV shows 'What's Happening!!') who often comes to Stanley's defense but only makes matters worse. Even the school's chaplain Reverend Jameson (Joseph Cortese) and headmaster Colonel Kincaid (Charles Tyner) treat Stanley with zero concern and much aloofness.
The continuous bullying stems from Stanley's horrible athletic skills on the soccer field, costing the team the final winning goal. Or at least, that's what we're led to believe during the introduction of our protagonist, and the group of boys picking on him are pushing, kicking or slinging insults. The leader of the pack is Bubba (a very young Don Stark of 'That '70s Show'), the privileged, snobby son of a congressman. The other boys (Louie Gravance, Jim Greenleaf and Loren Lester) mostly follow Bubba's lead, but on their own, they can be pretty vicious as well, from scaring Stanley half to death with animal masks to breaking a catapult project he designed. The coach (Claude Earl Jones) even gets in on the action, encouraging the boys to do whatever it takes to disqualify the poor kid from playing on the team.
This is ultimately what's at the heart of the movie, which at the time of its theatrical release garnered a bit of controversy not only for the violent, gory special effects but also for its theme of Satan worshipping and the use of black magic. Written, produced and directed by Eric Weston, it famously landed a spot on the infamous video nasty list and was banned for a few years in the UK. Notwithstanding, the script smartly takes its time clearly establishing and defining Stanley Coopersmith, and thanks to Howard's performance, making him just weird enough to also seem a tad creepy. When we finally arrive at that moment the kid feels the need to summon the vengeful satanic leader Father Estaban (Richard Moll of 'Night Court' fame), it's from desperation, the last straw to so much torment and abuse, beaten down to the point where Stanley can't imagine any other recourse but a vengeance full of anger and hatred.
Over the years, 'Evilspeak' has garnered quite the cult following, and frankly, it's well deserved. Weston avoids the temptation of jumping right into the action and explicit mayhem, patiently drawing audiences in with a somewhat workmanlike approach which allows the narrative to develop. The focus is on the characters and Stanley Coopersmith enduring the constant cruelty from his peers and the irresponsible indifference of the adults charged with his safety. Stanley doesn't immediately become preoccupied with black magic rites and the books he discovered in a secret, hidden chamber below the school. He slowly grows interested until he finally cracks for the abuse. During those final moments of demonic possession, Weston and his team give horror-hounds one of the most satisfying conclusions, full of ghastly pandemonium and awesome visual effects which cement the film as a must-own for cult enthusiasts.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'Evilspeak' to Blu-ray under the distributor's Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD50 disc is housed in the normal blue case, and the back of the cover shows poster art from Japan and Germany. At startup, the disc goes to a generic menu with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
The cult horror favorite possesses the network with a passable but mostly average 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Despite being taken from a newly restored 35mm interpositive print, as promoted on the back of the case, the presentation is sprinkled with dirt and white specks throughout, along with a couple scratches and bit of discoloration. Nonetheless, the 1.78:1 image is an improvement to previous DVD editions, looking decently detailed with satisfying-enough definition and clarity for a majority of the runtime. Contrast is well-balanced with clean, bright whites while black levels are generally strong, except shadows tend to be on the murky side and overwhelm the finer lines. Colors are fairly bold, especially primaries, but secondary hues are ordinary and unexceptional.
Where the movie really casts its black magic is in the audio department, delivering a clean and pleasing presentation long-time fans will surely enjoy. The best aspect of the DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack is Roger Kellaway's somewhat corny yet haunting musical score, providing the film with a gratifying and pretty wide sense of presence. The mid-range exhibits excellent fidelity and fine separation in the orchestration while the few action sequences, especially the final fifteen minutes, display sharp acoustical detailing. Bass is appropriate and adequate for a film of this vintage with a couple appreciably weighty moments. Dialogue reproduction is precise with surprisingly superb intonation in the voices.
Supplements are all new to this latest home video release.
Writer, producer, and director Eric Weston uses school bullying as the central theme in 'Evilspeak,' a supernatural horror film about a very lonely, victimized kid who sadly finds solace in the dark arts. With an amazing performance by Clint Howard, the cult favorite is a smart and creatively-made genre entry which over the years has garnered a healthy following. The Blu-ray comes with generally average picture quality, despite coming from a remastered 35mm print, and an excellent audio presentation. Supplemental material is all-new, specially collected for this home video release, making the overall package an awesome addition to any respectable cult enthusiast's collection.