976-Evil (1988)

976-EvilIn this directorial debut of Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund, we dial the number 976 to hear our horrorscopes. Yes, with three R’s. And anyone who dials this cursed number will hear a voice by Satan himself as he speaks in riddles how you’ll die in just a few moments.

 

In real life, 976 was an actual premium-rated telephone number that allowed people to call services of everything from Tech support, overall entertainment to phone sex. And, of course, having your horoscope read (with one R). The service also charged extra, which was every parent’s nightmare when they got the next phone bill.

 

Fun fact: Robert Englund still meets fans at comic cons who tell him that their worst grounding by their parents was when they called Freddy himself on a 976 number where Englund laid down a bunch of stock replies. He would also on occasions answer the phone for people all over America for an hour. This was at the peak of Freddy mania. Fun times.

 

One of the callers we meet here is the teenager Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys). He’s an awkward nerdy introvert on the spectrum of mentally retarded. He lives across his cousin Spike (Patrick O’Bryan), who is the polar opposite of Hoax: cool and a badass pussy magnet. And Hoax looks up to him as Spike has to protect him from being bullied. He also lives with his crazy, religious mom who doesn’t make things easier. And Spike can’t protect his sorry ass every minute as he also has a girlfriend to be with. Hoax gets frustrated, angry and now wants to show the bullies and even his mom that he’s no longer to be messed with. After a Satanic ritual and a 976 call, he gets slowly possessed by Beelzebub, develops supernatural powers and big claws to have his sweet revenge.

 

The first forty minutes or so in this “anti-bullying film” (as Englund calls it) are pretty slow and clunky, and with a script co-written by Brian Helgeland (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Highway to Hell, Mystic River), I expected some more insanity, for lack of a better term. We have a weird love/hate relationship between the cousins Hoax and Spike to build up some dramatic tension. Unfortunately, their chemistry isn’t quite there. Spike also has a girlfriend, Suzie, who mostly looks bored until she gets attacked by spiders. We have a detective, who investigates the source of the cursed 976 call, who looks even more bored. The only one who stands out among the flat characters is the clumsy goofball Hoax as he wears the same nerdy outfit throughout the whole film, except some scenes where he’s wearing a cute pajamas.

 

The real fun is when Hoax starts to get possessed through several stages with some really tasteful make-up effects by Kevin Yagher, who also worked on the original Child’s Play and several of the Elm Street films. We also have some clever use of miniatures, and a climax with set-designs which look like something from a dream sequence from the already mentioned franchise. The direction is mostly solid with colorful, vibrant cinematography in the purest 1980s style. Robert Englund is of course the one behind the evil 976 voice, where he does his very best to not sound like Freddy Krueger. The gore is very minimal, as low-budget as this is, but the little we have is at least well done.

 

As much as we love the cheesy and distinct corniness of the 1980s it must be said how ridiculously dated the film is. Such as being a nerd in that decade was the most “gay and uncool” thing ever. The concept with payphones and if not novelty phones where you actually had to get your fat ass from the couch to dial the number to the local pizza delivery. Could anyone born after the 2000s even grasp to imagine? My oh my, the ole’ days… It’s funny how Robert Englund had to repeat himself during the commentary track on the Blu-ray to remind the Gen Z how insanely different the world actually once was.

 

976-Evil overall is a very mixed bag that maybe works best just as a curiosity to see how our favorite boogeyman from the 80s is as a director. Slow first-half, full popcorn entertainment with some extra cheese during the rest. The film was released on Blu-ray from Eureka Classics in 2020 with an extended version and commentary track by Robert Englund and his wife Nancy Booth, which both met on the set of the film and has been married since. How cute.

 

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Director: Robert Englund
Writers: Rhet Topham, Brian Helgeland
Country & year: US, 1988
Actors: Stephen Geoffreys, Jim Metzler, María Rubell, Lezlie Deane, J.J. Cohen, Patrick O’Bryan, Sandy Dennis, Darren E. Burrows, Gunther Jenson, Jim Thiebaud, Robert Picardo, Paul Willson, Greg Collins
IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094597/

 

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cellar Dweller (1988)

Cellar Dweller (1988)It’s a dark and stormy night when comic book artist Colin Childress (Jeffrey Combs) works on his horror series Cellar Dweller. He sets his final drops of ink on a sequence where a young, half-naked damsel in distress runs through the woods and ends up trapped by a satanic, hairy monster. After Colin randomly quotes some obscure phrases from a book of witchcraft, he unconsciously manages to summon both the monster and the damsel who emerges right behind his back. While Herbert West..uhm, sorry, I mean Colin, runs frightened out of his studio, the monster kills the damsel off-screen. Since the monster was summoned from the drawing paper, Colin gets the brilliant idea to set the artwork on fire, which escalates into an inferno that kills them both. The rest of his artwork manage to survive, though.

 

Then, we jump 30 years ahead in time. Colin’s house has now become an art institute, where young cartoonist Whitney Taylor checks in to continue the Cellar Dweller series. Miss Briggs, who manages the place, is not thrilled about this, and tells her that the basement where Colin died is a no-go zone. Of course, Whitney still goes down there anyway, and she comes across an old chest which includes the same book of witchcraft we saw at the beginning. The can of worms is open again, and as soon as Whitney starts drawing Cellar Dweller, a hairy monster begins to terrorize the house’s students in the middle of the night. It’s just too bad that the killings happen off-screen, and makes me wonder if the monster costume was so heavy for the poor person inside that he was almost unable to walk properly.

 

Jeffrey Combs is only featured in the opening scene before the film goes full amateur hour. To top it all off, one of the actors, Brian Robbins, has obviously used Smilex as he has the most absurdly, psychopathic grin that is just completely out of place, to a certain point where he almost overshadows the monster. A bit impressive, though. Aside from a quick decapitation scene during almost a full hour of play time, there is not much gore to find here. The drawings by the comic book artist, Frank Brunner, are gorgeous and got its time to shine, and is actually more impressive than the movie itself. John Carl Buechler (RIP) also directed Troll two years earlier, which explains some of the similarities. And if you haven’t already, then check out Troll 2, and you’ll have a perfect schlockfest of a trilogy to enjoy and laugh at.

 

Cellar Dweller

 

Director: John Carl Buechler
Country & year: USA, 1988
Actors: Yvonne De Carlo, Debrah Farentino, Brian Robbins, Pamela Bellwood, Miranda Wilson, Vince Edwards, Jeffrey Combs, Floyd Levine, Michael Deak
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt0094850/

 

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poltergeist III (1988)

Poltergeist 3 (1988)Carol Anne has now moved to her uncle and aunt at the John Hancock Center in Chicago where she attends a special school for gifted children and visits a psychologist regularly. She would prefer to not talk about the past, but the shrink hypnotizes her to do so and can assure Carol Anne that talking about the past will make it go away. In this case it makes the dark forces enter her life again and a certain scary old man starts to manifest in mirrors and reflections. To quote Tangina: He’s back!

 

The idea of ​​placing the story in a large skyscraper works for the most part. It creates its own claustrophobic setting. I especially like the idea with the mirrors. Gary Sherman, most known for low-budget exploitation films, does a decent job with the technical aspects concidering the production problems caused by Heather O’Rourke’s sudden death at the age of 12, four months before the last day of shooting.  It almost stopped the production completely, and like «Poltergeist II», the entire ending sequence had to be rewritten. While it somehow barely worked in the previous film, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever here and it just leaves a big question mark over your head. The movie starts actually pretty good and strong, but develops with ridiculous plot holes, messy editing and scenes that don’t go well together. Heather’s death in mind gives a more sad than satisfying end to the Poltergeist saga.

 

Poltergeist III

 

Director: Gary Sherman
Country & year: USA, 1988
Actors: Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Lara Flynn Boyle, Kipley Wentz, Richard Fire, Nathatn Davis
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt0095889/

 

Sequel of:
Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986) http://horrorghouls.com/reviews/poltergeist-2-the-other-side-1986/
Poltergeist (1982) http://horrorghouls.com/reviews/poltergeist-1982/

 

Tom Ghoul