In 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
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