Clint Howard has been in the acting biz for a long time. As a child he showed up in a famous episode of Star Trek, and of course these days you can spot him in most movies directed by his little brother Ron. IMDB credits him as having appeared in well over 200 films and TV shows, but it’s rare that he shows up as the lead. In our film today, though, he’s the central character in a horror story about a put-upon teenager who gets his revenge with the help of ancient Spanish satanist. If you think Matthew Broderick caused problems with his computer in Wargames, wait till you get a load of 1981’s Evilspeak.
Howard plays Stanley Coopersmith, a hard luck case who was allowed to enroll at a prestigious military academy. He’s kind of a screw-up, especially on the soccer field. Of course, a group of his fellow students (led by Don Stark, aka Donna’s dad on That 70’s Show) pick on Coopersmith every chance they get. His only pal is an African-American student strangely named Kowalski (played by Heywood Nelson…Dwayne from What’s Happenin’). Even the commanding officers and the chaplain seem to have it in for poor Stanley. In fact, the chaplain gives him the job of cleaning out the run-down cellar of the chapel.
Down in the basement, Coopersmith finds all sorts of mysterious satanic stuff. There’s a dusty book with a pentagram on it and a cross-shaped crypt for a Spanish monk named Esteban. Thanks to the film’s prologue, we know that Esteban (Richard Moll) was actually a satanist. Now, to decipher the writing in the book, Stanley hijacks one of the school’s computers and takes it down to the cellar. Gradually, it seems that the computer starts to be possessed by Esteban, demanding consecrated blood. Meanwhile, Stanley keeps having to endure the bullying of the other students. Finally, he is pushed too far, and he (or is it Esteban?) exacts his fiery and gruesome revenge.
Evilspeak is an ugly ugly movie, and that is primarily due to it’s last fifteen minutes. Most of the film actually moves along fairly slowly without a whole lot going on. Then things start to get a bit nutty when Coopersmith begins using the computer. This is another case of that often-used 80’s trope, the computer that can do anything. Remember, in 81 most people didn’t have a clue how to use a computer, so, of course, they’ll believe that Coopersmith can just drum his fingers on the keys for a few minutes and the machine will then spit out perfect translations of the ancient text he’s reading. Pretty slick considering this is years before Al Gore invented the internet. I’m also not sure where the electricity is coming from to power this computer, considering the cellar is lit by candles. Don’t let that stuff trouble you, though, we’re just getting started! Soon enough the computer seems to become possessed by Esteban, which becomes apparent in a scene where the computer seems to cause the death of the grumpy janitor (E.G. Marshall) by twisting his head completely around. Then the machine keeps demanding blood like it’s Audrey II or something! Then come the killer pigs who attack the Colonel’s sexy young secretary in the shower. All that to say, this film may start slow, but it soon gets nuttier than the snack aisle at your local Safeway.
As we begin to reach the climax of the film, we all know that Coopersmith is going to unleash some sort of revenge on his tormentors, but I was certainly not prepared for the extremes the sequence ultimately goes to. It is clearly inspired by Carrie, with several similar elements. Instead of everyone being trapped inside the high school gym, here they are all stuck in a church. While Carrie stands covered in blood staring at everyone, Coopersmith stares down everyone while floating, covered in blood to a lesser extent. The level of carnage, however, is way beyond what DePalma dished out. The sequence is over-the-top gory. We’re not talking quick shock moments here, the camera lingers unnecessarily and some of the more gooey moments are even given to us in slow motion. The sequence also goes on way too long, wearing out its welcome and then some.
On the plus side, Clint Howard still manages to bring a certain charm to his performance. Though never really a leading man, there’s a reason that Clint Howard is an actor who has been consistently working for the last 50 years. No, it’s not nepotism! He’s an intriguing actor who has a knack for connecting with an audience. We as the audience do end up being concerned for Coopersmith’s plight…and that’s not because the script or story is any great shakes, it’s all because of what Clint Howard brings. Sadly, I fear the gruesome ending of the film caused the character to lose a lot of the goodwill he had earned from me throughout the rest of the film.
I’m sure there are many out there who will revel in extremes that Evilspeak eventually goes to. For me it had a detrimental effect. The film had the potential to be an interesting supernatural revenge tale, but when all was said and done it left a bad taste in my mouth simply because the filmmakers weren’t able to realize when enough was enough.