Eric Weston's low-budget possession/slasher hybrid horror from the early eighties has become something of a cause célèbre among nostalgic gorehounds: like many films released in this period, it suffered horribly at the hands of the BBFC -- then, newly formed as a result of the recent "video nasty" hysteria. The pre-cert uncut version was removed from the shelves of video stores all over the UK and replaced with a ridiculously neutered version: shorn of nearly all its key gore scenes. This is the version UK horror fans have been stuck with ever since. Even the Prism/Leisure Entertainment DVD release featured the cut version in a 4:3 aspect ratio!
To complicate matters further, the US DVD released by Anchor Bay, featured all the gore missing from the UK version, but was its self missing ten minutes of back story and dialogue that had been present in the BBFC approved UK versions! Now Anchor Bay UK take another stab at bringing the film to UK audiences. But rather than simply porting over the US version to the UK, AB UK have used the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to genre fans by bringing us a special 2-disc edition that contains the US widescreen theatrical version on one disc, and a special integral version -- combining the extra material from the UK cut version with all of the missing gore scenes from the US version -- on the second disc!
The film may now seem pretty tame, even in its fully uncut incarnation; but it is a great example of early-eighties b-movie horror that will provide fans with a satisfying nostalgia trip for sure!
The plot is basically a rehash of "Carrie" (1979) with a computerised demonic twist! Hapless geek, Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard) finds himself packed off to a strict military academy after the death of both his parents in a car crash. His life at the academy consists of a numbing routine where he is the victim of constant bullying by the rest of the academy recruits. Even the school teachers and the minister of the academy's chapel are unsympathetic to his plight, and Coopersmith becomes isolated and increasingly bitter towards his peers.
After being drafted to clear out the basement crypt beneath the chapel, Coopersmith stumbles upon a book containing the writings of a 16th Century priest-turned-Satanist by the name of Father Esteban. To pass the time, he begins translating the text on the library's computer and performing the instructions for a Black Mass. Only human blood is required to complete the instructions -- and when Coopersmith's pet puppy (his only friend) is killed by the vindictive bullies, the lad is pushed over the edge and ends up murdering one of the military instructors in the crypt -- thus unleashing the vengeful, satanic spirit of Estaban which manifests it's self in an orgy of decapitation, head-spinning, and... Satanic flesh-eating wild pigs??
This was one of the first acting roles for Clint Howard, who has since gone on to star in many of his brother Ron's best-known films ("The Missing", "Apollo 13", "Far And Away", "Cocoon") and he does a good job of bringing the pain of Evilspeak's gorky hero to life. Stumbling around with hunched shoulders and a permanently vacant expression borne out of constantly attempting to deny his harsh surroundings, Coopersmith is the ultimate screen loser. Virtually the whole film is devoted to chronicling his persecution at the hands of pupils and teachers alike; even the academy's sports coach conspires with the school bullies to ensure the poor lad has an "accident" so that he can't play in the school soccer team! This means that the Satanic forces aren't actually unleashed until the final ten minutes -- when the whole cast is decimated in a wave of fiery Satanic revenge -- and so you have to wait almost the entire length of the movie before any gore is spilled!
The film follows the same basic plot structure as "Carrie" then -- but writer and director Eric Weston develops some novel ideas within these constraints; not least the fact that this is one of the first movies to feature computers as potential sources for evildoing -- even if it is through the rather unlikely medium of demonic possession!
When we do finally get to the "meat" of the film, Weston combines some obvious nods toward recent successful horror films like "The Exorcist" (1973) -- when a character's head spins 360 degrees -- with some rather wacky ideas of his own: such as when a herd of satanically possessed wild pigs invade a bathroom and eat a naked woman taking a shower! This is the scene that is probably the most memorable, and the one that caused the most trouble for the filmmakers, as even the US version was considerably toned down by the MPAA before the film was allowed a reasonable rating. Sadly, that missing footage has since been lost; but at least the US version fared better than the UK one, where the entire scene was completely cut out!
The film may not be a major classic but it does have a reasonable cult following which Anchor Bay have certainly acknowledged with their latest release on DVD. Disc one features the US version of the film in a 16x9 anamorphic widescreen (1.77:1) presentation. The transfer is excellent and the audio options include the original stereo 2.0 track with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track with optional DTS. Also included is an audio commentary track featuring writer-producer-director Eric Weston and star Clint Howard. This is informative and entertaining with the extrovert Howard often acting as a proxy moderator when Weston falls silent. The first disc also contains a theatrical trailer, poster and stills gallery, and biographies of Howard, Weston and R.G.Armstrong.
The second disc of my screener copy contained the BBFC cut UK 18 version, which contains the extra ten minutes of story but is missing most of its gore. After persistent requests from fans though, AB UK stepped in at the last minute and created an integral version, which consists of the gory US version with the extra ten minutes from the UK version edited in. This is the version you will find on disc two when you buy it in the shops.
Because the original uncut "Evilspeak" master was lost many years ago, AB UK have used the newly created transfer for the US release as their master and restored the missing scenes from a digi-beta tape of the original BBFC 18 version. This means there is a slight drop off in audio and video quality during these scenes due to the age of the original master. This version is also presented in 16x9 anamorphic widescreen but with only the 2.0 audio option (which is all you need to be honest!). Also included on disc two are some trailers for upcoming Anchor Bay UK releases which include "Bubba Ho-Tep" and Tobe Hopper's much anticipated remake of "The Toolbox Murders."
A cult classic gets excellent treatment from Anchor Bay UK; making it the best version on DVD anywhere in the world!
(*Also available in Region 0 NTSC format from Anchor Bay Entertainment U.S.)