I might as well preface this review with a disclaimer; I’ve always loved Evilspeak, and, lest Clint Howard were to come over my house and do something foul upon my lawn, I always will. It’s easily one of the most batshit-insane movies of the “me-decade”; a gory, pseudo-comic supernatural blast that’s equal parts The Exorcist and Weird Science, and a film that I never tire of revisiting. Scream Factory announced a Blu-ray release of this one awhile back, just about the same time I’d finally gotten around to picking up my uncut Code Red DVD release. The thing is, Code Red did such a great job with their transfer, I actually wondered if an upgrade would even be necessary. Of course, it didn’t take more than a few minutes with Scream Factory’s Blu-ray to determine that it’s more than worth the price of a double-dip!
For those who have yet to see the film (boy, do I envy you!), Evilspeak tells the tale of Stanley Coopersmith (Howard), an orphan who, thanks to an initiative to help “unfortunates”, finds himself a enrolled at the prestigious West Andover Academy. It’s not quite the honor it seems, however, as Stanley is not only the target of the school’s resident bully, Bubba Caldwell (That 70s Show’s Don Stark) and his gang, but also something of a faculty whipping boy, exploited by everyone from the school’s headmaster, Colonel Kincaid (Charles Tyner), to its clergyman, Reverend Jameson (Joseph Cortese), who takes relish in assigning Stanley the seemingly insurmountable task of cleaning out the basement of West Andover Academy’s chapel.
While working in said basement, Stanley accidentally discovers a false wall, and, upon breaking through, finds a secret subterranean lair that once belong to the chapel’s disgraced founder, Father Esteban (Richard Moll - aka, Night Court's Bull), who was excommunicated from the church for his Satanic practices. In this ersatz temple, Stanley discovers all manner of Satanic bric-a-brac, including a book written in Latin that he translates with the help of the school’s computers. What begins as typical teenage curiosity soon becomes an obsession as the bullying by his peers and faculty members grows more severe, forcing Stanley to broker a deal with Old Scratch, himself, in exchange for punishing those who have wronged him!
Evilspeak is just pure gory goofiness. From its hilariously old-fashioned “computer effects” (which look like one of those 80s vector graphic games like Tempest or Battlezone) and excessive bloodletting to Stanley’s cartoonishly evil antagonists who are nothing less than psychopathic, director Eric Weston’s first (and best known) film is a mishmash of supernatural horror and comedic coming-of-age story, with slasher sensibilities and, for its time, really impressive production values. It also boasts a couple of genuinely good performances from Howard and Stark, as well as an always welcome extended cameo from the legendary character actor, R.G. Armstrong, who turns up as Sarge; a bitter ex-military man turned booze-fueled maintenance man West Andover keeps hidden in the church’s basement.
Upon its 1981 release, Evilspeak was forced to cut several minutes of excess gore to avoid an X-rating. While Code Red gave us an excellent uncut DVD release, Scream Factory offers us the first uncut Blu-ray edition of this fan-favorite film.
Presented in a 1.78.1 1080p transfer, Evilspeak starts out a bit rough as the prologue/credit sequence detailing Father Esteban’s excommunication (and first black mass) is a bit soft, grainy, and saddled with the expected amount of print damage for 33 year old film, but once the credits give way to the film proper, the image cleans up quite nicely, with only the occasional speck and a touch of excess grain in darker sequences. Detail is apparent, especially in close-ups, while the image, overall, is crisp and vibrant. The accompanying DTS HD Mono track is well-mixed, with clear dialogue and surprisingly strong bass, especially evident in the film’s bloody finale, where the bombastic score goes into overdrive during Stanley’s gravity defying killing spree.
Bonus features include a few carryovers from Code Red’s DVD release, including a feature-length commentary track by Weston (moderated by Code Red’s Bill Olsen), as well as a collection of interviews (SD) with Howard, Cortese, and Stark. We also get a brand new 30 minute retrospective featurette (HD), that includes interviews with other principals who reminisce about their work on the film and its impact on their careers, as well as share a few interesting tales from the set. Rounding out the extras is a trailer for the film (HD).
For anyone who, like me, were on the fence about upgrading seeing as how Code Red’s DVD is still a damned fine example of just how good standard definition can still look (not to mention all of the nice bonus goodies), I assure you that Scream Factory’s done their usual bang up job of making the decision an easy one. The image quality is much-improved, and the addition of an all-new featurette (as well as carrying over the DVD extras) makes this the definitive version of the film, and one fans will definitely want to add to their collection! Highest recommendations!