Eye For Film >> Movies >> Evilspeak (1981) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Under the Video Recordings Act of 1984, a number of films were banned in the UK and remained unavailable for several years. Some were censored for gore, some for imitable violence. Evilspeak was censored, in part, because it features Satanic rituals. Don't try this at home, kids.
If you do want to summon the Devil and you're not deterred by the stern finger-wagging of the BBFC then, according to this film, you will need assorted herbs, unholy water, consecrated host and, um, an old computer. To be fair, the machine we see here looks pretty impressive by 1981 standards and the graphics it produces must have been a lot of trouble to create, but it's hard to imagine what Montague Summers would have made of it. Its presence perhaps hints at that fear of evil inherent in new technology that manifests in every generation. Who knew, back then, what pitfalls translation software might present to us, or what conduit a college network might provide for evil forces from another age?
That evil, in this case, takes the form of a Spanish priest defrocked and exiled to a rocky coast for heresy. "Did you know that this school was built on that very land?" the principal asks a visitor. He's talking about the military academy where young Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard) is a pupil. Coopersmith is an orphan and his charming classmates have responded to this by bullying him relentlessly. Sent to clean out the basement as a punishment, he uncovers a vast Satanic lair adjoining the crypt of the accursed Spaniard, and there, seduced by evil, he begins plotting his revenge.
The story is a relatively simple one which owes a lot to the likes of Dennis Wheatley, jazzed up with computer motifs to make it (briefly) seem exciting and modern. It's an interesting curiosity for Joss Whedon fans because of its influence on Buffy (if you miss earlier hints you should spot it in the printed epilogue), and for horror fans it delivers substanial amounts of gore. The strongest point in its favour, though, is an astute sense of humour that exploits the innate silliness of the set-up without ever seeming smugly ironic. It's a humour that makes the film's often clumsy special effects work in its favour. It never detracts from our sympathy for Coopersmith, with Howard's crude but sincere performance keeping us on his side. We want to see the bullies get what's coming to them, even if we're a bit unsure about those increasingly restless Satanic pigs in the school farmyard.
It's by balancing these different kinds of evil that the film draws us in. Similarly, it balances different kinds of madness, from the ravings of the alcoholic janitor (perhaps himself a bullying victim), to Coopersmith's gradual mental disintegration, to the strange behaviour of military officials who think it's a good idea to parade young women in bikinis in front of their frustrated charges in the Miss Heavy Artillery contest. There's no get-out here for the mundane world and it's easy to see how the books in the basement could seem to offer a more civilised option.
Whilst by no means a good film in the usual sense, Evilspeak delivers on just about everythings its target audience is likely to be looking for. It's a daft film clearly made by smart people and it remains entertaining to this day.Reviewed on: 11 Mar 2013