First Released: 1983
Director: Eric Weston
Current UK Status: Passed 18 uncut
Evilspeak is one of the better known of the Video Nasties, and doesn’t feel quite as depraved and intentionally horrific as many of the other films on the list. It was first released in the UK uncut in August 1983, and then later a pre-cut version was released. Both versions were banned as part of the Video Nasty craze in March 1984, and Evilspeak became one of the 39 DPP collectables. It was not until 1987 that Horror Classics released the film on VHS with 3:34s of cuts. Nearly twenty years later, in 2004, Anchor Bay released the film uncut on DVD.
Evilspeak was the directorial debut of Eric Weston, who also wrote and produced the classic horror. Not much is known about the director, and IMDB lists only nine films that he has directed, with a further eight films he has produced and written (some of which were films he directed). Evilspeak got him plenty of attention when it was released, but Weston did not just stick with the horror genre. His follow up, Marvin & Tige (1983), was a hard hitting drama which won a few awards, and he also received critical acclaim for his Vietnam war film, The Iron Triangle (1989). In 1992 came the action thriller, To Protect and Serve, and this was followed in 1994 with an episode of TV series Joe Bob’s Drive-in Theatre. Seven years later saw the release of action thriller Pressure Point, and a year later came the drama Cover Story. 2002 also saw the release of yet another thriller, Hitters, and nearly ten years later Weston returned to the horror genre with the poorly received Hyenas. This was his first horror film since Evilspeak in 1981, and Weston has not made a film since.
With Evilspeak, we get the very familiar 80’s theme of high school kid being bullied, and bullied kid has his revenge, but this being a horror film, the revenge comes in the form of a demonic force and hungry pigs. The film starred Clint Howard in the role of Stanley Coopersmith, the social outcast and general misfit who is sent to a religious military school for wealthy kids. He is part of a welfare case which the school must support, but they don’t have to like it. Not only do his classmates pick on him, but his teacher’s don’t like him any better either. Useless at football, late for class and hilariously clumsy, Coopersmith just doesn’t fit in. Howard plays the role perfectly, and brings warmth and a genuine sincerity to probably the biggest and best role of his career. Amazingly, Howard had already appeared in some thirty films and TV shows over fifteen years before playing the role of Coopersmith, but to look at him with his extremely young looks, you’d be excused for thinking this was his first film.
After ruining the school’s football game, his classmates have had enough and demand he be taken off the team. School rules are though, everyone plays sports, but the football coach tells his top players that should something happen to Coopersmith, then maybe he wouldn’t be able to play. And so begins an onslaught of bullying by a group of lads hell-bent on making Coopersmith’s life a living hell. He is also punished and told to clean up under the schools chapel: a place which hasn’t been tidied for a very long time, full of junk, cobwebs and strange noises, at first Coopersmith is nervous of not only being down there in the dark, but also of the drunk Sarge who seems to live down there. However, nerves turn to excitement when he finds a mysterious book with a witchcraft symbol on the front. Suddenly Coopersmith is working hard in computer class, willing to stay late and study, but he is not studying his teachers demands. He is studying and translating the book, and he has found a way to bring an evil force back to get revenge on those who have bullied him.
There is very little violence for the majority of this film, and after a sinister opening of a Satanic ritual on a beach, the film plods along at a fairly ordinary pace as Coopersmith deals with bullying and finding out the secrets of this strange book. The opening scene is probably the closest this film gets to horror for a good hour, but it is a great opener. The satanic ritual literally comes to a head with a sexy girls head being chopped off, and in a clever display of editing, her head flying through the air becomes the football that is being kicked around during the introduction to the school and its football players. There are the odd few creepy moments under the chapel with clever use of lighting, surroundings and sound effects, but for the most part Evilspeak is a relatively straight forward story about a social outcast.
In fact, much of the film plays like a comedy, with Howard especially providing numerous laugh out loud moments. He is naturally clumsy, and whether intentional or not, he plays the buffoon extremely well, and some of his trips, falls and knocking into things look to good to be acted, and I wonder whether this was genuine accidents on Howard’s part. Either way, you will be laughing way more than you will be frightened. A scene in a class shows expert comedy timing on the directors part as Coopersmith arrives late, sits down and within seconds a dart is thrown at his book. Then the camera pans round the class as the teacher waffles, showing all the students doing anything but listen to their teacher!
An early scene showing a student’s rich mother being shown around the school and its chapel has some hilarious dialogue, and again you have to wonder if this was intentional or not. After every piece of information given to her, the woman responds with “how interesting” and after three or four times saying this, the final “how interesting” gets the added bonus of “and strange” added on to it! Oddly for a Video Nasty, Evilspeak is often hilarious, and never feels like it was intended as a Video Nasty. While none of the films on the list were ever made with the intent of becoming banned, there is a depravity to the majority of the films that Evilspeak simply doesn’t have. This plays much more like a straight, almost normal film, for the most part, and Howards towering performance as Coopersmith gives you a genuine character to root for, even when he goes slightly nuts.
Coopersmith gets himself in further bad situations like when feeding pigs he is almost attacked and killed, and it would appear that the satanic book is somehow communicating with the pigs and making them crazy. He also gets into a fight with the Sarge down in the Chapel’s cellar, but again this is played for laughs as the Sarge has to swig his whisky before attempting to fight. The end result finally brings some horror as the evil comes to Coopersmith’s rescue. Coopersmith has by this point lost his beloved book, and the search to find it again and figure out the ritual is turning him into a desperate man. Threatening the bullies to give his book back, he has no idea that the schools ultra sexy secretary has taken the book for herself. This leads to a very eye pleasing scene where she strips naked in front of a fireplace before doing something that is expected of almost all 80’s horror films: she takes a shower! However, the shower scene then leads on to the films first real moment of horror, well over an hour after the head chopping in the opening minutes. The secretary (played by Lynn Hancock) hears a noise outside, investigates and ends up becoming pigs dinner in a brief but quite nasty scene.
As we near the films conclusion, there have been a couple of brief moments of horror which will baffle you why this film got banned. Yes the head being chopped off during the opening, the pig attack in the shower and another head being twisted off are all quite nasty, but don’t really warrant the films reputation as a serious Video Nasty. And early scenes in the chapels cellar involving a moving foetus don’t exactly conjure up thoughts of films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Evil Dead. Evilspeak has been relatively tame up until the ending, but boy does Weston go for it in the films finale.
All hell quite literally breaks lose as Coopersmith finally gets the revenge he so desperately wanted, and the violence comes thick and fast. The setting for the carnage is the chapel, and Coopersmith arrives almost possessed, a massive sword in hand, ready to take on his enemies. The evil force he has conjured up through his computer, and through a ritual, has well and truly arrived, and the frantic, chaotic ending to Evilspeak more than lives up to its reputation of being one of the Video Nasties which actually remained banned for a time. Head are chopped off, hearts ripped out, pigs go mental and satanic chanting is heard all the way through. Coopersmith’s hair goes all crazy and sticks up as if he was just walking in a hurricane, and the violence and bloodshed is actually quite nasty. The film ends totally bonkers, way way over the top and is a hell of a lot of fun. This is what we have been gearing up for the entire film, and Evilspeak certainly delivers exactly what we were all hoping to see.
This is a grand finale up there with some of the best ending 80’s horror had to offer. The slow, moody, comical build up has led to this brilliant moment of madness that well and truly delivers, and if you had been questioning just why this film had been banned in the first place, then the finale will happily address those concerns. A great finish to a brilliant, unique little horror that somehow stands the test of time and is a cool, nostalgic gem. Evilspeak is a lot of fun, and the added attraction by the filmmakers where they attempt to convince you at the end that this was a true story, only heightens the films ballsy ambition and over the top madness. This is without doubt one of the finest films to have made the Video Nasty list.
Should Evilspeak have been added to the Video Nasty list: based on that ending, very probably!