“Out of the darkness and into the light, dial 976-EVIL and press 666 for your Horrorscope.” It’s a premium rate line but while Hoax Arthur Wilmoth might have an inkling of the charges he knows nothing of the cost. Living alone with his crazy religious mom Lucy with her towering hair and menagerie of cats, Hoax is the social outcast, prime target for the school bullies and wishing he had some power against them.
Across the road lives his cousin Spike, everything Hoax is not, good looking, effortlessly cool, a hit with the girls, but also in debt to the same crew who make Hoax’s life hell; Spike manages to pay them off but Hoax incurs a deeper debt to the forces who run the phone service and the payment will be his soul.
His name already synonymous with horror from his starring role as Freddy Krueger in four Nightmare on Elm Street films for New Line cinema with many more to follow, 976-EVIL was the directorial debut of Robert Englund, written by Rhet Topham and Brian Helgeland and released through the same distributors in late 1988 and now presented on Blu-ray in time for Hallowe’en by Eureka both in its theatrical cut and its VHS version, extended by twelve minutes.
Stephen Geoffreys best known as the unfortunate Evil Ed in Fright Night, as Hoax he is equally sympathetic, an outsider who will never fit in, but while Patrick O’Bryan’s Spike tries to shield him from the worst of what school will inflict on him he can’t be there all the time nor will Hoax ever learn to stand up for himself, which is why he unfortunately turns to the dark arts.
Englund having spent hours in the makeup chair under the talented hands of Kevin Yagher to become Freddie it was no surprise that he was engaged to create Hoax’s demonic makeover, and in his interview Yagher talks of their friendship and Englund’s understanding of the process and possibilities of prosthetics, Hoax’s transition through the film subtle and never overwhelming the performance of Geoffreys who, even while monstrous, still remains pathetic.
With God Told Me To’s Sandy Dennis stealing scenes as the grotesque Lucy and A Joke’s Robert Picardo in a cameo as Mark Dark, the sinister operator of the phone service, 976-EVIL starts well but becomes disjointed and unfocused as the narrative increasingly takes second place to the effects, though Englund is interesting and adventurous in the placement and movement of the camera and the finale is both more surreal and spectacular than the rest of the film would have suggested.