Evilspeak Blu-ray Review (originally published 2014)
Life sucks for Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard), a teenage outcast who's bullied by everybody at the strict military academy he was sent to after his parents died. But when Stanley discovers the crypt of a 16th Century Satanist beneath the school's chapel, he creates a computerized Black Mass that unleashes unholy revenge upon his tormentors. Now, all Hell is breaking loose...and Stanley's flesh eating demon pigs are only the beginning! (From Scream Factory’s original synopsis)
The lasting failure of the Video Recordings Act of 1984 is that so many of titles that made the British Board of Film Censors’ (BBFC) original list of banned films would have dissolved into complete obscurity had they not been included. The banned status helped micro-budget obscurities, like Matt Cimber’s The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976), James Kenelm Clarke’s House on Straw Hill (aka: Exposé, 1976), and Robert A. Endelson’s Fight For Your Life (aka: I Hate Your Guts, 1977), to earn faithful cult followings that eventually led to remastered DVDs and Blu-rays. Eric Weston’s Evilspeak (aka: The Computer Murders, 1981) is a slightly different case of the same phenomenon. It had a strange enough concept, a wide enough initial release, and was easy enough to find on VHS to find its way onto an elite horror fans’ radars, but, without the BBFC’s attention, its small following probably wouldn’t have been enough incentive for cult DVD labels to seek out new prints and the original footage that was cut for the US release’s R-rating.
Evilspeak’s banned and cut status helped build it a reputation as something of a gore-fest. Viewers that are strictly in search of sequences of unrelenting violence may be a tad disappointed by the stretches between wetness – most of the meaty stuff is relegated to the climax, which is an admittedly amusing, hyper-bloody, bargain-basement version of the prom attack from Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976). Icky bits include a crucifix nail to the skull, a couple of meaty cleaves with a broadsword, a heart ripped from a victim’s chest while still beating, and a few scenes where possessed pigs attack people and (briefly) eat their intestines. Those that don’t demand wall-to-wall viscera will find plenty to love about this lunatic blend of recycled Carrie tropes, collegiate slasher and possession movie clichés, and kitschy representations of outdated computer technology. Weston’s talents lie more in his concepts than his execution as a writer/director, but he’s technically proficient enough that the cavalcade of bizarre shit rarely grows stale. He’s smart enough to keep the train rolling though the filler. There aren’t any convoluted explanations for possessed computers or satanic swine, such nonsense is all taken for granted and presented as-is. Weston is also pretty efficient when it comes to establishing the human drama component – the supporting cast either mercilessly taunts and tortures Stanley or they impotently protest, only to be dragged into his torment. And the things the villains do aren’t exactly subtle offenses. Carrie White is humiliated in front of the entire student body, sure, but no one murders her adopted puppy.
As you might expect, there have been a number of different cuts of Evilspeak available over the years. The original US release was trimmed by about 20 seconds to avoid an X rating and the BBFC initially forced 3:34 of cuts. With the edits reinstated, the film is about 92 minutes (see the differences here) and that is the version Scream Factory has included on this Blu-ray release. The longest possible version is a 103-minute extended cut, but this was a rough cut that doesn’t include any additional gore – just trims Weston made for pacing purposes. Anchor Bay’s two-disc UK DVD release includes both the uncut version and a composite of the extended version that runs about 99 minutes (see the differences here). Because the filmmaker intended those cuts, viewers shouldn’t mistake the extended cut for a director’s cut.
Scream Factory splits its Blu-ray releases between in-house restorations and transfers acquired from the companies they lease the titles from. In many cases, these outsourced transfers are supplied by major studios, but there are some instances of smaller company input, like when they reused Odeon Entertainment’s Witchfinder General transfer. This Evilspeak disc, along with their same-day release of Jimmy Huston’s Final Exam (1981), marked Scream Factory’s first and only partnership with Code Red. Code Red fully restored the film from newly-discovered 35mm inter-positive vault sources – as opposed to the Anchor Bay releases, which Code Red’s website claims were sourced from a reconstructed 35mm release print. Scream Factory’s press materials also claim that Weston himself supervised and approved this 1.85:1 transfer. The image quality is a tiny step down from Scream & Code Red’s, including more print damage, artifacts (I even caught a couple of cigarette burns), and grittier, discolored grain, but it is still a substantial step up from AB’s DVD, especially because it features none of that release’s compression artifacts (I haven’t actually seen Code Red’s DVD version). The flickering white artifacts persist throughout the entire film, but the dirtier bits are mostly relegated to the opening flashback, which was shot using smoky filters to create a dreamy atmosphere. Once the photography becomes more regulated, the image clears up and the grain normalizes quite a bit. Details are relatively sharp, limited only by softer focus that leaves some background textures a bit smudged. The colors are nice and vibrant in the more brightly-lit shots, including some really punchy reds and greens that appeared blocky on previous releases. Irv Goodnoff’s photography during the more horror-laced material is pretty dark, leading to some murky browns and blacks, but the warm (sometimes even neon) highlights remain pretty crisp and vivid.
Like Code Red’s DVD, this Blu-ray features only the film’s original mono soundtrack, not the 5.1 remixes that showed up on Anchor Bay’s DVDs. This is a-okay by me, because the remix was awkward and over-processed, anyway (assuming my memory is serving me correctly). Unlike Code Red’s disc, however, this mono track is presented in lossless, DTS-HD Master Audio. The sound quality is practically perfect, considering the source. There are slight issues with volume discrepancies between dialogue-heavy scenes and louder effects & music-heavy scenes that might leave some viewers stumbling for the remote, but the overall clarity is consistent. The single channel treatment doesn’t entirely limit the aural depth, either. The satanically-tinged, effects-heavy moments are the loudest and busiest bits, but the mix also includes a handful of more subtlety layered moments, like a crowded skating rink and a couple of sequences depicting busy campus life. Some of the incidental effects (footsteps on sandy floors, for example) are a bit crackly, but, unlike the Final Exam disc, there isn’t any distortion of aspirated consonants. Roger Kellaway’s operatic score is particularly charming, both in regards to its quality and its (perhaps unintentional) satire of Jerry Goldsmith’s Omen themes. The music is the track’s loudest and most well-maintained element.
Commentary with Eric Weston – Code Red head Bill Olson acts as moderator/interviewer, ushering the producer/writer/director through the film’s low-budget production. Weston’s hearing isn’t so great these days and he has a little trouble recalling all the names (kind of frustrating, I’m not going to lie), but, for the most part, his memories of the filmmaking process are sharp, including tales of on-set antics and memories of the arduous censorship issues. A little too much time is spent complaining about modern films and their newfangled computer graphics, and Weston runs out of steam about halfway through, but the anecdotal content isn’t particularly repetitive.
Satan’s Pigs and Severed Heads: The Making of Evilspeak (27:50, HD) – A new retrospective featurette that includes new interviews with actors Richard Moll, Claude Earl Jones, Haywood Nelson, Loren Lester and Lynn Hancock. The interviewees recall anecdotes about the film’s unique production.
Effects Speak with Allan A. Apone (14:40, HD) – A look at the film’s make-up/gore effects with the guy in charge of them.
Cast interviews from the Anchor Bay release (including footage from their not so great looking DVD release, plus PAL speedup problems): Clint Howard (11:40, SD), Joseph Cortese (7:00, SD), Don Stark (10:10, SD)
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Full-sized versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab. Note that there will be some JPG compression.