The Halloween Top 13: The Devil Made Me Do It #11: Evilspeak (1981)
Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard) is an outcast among the cadets at the American Military Academy. An orphan, Stanley is used to spending time alone, but with no friends to speak of, unless you count the four cadets that tease him unmercifully as friends, he sinks into a very dark place. Constantly coming out on the wrong side of things, he often finds himself doing hours of punishing chores. While cleaning out the church basement, he finds a book written by Father Esteban (Richard Moll), a priest turned Satan worshiper, who details how to perform a black mass to summon forth the devil. Stanley begins to work toward getting the ingredients together for the mass, but when the four bullies kill his puppy, he throws things into high gear. Fulfilling all the requirements and feeding them into his computer, Stanley calls forth his revenge, but at what price.
Ice Cream Man and his role in his brother's film Eat My Dust, Evilspeak gives Howard a chance to play a wide emotional range. Here's a guy who plays the victim and the heavy all in one film, and even though he's planning to summon Satan to kill everyone, somehow still manages to be likable. I chalk it up to the Howard charm. While I'm on actors, let me mention a couple of others. Richard Moll (Night Court's Bull) was only in the film briefly as Father Esteban, but his image runs throughout the film leaving quite an impression. R.G. Armstrong who plays the Sarge will probably ring a bell with anyone (like me) whose seen Children of the Corn recently as playing the unhelpful gas station attendant in that film. Haywood Nelson of What's Happening? fame (he played Dwayne) shows up here as the one kid who tries to stick up for Stanley. Don Stark who plays the head bully Bubba put on a few pounds over the years and ended up the curly haired Bob Pinciotti on That 70's Show. Charles Tyner, Cool Hand Luke's prison guard, keeps the boys of the AMA in check as Colonel Kincaid, and for the oppsite end of the spectrum, Ox is played by Jim Greenleaf who played Jonathan Andrew McDorfus in that film to end all arcade films, Joysticks.
This was the first film for director Eric Weston, and though I haven't seen any of his other films (the latest being a suspiciously SyFy looking offering about shape shifting Hyenas), I somehow suspect Evilspeak may be his crowning moment. Somewhere back in time, the script had been called The Foundling by screenwriter Joseph Garofalo . Working with Weston, he tightened up the script and added the computer elements to the story. The tech elements added to the story is what makes it really stand out. With plenty of 8 bit graphics on display, Weston mined the Satanic imagery, which looked like an Arcade Game designed by Bill Graham on the brown acid, perfectly adding an extra layer of mystery. This was after all 1981. For all anyone knew, Satan could come right through a computer, and he doesn't need broadband to do it. Mixing the supernatural and the technological makes for an interesting parallel. While most of us don't know how computers work, we accept it. However, the supernatural, which like the functions of computers often are out of sight, is dismissed summarily. Having Stanley use the new technology to enhance the old magic bridges a gap between Esteban and Stanley, and predicts that yesterday's Satanic book may be tomorrow's Devilish webpage.
That bring us to the just and honorable conclusion of this edition of The Halloween Top 13: The Devil Made Me Do It. I hope you've enjoyed the past three days of films, and get ready because tomorrow starts the Terrifying top 10 and I've got some Hella great stuff waiting for you.