10/21/11

The Halloween Top 13: The Devil Made Me Do It #11: Evilspeak (1981)

I don't trust people who don't like Clint Howard. I just don't. I've tried to make amends with it, tried to find some kind of peace, but I can't. There's something inherently wrong at the moral and genetic center of any individual who dismisses Ron Howard's brother as merely a footnote in Austin Powers lore. Those people are missing something inside. Something deep and meaningful, the part of them that could enjoy Ice Cream Man, that would know that Eaglebower was the coolest person in Rock and Roll High School, and would have already seen Silent Night, Deadly Night 4... and 5. I feel terrible for those folks. Not just because they're not fully formed people, but also because they won't enjoy #11 on the Halloween Top 13: The Devil Made Me Do It because I can't go any further into this list without speaking on this Clint Howard film. In fact, I might just Evilspeak on it.


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.

Looking into Evilspeak, I felt like there was somewhere I had heard the name 'Stanley Coopersmith' before, but I couldn't place it and I didn't see any obvious references. A quick search reminded me that there was a Psychologist named Stanley Coopersmith who, in 1967, identified the link between self-esteem and frailty. As he explained it, "in children domination, rejection, and severe punishment result in lowered self-esteem. Under such conditions they have fewer experiences of love and success and tend to become generally more submissive and withdrawn (though occasionally veering to the opposite extreme of aggression and domination)" It can come as no mistake that Howard's character, a young man whose self-esteem as been so battered, bruised, and broken that he has falls into that "occasional" group Dr. Coopersmith describes in the end of the quote. His need for revenge and dominance also fits into to the mold of LeVay Satanism as well which venerates the individual above all, self indulgence by all means, and an eye for an eye when it comes down to it. Howard's Stanley is the only sympathetic character in the film (seriously there are no good guys so don't be looking for a white hat to save the day or Stanley to change his course), but he is a deeply hurt, flawed individual who makes some interesting life choices.

For my dollar, Howard has never been better. While I love 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. 


Evilspeak is a revenge fantasy. What is different about it compared to films like Thriller or Death Wish is that while we see Stanley's tormentors as total douches, it's hard to justify being killed for it. Evilspeak does not temper its message. There's no moment when Stanley realizes what he's done and tries to fix it. He completes his plan, and depending what you take from the film's coda, he took the repercussions that went with it as well. On the surface, Evilspeak is a darkly comic film about a nerd that goes off the deep end for revenge, but there's more going on here. There is so little in the film to hinder Stanley and his actions. It all comes off like the wet dream of a kid with Columbine aspirations. While the gore doesn't put me off, it did put the film on the Video Nasties list in the UK, but it could have just as well been on there for content. Evilspeak has something of a nihilistic slant about people, and upon reflection, seems much darker than when the events were playing out.

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.

Bugg Rating

2 comments:

  1. I kind of liked Evilspeak, though most of that probably did indeed come from seeing Clint Howard front and center for once. Words of caution: Hyenas is beyond horrible. I mean it's also AMAZING, but horribly so.

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  2. I can't imagine how bad Hyenas is, but I will be watching Evilspeak again. I love Clint, and I love that he gets his unimpeded revenge in this flick.

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