EVILSPEAK (1981) Blu-ray
Director: Eric Weston
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

The unrated version of Eric Weston's EVILSPEAK gets an HD upgrade in Scream Factory's special edition Blu-ray.

Shy, awkward, orphan Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard, EAT MY DUST) is seemingly the sole target of bullying at an elite military academy on the grounds of a California monastery. Although his chief tormentor Bubba (Don Stark, THAT 70'S SHOW) – who resents how "Cooperdick's" lack of athletic prowess affects their soccer games – is anything but subtle, but Coopersmith constantly finds himself taken to task over his inability to get along with others by the school's authority figures: headmaster Colonel Kincaid (Charles Tyner, COOL HAND LUKE), Reverend Jameson (Joseph Cortese, MONSIGNOR), Latin teacher Hauptman (Hamilton Camp, AMERICAN HOT WAX), coach (Claude Earl Jones, DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW), and even grizzled custodian Sarge (R.G. Armstrong, JOCKS). His only friends are the academy's sole black cadet Kowalski (Haywood Nelson, TV's WHAT'S HAPPENING!) and the cook (Lenny Montana, THE GODFATHER's Luca Brasi). Given punishment duty to clean the church cellars – starting on visitor's day since he has no one to visit him anyway – Coopersmith discovers a bricked up chamber containing the Satanic accoutrement of Father Esteban (Richard Moll, NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR) who was banished from Spain and founded the seminary with an order of monks who fled the inquisition. When his devil worship was discovered, Esteban was executed but he swore that he would return. Coopersmith uses his computer to translate Esteban's diary and discovers that it has instructions for how to conduct a black mass. The computer also allows him to communicate with the spirit of Esteban who urges him to perform the mass; and Coopersmith has plenty of incentive when Bubba and his cohorts escalate their campaign of torment beyond getting him kicked off the team to killing his pet puppy.

Although EVILSPEAK has become better known in more recent years for the gory footage that it lost for an R-rating and more complete versions overseas, it was the film's audacious plotting and the usually family-friendly Howard's performance (by turns sympathetic and over-the-top) that has the audience cheering on a climactic Satanic bloodbath – as well as some great casting choices of more mainstream character actors for a low budget horror film – that made the film something of a cult classic through the censored VHS release and television screenings (shorn of much of its "objectionable" content, it does sort of play like a seventies TV movie). The film lacks much in the way of humor (black or otherwise) apart from Camp's "camp" take on his Latin teacher character (and perhaps the seeming obliviousness of Cortese's priest), making Coopersmith's torment seem particularly unrelenting that it's easy to overlook the influence of Esteban on manipulating the actions of both his tormentors and Coopersmith's emotions and sense of isolation. While the fiery climax is full of gory gusto with pyrotechnics, levitation, split and lopped-off heads, and wild boars – more so in the unrated version here – it lacks the sense of tragedy that gives impact to CARRIE's denouement (Coopersmith achieves his retribution but loses his soul, but it turns out to be more or less an even trade here). The primitive – although impressive for the time – computer graphics and the use of computer technology in general comes a little too early for the subgenre of deadly interactive games and way too early for the supernatural stalking through social media one. On the commentary, co-writer/director Eric Weston says he was fascinated by computers but didn't know much of anything about them; but the novelty aspect actually works what with the benign use of the technology for translation gives way to supernatural contact and influence.

When the film was released in the United States, the distributors not only trimmed the its violence (1981 also saw the compromise of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, and MY BLOODY VALENTINE by the MPAA), they also shortened it by approximately ten minutes. Anchor Bay's previous DVD restored the truncated violence, but the print was in less than stellar condition and sometimes impenetrable during darker scenes. When Code Red released the film on DVD, they created a new HD master from an inter-positive element (presumably European in origin since it starts with a Warner Bros. logo) with the violence intact, and that master has also been utilized her for Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen Blu-ray. It's not spotless but it's a major improvement over the Anchor Bay in terms of color (the stained glass lighting on the students in the pews now looks bluer rather than grayish) and brightness particularly in the cellar scenes, as well as Moll's first close-up which is more impressive now that you can see some of his face beneath his cowl, as well as subsequent close-ups during his sentencing (although some shots are simply under-lit). The infernal climax also benefits from the increased resolution (the puppet boar heads don't look all that bad really) and brightness with some of the blood splatter more evident than on the darker AB transfer. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track has some atmospheric presence, but mainly impresses during the choral parts of Roger Kellaway's (THE MAFU CAGE) score - which thankfully doesn't go overboard into THE OMEN territory - and the electronic sounds underlining the computer graphic shots. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.

The Anchor Bay disc featured a commentary with director Eric Weston and actor Clint Howard while Weston goes it solo for a new track on the Code Red (moderated by Bill Olsen) carried over to this Blu-ray. Weston is proud of the film's practical effects (the make-up, puppets, as well as the in-camera mirror effects) and computer graphics, as well as the art direction of George Costello (NIGHT OF THE CREEPS) – which Weston felt was "too good" since he used expensive materials – and the credits-hogging producer (THE BEASTMASTER's Sylvio Tabet gets a presentation card as well as executive producer and producer credits in addition to shooting some second unit). He recalls that St. Anthony's Seminary in Santa Barbara needed money at the time, so they were willing to let the production shoot there with knowledge of the film's content (probably because most of the violent sequences were shot on sets rather than location). Olsen asks Weston about the original story credit for co-screenwriter Joseph Garofalo, which was actually a complete script called "The Foundling" into which Weston integrated the computer angle (Weston waxes nostalgic about the original Apple PC used in the film as well as the IBM typewriter on which the script was written), and he points out the similarities between EVILSPEAK and Frank LaLoggia's FEAR NO EVIL.

Also carried over from the Code Red DVD are interviews with actors Clint Howard (11:38), Don Stark (10:09), and Joseph Cortese (6:54) who are all proud of their work and the resulting film. Howard knew that he nailed the audition but also that his hair would be an issue, and admits to wearing a small hairpiece. Because of how the characters were scripted and the cast's seriousness about their craft, Haywood Nelson and Lenny Montana were the only actors that he was very social with on the set (he recalls Montana telling stories about working on THE GODFATHER). While he had no actual scenes with Moll, Howard recalls spending a lot of time with him since director of photography Irv Goodnoff (THE FARMER) had to use mirrors to have Howard "morph" into Moll rather than using a post-production optical. Stark recalls being serious enough about his craft to distance himself from Howard but making friends with some of the character actors he admired on the film, jokes about how he's aged and expanded since the film, his death scene, and concedes that the film is scary but some of its comic aspects are unintentional. Cortese's interview is the shortest because he's a bit fuzzy about the film (the interview precedes an anniversary screening of the film) but he recalls that his death scene was grisly but tame compared to the others, and goes on to discuss some of his other films particularly THE DEATH COLLECTOR (he doesn't mention his first studio lead WINDOWS, but it may be sore spot since Weston and Olsen mention on the commentary track that the film bombed).

Scream Factory and special features producer Aine Leicht have created two brand new extras. "Satan's Pigs and Severed Arms: The Making of Evilspeak" (27:48) – which features participation from actors Jones, Moll, Nelson, Lynn Hancock (GOODBYE CRUEL WORLD), and Loren Lester (ROCK 'N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL) – isn't so much a retrospective documentary so much as a collection of intercut interviews; but it's still nice to hear from them. Jones though the film was a terrible idea until he realized it was a comedy, but he recalls sharing a love of the theater with co-star Lester (they would act together subsequently as well as direct each other on stage). Lester recalls the methods Weston employed to get the cast appropriately scared during the cellar scenes, as well as doing his own stunts (shoving his head through a balsa wood panel repeatedly) during the boar attack . Moll – who reveals that his head was shaved for NIGHT COURT because he had auditioned for the film while working on Charles Band's METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED SYN – has vague memories of the film's content because of the similar roles he was playing during that period (including THE DUNGEONMASTER's Mestema). Nelson recalls that his show WHAT'S HAPPENING! had just been cancelled and he was scrounging up money to get a Porsche (the tires of which were flattened repeatedly on set) and to go back to school. Although he had grown up watching horror movies because his mother was an avid Bela Lugosi fan, he only knew that the movie was a "military school film" until he got on set and was given the entire script. Hancock was more nervous about doing nudity than acting in a scene with wild boards.

Also new is "Effects Speak", an interview with effects artist Allan Apone (14:36) who began under Tom Burman on John Frankenheimer's PROPHECY. EVILSPEAK was his first big job as part of Make-up Effects Labs with Doug White (BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD), Frank Carrisosa (PRINCE OF DARKNESS), and Rick Lazzarini (THE UNHOLY). He recalls how many of the effects were shot with multiple cameras because they could not afford to redo them, having to sculpt an entire body out of gelatin and apple cores so that they could show a body being consumed by the boars in its entirety, and creeping himself out while sculpting a wax effigy of Christ over a demon skeleton so that it could be revealed as it melted away during the climactic fire. The film's theatrical trailer (1:50) is also included, along with a cover featuring original U.S. poster art on the front and German and Japanese posters on the inside. (Eric Cotenas)