976-EVIL (1988) Retrospective


Cousins Lenard aka Spike (Patrick O’Bryan) and Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys) are teenagers who live with Hoax’s overtly religious mother Lucy (Sandy Dennis). While Spike is the neighborhood motorcycle bad boy, Hoax is an introverted nerd. Even though Spike genuinely cares for his cousin and protects him from bullies, Hoax is filled with resentment that he cannot stand up for himself or get the girl he wants (both of which Spike does effortlessly).


Both boys stumble upon 976-EVIL, which on the surface is just a novelty phone line that gives creepy-themed fortunes for a few dollars. However, the line is actually used by Satan to subtly corrupt mortals into his bidding. Spike loses interest in the line quickly, but Hoax soon discovers the true nature of the line and uses it to get revenge on everyone who has wronged him.


Soon Hoax’s spirit is almost entirely consumed by Satan, who possesses Hoax to cause death and destruction, culminating in an opening to Hell appearing before their house. Spike confronts Hoax, but is quickly overpowered. In a desperate last ploy, he calls earnestly to his cousin, reminding him of the plans they had to take a vacation that summer.


Hoax’s fleeting soul resurfaces briefly, and realizes his horrible mistake and embraces Spike, begging for help. Spike, realizing Hoax is lost and cannot be separated from the demonic presence, betrays his cousin and throws him into the pit of Hell.



Robert Englund proves to be a very knowledgeable connoisseur of film and literature; a charming, articulate storyteller; a well-versed, seasoned actor; and an enthusiastic, maybe even inspired, director of feature films. “People have been telling me for years that I should be a writer or a director, Englund says. “I directed early on stage, directed Shakespeare, and have been in dozens of feature films, TV movies and TV series. When I sit down and talk ‘real with journalists, I think they like it that I’m not Freddy. I’ve played Southerners, rednecks, best friends, schtick comedy. When you’re acting, unless you’re on stage, they can always cut away from you, but when I’m directing, I’m the one who’s controlling the cut.” Englund is quick to point out, though, “There are grand compromises made day-to-day, but there are also times when I do get my way for hours, for days at a time. I’m filling my frame instead of being the person who fills somebody else’s frame.”

Right now, Englund is hyper enthusiastic about the job at hand, that of directing 976-EVIL to the best of his ability. He explains, “This whole story is scary, creepy. I’m trying to permeate the story with evil, a flirtation with evil. Remember a couple of years ago how the punks were all wearing Nazi symbols and didn’t know what they meant? Ever notice now, all these girls wearing Day of the Dead skulls and crucifixes hanging from their earrings? You’ll see it all the time in the movie. These victims, maybe they just flirted with sacrilege and the abuse of religion, accidental or otherwise.”

Shot in and around Los Angeles for a few million dollars,” this Horrorscope, Inc. production will hopefully attract other offers for our revered dream killer-turned-director. He proudly proclaims. “I have my foot in the door as far as monster history goes, and the genre’s been very good to me.”


Englund describes the personality traits and quirks that he’s after as average American. “You don’t find this in New York; it’s way too trendy or just desperate. You don’t find it in LA, but you do find it in Stockton, Seattle, and in Chicago. The look is a romanticized wrong side of the tracks, a little bit timeless, even though the movie’s contemporary. I could almost say, ‘Once upon a time.’ Originally, they wanted me to have the movie end with the devil going into the phone lines of America. Oh, no! It’s not a movie about the 976 numbers, it’s about one kid’s envy of his fabulous James Dean cousin and how evil manifests itself in that thwarted, adolescent mind.

“I want 976-EVIL to be very American,” he goes on, “a sort of remnant of realist painter Edward Hopper’s world, a romanticized ‘wrong side of the tracks.’ a place that is sort of funky with a little ZAP Comix kind of charm. It’s not that bogus stuff you’ve seen in Flashdance. Essentially, it’s a nasty, profane, evil little movie. It’s X. It goes almost to the Grand Guignol level.”

“So there’s a little bit of understanding in this town that Robert Englund knows his way round a set,” he grins. There was no trade-off with the production people, no deal wherein Englund would agree to appear in Nightmare on Elm Street 4 in exchange for a choice shot at directing another feature. “That had nothing to do with 976-EVIL. I did know the writer. Rhet Topham, but I just went in and pitched my head off to producer Lisa Hansen and executive producer Paul Hertzberg. I vomited my ideas all over them and they got excited.”

“I hope what people watch for in this movie is the story I’m telling and how I’ve handled the actors. I take credit for the chemistry. If I was a casting director. I’d put myself in the top 10. I love actors; I’ve acted with ’em all. I starred with Henry Fonda! I love good character actors like John Cazale, R.G. Armstrong and Strother Martin.”

So it comes as no surprise when Englund, asked about the pros and cons of his new job, replies to the former. “My favorite part is casting,” he explains predictably. “and riding on the crane.” On the down side: “Having to cut scenes, compromise on the coverage and eat the crafts service food.” But he maintains his own unique personal vision when it comes to filmmaking. “Got it somewhere in college, between literature, James Joyce, William Carlos Williams and a little partying. I’ve learned to trust the unedited thought. It’s weird; there’s a certain stream of consciousness in my world view, the imagery and stuff. Even if I did a film like Pom Pom Girls Eat Douche, I’d still have a vision.

Englund returns to his directorial chores as Stephen Geoffreys circles and paces around, stretching, bending, and shaking his arms, preparing For the scene in the bedroom when he finds the aforementioned panties, still warm and smokin’ from dancing the horizontal bop with cousin Spike. Geoffreys , says of Englund, “He’s definitely on top of things with this movie. He knows the style of this type of film, and I have a lot of trust in him. I love working with directors who’ve been actors themselves; they have a sensitivity to what you’re doing. They know what you’re going through.”

Geoffreys runs through the scene several times, receiving his thump on the head, and getting chased from the room by Spike over and over. Your reporter’s mind and body begin to wander away after the fifth or sixth such take and we cruise next door where they’re setting up the scene for the impalement of Airhead atop the El Diablo Theater.


Enter in the Magic of Movies-special visual FX division, Actually, this stunt is being filmed using the Introvision process, a highly sophisticated, ingenious method of front projection that employs beam splitters, counter mattes and an enormous Scotchlite screen. Suffice to say, when one looks through the camera, the entire composite picture is there: the theater, the pulsing lights, the impalee and the neon pitchfork. The process has shown up in numerous spectacular TV commercials and has been nominated for an Emmy Award for its impressive showcasing in ABC Circle Films’ Inside the Third Reich. Director Englund asserts that he’s not intimidated by the elaborate Introvision set-ups, but does disclose, “I’ve got a guy working for me, holding my hand, who talks the talk So I understand how that stuff works.”

The actual miniature of the El Diablo Theater, a beautifully detailed model about 4-feet-long and 2-feet-high, with blinking neon and marquee proclaiming, “Continuous Horror Marathon-All Seats $1.99.”

“I also wanted to avoid any comparison with the Piper Laurie/Sissy Spacek home in Carrie, Englund nods. “So the abuse of religion that Aunt Lacy (Sandy Dennis) has in my movie is a much more Jim and Tammy abuse of religion, a famous millionaire religious media huckster Rev. Schuller’s gift shop gone mad. I wanted to dismiss the wonderful fetish kind of stuff that was in the Piper Laurie home, Angel Heart, or even in The Believers. Of course, they all had $20 million more than I had. But I wanted all the religious kitsch’ I could find, as opposed to all the serious icons and paraphernalia.

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The man in charge of the special makeup FX, 25-year-old whiz kid and Freddy makeup master Kevin Yagher. When queried about the appeal of 976-EVIL, Yagher simply replies, “Robert Englund, that’s what. Robert and I are pretty good friends by now, having been fused at the hip for two years. He asked me to do the effects for him on this film. He knows everything about makeup: the contact lenses, how long it takes to apply makeup. He really understands what goes into it.”

When asked to catalog the effects called for in this movie, Yagher replies, “We’ve done some dummies of Sandy Dennis and Sergeant Bell, the guy who’s frozen into this ledge, as well as an animated hand that grows claws and some demon toes sprouting out of shoes. I always try to outdo what I’ve already done, keep improving the art. I’ll always add something to make it more realistic. I punch hair in all the hands and arms and use a lot of gelatin or hot-pour vinyl, because skin has a more translucent quality.”

This self-taught artist has been out West only four years and easily recalls being “a kid in Ohio, dreaming about going out to California. Since then, I’ve been real, real lucky.” After abandoning a fledgling Halloween mask business back home, he chuckles, “It only lasted one season, but everyone in this business started off as a fan. Now, I’m married to it.”

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Yagher continues with some behind-the-scenes insight into preparing a body dummy for its demise at the hands…er, paws, of a bunch of possessed killer pussycats who do much more than just bite the hand that feeds them. They eat it and everything else from the wrist to the neck and then back down to the feet. Sandy Dennis plays crazy ol’ Aunt Lucy, a rabid fundamentalist bible-thumper who becomes the “chow-chow-chow” in question. “We had to stuff all these bits of tuna fish into these gaping holes in the body I’d done and stick one of the cats inside the body. It didn’t like that too much, the blood all over it and everything. So we had these cats chewing this tuna and latex and snapping it back, a real sickening sight.”

The rest of the tasteful, restrained FX include two freshly torn out hearts still pumping away while clutched in taloned hands, massive spider attacks, dismembered arms and a ripped-off lower jaw. Yagher clearly appreciates the understanding a director like Englund provides in an FX-oriented picture. “Jeez,” Yagher shrugs in an exasperated tone, “you’ll work for some directors and get to the set at 6:00 a.m. and work until 10 or 11 on makeup. Then they shoot it late at night, and finally, when it’s falling off after all that, the last shot they do is the close-up. Always, always, always!

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Stephen Geoffreys, who’s sporting some recently applied prosthetics that give him a decidedly mutant chipmunk” look. “I get involved with calling the devil, right?” Geoffreys says. “And it becomes like this drug that overcomes me. So it’s basically two different characters that I’m playing. I go from being a normal kid to being totally possessed to being this other thing. There are four different stages I go through, getting worse and worse as the makeup gets thicker and thicker.”

When asked about the attraction that 976-EVIL held for him, he is quick to point out. “With any play or movie I do, I like to get really excited about what the character has to do in it. what happens to him and his life. My character Hoax Wilmoth goes through so much in such a variety of situations. There’s this devil I get hooked up to, who gets into the phone system through this Weed that’s growing to hell,” enthuses Geoffreys.

Geoffreys is obviously pleased with his choice of film roles and praises director Robert Englund. “Having done the three Nightmare on Elm Street movies, he knows the style of these films,” the actor affirms. “I have a lot of trust in him, and I respect his directing. Geoffrey’s acknowledges that he especially enjoys working with directors who have been actors themselves, claiming they have a certain sensitivity: they’ve been there.”

Another fact that emerges during the day’s shoot watching Geoffrey’s prepare for a scene in which he confronts his cousin Spike is that he is a very physical actor. He spends minutes limbering up, bending, stretching, shaking his arms and pacing about. He later admits, “As an actor, you’ve got to use your entire body, to let the people know what’s going on. In real life, you don’t walk around, pretending there’s a camera angle from just your chest up.”

As his satanic possession progresses, Geoffrey’s must wear various latex appliances on his face and emphatically adds, “This makeup is not like a mask. It’s very thin, so there’s a lot of things I can do with it. In fact, the way it’s designed, it adds to the character. It really makes sense, and it doesn’t hold me back at all.”

At the height of his demonic possession, Geoffrey’s sprouts fangs and talons and gets down and dirty with jokers like Marcus, Airhead and Rags: with noxious nicknames like that, you can be sure they’re getting just what they deserve. Of course, ultimately, Hoax must pay the price for his pact with Ol’ Scratch. Nothing ever comes easy. and there are no free lunches. And don’t worry, he’s not laughing now or ever more.

Before he is swallowed up in that black, fiery chasm of the nether world, Geoffreys has a few last words. “I just love to act: that’s all I ever want to do.” Geoffreys sighs. “Just keep on doing what I’m doing. whether it’s films or plays or musical comedies. Doing films and theater is a great balance.” His Tony Award nomination for The Human Comedy should help him keep that balance.

A few hours later, Geoffreys is back in the makeup trailer, having his third-stage prosthetics touched up by Kevin Yagher’s crew, as this reporter prepares to pack it in for the day. Upon leaving the set, one could almost swear he hears an eruption of flushed, convulsive gig. gling, erupting in staccato bursts of demented glee, echoing down the halls behind him. A quick turn of the head reveals nothing. He who laughs last, indeed.

“I’ve sort of had a re-interest in the horror genre,” Englund admits. “Hanging out with Kevin Yagher and his effects crew, hearing their tastes again and respecting them, and wanting to know how to answer people at conventions, talking to the fans about what they like have an affinity for the genre, sure, but it’s a ‘Johnny-Come-Lately’ kind of thing.”


Then Robert Englund gets himself a busman’s holiday, he sees films like Room With a View, Barfly or “gems” like Get Carter, Morgan, or Bertolucci’s 1900. More revelations follow as Englund fesses up. “A movie like Tender Mercies is much more up my alley than the one I’m directing. Not that I wouldn’t want Terminator or ALIENS on a desert isle. I would!”

Englund would like audiences to go with the flow of his “nasty, evil, profane little movie and assess his directorial skills on how he handles the story and his actors. Directing a film hasn’t been a cakewalk, but England’s used to the long, grueling days. “Director Chuck Russell got me back into macho hours after being spoiled in television. I never worked so hard in my life. I don’t mind the hours. I can handle it, though I do feel guilty pushing my crew.”

He also divulges, “This whole movie’s been surreal. My first day was spent shooting in a men’s room, with urinals, toilets, smoke, effects, graffiti, toxic paint, and all the farts that were mustered during the day. We were in there for 15 hours. Then, for later sequences, I’m on a ladder throwing dead fish at Sandy Dennis one night. Yesterday, I spent all day in a room watching my leading man and leading lady make love.”

Robert Englund appears confident that horror fans everywhere will find lots to like in 976-EVIL.  “You still get your scares, you get your gore, your amputations. It’s an evil, nasty story. I want the audience to be a little disturbed by it.”

When asked about the future, Englund confesses, with voice cracking, “I’m tired. I wish we could take just one day off.  Once this is completed and after I complete Nightmare 4, I hope to develop something as either an actor or director. I’d like to see a detective horror story, like the Blue Dahlia done really grisly, really out-of hand, Jack the Ripper type stuff. You should hear homicide detectives over drinks. Their stuff makes horror films seem like Ding Dong School.”

Directed by
Robert Englund

Produced by
Lisa M. Hansen
Paul Hertzberg

Written by
Rhet Topham
Brian Helgeland

Stephen Geoffreys
Jim Metzler
Maria Rubell
Pat O’Bryan
Sandy Dennis

Special Effects
Kevin Yagher Production
Kevin Yagher
Robert Kurtzman
Howard Berger



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