Release Date(s)1989 (October 3, 2017)
Studio(s)New Line Cinema/Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C
One of the only directorial efforts from Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, 976-Evil was released by New Line Cinema in March of 1989 to a poor reception from critics and a disappointing box office take. Acquiring the home video rights for the film was Columbia Pictures, who released the film on VHS and Laserdisc in an extended version. Thanks to this and repeated cable airings, the film managed to garner a small cult following. It was also followed up with a direct-to-video sequel three years later, but without the involvement of any of the original cast or crew (outside of the producers).
In this late 80s horror fest, a pair of teenage cousins, one a motorcycle-riding bad boy named Spike (Patrick O’Bryan), and the other a repressed geek named Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys) discover a seemingly harmless phone number which gives its callers their “horroscope” for the day whenever they call. However, it turns out to be a direct line to Satan himself, who influences his callers into doing reprehensible things, eventually leading to murder and mayhem. Investigating who is behind this hotline to Hell is a supposed private investigator (Jim Metzler), who follows around Spike and his girlfriend (Lezlie Deane), while also checking in with the local high school principal (María Rubell). Hoax, who is being horribly mistreatment by everybody, including school bullies and his overbearing mother Lucy (Sandy Dennis), decides to get back at his aggressors, but with the power of Satan as his means of spreading death and destruction.
Color me surprised at Sony Home Entertainment’s decision to not just release a Blu-ray of 976-Evil, but to give a little extra special treatment. That is, if you buy the first run of this title, you’ll also get a nice slipcase replicating the film’s VHS release artwork, right down to the vintage Columbia Pictures Home Video logo along the spine. A nice touch for collectors, to say the least. As for the film’s A/V quality, Sony does their usual great job at delivering a satisfying presentation. This may have been a very low budget film, but the transfer featured on this release is quite good. Grain is handled well and detail, although a bit soft in places, particularly during some of the film’s optical effects, is still impressive. From the plastic coverings on the furniture in Hoax’s home to the graffiti that litters the bathroom walls at his high school, everything is well-defined. The film’s color palette isn’t that aggressive, aside from red for obvious reasons, but hues never look faded. Skin tones are much of the same. Black levels are relatively stable, which is a good thing as a lot of the film takes place at night or in dimmer lighting situations. Overall contrast and brightness is satisfactory as well. It’s also a stable presentation with very little leftover film damage aside from some speckling and possibly a few minor compression artifacts.
For the audio, several options are available: English 5.1 DTS-HD, English 2.0 DTS-HD, and French, German, and Spanish 1.0 DTS-HD. I personally found the 2.0 track to be more apt for the presentation at hand, but the 5.1 certainly has enough to offer in the surround department to warrant a listen. Dialogue is clean and clear on both tracks and there’s some directionality to be had, particularly with multiple channels. Sound effects aren’t abundantly potent, but some low end activity is occasionally present during the film’s more explosive moments. I found the music and score elements slightly anemic as they’re mostly front speaker-oriented, but overall, there wasn’t much worth nitpicking about on either track. And for those who might need them, several subtitle options are included in English SDH, Chinese Traditional, French, German, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish.
The extras are brief but welcome. Included is the aforementioned alternate home video version of the film, which is presented full frame from what looks to be a high quality VHS source. This version of the film runs about 12 minutes longer than the theatrical version. There’s no added gore or nudity as most of the extra footage takes place at the beginning, including further establishing shots of the diner and movie theater, more of the raining fish scene, a scene of Hoax visiting the principal, more of Marty visiting Lucy including an additional scene between he and Hoax, and Spike catching Hoax snooping around in his room. Other numerous little scene extensions can also be found here and there, but curiously, the scene of the lady being harassed by the 976-Evil hotline and getting a face full of broken glass isn’t present in this version. Getting back to the theatrical cut, there’s also a new audio commentary with director Robert Englund and his set decorator/wife Nancy Booth Englund, as well as a paper insert with a Digital HD/Ultraviolet code.
976-Evil, at least to me, is more of curiosity to long-time Robert Englund fans and Nightmare on Elm Street fans than it is to the horror community at large. It offers some shock value and gives you a character to simultaneously root for and despise at the same time, but it’s certainly not an all-time classic. That said, I’m thrilled to have it on Blu-ray in such fine quality, and I hope that this is just a taste of what’s to come from Sony on Blu-ray – if indeed, they are planning on releasing more horror films from their back catalogue. Ahem, Candyman, ahem.
- Tim Salmons