You might not be familiar with the term 'Z-Movie,' but if you grew up in the 90's, chances are you've seen one. They're the beyond-low-budget monstrosities that teased you from the walls of the mom-and-pop video store. Usually, the films themselves could never live up to the pictures on the videotape boxes (because this was way before your fancy 'Digital Video Discs' and 'Blu-Rays') but occasionally you'd find something truly unique. 'WEIRDO FLICKS' will clue you into some movies which 'unique' doesn't even begin to describe...
'976-EVIL' - 1988, Directed by Robert Englund
Okay, so with a budget of about 3 million, it's not exactly a 'z-movie,' but it's almost Halloween and this is (to me) a classic of the horror genre. What's more, it's directed by Robert 'Freddy Kreuger' Englund, and if that's not a reason to see a film, then I don't know what is.
Surprisingly, this is one of only two films Englund has directed. There is a (bad) sequel, which he didn't have anything to do with, so don't blame him for that. To me, that says that he's a man who knows his strengths--he's an actor, and usually sticks to it.
The other surprising thing is that, to my knowledge, he doesn't appear in this film as an actor at all, which most actor-turned-directors would probably do (Mel Gibson, I'm looking at you.) But, forget all that, because the only important thing is that this movie rules.
Hoax is a high school geek whose tough motorcycle-riding cousin Spike starts calling an automated horror-themed horoscope service. It's actually NOT automated, and is evil, which we know because it kills some guy at the beginning of the movie. Basically, you're led to believe that if you go against your Horror-scope, the evil force will destroy you. And, while Spike is a bad dude, he's not evil, so he quickly angers the evil force.
There's a sub-plot involving Hoax's deranged, religious-fanatic mother and an inheritance that she is keeping from Spike, which culminates in a miraculous fish-rain, but this is only important as it brings investigative reporter Marty into the mix.
In fact, there are quite a few things that happen for seemingly no reason at all, but it doesn't make the film seem convoluted. If anything, it just makes it stranger. And that's where Englund's strength as a director lies. It's a fine line between 'mysteriously unexplained' and 'plot hole,' but he never crosses into the latter. The film maintains a nightmarish feel, and what's a nightmare without a few weird mysteries in there?
So, while Spike refuses to submit to the evil force, his cousin Hoax is more than happy to, assuming it results in a girlfriend and a few battles won against bullies. He gets more than he bargained for, of course, and this leads to a bloody and deranged climax.
The film as a whole, though, is really not too gruesome, considering Englund's background. Perhaps he wanted to move away from the senseless decapitations of the typical 'Freddy' film and into something more dreamlike and spiritual. As it stands, the violence is pretty much relegated to the last half hour, and the rest is filled with strange twists and a bit of black comedy as well, making it perfect for that one person in your group of friends who can't handle the 'hard stuff.'
Probably one of my all-time favorite horror films, and I seem to always bring it out and re-watch it this time of year. Best viewed on a 20-year-old smeary VHS tape, but this will do.
VHS photo by Toby Hudson.