Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars in director Amma Asante's period drama, which is based on the true story of Georgian Britain's first mixed-race aristocrat, Dido Belle.
On Film4: 23 Jan 9:00PM
Satan! Killer pigs! Evil computers! Gloriously over-the-top video nasty from 1981 depicting the bloody revenge a bullied nerd inflicts on his tormentors
If this deliriously silly farce hadn't been subject to such stringent cutting by the BBFC and had managed to avoid the early 1980s video nasty fury, it would probably only have survived among the most ardent fans of so-bad-it's-good horror. As it is, Evilspeak is something of a cultural artefact and future generations will be watching it for years to come, fascinated that something so daft could possibly have caused such outrage, and no doubt thoroughly enjoying its crazy excesses too.
The opening few minutes actually approach classy, with robed monks talking in sub-titled Spanish, moodily lit by a cold grey sea. A human sacrifice and an inventive cut (a decapitated head is exchanged for a football) later, however, and we're safely into the realms of low budget absurdity.
The action follows the hapless Coopersmith (Howard) who's struggling through a military academy, bullied by staff and pupils alike and unable to get through a day without facing some kind of painful crisis. Coopersmith's life becomes considerably more interesting when he's told to clean out the cellar of the school's chapel where he comes across a foetus in a bottle, a book full of pentagrams and some bizarre Latin text about someone called "Satanus."
It turns out that this leather-bound tome is the guidebook left by Esteban, the evil monk we saw carrying out a sacrifice at the start of the film. When Coopersmith starts inputting the text into his incredibly basic-looking computer, the machine becomes possessed by the Devil and Coopersmith is on the way to exacting a blood-drenched, Carrie -style revenge on his enemies.
Before, this final showdown however, there are only two big death scenes. These are unique, one involving a singularly unconvincing dummy and a brutal head twist, the other the unforgettable bathtub-based attack of a killer pig. They're effective, but otherwise the first 70 minutes drag.
For a film best known for its high blood and guts content, much of Evilspeak is actually slow and ponderous. Nevertheless, some credible acting from Clint Howard (who has been bit part player in more than 100 feature films and is the younger brother of Ron) helps maintain interest, as does a funny script that makes the most of the rogues' gallery of sadistic teachers, and a clergyman who can tell a group of football jocks in all sincerity that "nobody pulls anything over on the head referee in the big game".
All this is forgotten once the bullies push Coopersmith too far and things really kick off. It's a mad action frenzy, brilliantly heralded by a crazy speech Coopersmith delivers to a murdered puppy. ("We were a great team!" he screams at the furry corpse. ") Soon Coopersmith is floating through the air wielding a giant sword, there are explosions everywhere and buckets of dripping red offal.
None of it seems particularly shocking nowadays, but the cartoonish energy with which the gore-fest is carried out can only be marvelled at. It's not worth banning but it's certainly fun to watch. We can only thank the puritans and censorship lobby for ensuring that such a gem won't be overlooked.
It may fall into the guilty pleasures category, having hardly any other artistic virtues than the director's reckless enthusiasm for throwing around bits of meat, but that doesn't mean that Evilspeak isn't worth watching. It's splendid - and probably harmless - fun.
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