Written by Brian Helgeland and Rhet Topham, 976-Evil is of interest to horror fans because it's the directorial debut of one Mr. Robert Englund. Yes, the one and only Freddy Krueger tries his razor-fingered hand at the horror movie game and shows that he's been learning more than just how to wisecrack and slash teens while hanging around on the set of numerous horror movies.
About 10 years ago I knew a woman who went through some personal upheaval and was distraught after her partner walked out on her. I used to visit and try to provide comforting words, all the while knowing how hollow and worthless they seemed. And the worst thing was that this poor woman wasted a LOT of money ringing up a certain "psychic hotline". I've never had much time for anyone who claims to have such powers in a way that can make them money, I think these people are manipulative opportunists (as opposed to anyone who believes that they have a certain gift and remains content to simply help others on occasion). So it was hard for me to sit there and listen to the nonsense that I was being told was "spookily accurate" when I could tell, from my unattached and unemotional viewpoint, that it was all bullshit. I could see just how much was wrong, how much was being interpreted by a desperate woman who wanted some answers to something she couldn't understand and how much was something anyone could say in a general statement to almost anyone on the end of a phone. Why tell you all of this? It's not a nice memory and there may be others reading this who have gone through the same thing. I don't mean to offend. I offer this up now because as well as being a standard horror movie, 976-Evil deliberately uses the murky, money-grabbing world of premium phone lines as a major stepping stone en route to a personal hell.
Young Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys) is a weak, bullied boy. He looks up to his cousin, Spike (Patrick O'Bryan), but also resents the fact that he seems to be the constant victim. Whether he's being given a kindly brush-off by Spike or having his head dunked in the toilet bowl, schooldays aren't exactly overflowing with happy memories for Hoax. So when he finds a card encouraging him to dial 976-Evil and find out his particular horror-scope he makes the call and follows the advice given to him. This advice works out well so he keeps using the service, eventually becoming consumed with a greed for the potential power to lash out and everyone who ever made his life miserable.
Starting off a bit unsure of itself, 976-Evil eventually builds into a pretty enjoyable horror film that rises above the small budget and has a bit of fun with the central concept. There aren't any huge set-pieces that will linger in the memory but there is a nice growing atmosphere of unease and danger as Hoax becomes more enamoured of the telephone service (think of young Arnie in Christine and you get the idea).
The cast are a mixed bag but Stephen Geoffreys is very good as Hoax, Sandy Dennis is entertainingly overbearing as Aunt Lucy and Patrick O'Bryan is acceptable enough. Lezlie Deane (who would go on to appear in an episode of Freddy's Nightmares and also the incorrectly-titled Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare) certainly has some screen presence and there's a small role for the superb Robert Picardo. Jim Metzler and Maria Rubell may be rather bland but their characters help to dig up information around the sidelines just fine.
It's certainly not up there with the best low-budget, independent horrors but it's an enjoyable enough way to pass the time and shows that Robert Englund can do almost as well behind the camera as he does in front of it.