Thursday, January 06, 2011

He's A Big Boy Now

EVILSPEAK, an independent CARRIE-inspired thriller set in a military academy, is perhaps best known for starring the ubiquitous Clint Howard. The juvenile star of the GENTLE BEN television series (which I faithfully watched in reruns every morning before grade school) and brother of Ron Howard, Clint followed up his iconic role as fast-talking scrounger Eaglebauer in New World's ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL with EVILSPEAK, in which he plays a very un-Eaglebauer loser.

Clint is Stanley Coopersmith, imaginatively dubbed Cooperdick by the bullies on his soccer team, an orphan who was placed in a military school after the death of his parents in an accident. Co-writer/director Eric Weston (HYENAS) goes to great lengths to establish Stanley as a real putz. He's clumsy, overweight, and tardy. Not only do the kids tease him, push him around, and pull his pants down (!), but so do the adults, including the soccer coach (Claude Earl Jones) who tries to get him kicked off the team, the colonel/principal (Charles Tyner) who spanks him, and even the reverend (Joseph Cortese) who doesn't punish the kids who steal Stanley's hat.

So when Cooperdick...uh, I mean, Coopersmith...finds in the chapel's (unusually huge) cellar a creepy old book of Satanic chants written by an exiled 14th-century Spanish monk—played by NIGHT COURT's Richard Moll, no less—you just know that black magic is going to contribute to his classmates' untimely demises. A sexy, naked blonde taking a shower is eaten by wild boar (!), a boy is set on fire, another has his heart ripped out, and—yes, indeed—heads do roll. Lots of them—perhaps the film's wittiest moment is a shock cut between a topless woman's decapitated head rolling off her shoulders and a soccer ball kicked through the air.

The trouble with EVILSPEAK is that the payoff is a long time coming. While the mayhem is definitely worth the wait, it takes about 75 minutes to get there, as Weston and Howard establish over and over again what a schlub Coopersmith is and how nasty his tormenters are. It's fun to watch, especially the drunken stylings of perpetual redneck R.G. Armstrong ("Cocksuckers!"), but more of a body count up front would have helped. Best of all, EVILSPEAK is a nice showcase for Clint Howard, who maybe never escaped the shadow of his older brother Ron (who was still on HAPPY DAYS at the time), but, then again, Ron never received a Lifetime Achievement honor on the MTV Movie Awards.

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