Clint Howard just doesn’t get enough credit. I had almost forgotten how far back his horror career actually goes. When the Comet Channel started showing Night Gallery episodes, I found one he did one titled “The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes.” He shows up in the most unlikely of places, like as a scientist/drug dealer in Ticks (1993). He has a really unique dichotomy about his career in that he can be Ron Howard’s brother, but he can also be Ricky in Silent Night, Deadly Night 4. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and is very much a working actor. I dig him for that.
One of the most unique films he has ever done was released across the US 40 years ago on August 22, 1981. Directed by debut filmmaker Eric Weston (The Iron Triangle 1989) and co-written by Weston and Joseph Garofalo (Shaker Run 1985), Evilspeak had not only a very young Clint Howard in it. The film also blended two of the most wicked things ever conceived: The Devil and early computers. Evilspeak debuted during the ebb of Satanic Panic, but also at the dawn of the personal computer revolution. It made the cut for the infamous Video Nasty list because of gore, but it’s also a very dark film.
Clint Howard plays Stanley Coopersmith, a cadet at a prestigious military academy that just doesn’t seem to fit in. He’s awkward, and no matter how he tries, he just can’t catch a break. Every day is some sort of fresh hell as he catches grief from both his fellow douchebag cadets and the overbearing faculty that seems oblivious to how much he’s picked on. When he gets the punishment of cleaning up in the bowels of the chapel basement, he finds an old book of incantations.
The book belonged to a 16th century Satanic priest named Esteban, played by a pre-Night Court Richard Moll. He was excommunicated and vowed that he would return with all the powers of darkness. Stanley uses a very early Apple II to start translating the Latin text. He soon discovers that when the translation appears on the screen in that early 80s computer green font that he’s found a book of rituals and spells.
He’s the most unlikely person to find it, and it’s a slow burn as he contemplates what to do with this potential newfound power. He uses the computer to figure out the ingredients to perform a Black Mass, but still seems to be nice guy getting kicked around. Stanley even defends his tormentors when they shove him around and throw his hat out the window by keeping quiet when the chaplain asks what happened. His only friend is fellow square peg, Kowalski, who is played interestingly enough by Haywood Nelson, Dwayne from What’s Happening!! He also gets some kindness from the cook in the cafeteria who gives him a runt puppy that he names Fred.
After he is pushed to the breaking point when they do some horrible things to him and his dog, he gives in to the dark power to get an unholy vindication.
I watched Evilspeak on Shudder, and it looks fantastic. All the dated tech with the old computers adds nostalgic charm, and the practical effects during the finale are impressive for a low budget film. I don’t know what motivated the casting director to choose Clint Howard, but it was spot on. He’s almost cherub-like in his innocence and in the simplistic cadence of his speech. I realized this go around that he’s the male version of Carrie, not the same as its counterpart of the same year, Fear No Evil. They pushed Stanley to what he did; he wouldn’t have done it otherwise. The Satanic stuff was just what happened to be around to enable him to give them so much deserved payback.
Evilspeak is a unique watch. As of the this writing, the film is streaming on Shudder. I’ve learned some pretty important life lessons from this horror films, like be nice to the new, poor, or socially awkward kid. Just a few kind gestures from his classmates could’ve turned this into the male version of The Facts of Life instead without everyone losing their heads.