92 min., 1988
Written by Brian Helgeland/Rhet Topham
Directed by Robert Englund
My rating: ★★★
This is why I switched to Vonage!
* * *
A supernatural phone line that gives your horoscope tries to lures a young tough guy with its power but when he resists the temptation of the power behind these predictions, his repressed younger cousin falls prey to its seduction instead, and taking revenge on those that ignored or abused him.
Welcome back, Ladies and Gentlemen to another installment of “What Possessed Object Can Kill Me Today!” Considering this film came out when 900, 800, and 976 numbers were at peak popularity and parents were tearing their hair out upon receiving a $200 phone bill, this crap-tacular cinematic achievement seemed to arrive right on time. This is the first directorial attempt by none other than everyone’s favorite burn victim, Robert England. Even with Freddie himself at the helm, this movie suffers from some continuity problems as well as poor acting, just not where it seems to count. For instance, there are a group of other high school students that terrorize the main character’s cousin “Hoax” played by Stephen Geoffreys, and the dialog in all those scenes is great but the delivery is extremely lackluster from the blond haired leader of this little troop of thugs. Another area where this is evident is from a reporter named Marty who works for a religious publication that comes down to investigate some fishes falling from the sky outside of the Hoax residence. He doesn’t over act or under act; he just seems honestly aloof for most of the film which is a bit disconcerting when you factor in that he actually ends up investigating the phone line that’s been causing all this trouble, saving the main character “Spike’s” life, and uncovering the source of these evil telecommunications. This is probably going to be one of the only times that I’m going to review a film where I can pinpoint all of the areas where it is lacking and can still say for overall entertainment it rates a solid 3.
The parts where it goes right, it goes right in spades. Spike’s aunt Lucy, played by Sandy Dennis, whom you may remember from her role as Honey in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, plays the part of the overzealous religious nut job to a T. The outlandish wigs she wears from her first appearance to her last and her lines seem to be consistently delivered as though she has taken one swig too many from the communion wine only make her finger pointing and righteous indignation that much more hilarious. Spike comes off as a perpetual rebel without a cause and flip-flops more than a fish out of its bowl. He keeps teetering between wanting to protect his weak and geeky cousin from this group of thugs and yet still join them for their card games and shenanigans. I will admit Hoax does not make this easy; he plays the whimpering, simpering victim all too well, wanting to act tough when his cousin is around yet ball up faster than a virgin’s panties on prom night when he faces these dangers all on his own. The actor you may remember as Evil Ed from Fright Night, Stephen Geoffreys plays the perpetual victim but gives you the very distinct feeling that if he ever got a hold of real power all bets would be off. Sadly, even though his acting skills were top notch in his limited 80’s screen appearances, he sort of faded from popularity and chose to jump in front of a different screen under the name Sam Ritter. You can find Sam Ritter’s work on IMDB, but when the titles of his cinematic achievements include Guys Who Crave Big Cocks, I doubt you will be able to add them to your Netflix queue. His stint in the gay porn industry lasted until around 2000 and as recently as 2007 he acted in a low budget horror film called Sick Girl. Hopefully, this marks his return to legitimate film where if you do take it up the ass it’s from a director who’s just a little too demanding.
The voice on the other end of this chat line is that of Mr. Robert Picardo. He’s actually done some work in Gremlin’s 2 as a hired thug trying to force the Asian shop keeper that had Gizmo out of his store for a big corporate buyer, an appearance in Tales from the Crypt, Inner Space with Martin Short and Dennis Quaid, and several other character acting parts where he’s a helluva pleasure to see on screen. For pop culture’s sake, you will likely remember him in his role as the holographic doctor on Star Trek: Voyager. Him lending his voice to the recordings as he attempts to seduce Spike with helpful advice, such as stealing money from his aunt (who’s actually stealing money from his trust fund) and stealing some driving gloves from the repair shop where he got his bike, leaves no doubt in the mind how he talked these other victims into doing his evil bidding. Ultimately, he gets Hoax hooked on the promises of Spike’s pseudo girlfriend’s affections and revenge on his tormentors. After Spike blows his girlfriend off, played by Lezlie Deane, Hoax ends up chatting her up in a diner where they genuinely seems to be enjoying each other’s company. That is, of course, until the band of thugs show up, shames him in front of the girl, and lastly turns her against him by revealing the pair of her panties he stole from Spike’s room after their first and last hook up.
This rejection leads him to seek further advice from Mark Dark through this chat line. At his behest, Hoax ends up performing a ritual using his spider that sends hundreds of spiders crawling out of her TV dinner and scaring her literally to death. Flying high off this success but also fearing what he has done, he goes to check on Suzie and finds her dead. The actress playing Suzie actually ended up working with Robert England again in Freddie’s Dead as Tracy. In this film, however, she only seems to be a catalyst for Spike to sever his ties with Hoax after he confesses that he killed her with black magic because she was ruining his rep. While all this is going on, Marty the reporter keeps putting together the pieces somehow and goes to confront the voice at the end of the party line Mark Dark in person. The company’s gallery of toll call operators ranging from racing advice to phone sex and back again just oozes sleaze from every corner of the building. For Mark Dark to be a master of the dark arts, he actually seems to be a sickly little twerp, popping pills, and snorting nasal spray for the entirely of Marty’s visit. It’s explained to Marty that all of the calls are being handled by an automated answering machine to try to save him money. He claims that he shut it down a month ago even though these calls are still coming in and being answered somehow.
The chances are you are going to have a hard time finding this film even though the sequel is on Netflix so it looks like I’ll be giving the ending away. Anyone hoping to avoid spoilers, now is the time to go to the next review.
Hoax ends up transforming into a demon-like creature, makes a shit load of good one-liners, murders all of his tormentors, and still makes time to decapitate his mom. He ends up pretty much bringing hell into his living room as a pit opens up outside but before he can send Spike, Marty, and his out of nowhere female companion to their fiery deaths, Spike is able to reach the cousin he knew and cared about then tosses him to his own fiery death seemingly avoiding Armageddon and sealing this passageway into the underworld in the process.
The practical effects, prosthetics, and scenery were all believable and very awesome. The special effects however are lacking anything special at all. I can say this film was likely a stepping stone for a lot of writers and actors involved. Robert England has gone on to star in and director far better projects. Rhet Topham went on to write The Freddie’s Nightmare TV series and Brian Helgeland went on to write some pretty big budget films like L.A. Confidential, Mystic River, the remake of Man on Fire, and the 2010 adaptation Robin Hood with Russell Crowe. I have to say this film was a little cheesy, but sometimes cheesy hits the spot. I hope you’ll have as much fun laughing with the intentional jokes or laughing at the unintentional mistakes if you are able to grab a copy. I will be following this up with its sequel, so be on the lookout for that. Until that time, may all your films bring fright.Have You Read...?