Day 23 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is 23. Creepy Phone Calls. Reach out and touch someone before they reach out and touch you. At one point, 976 numbers were everywhere. You could call anyone and everyone — the Cory’s, Santa, Freddy — all for just 99¢ a minute. Most people have forgotten about them with the rise of the internet, but it’s important to remember them before watching this film, the directorial debut of Robert Englund.
Spike and Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys from Fright Night) are cousins who live under the overly watchful eye of Hoax’s super religious mother Lucy (Sandy Dennis, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, God Told Me To). They couldn’t be more different. Hoax is a nerd that’s afraid of everyone while Spike is a motorcycle riding bad boy with the girl of his cousin’s dreams, Suzie (Lezlie Deane, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare).
Both boys start using the novelty phone number 976-EVIL, which reads them creepy-themed fortunes for a few dollars. The real truth is quite sinister: Satan uses the line to find people to give them what they want in exchange for their souls. There’s a great scene here where a religious investigator goes to the home of 976-EVIL, After Dark, Inc. There is room after room of people, Santas, phone sex women and so much more, but in one dusty, cobwebbed closet lies the machine that powers this foul enterprise.
By the end of this movie, the cousins’ power dynamic has shifted and the literal gateway to Hell appears in front of their home. The way there is littered with 80’s cliches and a tone that is never sure if it fully wants to be comedic or horrific.
Still, this movie is not without its charms. The Deftones wrote the song “Diamond Eyes” about the film and it was popular enough to bring Spike back for the direct-to-video sequel 976-EVIL II: The Astral Factor. And England met his wife, set decorator Nancy Booth, while directing this movie. She would sneak R+N into the backgrounds of scenes that he would discover each day while watching the dailies. And hey, how many movies have uber religious old women get devoured by cats?
PS – There’s an entire chapter about this film in the book Satanic Panic: Pop Culture Paranoia in the 1980’s that is must reading.