Friday 9 January 2009


Directed by Freddy Kruger, 976-EVIL, mildly entertaining though it is, hinges on a profound misunderstanding of irony.

Spike, who may or may not have flunked out of school, and whom I may or may not find strangely attractive, lives with his loser cousin Hoax and his crazy fundamentalist Aunt*. Oddly, Spike is not the main character, though we spend a lot of time getting to know him. Rather, it is Hoax, of whom we learn very little.

Yes, the main character's name is Hoax.


Lacking a strong maternal influence, Spike has grown into an undisciplined teenager who spends his nights playing poker with Marcus and his gang of 80s thugs. Hoax, on the other hand, has grown up in the care of a lunatic who likes to threaten abuse when her son eats while sitting on the couch. Having no life of his own, Hoax lives vicariously through Spike. Spike, for his part, humours Hoax, and even goes so far as to protect him from Marcus. Though somewhat clumsy, Spike's and Hoax's characterizations are meant to represent the controlling theme of good vs. evil.

While flipping through a magazine, Spike finds a flyer for a horoscope hotline, only horoscope has been spelled "horrorscope" and the number to dial is the titular alpha-numeric. Spike listens to a cryptic recording which has nothing to do with fish raining down from the sky, and then fish rain down from the sky. The following morning a man shows up at the house, claiming to be a reporter from Modern Miracle magazine and interviews crazy Aunt Lucy about the fish.

This, by the way, has nothing to do with the actual plot.

That night Spike again dials in for his horrorscope and is told, in no uncertain terms, to steal. But stealing is wrong! And Spike, despite being a lowlife dropout punk, refuses. He dials the hotline again but hangs up when the recorded message expresses displeasure at Spike's surprising moral fiber. And finally we come to the point in the story where we catch up with Hoax who is, remember, the actual main character.

Painful loser that he is, Hoax is not above stealing. Or murder. Having broken into Spike's room, Hoax has found the horrorscope flyer and has called the hotline. He learns that if the stalks Spike, he'll get a chance to steal his girlfriend. So Hoak follows Spike to the movies and when Spike ditches Suzie for a poker game, Hoax swoops down and provides Suzie with an opportunity to deliver the stupidest line ever: "You scared me, sneaking around. Why do you gotta sneak around?"

Suzie and Hoax go for a pizza but thier intimate evening is ruined by Marcus. Things only get worse when it's revealed that Hoax has Suzie's panties in his pocket. Suzie storms off, Hoax slinks away, and Marcus orders more food. When Hoax arrives home, he again calls the horrorscope hotline and is told that he should teach Suzie a lesson. Naturally, Hoax uses black magic to cast a spell and teach said lesson. It's never explained how Hoax knows any magic at all, or what the lesson is supposed to be, but the spell requires him to remove his shirt. All good spells do.

Unsurprisingly, things go a little too well and Suzie dies. Rather than being scared and secretly excited by his newfound power, Hoax is gleeful. And boastful. He tracks down Spike and tells him, right to his face, that he killed his girlfriend. And what does Spike do? He doesn't scream or cry or swear revenge. He shoves him. Spike pushes Hoax, who falls over, and this foreshadowing conversation takes place:

Hoax: When this possession finally takes full control of me, you're going to regret pushing me around.
Spike: No. I won't.

Meanwhile, the reporter from Modern Miracle has taken an interest in Suzie's death and charms the high school principal into helping him with his investigation. As Hoax's possession slowly takes hold, the reporter, Marty, who is in fact a P.I., tracks down the source of the 976 number. Marty comes face to face with Richard Piccardo who explains that he runs a number of pay-telephone services and explains the "horrorscope" was decommissioned some time ago. Marty then returns to his flirtation with the principal, and Hoax continues to dial the number.

Finally, Hoax becomes totally possessed and he exacts a terrible revenge on Marcus, mercilessly killing his thugs and punning at every turn. Marty and the principal confront him at home, and Hoax opens up a portal to hell. Spike arrives and the cousins fight it out:

Hoax: I told you this would happen.
Spike: You don't listen too good, do you?

Strictly speaking irony is the opposite of what's expected. In this sense Alanis Morissette was correct: rain on your wedding day is ironic. Also, it sucks. More generally, irony is often darkly or sarcastically humerous. There's nothing funny about Hoax's possession or his turning the tables on Spike. Nor are any of the events that take place in the film unexpected. There is nothing really ironic about 976-EVIL, though the movie seems to think there is. In spite of everying, the movie doesn't totally suck. Maybe that's the ironic part.

*This family arrangement wasn't at all clear to me until partway through the movie, when Aunt Lucy made reference to Spike's dead mother. Until that point, I thought Spike was just a neighbour. He lives in a separate building, you see, and sneaks into the house to drink milk and steal money that's been hidden inside a fishing trophy.

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