A string of serial killings rock the small town of Slate River. Police promptly arrest creepy college dean, Mr. Grubeck (René Assa), to the surprise of pretty student Robin (Debbie James) who believed he wouldn’t hurt a fly. But when Robin shakes hands with Grubeck she has a psychic vision of him exacting supernatural vengeance upon a local drunk who witnessed his last murder and the prosecuting attorney. But the cops are baffled as to how Grubeck keeps killing people, given he is confined to a jail cell. Bike-riding hero, Spike (Patrick O’Bryan) hooks up with Robin, having lived through a similar ordeal several years ago. He deduces Grubeck is committing these murders by means of astral projection, a power gained under the influence of a sinister supernatural psychic hotline.
Erstwhile Freddy Krueger, Robert Englund, made his directorial debut with the original 976-Evil (1988), a modest effort that hardly set the world alight. Nevertheless, five years later trash film mainstay Jim Wynorski concocted this surprisingly well-crafted sequel. Between Big Bad Mama II (1987), Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans (1988), The Return of the Swamp Thing (1989) and Ghoulies 4 (1993) among many others, Wynorksi swiftly earned a reputation as someone happy to crank out the cheapest, most derivative, lowest common denominator schlock without any pretensions or artistic ambitions whatsoever. In short, the kind of filmmaker low-budget film producers adore, which explains his steady work rate well into the present day.
Yet while Wynorski is routinely dismissed as a hack, often with good reason, his personal brand of lowbrow trash stands above the DTV junk peddled by many of his contemporaries, if only by virtue of a willingness to deliver the goods (action, gore and nudity) alongside a healthy dose of self-deprecating humour. So it proves with 976-Evil II, sometimes billed as 976-Evil II: The Astral Factor, or as Wynorski himself dubbed it “the asshole factor.” While undeniably cheesy in parts, the film proves lively and inventive laced with a streak of endearingly cracked comedy. Veteran character actor George 'Buck' Flower is terrorised by an exploding toilet (“You forgot to flush!”), Brigitte Nielson makes an unexpected cameo as the vampy, outrageously-attired proprietress of an occult bookstore, scream queen Monique Gabrielle meets her death in well-staged scene of automobile mayhem with Grubeck’s voice sneering from her car radio, and one scene has Spike menaced by malevolent kitchen appliances culminating in a wisecrack delivered by a stuffed boar’s head.
All these pale in comparison to the one sequence that earned the film its small amount of notoriety. Whilst channel-surfing between It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and Night of the Living Dead (1968), a young woman (Leslie Ryan) gets transported into her television set whereupon the cheery inhabitants of Pottersville transform into flesh-eating ghouls climaxing with little Zuzu gutting the hapless heroine! It is very much in the mould of the later Nightmare on Elm Street sequels that had by this stage devolved into self-parody anyway. Surreal set-pieces with silly one-liners. Grubeck even sports a rapidly decomposing face a la Freddy Krueger.
True to form, Wynorski opens the film with a busty blonde in her underwear fleeing down a corridor from diabolical forces, and thereafter crams in as many silicone-enhanced starlets as the plot will allow. Wynorski tends to cast heroines based on their bra-size rather than acting talent but former Miss USA finalist Debbie James rises above expectations and delivers a surprisingly committed, emotive performance. She and co-star Patrick O’Bryan prove warm and engaging as the central heroes, something too often missing from low budget schlock horror films. Music by Chuck Cirino, which was stolen by a fair few Hong Kong horror movies, while the film also features some songs that were supposedly composed by actor Vincent D’Onofrio.