THE UNHOLY (1988)
Directed by Camilo Vila
Available on Vestron Video Blu-Ray
Catholic Priest, Father Michael, is assigned to St Agatha’s Church in New Orleans, the site of two murders of the priests who previously worked there. Unperturbed by the fates of his previous occupants, Father Michael reopens the old church and is soon visited by an old acquaintance; a police detective who provides him with a contact who was the last one in touch with Michael’s predecessor Father Collins before he was brutally murdered. Deciding to act upon this information, he visits this contact – “Millie”, a waitress at a satanic club downtown – in order to find out what happened to Father Collins. His investigations bring him ever closer to the Satanic entities as he discovers that the church is plagued by the demon Desiderius who preys on virgins or those aligned with God in an attempt to convert them into sinners and drag their soul to hell. With the night of the fateful judgement almost upon him, Priest Michael must summon all his inner strength and stay true to God if he is to succeed where his predecessors failed.
There’s nothing quite like a religious horror where good is pitted against evil. THE UNHOLY certainly fits in that category with sex being the ultimate in sins to lure in the men of the cloth in this 80’s horror. If the visage of a ravishing, red-headed beauty, dressed in nought but a see-through cover up (which she quickly disrobes), doesn’t get your pecker up, then you may be fit for the job. Is Father Michael, played by Ben Cross, able to suppress his urges? Only time will tell but the opening scenes of him being violently launched through a window and not receiving so much as a bruise nor a scratch, when in reality he should be dead, proves that this particular priest has something about him. At least, that’s what we’re led to believe by Michael’s bosses, Father Silva and Archbishop Mosely ,who see him as their only hope against The Unholy inhabiting St. Agatha’s church. An area in desperate need for hope, Father Michael could be the priest that could bring the community back together if he manages to survive long enough.
Everything about Father Michael’s arrival at the church seems pre-determined. Even the police detective seems in on it as he slips Father Dennis’ old contact book into a drawer when Father Michael isn’t looking in order to set up the idea of visiting Millie. Just who is Millie and is she part of the chain that will lead Father Michael to the path of hell? When he meets her and she starts spouting lines about how her boss Luke is the devil, alarm bells do start to ring. Luke’s Billy Idol-esque image and the fact he runs a satanic nightclub doesn’t help to dissuade these thoughts, but Father Michael isn’t someone who believes in the devil anyway to even consider the possibilities and sees Luke as merely a thug. Though he claims to only being in the satanic business to make a profit and doesn’t actually believe or follow the teachings, Luke does confess to experiencing some strange things himself and attempts to get Father Michael on-side. However, their truce quickly comes to an end when more horrifying incidents take place at the church. Who or what is responsible?
THE UNHOLY has some pretty shocking visuals from the get-go, and throughout the the film we’re treated to scenes of grotesque savagery amidst the slow-burning plot. I hadn’t quite anticipated these particular moments which I felt added some valued nastiness to the religious horror. Combined with cool-as-a-cucumber charisma of Ben Cross as Father Michael, the film manages to lure you into its fight of good vs evil. The generous helping of practical FX is more than welcome, even if the results are a bit cheesy towards the end of the movie. However, the film does manage to balance serious religious horror and the fantastical whilst also retaining an underlying evil that you can feel in other films such as John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. Whilst the end result may not come as much as a surprise to many horror aficionados, the journey up to the point is certainly an enjoyable one, even if it doesn’t reach the peaks of The Exorcist and its ilk.
Vestron Video have released THE UNHOLY on Blu-ray with a generous helping of extras including audio commentary with the director and audio interviews with the composer Roger Bellon and production designer and co-writer Fernando Fonseca. There’s also some great video interviews with actor Ben Cross, a featurette on the demons of the film and original ending with optional audio commentary with producer Mathew Hayden. The package comes with your usual extras such as trailer, gallery and TV spots too.
THE UNHOLY isn’t without its faults but there’s enough here to leave viewers satisfied and even a little unnerved, even if it is just the eye-candy.