FTP: The Unholy (1988)

NOVEMBER 29, 2022


For whatever reason, I saw but never got around to reviewing Prey for the Devil, which was yet another exorcism movie that I found more enjoyable than most (see also: The Rite, The Devil Inside, etc). As I’ve explained elsewhere, I feel the mix of being raised Catholic and also not seeing The Exorcist until much later in my horror life (I was in college, in fact – a full 12 years after I saw Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the like) allows me to be a little more endeared to these things than the average fan, who see them all as “bad Exorcist ripoffs!” and little more. At any rate, if I DID review it I’d probably have noted that it was fitting for Ben Cross to be playing a priest in his final movie (he died in 2020, but the movie had been delayed) since he had played so many others, so I had to laugh when I loaded up The Unholy and saw that it starred Cross as... you guessed it, a priest.

The movie has come up a few times at horror trivia and I’m always thinking “Oh yeah, I need to finally watch that” but I also had the wrong idea of what the movie was. I had it in my head that it was about a vampire terrorizing a church (my mental image was something like Demon Knight with a eurotrash-type vamp in the Billy Zane role? I have no idea where that movie concept came from) so I was kind of amused to see that it was sort of an Exorcist riff, or at least closer to one than any vampire movie. Cross is the new priest at a New Orleans church who is replacing the previous one, who was murdered (and we later learn he wasn’t the first murdered priest), and he is curious about the sexy nightclub next door that’s into some BDSM stuff. And he meets a “nice girl” type who may be trying to sway him into breaking his vow of celibacy – could she be the murderer?

That question is answered... somewhat hazily! It’s not a bad movie, but I’m glad I saw it on Vestron’s special edition, because the bonus features cleared up some of my issues with the film, and confirmed what I suspected: that it was reworked at some point. In fact in a way it was reworked twice; turns out the script was written in the ‘70s and would have indeed been something more dramatic in the Exorcist vein, but was rewritten in the ‘80s to give it modern sensibilities. And maybe that’d work, but it was also partially reshot/re-edited by the producers who wanted more horror, something like Nightmare on Elm Street and things of that nature, as opposed to the more serious thriller director Camilo Vila intended. So you have a movie that has not one but two tug-of wars with the basic idea of what kind of movie it’s going to be, so it’s not really surprising that it doesn’t really work as a whole.

But it’s not too bad. When I see Cross in stuff he’s usually playing supporting roles, so it was fun to see him as a lead and backed up by vets like Hal Holbrook and Ned Beatty, not to mention the lovely ladies throwing themselves at him and trying to get him to break his vows (this movie would be much shorter if I was the main character, I tell you what). They don’t use the New Orleans setting all that much, but there’s enough to give it a little more flavor than the average independent horror movie of the time, nearly all of which were shot in Los Angeles (not counting REAL independent stuff, i.e “regional” horror). And while they throw the movie’s whole vibe off and look kind of silly, I can’t deny that I was entertained by the two little rubber demons running around at the (reshot) end of the film, as if John Buechler had broken into the editing room and took over for the final reel.

Vestron’s release is jampacked with bonuses, including the original (and yes, superior) ending as well as a commentary with Vila, who obviously wasn’t thrilled about the final product. In fact he even notes that if he was asked to do the commentary a couple years earlier he would have said no, but luckily for us had softened enough on it over time to at least be happy with the parts that weren’t reshaped without him and accept that even as is, it’s not all that bad. And I discovered that this was, in fact, Vestron’s highest grossing horror movie of all time (2nd in their whole history after Dirty Dancing), which delighted me but also made me lament that once upon a time a movie like this could land on over a thousand screens and outgross a few major releases for the year (including Hellraiser II, which shares the work of Bob Keen). There’s a strong chance that Spielberg’s newest film doesn’t even get to play on as many screens as this weird little demon flick did back then! It’s charming and sad in equal measures, how much things have changed and not really for the better in my opinion. But hey, at least Vestron has saved it, and for Cross fans who (like me) were sad to see him looking so sickly in Prey for the Devil, it offers a chance to see him looking healthy and telling stories in his 20 minute interview. RIP sir, you always made little character parts that much more interesting, and I'm sorry it took me years to get around to watching you chain-smoke and try not to bang the hot redhead demon lady that kept trying to do just that.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. I was 13 when this premiered on cable, so the "hot red-headed demon lady" was a big reason I stuck with it. But aside from her, my memory is just like you describe it. Doesn't really work, but nice try.


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget