Monday 11 February 2019

Dark Eyes Retrovision #7 - The Unholy (USA 1988: Dir Camilo Vila)

According to Camilo Vila, in the commentary on Vestron's Blu Ray reissue of his third feature The Unholy, the director didn't set out to make a horror film; he was hoping more for a 'whodunit' with supernatural overtones. Special effects maestro Jerry Macaluso, whose make up and model work on the film were almost completely excised from the final print by the producers in favour of Bob Keen's FX, would have it differently. Yep, this one has all the hallmarks of the troubled production, a quintessentially 80s movie best watched these days for its curiosity value.

The Unholy opens with the murder of a priest - via a vigorous throat ripping - by a mysterious, beautiful (and naked) woman; the original idea was to have kept the identity of the murderer a secret, setting up the movie's cast of characters as suspects. Cut to three years later and a new priest is appointed to the church, which was closed following the killing. He is Father Michael (Ben Cross). If the new incumbent acts a little stiff, it may be because he was recently thrown out of an apartment window after being attacked by a mysterious being, miraculously escaping with little more than cuts and bruises. Teaming up with waitress Millie (Jill Carroll) Father Michael, as well as building up his congregation, investigates the murder of the priest (and previous similar ecclesiastical slayings). What he uncovers is a web of concealment and demonic activity; he faces a race against time to combat the demon responsible for the deaths, before he and Millie can be added to the body count.

The Unholy wears its influences on its sleeve rather publicly. Its religious themes plunder both The Exorcist and The Omen, but its effects work references any number of rubber monster features from the 1980s. And on that subject Bob Keen's creature suit stuff, complete with kids dressed in mini demon costumes, has all the quality you'd expect from a unit drafted in at the last minute to replace the admittedly not very good effects work of then new kid on the block Macaluso (only one small shot of his monster remains, just as Father Michael is about to be hurled from the apartment window).

The movie includes some heavy hitters in the cast department, which helps to make a fairly lacklustre production just that little bit more gripping. Hal Holbrook and Ned Beatty, respectively a priest and a cop, add a welcome gravitas to the procedural elements of the movie, even if they do sit around chatting for most of their scenes. And veteran Trevor Howard, in his last acting role, is a game sort, his role as blind Father Silva - a guy who clearly knows far more about what's going on than anyone else - requiring him to wear some pretty uncomfortable looking opaque contact lenses.

Ben Cross, on the other hand, an actor who confesses in the extras that he was only in the movie because he was mates with Vila and the casting director, pretty much sleepwalks through the film, even allowing for his return from the dead status. He may, as he confesses, have had a lot of fun making the movie, but it sure doesn't translate to the viewing experience.

And finally a word about the demonic killer, played by Nicole Fortier. My guess is that someone saw Mathilda May in 1985's Lifeforce and decided that the demon would be extra demonic if she were nude, but at least had the decency to add a sheer nightie for reasons of taste, a kindness tot extended to Ms May. Fortier's second and final credit (she was also in the 1987 cobblers Scared Stiff), she and her amazing cheekbones never appeared in a movie again.

The Unholy is released as part of the Vestron Collector's Series on 25th February 2019.

The Blu ray/DVD combo features a number of special features, including a fairly honest audio commentary with Camilo Vila, interviews with composer Roger Bellon, production designer & co-writer Fernando Fonseca, Ben Cross, and a short mini feature on the abandoned creature work produced by Jerry Macaluso, 'Demons in the Flesh: The Monsters of The Unholy.'

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