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Unholy, The
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by Brett Gallman

"Holy crap."
2 stars

As “The Unholy” unfolded, all I could do was think of ways to use its own title to insult it since the film itself offered little in the way of entertainment value. However, I even gave up doing this about halfway through once I decided that even unholy things could conjure up something besides a thudding indifference that I usually reserve for sitcoms and late night infomercials.

It starts promising enough--well, as promising as something can be when it involves a priest (Ruben Rabasa) praying at his altar before having his throat ripped out by a jezebel (Nicole Fortier). A younger priest, Father Michael (Ben Cross), is at the scene, but this fact doesn’t matter until three years later. It’s at this point that he’s summoned to talk a man out of jumping off a building, but he ends up getting flung out of a window himself and tumbles 17 stories without suffering a scratch. Because of this, a couple of priests (Hal Holbrook and Trevor Howard) decide he’s the Chosen One and should reopen the church from the film’s opening scene.

These Catholics sure have a strange method of assigning their parishioners, and it’s so obtuse that they don’t let anyone in on their secrets, including Father Michael and the audience, both of whom are left to slog through a mystery that doesn’t have any right to be dull considering it’s wrapped around a sex club, a girl in distress (Jill Carroll), and a dime-store Satanist (William Russ). Unfortunately, it’s all about as boring as a Sunday morning sermon, and the scariest image it has to offer involves putting a Catholic priest side by side with altar boys. Occasionally, Father Michael gets to consult with Holbrook and Howard, both of whom parcel out arbitrary amounts of information. When they think Michael’s heard enough for now, they shuffle him out of the door, insisting he’s not ready for the entire truth. In reality, this is just a cheap trick “The Unholy” uses because it mistakenly assumes that we’re waiting with bated breath to learn the secrets of this sinister plot that slowly reveals itself in the form of wind generators and flashes of Fortier shawshanking out in the rain.

All of this stretches out over a prolonged hour, and everyone is so thickheaded that even Ned Beatty shows up as a detective to help get to the bottom of things. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Father Michael’s new church actually has a history of ritualistic murders, which means he’s probably next in line. He’s somehow surprised to discover this, but Carroll’s character does offer herself to him, so it’s a bit of a wash. Or does she? Considering the film’s eventual reveal, even that could have just been part of Satan’s plan to employ hot girls to tempt priests into sin. At one point, Father Michael imagines that his crotch is infested with multiple snakes, perhaps to compensate for the one phallus he already has but can’t use.

This actually has the makings of a pretty good schlock-fest, but “The Unholy” isn’t even that; it seems obvious that everyone involved was attempting to make an “Exorcist” knock-off, which had to seem desperate in 1988 until you consider that the script actually was written in the 70s, where it should have stayed. Had Cross’s Father Michael managed to show any sort of genuine conflict, it may have worked as a crisis of faith film, but he’s such a dutiful goody two-shoes that you never feel like his soul is in danger of damnation--not that you’d particularly care if it was.

Any sort of soulful examinations would require the sort of nuance that “The Unholy” wouldn’t be capable of realizing anyway, so it ends up falling back on the schlock. There’s blood vomiting, flaming, crucified corpses, and even midget demons, none of which can rescue the film from its leaden plot and uniformly wooden acting. The effects team does manage to summon up an impressive and rubbery demon for the climax that threatens a most uncomfortable instance of oral sex.

“The Unholy” ends up sucking one way or another--it’s cheap, predictable, and can’t even coast by on any retroactive 80s charm. Instead, it presents forced weirdness that palely imitates the delirium-fuelled occult horrors from the 70s. If “The Exorcist” was a real head-spinner, this one barely warrants a disinterested craning of one’s neck.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23670&reviewer=429
originally posted: 04/30/12 01:08:15
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  22-Apr-1988 (R)



Directed by
  Camilo Vila

Written by
  Fernando Fonseca
  Philip Yordan

  Ben Cross
  Nicole Fortier
  Peter Frechette
  Phil Becker
  Ned Beatty

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