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Blu-Ray Review - THE UNHOLY (1988)

the unholy 1988 review
A priest is assigned to a church with a sinister past.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Camilo Vila

Starring: Ben Cross, Hal Holbrook, Jill Carroll, Nicole Fortier, Ned Beatty, Trevor Howard

the unholy 1988 blu-ray





Director Camilo Vila's Catholic themed horror The Unholy was something of a genre anomaly on its 1988 release. At a time when Chucky, Pumpkinhead and Killer Klowns were dominating the horror shelves of your local video store, Vila's film was an attempt to return to the more cerebral horrors of the '70s, albeit one that ultimately gives in to rubber monster mayhem in its audience pleasing climax.

the unholy 1988 review


Landing Ben Cross - an actor who had chosen to focus on the stage following his breakout role in the 1981 Oscar winner Chariots of Fire - was quite the coup for a low budget horror film in 1988 (though Cross's name has since become synonymous with straight to video fare). Here he plays Father Michael, a novice priest who is called out one night to talk a would be jumper down off a ledge. Just when Father Michael thinks he has made the desperate man see sense, he experiences a quick flash of a ghastly demon, before the man pulls him out the window, sending him plummeting to what should be his death.




When Father Michael miraculously survives with barely a scratch, he catches the attention of the local Church authorities, Archbishop Mosely (Hal Holbrook) and Father Silva (Trevor Howard), who assign him the post of a New Orleans parish whose church has been closed in the three years since the previous priest was murdered and his body left on the altar in a sacrificial pose.

the unholy 1988 review


In his new position, Father Michael learns from local detective Stern (Ned Beatty) that it was actually two priests who were murdered in the church, something Mosely and Silva declined to tell him. This prompts Father Michael to conduct his own investigation into his predecessors' murders, leading him to Millie (Jill Carroll), a young performer at a Satanic themed S&M club who had a friendship with one of the priest prior to his killing.




It's easy to see why The Unholy has failed to obtain a cult status among horror fans, as it offers little to appease devotees of the genre. With its procedural structure, it often plays like an R-rated episode of The Father Dowling Mysteries, or a second-rate X-Files sans Mulder and Scully, stretched out to a feature length it struggles to justify. Despite its Satanic milieu, it has neither the thematic heft of The Exorcist nor the spine-tingling atmosphere and set-pieces of The Omen.

the unholy 1988 review


A largely talky affair, with scene after scene of Father Michael interrogating others or being grilled himself by authority figures, it's just as well The Unholy boasts such an impressive cast. Holbrook and Beatty raise the film to another level of respectability every time they appear, lending some '70s spirit to a movie that otherwise could be placed in a 1988 time capsule with its obtrusive sax/synth score and blue light/dry ice aesthetic. But despite his talent, Cross can't make his one-dimensional hunky priest stereotype an engaging lead, and the film he's saddled with becomes an unholy slog as we wait for the inevitable rubber monsters to show up.

Extras:

Feature commentary with director Camilo Vila; isolated score selections and audio interview with composer Roger Bellon; interviews with actor Ben Cross and production designer and co-writer Fernando Fonseca; 'Demons in the Flesh: The Monsters of The Unholy' featurette; original ending featuring optional audio commentary with producer Mathew Hayden; trailer; TV and radio spots; stills and storyboard galleries.

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


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