• Unholy, The

    Released by: Lionsgate/Vestron Video
    Released on: June 27th, 2017.
    Director: Camilo Vila
    Cast: Ben Cross, Ned Beatty, William Russ, Jill Carroll, Hal Holbrook, Trevor Howard
    Year: 1988
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    The Movie:

    In New Orleans a priest named Father Dennis (Ruben Rabasa) enters his church only to be met be a beautiful woman (Nicole Fortier) dressed in a see through negligee. He gives in to the obvious temptation before him and soon enough, his throat is torn out. The local police, led by a cop named Stern (Ned Beatty), can’t quite manage to close the case – they don’t know who did it.

    Sometime later, a priest named Father Michael (Ben Cross) is helping the police attempt to bring in a would be suicide jumper off the ledge of a tall building. It goes south fast and Michael plummets to the ground below, but is essentially found unharmed. When meeting with superiors Archbishop Mosely (Hal Holbrook) and a blind aged padre named Father Silva (Trevor Howard) it’s decided that Michael should fill the void left by Dennis’ unsolved murder and take over his congregation.

    Shortly after Michael’s arrival he meets a virginal young woman named Millie (Jill Carroll), a troubled soul with a history of sexual abuse lingering in her past. She works at a nightclub called The Threshold run by a man named Luke (William Russ). The schtick at this club is that they put on ‘mock’ Satanic rituals, though when Michael attends on to see for himself these rituals seem pretty convincing. As Millie, who just so happens to be the last person to have seen Dennis alive, gets unusually closer to Michael and decides she no longer wants anything to do with the possessive Luke, the club owner comes to the priest with a confession of his own. He’s been experiencing paranormal activity late at night and he wants Michael to see it for himself. Sure enough, it appears that Luke is telling the truth. Eventually Silva, an expert on demonology, tells Michael that he feels he is a rare chosen one, selected by God himself to do battle with a very real demon causing some very real problems for all involved…

    This one feels a bit like a John Carpenter’s Prince Of Darkness at times, though it borrows a bit from The Exorcist in that in addition to dealing with a sinister presence in the church it also deals with a priest wrestling with his faith. If it doesn’t always feel like the most original film for those reasons, that doesn’t mean it isn’t an entertaining horror picture. There are some interesting ideas at play here, such as the conflict between Millie and Luke and how Millie’s past comes back to haunt her as the story plays out, as well as some fairly striking imagery. The original story for the film was written back in the 70’s by Phillip Yordan during an era when movies like The Omen and The Exorcist were striking box office gold. In many ways, you can see how the story is a product of that era, it mines much of the same supernatural and occult laden territory.

    Production values are decent enough. We get some nice sets and locations for all of this to play out in and there’s some impressive camera and lighting work on display. The practical effects work and creature creations that are employed in the last half of the film are sufficiently icky if never particularly terrifying (the two mini-demons that accompany the main demon are pretty goofy, but still kind of cool in their own strange way) and there’s a fair amount of gore and nudity on display. This keeps the picture’s exploitation content reasonably high. At one point a character does a pretty rad projectile vomit, spewing blood all over the place and there’s a great scene in the film where Michael wakes up with a crotch full of writhing snakes!

    Ben Cross (who would, interestingly enough, go on to star in The Exorcist: The Beginning), makes for a decent leading man. Not a great leading man, he’s a bit too wooden and ‘one note’ for that, but decent. He looks right for the part and he definitely redeems himself in the film’s big finish. Supporting work form Ned Beatty and Hal Holbrook is pretty fun, while Trevor Howard steals a few scenes as the eerie blind demonologist. Jill Carroll is ok in her part and William Russ is pretty fun as the sleazy nightclub owner. Nicole Fortier doesn’t have any lines but she looks great and has a pretty cool screen presence.


    The Unholy arrives on Blu-ray framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer and it looks pretty good, definitely better than the DVD version that came out a few years ago. This new presentation is taken from a proper film source and it’s a nice improvement. Detail is generally quite nice if not quite reference quality. The colors look nice and natural here, skin tones as well, and we get a nice uptick in depth and texture. Black levels are solid and contrast looks just fine. There are minor white specks evident throughout and the odd small scratch here and there but no major print damage to note.

    The only audio option for the feature is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track. Again, this is a noticeable upgrade over the DVD which sounded flat and fairly weak. Dialogue is much cleaner and clearer than before and the chaotic finale that takes place towards the end of the film has a lot more punch now. This makes that scene a bit more effective. At the same time, the levels stay balanced so that the effects don’t bury the performers. The film’s score has good bounce to it but never overpowers the dialogue and the track is free of any noticeable hiss or distortion. Optional subtitles are provided in English SDH only.

    Extras on this release start out with an audio commentary featuring director Camilo Vila. It’s a decent track worth a listen as Vila talks about the film’s script and its origins, some of the locations that were used for the picture and what it was like working alongside the cast and crew. There are some fun stories here about Hal Holbrook and Ben Cross as well as some rather telling details about Howard’s knack for falling into a bottle at inopportune times. There are moments where the director gets sidetracked now and then, but for the most part this stays pretty much on topic throughout and it’s got a lot of good information in it.

    Also included on the disc is a selection of music from the soundtrack presented as an isolated score alongside an audio Interview with composer Roger Bellon. The interviews clips here are interesting as Bellon was not the film’s original composer. Rather, he was brought on board to help Fernando Fonseca and when the producers heard Bellon’s contributions they decided they preferred his work. As such, Bellon rescored the rest of the movie with a whole ten days to get it done. It’s interesting stuff and a pretty revealing look at how haphazardly things can be when working on a feature film! The interview portion of this alternate audio track lasts about forty minutes or so.

    The disc also contains an audio interview with production designer and co-writer Fernando Fonseca that features isolated selections from his unused score. Fonseca talks for fifteen minutes about his work on the picture, giving his side of what happened to the work he created for the picture and how rushed the production was in many ways. It’s interesting stuff, as is the opportunity to hear the original score for the first time.

    The featurettes start out with Sins Of The Father, an interview with leading man Ben Cross. He speaks for eighteen minutes about landing the role, some of his fellow cast members, the picture’s rushed production history and his thoughts on the picture in general. Surprisingly enough, despite all the trouble that was encountered during the production, he looks back on this fairly fondly. From there, we get a piece called Demons In The Flesh: The Monsters Of The Unholy, which is a twenty-one minute long exploration of the effects work featured in the picture. Effects techs Jerry Macaluso, Steve Hardie and Neil Gorton all appear on camera here to share some stories from the trenches. Along the way they talk about being overwhelmed by both budgetary issues and time constraints, some of the creativity that was involved in getting the job done, complications involving the prosthetic and puppet effects and more . A third featurette is called Prayer Offerings and it’s an interview with Fernando Fonseca. In this seventeen minute interview Fonseca talks about the time he spent on set, the work he had to do on by Phillip Yordan’s original script written a good ten years before and his interactions with director Vila. All three of these featurettes are nicely put together and work in not just clips from the movies but archival photographs and what not as well. They’re also quite interesting - between these pieces and the commentary we get a lot of welcome background information on the making of The Unholy, making this one of those cases where the story behind the film is as interesting as the picture itself.

    Interestingly enough, Lionsgate has also dug up the film’s original ending that is presented with or without an audio commentary with producer Mathew Hayden that explains how it was done and why it was cut. This runs roughly fifteen minutes and it pretty much redoes the entirety of the finale that takes place in the church at the end of the movie before then adding on an interesting epilogue. In some ways, this is a better ending than the version used in the feature presentation of the film and its inclusion here is a definite plus for fans of The Unholy.

    Rounding out the extras are the film’s original theatrical trailer, some TV and radio spots, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection. The Blu-ray keepcase fits inside a slick foil-embossed cardboard slipcover.

    The Final Word:

    The Unholy is pretty entertaining stuff – it’s populated by some quirky characters and features some memorably bizarre set pieces. It moves at a decent pace and does not lack in gore or strange imagery. The film’s Blu-ray debut from Vestron is a good one, presenting the picture in nice shape and with an excellent array of supplements.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!