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The Unholy (1988)

Released following his death, Trevor Howard, is teamed with a pair of reputable character actors in this religious thriller that proves an enjoyable 1980’s exorcise in ….. exorcism? Well not quite but with Ned Beatty and Hal Holbrook joining Howard in support of leading man, Ben Cross, this one is worth hunting down. On that note it took me a long time to secure a copy on VHS but recently it’s turned up on blu ray from Vestron Video with plenty of bonus features making it a worthwhile purchase for collectors including an alternate ending nearly 15 minutes in length.

Directed by Camilo Vila, our tale of terror begins with a Catholic priest quietly kneeling before his altar and the giant crucifix of Christ in the church he calls home. Temptation is about to rear it’s ugly …… scratch that, temptation is about to rear it’s naked drop dead gorgeous body in the form of a fiery redhead played by one, Nicole Fortier. One kiss and it’s a bloody demise with a torn out throat for our priest in a scene that could have made for a fantastic Fangoria Magazine Centerfold. Miss Fortier? Playboy magazine would have been a much better fit for this bewitching Goddess of evil preying on clergymen.

Time to move on three years and Priest Ben Cross is called in to talk down a jumper who is about to throw himself from a high rise building. Ben appears to be making progress but when he touches the man who wants to throw himself off the building’s ledge it’s Ben who takes the fall. Shockingly Ben hasn’t a mark on him and awakes in a hospital bed leaving Ned Beatty’s police detective baffled. Perhaps there’s something special about the young priest because the Arch Bishop, Hal Holbrook, under the advice of the elderly Howard who is also a member of the hierarchy decide to reopen the church from the opening scene and assign Cross to the parish.

Ben is soon to learn that there were two priests brutally killed in the church and Beatty hasn’t been able to solve the murders. Then there are the sexually charged dreams he’s suddenly experiencing and none other than the sexy yet deadly Miss Fortier is parading around his nocturnal thoughts minus proper clothing. Let’s cut to a nightclub orgy. Jill Carroll stars as Ben’s personal challenge. She’s a young woman caught up in some satanic rites at a club run by William Russ. Cross is at odds with Russ over Jill who clearly has some issues of her own and might be looking for more than a father figure when she turns to Cross who is having one hell of a time trying not to break his vows.

Soon afterward a dog is left slaughtered on the church’s altar and Cross is going to turn to Howard who is a professor of demonology for answers. More sexually demented dreams follow, a crotch full of wriggling snakes to wake one up in the middle of the night and according to Howard it’s Cross who has been chosen to battle the Unholy One in the church. A battle he may not win should he give into any of the temptations that the demon is going to parade out in front of him during the film’s final reel.

Cue Miss Fortier to the set please. 

“God give me strength!”

The final stretch of the film is a bloody good time with special effects from the Movie Magic Emporium that while not up to the effects we got to see in John Carpenter’s The Thing, still represent a gooey, bloody good time for those of us who like this sort of thing. Today it would be all done with the “magic” of CGI and leave me wanting for the special effects of the past.

There was a time when I’d see Hal Holbrook in a film and just make the assumption he was an untrustworthy character in a position of power with an agenda of his own. Magnum Force and Capricorn One can do that to a young viewer. Even his role here as the Arch Bishop seems to be one in which he knows far more than he is telling and leading the lamb, in this case Cross, to the slaughter.

I guess Ben Cross will forever be identified with the Best Picture winner with the unforgettable musical score, Chariots of Fire released in 1981. Personally I like to recall his turn as Barnabas Collins in the failed 1991 reboot of Dark Shadows on television. I thought he made a great vampire and remember watching the short lived series which was released to DVD if you want to take me up on having a look at it.

Trevor Howard had two final films released in 1988 following his death in January of that year. As the blind priest here and the other being The Dawning opposite Sir Anthony Hopkins. Ned Beatty has always been a busy character actor following his film debut in Deliverance. From Burt Reynolds flicks to playing Dean Martin in Back to School to his Oscar nominated role in Network which prompted Beatty to remark that actors should never turn down work, “I worked a day on ‘Network’ and got an Oscar nomination for it” It would appear as if his long list of screen credits have come to an end as he’s been inactive on camera since 2013 according to the IMDB.

For those of us who like to turn the clock back to the 80’s horror scene, The Unholy is the perfect throwback that recalls those fun times of the VHS rental when we’d hurry down to the local mom and pop store and snag the most recent releases off the shelves. The ones that our own Mom and Dad had no idea about but we’d seen the monster mags with all the blood and gore glaring up at us from the pages that put the films on our must see lists. Miss Fortier? A definite bonus for all us teenagers of the day.

6 Comments »

  1. I seem to remember Matlin’s TV guide suggesting that Holbrook’s casting in Magnum Force was ‘against type’ and that the actor was ‘usually sweet’; maybe tv viewers knew him differently, but I always thought of him as a villain! Thanks for reviewing!

  2. I don’t remember this one at all, and it’s one I probably would’ve checked out in theaters back in 1988…I wonder if it went straight to video, and never got a theatrical release. And what an interesting cast of actors for a gory horror film! And even crazier than seeing Trevor Howard in this is the fact that Vestron Video still exists, and is releasing films on Blu-ray! I remember the Vestron opening on so many VHS and Beta rentals back in the ’80s…definitely a classic memory of the era!

    • I recall it playing theaters back in the day but then maybe a limited run and not in every town? Either way it’s a fun retro flick and yeah that’s a solid cast of character players. I love those old video labels we were so used to and still get a kick out of them when I play a rare title on VHS. Vestron maybe trying for a comeback as they’ve got a few titles now out and all numbered ala Criterion.

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