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The charming story of a priest.....who murders people! Meet Father Xavier Meldrum from the Church of the Sacred Heart. He uses religious means to bump off his enemies such as a poisoned wafer, incense burner and rosary beads. Splendid performance by Anthony Sharp (remember him as the government minister in A Clockwork Orange?) as the obsessed vicar and a good turn by Pete Walker regular Sheila Keith as a one eyed housekeeper. A well done musical score by Stanley Myers is also featured. Remember this movie the next time you go to confession!
Disappointing Pete Walker film which flirts with a variety of good ideas
manages to fumble all of them.
Story has vulnerable young woman (Penhaligon) going to Confession, where she is harassed by the priest whose fatherly concerns have a sinister element. He turns out to be a crazed killer, stemming from his mother (yawn!!) who still lives with him in a semi-vegetable state.
Plot goes into a poor-mans 'Rosemary's Baby' scenario, Penhaligon unable to convince anyone of the truth, with the Priest above suspicion because of his position.
Film labours its point that religious restrictions have fashioned Father Meldrum into a killer, while the younger Priest who tries to help is too wet for the audience to respond to. All this leaves Stephanie Beacham as the best thing here. At least the film doesn't cop-out at the end, but by then we are past caring. A film students favourite, but more interesting to study than to watch.
A very fine Walker effort. Not really a horror film nor a giallo but very British. Must have upset as many as it pleased upon release with it's uncompromising attack upon the Church in general and the Catholic Church in particular. Excellent central performances and it is these performances that helps the film over the odd script shortcomings. Not for the easily offended but for everyone else quite a treat and who is to say accusations of wrong doings by priests and cover ups by other self righteous members of society is so far fetched? Begins well and although gets a bit lost halfway through, there is a full powered body strewn build up to a surprising ending.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This surprised me by its sense of urgency - the writer-director had a
point to make and did - with a straight ahead drive, never straying
from powering the plot along with extraneous moments. I'd have guessed
its running time to be less than 104 minutes.
This is a credit to Walker who stamped his savage vision on a witch's brew of a film that is one quarter horror, one quarter suspense, one quarter giallo (the Father Cutler, Miss Brabizon, Mrs. Meldrum revelations - some dark secrets from the past are responsible for the twisted actions of the present) - and one quarter brutal social commentary.
While not as terrifying as FRIGHTMARE, a horror film with a shocking feel for family dysfunction in extremis, pitting family member against family member, until the jealousies and hatreds of the past build to a unremitting apex of cruelty, this film nonetheless makes the viewer feel as if something very dark has been learned about mankind.
Walker and McGillivray have a way with turning out a tight, creepy script. There's not a boring moment. It builds to a satisfying, and as in FRIGHTMARE, terribly cynical denouement. If FRIGHTMARE dealt with familial cruelties and WHIPCORD with sexual permissiveness, SIN deals with the discarding of free will for the rigidity of a fundamentalist belief that Walker tells us will surely destroy anyone who by nature is unable to sublimate his humanness to the point where his own earthly needs and desires for individual ideas are dsetroyed. SIN takes its place as part of a trilogy which deals, as with FRIGHTMARE and WHIPCORD, with unreasonable expectations, loss of control and ensuing madness leading to the victimization of and violence against others, especially against those who are felt to challenge or threaten the fixed ideas of the perpetrators. The least successful of the three is WHIPCORD, overlong and a bit unbelievable that the victims can't fight back against their dotty, frail captors.
The cast is excellent. Though Peter Cushing was offered the role of Father Cutler, I'm glad it was taken by a less familiar face and an actor not known for so many horror roles. More sinister than Cushing, Norman Eshley underplayed if anything, making the character's lunacy believable. The two sisters (staples of the other two films in the trilogy though used in different relationships) were well-cast. The heroine was a symbol of her day, a symbol for spunkiness, free expression and the questioning of authority. I thought it wise not to have her capitulate to the priest's sociopathic behavior "because he was a priest". In her mind he was a sick then evil man. Her sister was more given to doubts. Though in the end it didn't matter - not when they came up against a tortured mind, a disturbed psychosis, singular in its goal. Cast well to the last of the secondary characters, the sad Mrs. Davey stands out as the distraught mother of a daughter driven to suicide by the priest's hypocrisy and/or blackmail. She presents a pathetic picture in her sorrow that has nowhere to morph into except excitement at believing she is a match for the monster and can lay a trap for him.
The actual murders of the real and imagined heroine's lovers were horrific. The hospital scene where innocence collides with savagery left no doubt that the beast had won out - as he did through to the end. The death of the 'mistaken libertine' in his hospital bed had a sense of future doom.
The imposing actress Sheila Keith (happily) commands the screen whenever she is in the frame. In a role quite different from the petulant but vengeful cannibal of FRIGHTMARE, she is oddly affecting as the would-be bride of the killer priest who has waited chastely by his side all these years - though of course her affect (and that great eye patch) add sinister touches. The death throes of those who inhabit this house of mortal sin would live up to any horror or giallo fan's dreams.
If there is anything to quibble about it would be the younger priest's believing Father Cutler's every word and hurriedly renouncing the thought of not continuing in Cutler's shoes. But better than having him run to the police accusing Cutler. There is now the implication that evil will grow in his own church garden.
The shock ending shot of the priest pulling on his glove to kill the only "normal" human being left in the film illustrates his psychotic obsession left to flourish, because he has carte-blanche to carry out his murders hidden by the sanctity of the church. Great, unexpected last shot. The themes of Walker's trilogy seems to be there are unknown houses of horrors set amongst the everyday world of those trying to go about their own lives, who don't know they are viewed as sinners by unknown psychotics and don't even realize they are standing in some psychotic's path, viewed as an adversary to be dealt with. It makes you think - there are houses like that in every city - you could pass one unknowingly. Walker is a director not given anything like his full due. Just the quiet shot of the parishioners in SIN sitting joylessly and gullibly on the pews in the dank church are as disturbing as the shots of bloodshed. The film seemed real and menacing and I loved it.
The events in "House of Mortal Sin" make it more than clear: repressing your sexuality can have serious consequences!! This third collaboration between controversial director Pete Walker and scriptwriter David McGillivray is lesser known than "Frightmare" or "House of Whipcord", and maybe also not as good, but it still is very inventive exploitation with some twisted themes and exhilaratingly horrific sequences. Walker and McGillivray openly assault the Catholic Church here and associate the "holy institution" with hypocrisy, sexual perversion and even murder. Walker's intention clearly was to shock audiences and to stimulate an angry reaction from the Church. Perhaps he couldn't achieve all this, but "House of Mortal Sin" nevertheless remains an enjoyable and schlocky horror movie, surely worth purchasing in case you're into unhinged 70's cinema. The story follows a troubled young girl who hesitatingly goes to confession at her local church. The priest, Father Meldrum, is quite out of his mind and starts stalking the girl and even killing the so-called sinful men in her life. No matter who the girl turns to for help, Father Meldrum stays above suspicion at all times because he's a respected man of the Church and she's just a mentally unstable blonde. The main storyline gets a little tedious at times but there's a delightfully insane sub plot involving the priest's seemly 273-year-old senile mother and the disturbing housekeeper played by Sheila Keith! Eccentric characters and the downright oddball relationships between them are still Walker's greatest specialty and also the unhappy ending is present. The gore and violence is less outrageous than in "Frightmare" but the priests' killing methods are quite ingenious and, of course, religiously themed, like poisoned sacred wafers and rosary strangulations. Recommended!
Even though the majority of his movies haven't gone on to win vast
acclaim or classic status, any fan of cinema would have to admit that
British horror maestro Pete Walker is one of the most fascinating
directors of the seventies. House of Mortal Sin follows the common Pete
Walker theme of hypocrisy in an institution; and this time it's the
church that gets lampooned. The film does feel like an all too obvious
attempt to drum up some controversy, but it's all so well done that
it's easy to ignore this fact and just enjoy the twisted imagination of
Pete Walker and scriptwriter David McGillivray. Catholic priests are
always above suspicion due their high moral ground in society, and so
the idea that one of them could go off the rails and abuse his
privileges is as intriguing as it is frightening. The story follows
Father Xavier Meldrum; a priest who tapes the confessions of his
parishioners and then uses them for blackmailing purposes! And he isn't
content to stop there, as if the blackmail doesn't go to plan - he
isn't morally above murder!
The film is a little overlong and slightly overindulgent at times; but Pete Walker paces the plot well, and although at least ten minutes could have been shaved from the movie; it never gets boring. Walker is great at creating atmosphere, and through ugly cinematography and downbeat locations, the director ensures that there is nothing pleasant about the movie. The murder scenes are graphic in a typically seventies fashion, although the talented director never lets the blood overtake the plot, and the murder scenes are an event within the movie; rather than the plot being tied around the gore. The film takes influence from a range of sources, including the slasher sub-genre (most notably Psycho), as well as the Italian Giallo (the black gloves towards the end being a particular highlight) and even Walker's own previous efforts. As usual, Walker pulls great performances out of his older actors. Anthony Sharp is suitably sinister in the lead role, and also manages to retain his edge of authority. Hilda Barry gives the film the right amount of horror as the mother, while Walker regular Sheila Keith rounds off the cast in a convincingly macabre role. On the whole; this may not be as great as House of Whipcord, but House of Mortal Sin is further proof that Pete Walker really knows how to make his audience think and comes recommended.
Coming hot on the heels of the sleazy HOUSE OF WHIPCORD and the outrageously gruesome FRIGHTMARE, veteran exploitationer Pete Walker and his puckish screenwriter David McGillivray decided to stir up some more mischief, this time aiming their vitriol at the hypocrisy of the Catholic church, with a blackmailing killer priest who uses the tools of his trade (incense burners, rosary beads and communion wafers) to deal out death to non-believers. Given the hoo-hah the Monty Python team caused with LIFE OF BRIAN four years later, you'd have expected the controversy to rage as Pete and David had hoped it would, but HOUSE OF MORTAL SIN barely raised a murmur - most likely because it's a rather dull and restrained affair compared to their earlier exercises in wonderfully hideous terror. Anthony Sharp is fine in the lead as the crazy cleric, alternating between pompous bumbling and trembling mania at the drop of a hat, whilst Susan Penhaligon makes a memorably vulnerable victim, but the film feels too much of a cut-and-paste catalogue of borrowed elements (the mother fixation from PSYCHO, Sheila Keith basically reprising her WHIPCORD role as Sharp's demented housekeeper, the dysfunctional family business from FRIGHTMARE) to really ring true. The set-piece murders are impressive, and the ending is as bleak and as desolate as you'd expect, but the film contains more padding than a cheap mattress and Walker seems to have confused tension with tedium in several scenes. Still, it's entertaining enough for a slow evening.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Devout, but deranged and sexually repressed clergyman Father Xavier
Meldrum (superbly played by Anthony Sharp) resorts to such foul things
as blackmail and murder after hearing a shocking confessional from
troubled young lass Jenny Welch (an appealing portrayal by the fetching
Director Peter Walker relates the absorbing premise at a steady pace, does his usual expert job of crafting a macabre atmosphere, grounds the deliciously twisted premise in a believable workaday reality, and stages the brutal murder set pieces with grisly aplomb. David McGillivray's bold script not only offers some spot-on scathing commentary on the abuse of power, religious hypocrisy, and deep-seated repression and thwarted desire, but also pulls off a genuinely startling doozy of a surprise grim ending. The excellent acting by the top-rate casts keeps this movie humming: Stephanie Beachum adds plenty of charm and spark as Jenny's perky and concerned sister Vanessa, Norman Ashley contributes a likable turn as the friendly Father Bernard Cutler, and Sheila Keith makes the most out of her juicy supporting part as sinister one-eyed housekeeper Miss Brabazon. Kudos are also in order for Peter Jessop's polished score and the spirited shuddery score by Stanley Myers. Recommended viewing for both British horror cinema aficionados in general and Pete Walker fans in particular.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After having been told by a friend about Pete Walker's warped Women In
Prison film House of Whipcord,I decided that I should first pay a visit
to Walker's "religious Giallo" at the House of Mortal Sin.
Walking back home to the shop that she runs with her sister Vanessa,Jenny Welch bumps into an old friend who she has not seen in years called Bernard Cuttler,who Jenny is shocked to discover,has come to her village due to recently having become in priest for the local church.Finding it surprisingly easy to be completely open to Bernard about the recent messy end to the relationship with her long time boyfriend,Jenny is told by Cuttler that she should go and visit the church tomorrow,so that they can continue their discussion there.
The next day:
Finding that the church is currently taking confessions,Jennny decides to go into the confession box,in the hope of continuing her conversation with Cutler.To Jenny's disappointment,she discovers that instead of Cutler,the head vicar Father Xavier Meldrum is taking confessions.Deciding to stay for confession,Jenny begins to tell Meldrum about the feelings that she still has for her ex-boyfriend.
Expecting Xavier to talk to her in an understanding manner,Welch is instead horrified to find Meldrum pushing her into giving more info about her "bedroom" activates.Getting out of the confession box,and running away from the church,Jenny soon discovers that Meldrum is prepared to do everything necessary to make sure that none of his "sheep" escape from the flock.
View on the film:
For the screenplay of the film,writer David McGillivray gives an extremely clever,reverse twist to the Giallo outline,by making it that the audience sees the (sometimes) black glove wearing killer priest in plain sight,but the character's in the movie are unable to,due to be blinded by a fog-like faith that "their" saint:Father Xavier Meldrum would ever do something that would hurt his flock.
Along with the sinister Meldrum, (who has more than a little Norman Bates about him) McGillivray also fills the Meldrum's church with a number of shadowy character's who are more than happy to get hold of a razor blade,the moment that they risk being exposed,with Shelia Keith's tremendous,stern performance as Meldrum's aide Miss Brabazon being a particular highlight,as Keith shows Brabazon a deranged,almost totalitarian military general,who is willing to do anything to protect her captain.
Being drawn to the story partly due to being a lapsed Catholic,director Pete Walker attacks the institution of the church with a relish that the Italian Giallo directors surprisingly stayed mostly away from, (perhaps over fears about facing troubles with the Vatican?) with Walker smartly using the religious setting as a way to give the brilliantly stylised murder scenes a strong,gritty feel,that goes from strangling someone with Rosemary beads,to openly killing one of the townsfolk at Sunday Mass!
Along with the stylish killings,Walker also gives the movie a good Film Noir touch,as Jenny Welch (played by a terrific Susan Penhaligon) continues to walk round in her long raincoat,pulling those around her into the trouble that she finds her self in,that leads to Walker giving the movie an amazingly harsh,brutal and nihilistic ending that shows the saints and sinners of the village all ending up in the same bleak place.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Following a break up with her boyfriend, Jenny Welch (Susan Penhaligon) goes to church to confess her sins. Bad move. She quickly becomes an object of obsession for Father Xavier (Anthony Sharp), who proceeds to stalk her and kill anyone he deems sinful. The plot synopsis isn't really a spoiler as director Pete Walker reveals the killer early on and is more focused on perversity rather than mystery. The first hour or so where Jenny tries to convince everyone that the priest is crazy is a little slow, but the slam-bang ending more than makes up for it. The only thing really hard to swallow here is a Catholic priest being interested in someone of legal age. I mean, a killer priest? I'm down with that. But one lusting after a legal age girl? C'mon I can only suspend my disbelief so far! Once again, Walker has cast an old person as the killer, confirming his mistrust of old folks also seen in FRIGHTMARE and THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW. In fact, here he has two old people are supremely messed up individuals. The flick also has a superb ending where the priest not only kills the male lead's girl, but he gets away with it and continues harassing his sexy parishioner. I love it!
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