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In New Orleans, a series of horrific murders of priests are occurring around the city's Catholic churches. The diocese calls in Father Michael (Cross) to fight the powerful demon, known as Daesidarius, or The Unholy. The Father's faith is tested almost to the breaking point as the demon - disguised as a stunningly beautiful lady - attempts to seduce Father Michael into breaking his vows. Father Michael soon learns how the Unholy works - by murdering the sinner in the act of sinning, then sending that person's soul to Hell. Will this one priest's inner strength be enough to stop this monster - or will he join the ranks of the other ill-fated priests? Written by
Despite having an interesting concept (co-scripted by Philip Yordan no less), THE UNHOLY is an uneven mess that tries too hard to emulate titles such as THE OMEN or THE EXORCIST. There is a usually high class cast for a low budget horror film. Ben Cross is very good as the put upon priest. He plays it all serious despite being given embarrassing moments like raising his fists and screaming "Dear Godddddd, what will you have me do?" The only weak performance is by Jill Carroll as the young virgin/temptation who shacks up with the priest after deciding she didn't like being a waitress at a satanic club (uh huh). William Russ is interesting as a club owner who may or may not be evil and there are also fine supporting turns by Holbrook and Beatty. And screen vet Trevor Howard made his final screen appearance as a blind priest.
But all these performances are betrayed by perhaps the flattest directing ever. Camilo Vila is a terrible director who films the scenes with barely a pulse. The dialogue scenes are all shot in close ups so at times it is hard to even tell the proximity of the characters. Vila has no desire to build up to bizarre dream sequences or set pieces, they just happen right out of the blue. And speaking of blue, Vila should never be allowed near blue gels ever again. Apparently he feels this creates mood and constitutes style as he uses them in every other scene to numbing effect. The film actually underwent an extensive re-shoot to up the monster factor for the film's final act. Regardless, these inserts offer little salvation as whoever shot them imitates Vila's dreary style and shoots the titular beast with no mystery at all. The effects work from Bob (HELLRAISER) Keen, no matter how poorly shot, is impressive though. Perhaps under a better director the film would have been more effective.
THE UNHOLY opened in April of 1988 and fared rather poorly. However, it did become Vestron Pictures second highest grosser ($6.3 million) of their short lived theatrical career. Of course a difference of $57 million separates this from their number one rental DIRTY DANCING (1987).
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