The Unholy Blu-ray (Vestron Video Collector’s Series)
Director: Camilo Vila
Screenwriter: Philip Yordan, Fernando Fonseca
Cast: Ben Cross, Nicole Fortier, Ned Beatty, William Russ, Jill Carroll, Hal Holbrook, Trevor Howard, Peter Frechette
Rated R | 102 Minutes
Release Date: June 27, 2017
“You haven’t got a prayer…”
Directed by Cuban-American filmmaker Camilo Vila (Resurrection Blvd.), 1988’s The Unholy is a cheesy ’80s ripoff of ’70s “prestige horror” films like The Exorcist, The Omen, and The Sentinel. Now available on Blu-ray thanks to Lionsgate’s Vestron Video Collector’s Series, this demonic possession flick is concerned with Catholic priests, young and old alike, doing spiritual battle with a sexy-but-demonic force.
Father Dennis (Ruben Rabasa) is praying for forgiveness in Saint Agnes Church when a redheaded seductress (Nicole Fortier) appears, wearing a négligée. She’s a demon, of course, and the priest succumbs to her sultry, Satanic ways immediately. After kissing him, the demon claims Father Dennis’ soul for Hell and slashes his throat, leaving the old man to die in a pool of his own blood. That’s just foreplay 101 – step your game up, priests!
Three years later, Father Michael (Ben Cross of Exorcist: The Beginning) is trying to talk someone down from the ledge. Claude (Peter Frechette) is attempting suicide, but the priest attempts to defuse the situation and help him inside. Instead, crazy ol’ Claude pulls Father Michael through the window, sending him seventeen stories down to his death, except he doesn’t die. Like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable, the priest is examined at a hospital where they find no injuries whatsoever. Thank God, am I right?
Archbishop Mosely (Hal Holbrook of The Fog and Creepshow) and blind Father Silva (Trevor Howard) agree that Michael is like “The Chosen One,” destined to battle the demon Desiderius, known as “The Unholy,” because of an ancient prophecy or something. They appoint Father Michael as the new parish priest at Saint Agnes Church, which he will re-open with the help of caretaker Teresa (Claudia Robinson).
Shortly after arriving, Father Michael is visited by a police officer, Lt. Stern (Ned Beatty of Superman and Deliverance), who informs the priest about Father Collins, another man of God murdered in the same fashion as Father Dennis a year before. He mentions a girl named Millie (Jill Carroll) whose name appeared in Dennis’ appointment book. Michael believes she may know something about Dennis’ bizarre death and seeks her out.
It turns out Millie is a waitress at The Threshold, an occult-themed S&M club, where she works under the leadership of charismatic N’awlins businessman Luke (William Russ, the dad from Boy Meets World). Luke stages elaborate Satanic rituals and sacrifices at the bar, not because he believes in it, but because it’s trendy. It’s the ’80s after all, and the Satanic Panic is in full-swing. What better way to capitalize on the misplaced fears of religious paranoia than opening a swanky night club for sadomasochists and Cenobites?
Anyway, the opening scene of The Unholy is extremely promising, with its generous display of stage blood and bare breasts, but it quickly becomes more mundane than macabre. The next 75 minutes play out like a pilot for a new Catholic crime procedural, Law & Order: Demon Lover Unit, where a tough, no-nonsense priest interrogates seedy, street-level sinners in hopes of tracking down the Kingpin of Sin™ himself, Desiderius.
If you can make it through the slog that is most of this movie, you can look forward to a bonkers, bat-shit crazy finale, with schlocky special effects and more of everyone’s favorite Satanic sweetheart, Nicole Fortier, who is credited as “Demon” – not to be confused with “Demon Lesbian #2 in Nightmare Sequence,” who is played by Donna Barone (uncredited).
When “Demon” finally sheds her skin, the monster(s) underneath will incite sheer terror and extreme laughter in equal measure. There’s the Stiff-Legged Hell Sloth™ that moves with all the urgency of an endangered giant tortoise, flanked by a terrible twosome of what can only be described as Toddler Demons™ – little people in crude rubber suits who look like Ewoks that were condemned to burn forever in Hell’s fiery torment.
The Unholy is a mostly dull, occasionally entertaining, but always trashy B-movie that squanders its impressive cast on ponderous plotting and underwhelming special effects. The only reason to see this movie, aside from its sheer absurdity, is the lovely Nicole Fortier, who, I’m sad to say, only has one other acting credit to her name, 1987’s Scared Stiff. I know nothing about this movie, other than it was co-written by Mark Frost of Twin Peaks, but if it’s got Fortier in it, it’s worth seeking out.
Restored and remastered, the Vestron Video Collector’s Series Blu-ray features a 1080p transfer (16×9 widescreen 1.85:1) from the original film elements with the original 2.0 DTS Stereo Audio. There’s also all-new special features, including an audio commentary with director Camilo Vila; isolated score selections and an audio interview with composer Roger Bellon; an interview with production designer and co-writer Fernando Fonseca, featuring selections from his unused score; and the film’s original ending, with optional commentary from producer Mathew Hayden.
There’s a few newly produced featurettes included on this Collector’s Series release as well, including “Sins of the Father” with Ben Cross, “Demons In The Flesh: The Monsters of The Unholy,” and “Prayer Offerings” with Fernando Fonseca, as well as your standard assortment of trailers, TV and radio spots, and storyboard and still galleries.
All things considered, The Unholy feels right at home in the Vestron Video Collector’s Series, alongside titles like C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud and Wishmaster – films that are better left remembered than revisited. Don’t get me wrong, Vestron has had some amazing releases, like Blood Diner, Chopping Mall, and The Gate, but while the quality of these Blu-rays can compete with the likes of Scream Factory and Arrow Video’s boutique releases, the quality of the films cannot.