The Unholy (1988)
Director: Camilo Vila
Starring: Ben Cross, Ned Beatty, William Russ, Jill Carroll, Hal Holbrook & Trevor Howard
Released by: Lionsgate
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Set in New Orleans where a dark underbelly of satanic worship resides, The Unholy centers on Father Michael (Ben Cross, Chariots of Fire), the newly appointed priest of St. Agnes Church. Following the brutal and unsolved murders of the parishes previous pastors, an ungodly evil threatens the house of worship with Michael’s pure soul being its last hope of survival. Ned Beatty (Toy Story 3), William Russ (Boy Meets World), Jill Carroll (Psycho II), Hal Holbrook (The Fog) and Trevor Howard (The Third Man) costar.
Channeling the satanic allure of The Exorcist and The Omen having been originally scripted in their wake and revived more than a decade later, The Unholy injects more special-effects wizardry into its proceedings where demonic beasts and grisly deaths reign while struggling to remain narratively appealing. Miraculously surviving a fall off a building, Father Michael is appointed to reopen the dormant St. Agnes Church in New Orleans following the tragic murder of his predecessor. Considered to be “the chosen one” by his mentors, Father Michael is quickly haunted by nightmarish visions of a seductive temptress while investigating the unsolved murders plaguing his church. Stumbling upon a black magic-worshipping nightclub in his research, Father Michael’s encounter with teenage runaway Millie (Carroll), who confided in the deceased Father Dennis, begins to reveal a frightening truth. Skeptical of Millie’s insistence that demonic forces are at play, strange occurrences including, a dog slain at the church’s alter and threats made by Millie’s club-owning over protector Luke (Russ) persist. Juxtaposing between more nightmare-fueled visions of the scantly clad vixen and a victim, intestines gruesomely hanging, displayed as an inverted cross, The Unholy pays off with gory sights and a faith vs. demonic monster showdown during its climax yet, fails to dig deeper into Father Michael’s psyche as the chosen one. Furthermore, while potential reasons and accused culprits behind the sinister happenings are unnecessarily named, none prove conclusive and simply serve as a way to buffer the runtime and muddy the waters of an effort best blamed simply on the devil. Mildly taxing for these reasons yet, redeeming in its showcase of visual effects, creature designs and the red stuff, The Unholy offers more in its style than its substance.
Debuting as the tenth inclusion of the Vestron Video Collector’s Series, Lionsgate presents The Unholy with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Photographed during nighttime sequences or under dimly-lit circumstances, black levels are commendable while occasionally looking grainier than desired. Furthermore, skin tones are natural with Millie’s 80s-centric makeup popping nicely. Although the film’s few daytime sequences of sunshine understandably soften up the picture, this softness, although not wildly overwhelming, carries over throughout much of the film, appearing not as sharp as one would hope but also not an uncommon sight for lower-budgeted films from this era. Meanwhile, moments of neck-torn gore and detail observed in the demonic creatures earn some of the transfer’s highest marks of clarity. Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue never disappoints while, the film’s synth-heavy score by Roger Bellon (Waxwork) sounds excellent.
Exceptionally packed with content, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Camilo Vila, Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview with Composer Roger Bellon, an Audio Interview with Production Designer & Co-Writer Fernando Fonseca, featuring Isolated Selections from his Unused Score. Also included, Sins of the Father with Ben Cross (19:09) where the film’s star covers his adolescent fascination with the arts, attending drama school, early days rooming with the film’s director and praise for his costars. Demons in the Flesh: The Monsters of The Unholy (22:26) catches up with Make-Up Effects Designer Jerry Macaluso who scored the job on the feature as a teenager in high school with additional insight into the film’s reworked ending from Art Director/Additional Special Effects Unit Steve Hardie and Effects Artist/Special Effects Unit Neil Gorton. Prayer Offerings with Production Designer & Co-Writer Fernando Fonseca (18:35) and the Original Ending featuring Optional Audio Commentary with Production Designer & Co-Writer Fernando Fonseca (15:02) are also on-hand while, the Theatrical Trailer (1:17), TV Spots (2:15), Radio Spots (2:25), an Original Storyboard Gallery (18:40) and a Still Gallery (11:51) round out this five-star offering of supplements conducted by the tireless Red Shirt Pictures.
An imperfect tale of satanic seduction that rightly has its dedicated fans, The Unholy certainly has its moments of fright-filled anarchy but has difficulty crafting characters that command our attention. Worshippers of the black magic horror opus will be overjoyed by its inclusion in the Vestron Video Collector’s Series that blesses it with a respectable HD upgrade and an ungodly awesome stash of newly recorded bonus extras.