Film Review: THE UNHOLY (1988)

THE UNHOLY ** USA 1988 Dir: Camilo Vila. 102 mins

A 1970’s screenplay (by veteran Hollywood screenwriter Philip Yordan) was dusted off for this belated entry in the post-EXORCIST religious horror cycle. It’s probably best remembered by horror fans of a certain age for the full-frontal nudity of red-haired demon temptress Nicole Fortier (also in SCARED STIFF a year earlier), who lures a terrified priest to his doom at the start.
Po-faced Ben Cross – sceptical about the concept of physical demons / devils – takes over the parish of the murdered man of the cloth and learns from blind priest Trevor Howard (in his last role) that he is God’s chosen “champion” to fight Satan’s Earthbound demons. Meanwhile, amateur cultists stage faux-sacrifices at a club that looks like the set of a Bonnie Tyler music video, and at one point, Archbishop Hal Holbrook’s dialogue suggest he’s about to break into the first verse of the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”. Camp club MC William Russ appears to be warming up to take part in a “Come Dressed As Billy Idol’s Less Sexy Older Brother” contest. It’s a self-serious picture executed in a visually bland fashion by director Vila and sorely lacking in atmosphere. Cross, saddled with a mostly reactive role, looks unengaged and mostly has to respond to a succession of horrible things, including waking up to a mass of snakes slithering over his crotch and being force fed a scab by a demon. The fun last half hour (a post-production reshoot to replace the more sedate original ending) at least delivers an abundance of goodies: Cross is crucified by Hell Minions before a toothy demon puppet nearly gives him the blow job from Hell, while a baffling sex-and-violence montage features sadistic dentistry and big-boobed naked women having their throats slashed. And our God-assisted hero gets to yell “Get thee behind me, Satan!”

Review by Steven West

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