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Blu-ray Review: The Unholy

THE FILM  2.5/5

“Ever had a woman, Father?”

In New Orleans, a city with a dark underside of black magic and satanic worship, 2 priests have been brutally murdered at St Agnes Church.  Now The Unholy Reign only to be challenged by the purest of mortal souls. Father Michael is appointed to the ungodly parish.  Is he really strong enough to fight off this terrible evil? Or will he be the third priest to die?

Last year’s announcement of Lionsgate’s new specialized horror/cult releasing label, the Vestron Video Collectors Series, was met with a lot of excitement. Nostalgia for the 1980s continues unabated, being resurrected with all kinds of throwback artistic movements – film, music, fashions, etc. Among them is the growing fondness (or refondness) for the VHS format, popular more for their representation of an era in time rather than their actual playback quality.

Vestron Video was one of the more well-known distribution labels among videophiles during the 1980s and 1990s. Responsible for having released VHS editions of films that have grown to attract immense cult appeal (The Monster Squad, etc.), its name and logo will always be synonymous with the entirety of the VHS movement.

So when Lionsgate (formerly Artisan Entertainment, which was formerly Live Entertainment, which had acquired the Vestron video library) doubly-announced the existence of both the new Vestron Video Collectors Series, along with the first two long-demanded releases of the banner (Chopping Mall and Blood Diner), horror fans were ecstatic. I know I was. A huge proponent of the resurgence of the VHS movement, I share the sentimentality for both the format and the era from which it derives. I long for the simplicity of the home video days. Because of this, the new Vestron line is one I hope catches fire with collectors in the same way as Shout Factory’s Scream Factory or Arrow Video’s cult and horror catalog.

Nearly one year later, The Unholy represents the tenth release in the Vestron line – following on the heels of hotly demanded titles (Return of the Living Dead 3) and some more…befuddling choices (Lair of the White Worm). Somewhat hampering the new Vestron line’s mission statement are Lionsgate’s choice to release horror titles they produced themselves, rather than proper Vestron titles they later acquired. (This is why we now have a Wishmaster collection on Blu.) But, that’s quibbling. And I’ll stop.

The Unholy definitely hews on the odder side of things as a choice of a release. As someone who grew up devouring the horror genre (and who still does, looking back as much as I do ahead), this was a title that never ended up on my radar. Except for (possibly) seeing the tattered VHS cover at my local mom-n-pop, I can’t be sure I ever knew it existed.

Having finally watched it for myself, I’m confident that a discovery of this title during my early teens would have resulted in a far different reaction – and perhaps grandfathered that reaction into my adulthood – than the one I had as the credits rolled.

The Unholy is very, very stupid, while also somehow featuring Hal Holbrook and Ned Beatty – two actors known for good things. Following an admittedly intriguing opening during which a priest is seduced by a sexily dressed red-headed demon woman, her ensemble leaving very little to the imagination, we’re introduced to our priestly main character, Father Michael (a miscast Ben Cross), as he’s summoned to the scene of a man threatening to commit suicide. What seems like a random cry for help/questioning of faith is actually the first part in the ongoing mystery behind the deaths of two priests at the church to which Father Michael has been assigned. From there he meets a series of people (including Cory’s father from Boy Meets World with screaming Billy Idol hair and Craig Wasson’s vampire wardrobe from Body Double) as his investigation into the demon woman threatening to tear apart his no-hanky-panky agreement with The Big G.

The Unholy feels like a composite of many different stories, tones, and approaches – so much that, by film’s end, you feel confused and exhausted. There’s an attempt to take a religious mystery, add a sexually charged European aesthetic, but then marry it to a Angelheart-ish film noir, so by the time the finale occurs, which features a host of cenobite-like rubber monsters by way of The Gate, you are fully ready for it to be over.

I know I was.

THE PICTURE  3.5/5

The Unholy’s video presentation is pretty rough in spots, offering only a reasonable amount of stability, but a soft looking experience. One of the biggest (admittedly deserved) knocks against the Vestron line so far has been the video quality on nearly every one of their titles, and The Unholy will only add fuel to that fire. Colors are reasonably strong, though somewhat muted, and there are too many moments of print damage in the form of specks and cracks throughout. Previously, The Unholy‘s only domestic DVD release was in a multi-pack, where it shared a disc with three (!) other films, so by comparison it likely looks like a revelation. But, it’s not quite the high-def experience that’s been proven possible by other cult title releases.

 THE SOUND 4/5

The audio, however, sounds pretty great, offering a standard experience for a film of this era (and budget). Dialogue sounds fine, as does the slightly cheap sounding musical score. The range opens up a bit during sexytime appearances of the demon girl, and obviously during the finale. It does a decent amount of heavy lifting to make up for the underwhelming video presentation.

 THE SUPPLEMENTS 4/5

Where Vestron’s releases haven’t lacked so far has been in the supplements department. Much like Scream Factory, each release has been blessed with a wealth of special features for films that might not be worth discussing that much. But that hasn’t stopped them from packing a punch with each release, and The Unholy is no different.

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Audio Commentary with Director Camilo Vila
  • Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview with Composer Roger Bellon
  • Audio Interview with Production Designer & Co-Writer Fernando Fonseca, featuring Isolated Selections from his Unused Score
  • Original Ending featuring Optional Audio Commentary with Producer Mathew Hayden
  •  Featurettes:
    • “Sins of the Father with Ben Cross”
    • “Demons In The Flesh: The Monsters of The Unholy
    • “Prayer Offerings with Production Designer & Co-Writer Fernando Fonseca”
  •  Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spots
  • Radio Spots
  • Original Storyboard Gallery
  • Still Gallery

 OVERALL 3.5/5

Despite their inconsistent stock of titles released so far, as well as the underwhelming picture quality they have been afforded, I fully support the existence of the Vestron Video Collectors Series. Many more titles once released by the distributor of old have yet to make their journey to Blu-ray, so this is a promising sign of things to come. (And a request to Lionsgate: if you’re going to dig deep in your vaults for non-Vestron, LGF releases, how about one for May? Please?) The PQ and AQ have been pretty on par with previous releases, along with the extra collection of supplements. Strange title notwithstanding, The Unholy perfectly fits along with the Vestron Line so far. Recommended to fans; everyone else, perhaps rent.

(Thanks to Rock! Pop! Shop! for the screen grabs.)

THE DISTRIBUTOR

Lionsgate is a leading global entertainment company with a strong and diversified presence in motion picture production and distribution, television programming and syndication, home entertainment, family entertainment, digital distribution, new channel platforms, and international distribution and sales.


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Written by

J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.