Our Prayers Are Put to the Test in the Demonic Horror Classic “The Unholy”

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Written by Shannon McGrew

The last few months I’ve had the opportunity to review some of the classic 80s horror films from the Vestron Collector’s Series. Each one has been a new experience for me and I’ve learned to appreciate the passion and intense amount of work that has gone into such films as “The Gate” and “Wishmaster”. The most recent title to be released in this Collector’s Series is the 1988 horror film, “The Unholy”, from director Camilo Vila starring Ben Cross, Hal Holbrook, and Ruben Rabasa.

If you are familiar with my writing, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of religious based horror, so one could say I was definitely looking forward to diving head first into this film. The plot of “The Unholy” is pretty simple – a priest is sent to destroy a demon, disguised as a beautiful woman, that is killing priests in the act of sinning, and it’s up to Father Michael to eradicate this evil once and for all. Considering what some Catholic priests are known to do, I would think that this demon would be doing us a favor, however that’s not what this film is about. Instead we are shown how human these priests are as they succumb to the temptations of the world.

My favorite thing about this movie is the practical effects used by the makeup team. Whether it be the demon’s true shape or the death sequence of the priests, the level of detail and attention to gore was much more impressive than if CGI had been in its place. I also really enjoyed the notion that this demon was disguised as a tempestuous thing of beauty who would entice those that are supposed to be the most holy and devout. Once she had her claws in her victims, the bloodshed flowed to the delight of the demon, and I’m sure to those in the audience.

In terms of acting, it’s pretty on par with what you would expect from an 80s horror flick; meaning there was a lot of dialogue that was overacted that elicited quite a few laughs from me. One of my favorite characters was the womanizing hunk of a man, Luke, played by William Ross. Luke was the owner of a Satanic club that found itself intertwined with the death of the previous priest. Luke’s storyline was laughably absurd as he tried to explain that all his Satanic acts were just for show and nothing more. Regardless of how ridiculous I found him, I couldn’t help but enjoy his story arc and his horrible New Orleans accent.

Is this film scary? Not really, as it doesn’t present the same level of scares that we are used to now. However, with that said, I could see why people would have been uncomfortable with the film back when it was released. At the height of the Satanic Panic movement, a film that showcased a Satanic club along with the sinful nature of priests may have been a bit much for the more conservative folks. I don’t know what the response was when the film first came out but I hope it ended up ruffling a few feathers along the way.

Overall, “The Unholy” has some genuinely impressive aspects to it, most notably with the practical effects. The acting left a lot to be desired but I’m not sure if that’s due to the talent or from the dialogue given to the actors. However, there were a few moments that shined and I thoroughly enjoyed William Ross as the pretend Satanist. I like that the film had a pay off in the end and that we were finally able to see the creature that inhabited the beautiful woman come to life. “The Unholy” isn’t a film that was meant to win a ton of awards and receive a slew of accolades, but it’s a fun viewing experience and really, what more can you ask for?

“The Unholy” is now available to own on Blu-ray from Lionsgate

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