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Movies Eddie McMullen Jr.

Review by
E.C.McMullen Jr.

UNHOLY (2007)
Starz / Anchor Bay Entertainment
Rating: N/A

When I was six and in the first grade it dawned on me, one day in class while we were busy making Christmas decorations, that there was no Santa Claus. That with everything I knew about reality (admittedly limited at that age, but still), there was just no way that there could be a Santa Claus, whose elves made toys at the North pole, even though the box the present came in was clearly marked "Made In Japan". I knew that, even though most children around the world didn't celebrate Christmas, there were just far too many who did to make it possibly feasible - short of magic - to fly around the world and deliver the tons of toys to all of those children by name. The very concept was unworkable by anything other than sheer blind faith.

I didn't have blind faith in anything. I grew up in Florida and I wanted to be an astronaut. I wanted it so much that at the age of three I wanted to learn to read and write. I was crazy for it and my Mom finally broke down and taught me so that I was reading books like THE FOUNDATION TRILOGY, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, and LORD OF THE FLIES by the time I was in the first grade. I could read all the way through even if I didn't understand all the concepts.

So when I had my epiphany about Santa, and I confronted my Pop, and he confirmed, almost ashamed that, yes he and my Mom had been lying to me about it, it was quite the revelation.

I returned to school the very next day and told all the kids in my class that Santa was fake: their parents had all lied to them. Talk about yer wild-eyed conspiracy theory! No one believed me and my teacher, Mrs. Forsmoe, called my parents. Mom made me use my well learned writing skills to write 500 times, "I Will Not Tell People What I Know." And yet I did know. And none of the kids my age had figured it out. And no amount of reason that a six year old could muster could sway them.

Such blind faith in falsehoods don't go away with childhood. As adults we know that towns, counties, even entire countries can have myths or lies that are absolutely believed by the population. And if someone even attempts to reveal the truth, that person is called a liar and will even be met with violence. It doesn't matter how otherwise socially or technologically advanced that country is. Do a search on the words "fan death" "face mars" or "Global warming" to see what I mean. People, in their masses can believe illogical and outright bizarre things, and live their lives by them. And that type of insanity can even be shared by an entire community.

This is where UNHOLY comes in.

UNHOLY starts with a woman named Martha (Adrienne Barbeau: THE FOG [1980], ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, THE THING [1982]) buying flowers from the Worst! Florist! Ever! (Richard Ziman). The day is no better when Martha gets home and finds her daughter, Hope (Siri Baruc: THRALLS, GLASS TRAP), locked herself in the cellar and is holding a shotgun barrel to her face. One dead daughter later and Martha's son Lucas (Nicholas Brendon: PSYCHO BEACH PARTY, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER [TV]), comes to take his Mom away from Downingtown, Pennsylvania. A change of scenery will do her good. Hell, everyone should leave that place and never talk to each other again! This doesn't sit well with her next door neighbor, Charlie (Merwin Goldsmith), who has a crush on her. Martha falls asleep in the car and, when she wakes up, finds herself back at the Worst! Florist! Ever! Lucas and Martha get harrassed by both the florist and some crazy lady who apparently was passing by. Wow but this town sucks!

Martha suddenly gets it into her head that she doesn't want to leave. That maybe the unknown reason for Hope's suicide can be found in the cellar. Lucas is against the idea but Mom is adamant so back they go. Down in the cellar, Martha and Lucas discover that Hope's head was all wrapped up into some seriously freaky supernatural Nazi stuff! Martha is dumbfounded that she never noticed. Together Mother and son discover some of Hope's hidden artwork, her tape recorded diary, and a secret room that is creepy, not so much for what is in it - just a chair with restraints and an old record player - as for its implication. Just who the hell was or is getting restrained in that chair and for what purpose?

Hope's voice diary gives them something to go on, a woman named Gertrude. As it turns out, Gertrude is the name of Charlie's ex-wife. Martha pleads with Charlie to see her. Charlie relents though he's hesitant because his former old lady is nuts.

And it's true: Getrude is totally whack-a-doo and is the same nutcase who harassed them at the evil florist's shop. As they sit in her cruddy house, Gertrude spins a half-assed tale of supernatural Nazi conspiracy that even Chucky Manson would find hard to swallow. Then Charlie reveals a rather insane side of himself. Back home, Martha is seriously losing it. In relatively short time she has witnessed the brutal suicide of her daughter, been harrassed by local retailers, and seen her neighbor go off the deep end after listening to his koo-koo berries ex.

Martha goes to sleep that night and wakes up in the cellar strapped down in that chair in the secret room; the record playing. This sends her completely over the edge and thus we have our story. The entire town has its own myths about a guy named Lester (Joseph McKenna: 12 MONKEYS), who is or was the local necromancer. He worked for the Nazis but Truman brought him over after the war and ever since the U.S. government (Republicans and Democrats working hand in hand? Talk about yer unbelievable conspiracy theories!) has engaged in scientific witchcraft.

Lucas is worried that his Mom is losing her marbles and tries to help her. Unfortunately, he was also raised in Downingtown and the local legends are hard to ignore. Even the local kids play games with each other that have various parts of the town's mythos figured into the play.

The movie takes many twists and turns until I wasn't sure if I was supposed to buy into the supernatural conspiracy theory as the movie plot, or if I was supposed to think that Martha was making the whole thing up in her head. At various times the movie staggers between the two. Also, UNHOLY gets too clever with its character twists and turns: more twists than in an entire season of THE X-FILES - and that's not a good thing. There are too many characters saying: "I am this person. No really I am that person. Well, honestly, I was lying both times and I'm really this other person. Okay, Okay, I'll come clean, I'm not any of those people, I'm really a fourth identity and I lied because you wouldn't believe the truth!" Those kinds of twists are just patchwork writing to cover unresolvable plotholes. It reminded me of an episode of Family Guy where a man confesses to his wife on nationwide TV that he is not really a man (removes a few articles of clothing) he's really a woman! His wife expresses utter surprise and the newly minted woman confesses that she actually isn't even really a woman (removes more clothing and skin) but is really a horse! The wife is truly stunned and then the horse confesses that he isn't even a horse, but a broom! Whereupon the newly unveiled broom falls to the floor, lifeless.

I think this movie works better depending on how you take it. For example, if I bought into the whole supernatural nazi government conspiracy, I wouldn't like it. Such stories can be successfully done, but the conspiracy theory presented here along with its motivations is juvenile in its machinations. The all powerful necromancer, Lester, never seems more threatening than a mumbling bum walking down the street. Certainly nothing to generate the kind of fear that a government conspiracy could create. On the other hand, from the very start when Martha is trying to talk her daughter out of suicide, she asks Hope if she is doing this to make her Mother happy. "I'm happy now," Martha says.

This scene would be totally incongruous unless it is a brilliant hint at the far deeper problems this family has, like say a wildly unstable Mother. Adrienne Barbeau plays the role of a grief stricken mother, losing her sanity and surrounded by violent nutjobs, quite well. But Director Goldberg spent way too much time balancing the story between two plots. UNHOLY leaves the audience guessing as to whether this is a brilliant movie about a woman's mental disintegration, or a truly stupid movie based on a frothy premise about a vast all powerful government conspiracy that reaches across time and space, but can be brought down by one grieving housewife who rarely leaves her home. Being a person who wants to enjoy a movie, I made my choice, but I admit its a coin toss.

Either way, UNHOLY is a story concept that could have been really fascinating had it only been better thought and fleshed out. Such a tale involving high government intrigue required far more detail and landscape than the small town microcosm approach Co-writer and director, Daryl Goldberg went for. If it really is about one woman's psychological descent, then UNHOLY is poorly edited. I realize that Daryl might have had to work within the confines of a very tiny budget. But the kind of movie he and co-writer, Sam Freeman wanted to tell can't be made well on pocket change. You have to write and direct for your budget. Or you just have to tell your story better.

Also, Worst! Sex Scene! Ever! Holy crap but what was the point of that? I've never seen such an out of place boring sex scene! And I've seen HABIT!

So even though I have to knock a lot of points off for those problems, UNHOLY still kept my attention. For a newbie, Daryl did a very good job directing his actors. More for the characters than the plot, I wanted to see what was going to happen next, and the ending made sense even within the movie's own convoluted logic. I give it a barely earned three Shriek Girls because, make no mistake Daryl and Sam, Adrienne's superior acting saved your picture.

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This review copyright 2008 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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