Gerry Fenn is a formally famous journalist reduced to reporting on fake supernatural new stories. But one story starts to seem a bit… to real. A young deaf girl has been cured by visions of “Mary” and quickly gains followers through other miraculous healings. The church is all in, but Fenn is suspicious. Can he stop “Mary” before it’s too late? Find out in… The Unholy.
How?! Gerry Fenn was a crazy famous reporter. So crazy famous that he got caught up in writing fake stories to chase that fame. Flash forward a few years and he’s a down-and-out drunk working for a hoax news site on commission. When his latest story falls through he’s pretty angry, but coincidentally finds a strange kern doll in the field he’s in. It’s real creepy so naturally he smashes it so that he can make up a supernatural story to sell. Later that night he finds a girl out in the field where the doll had been. She’s Alice, the niece of the local priest and is deaf and mute… or at least was. Suddenly with visions of the Virgin Mary she can speak! She starts preaching the word of Mary and Fenn is right in the middle of the action. He’s the only one she trusts cause he truly believes. He saw the miracles with his own eyes. Meanwhile Alice’s uncle is suspicious and after doing some research is attacked and killed by a demonic presence. His death is ruled a suicide, but Fenn knows otherwise. Suddenly the one that Alice trusts most is having his own doubts. When Alice suggests a giant, widely televised sermon to preach the word of Mary, Fenn knows time is running out. He sneaks into the church and discovers the truth. Mary isn’t the Virgin Mary at all. She’s just some rando Mary who happened to be in leagues with the Devil. El Diablo! He rushes to the sermon just in time to convince everyone to have doubts about Mary. You see he made it all up cause he’s a liar and he’s done it before. Everyone is like yeah that makes sense. Suddenly Mary explodes onto the scene and is ready to roast Fenn but Alice sacrifices herself for him, killing Mary in the process. Fenn begs God to save Alice and indeed he does. It’s a miracle. God exists. THE END.
Why?! Well Mary is evil. Fen is a big ol’ liar trying to make it back to the top of the journalism game. This story is a bit opportunistic for him, but ultimately he sees the error of his ways. I think that’s really about it. Horror films are usually pretty straightforward this way.
Who?! Always fun to discuss a horror film’s monster in this section, particularly when we can anticipate the UCU (Unholy Cinematic Universe) rolling out over the next few decades. Mary Elnor is our devil witch and she is nicely spooky with real creepy claws and a mask nailed to her face. She was portrayed by Marina Mazepa, who was apparently a contortionist on America’s Got Talent. Makes sense cause you gotta contort if you are in leagues with the devil. It’s the rule.
What?! Jeffery Dean Morgan’s Sony camera that he totes around and records everything with actually gets some play in reviews from this film. I think people are just shocked to see a reporter using a camera to film their interviews and are like “no way.” But I feel like that’s pretty realistic. What is he gonna have? A camera man following his around? He’s freelance.
Where?! It’s made pretty clear that this is set in the boonies of Western MA. Always fun when they make up a fake place too. Here they are living it up in Banfield, Massachusetts. Nice. That is a legitimately real sounding place. And somehow also not a real town anywhere in America. Cool. I would have called the place Codchester just for laughs.
When?! They don’t make a clear statement on when everything is set, even though they show a full Wikipedia page written up for the event! The only hint we really get is that a magazine cover detailing one of the miracle healings appears to be the Spring 2019 issue. And since everyone is all bundled up in MA you can imagine it is pretty early Spring. Maybe March. C.
Sigh. No one will remember this film. I wonder if it even would have been a major release without a studio needing something to fill an early slot as theaters opened back up. It’s really a cheap looking film that holds very few scares. Not entirely their fault, as I understand it, since they were struggling with some intense covid limitations for the entirety of filming. The concept is OK… the idea of a demonic presence taking on the guise of the Virgin Mary and luring unsuspecting souls into devil worship. But it can’t really pull it off. One fun thing is that Cary Elwes shows up as a Boston priest who has the deepest Boston accent possible… and by Boston accent I mean whatever it is that is coming out of Elwes’ mouth. It’s some funny shit. Patrick?
Hallo iedereen! I’m in Amsterdam on my way to America (so no more ‘ellos unfortunately, as I’ll be slipping back into my (now fake) American accent). We’ve got (uh)holy visions all up in here. Let’s go!
P’s View on the Preview – There was some debate about which horror film to do from this year. It was basically between this and Separation. On the one hand Separation has a 7% on Rotten Tomatoes (my god!). On the other, The Unholy was a far bigger film with actual actors in it. Tough to choose, but we went with The Unholy. I was stunned to realize it was based on a book. More on that later. What were my expectations? Rote religious “horror” with maybe jump scares? That is what the reviews all say. That if you’ve seen a few religious horror films you will have already watched this film.
The Good – From a storyline perspective it is really interesting. I’m actually not that bothered by the lack of scares (even the jump scares are lame), and the rote storytelling. I actually found it all pretty interesting as a simple dramatic story. There really isn’t that much more to say. The story is really thin. I guess maybe the set design was also impressive. The final set piece with the Mass in the tent seemed well done. For a horror film with an incredibly low body count (3) and no scares, it didn’t seem all that bad. Best Bit: The underlying story is at least somewhat interesting.
The Bad – Here’s the thing, the book was written in 1983. A time where, presumably, there was a lot more simple acceptance of religious ideals, or at least almost everyone would have grown up with some religious education. A cynical ambitious journalist accidentally stumbling onto genuine miracles and demons in 2021 though? I feel like they could have hit the point home a bit more that Gerry Fenn never believed it to be true, and just how stunned and scared he is to realize that not only was he not merely propagating a hoax, but instead genuinely party to a demonic presence. I think Gerry is far too quick to be like “sweet I saw a miracle, this is going to be awesome for my career!” That is my biggest critique from a story perspective. The other glaring thing is that Cary Elwes’s Boston accent is absurd. At times a bad Boston accent, at times straight up Irish, and at times New York. Horrible. Fatal Flaw: I think it failed to update the core story for the nearly 40 year gap between the book’s publication and movie’s production which makes it ring false.
The BMT – Throw it on the pile of other religious horror I guess. I think this is one of the better ones, but I also have no doubt that I will never think of or watch this film again. Maybe one claim to fame could be that it is an adaptation of a book by a pretty famous horror writer from England I had never heard of. So if I end up reading a few of his books that could be a fun origin story for that. Did it meet my expectations? It actually didn’t even really have that many jump scares. I will say that to suggest having seen other religious horror is to have seen this film is a bit unfair. This seems a bit OG in that regard since it is an adaptation, and the fundamental “twist” is far more interesting than I think they give it credit for.
Roast-radamus – A very nice Setting as a Character (Where?) for Western Massachusetts (presumably, I guess it could be anywhere in Massachusetts, but I think it must be Western Mass). And I’ll lob out a Worst Twist (How?) for just how they muddle things with “Mary” and the Virgin Mary and all that. Is it a twist? Debatable, but I’ll toss it out there. I think this is closest to Good maybe.
Sequel, Prequel, Remake – The Prequel is always the way to go with bad horror films. Made a bad Ouija movie? Well, let’s go back to the 70s and it’ll be weirdly good. Made a bad Annabelle film? Well, what about if we did the origin story we should have done in the first place? Works every time, by which I mean it worked the two times I remember. The origin story here is about Mary obviously. You twist it on its head a bit right? She’s a devout Christian in Puritan Massachusetts, but then is assaulted by the townspeople of Banfield and left for dead. Rescued by a witch she is consumed with the desire for revenge, and uses her knowledge of the divine to corrupt them, kill them, and ultimately condemn their souls to torture within her Dark Realm. Her revenge complete, an innocent attempts to bring her back to the light, for God is capable of all forgiveness, but Mary refuses, vowing to consume the blighted Earth and destroy God himself with her resulting power. Venturing into Mary’s Dark Realm, our hero saves the town priest who is able to kill Mary and trap her soul in a Kern Baby. See, you got a little anti-hero for Mary, but then ultimately she becomes too far gone. The Unholy: Original Sin would be the name there. The third film takes place after the first and would be about Alice learning that Father Hagan’s soul is trapped in the Dark Realm and she too has to venture forth to battle Mary once more to save him in The Unholy: Dark Realm.
You Just Got Schooled – We’re back babyyyyyyyy! I could have read the book the film was based on (Shrine), but instead I read James Herbert’s first (and very short) novel The Rats. Immediately very fun in that you get a lot of descriptions of run down 1970s East London. The story is also pretty fun just because it is pretty similar to Night Shift by Stephen King in some ways, which was written in 1970 it seems. Herbert also made a book called The Fog which is also just about poisonous fog creeping into a town. The point I’m making is that these original books seem to be very archetypal, stories which are more campfire tales projected onto a particular setting / characters. And there is something fun about seeing a period of horror literature that was still publishing shorts and installments into magazines like Cavelier and Penthouse. The book itself is a bit odd. Very disjointed because it doesn’t tend to really follow the main character much for a good chunk of the book. Instead, it is more just showing bits of East London and rats attacking. It is also a bit odd because it is speaking on the degraded nature of East London from a time long enough ago that it is hardly recognizable. East London is still “grimy” maybe, but it is also pretty hipster and multicultural now. Anyways, fun short book anyways, if a bit rote. B.