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Anchor Bay Entertainment
DVD Released: 9/4/2007
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/6/2007
In the '90s, Anchor Bay made a name for itself as a boutique home video company which specialized in releasing horror and cult films, some famous and some obscure. Thanks to Anchor Bay, the films of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci got proper releases, and DVD fans were graced with very nice editions of Halloween and Evil Dead 2. But, recently, the company has focused on newer, direct-to-DVD movies. Some of them, such as Behind the Mask are certainly worth watching. Others, like the newly released Unholy...well...
Cult film icon Adrienne Barbeau stars in Unholy as Martha. As the film opens, she hears a noise in the cellar and finds that her daughter, Hope (Siri Baruc), has locked herself inside. Hope is holding a shotgun and rambling to herself, and then suddenly, much to Martha's dismay, Hope kills herself. Martha immediately contacts her son, Lucas (Nicholas Brendon), who rushes home. They begin to investigate Hope's suicide and they learn that she was an unwilling participant in a series of experiments conducted by someone named The Necromancer. In the cellar, they find paintings of a man who looks like a Nazi. They also find a small room which contains a small chair that has restraints. As they dig deeper, they are attacked by a local merchant and they learn that The Necromancer has been conducting experiments in new kinds of warfare and that he plans on selling his findings to the government. By investigating Hope's death, have Martha and Lucas placed themselves in jeopardy?
If the above synopsis made sense to you, then do yourself a favor and stick with that, because that summarization is as close to logical as Unholy gets. The entire movie seems to take place in a small town, but trust me, it's all over the map. Any movie which only has a handful of characters that chooses to open with one of those characters committing suicide clearly isn't interested in going very deep or having a great deal of character development. We are told that The Necromancer has been trying to perfect "the unholy trinity of warfare" -- invisibility, time travel, and mind control. What? The movie may (sort of) look like a horror film, but it's got one foot placed squarely in science-fiction. Unholy wants to be a movie with a great plot twist, but the twist hear may be one of the most non-sensical that I've ever seen. To be fair, I don't think that I've ever seen this particular plot device in a movie, but that may be because it's so incredibly lame. When the twist is revealed, you'll realize that it explains some dialogue from early in the movie, but that doesn't help it be any more logical. I think that I understood the actual finale, but honestly, by that point, I didn't care. Unholy had wandered around for over 80 minutes and I simply wanted it to end.
The mind-numbing story in Unholy gets no help from the film's zero-budget look and feel. I never like to accuse a movie of being cheap-looking, but this one certainly fits the bill. On the DVD's commentary, the director and writer joke about the film's low-budget, but seriously, this movie looks as if it had no budget. All of the locations appear to be condemned houses. (Which they were.) The "lab" for the experiments is the aforementioned small room in the cellar with the chair. We see a character subjected to the treatment there and it looks ridiculous. A quick glance at IMDB.com shows that most of the actors in the film have experience, but the performances given here have the feeling of non-actors, as the performances consist of a lot of standing around. It's not unusual for a low-budget horror film to look like a low-budget horror film, but its rare to see on which feels so constrained by the budget.
As someone who watches a lot of independent horror films, I've learned to be very patient with them. I've also been known to give them the benefit of the doubt if the technical material didn't quite live up to an interesting premise. But, Unholy is simply a mess. The movie is slow and confusing, and despite the fact that it has two familiar faces in the lead roles, it's shoddy nature still shines through. The movie wants to be clever and shocking, but the end result simply made me want to fast-forward. Oh, and in true exploitation movie fashion, there is nothing in the movie anywhere near as cool or provocative as the DVD cover art. That same DVD cover also states, "This is the movie that they don't want you to see!" Tell them I said thanks.
Unholy isn't the least bit evil on DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The movie was shot on HD and thus the image is quite sharp and clear. The picture shows no grain and no defects from the source material. The lack of grain is especially notable as the film was shot against some snowy and desolate-looking background, where grain would often be evident. The colors look fine, as do the skin-tones. I noted some minor video noise during quick camera movements, but otherwise the transfer was stable. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5. 1 audio track which provides fairly clear dialogue and sound effects. I noted some slight hissing during some scenes. The stereo effects are acceptable, but I noted only minor surround and subwoofer action.
The Unholy DVD contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from writer/producer/director Daryl Goldberg and writer/executive producer Sam Freeman. First of all, allow me to say that this is a cringe-worthy chat as Freeman talks about the fact that he had no friends in high school and that he lived for Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Whether or not this is true, it's a sad tale and I could have done with him telling it only once. Aside from that the two, again, talk about the film's extremely low-budget and admit that the movie was shot in condemned houses. I never heard them get into any attempts to make the film better. The DVD also contains a TRAILER for the movie, as well as a POSTER & STILL GALLERY.
Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long