Wednesday, October 24, 2012

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: Your Body is My Religion!

This review of Full Moon's disc for the long-awaited, highly-anticipated release of THE EVIL CLERGYMAN was supposed to appear last week during the Anthology-Athon. Alas, real life got in the way and it wasn't till this morning that I was able to finally get my thoughts pulled together. Oh sure, reviewing it for the anthology block is a bit of a cheat but since the segment was originally shot for PULSEPOUNDERS I feel like I can get away with it.

I used to be somewhat obsessed with all things Empire.

What can I say? When a studio releases what immediately becomes your favorite movie of all-time you become a fan. Going to the theater to see everything they put out. Immediately renting the flicks you loved or the ones that bypassed town in favor of a quickie theatrical release in NYC. It was a love affair.

The love affair with Empire flicks was frequently reignited when the big issues of Variety would hit the newsstands. Tied into industry events like Cannes or the American Film Market, the thick issues were a "must have" and I'd fritter away hours pouring through the pages trying to glean whatever details I could about upcoming flicks from all the studios, but especially Empire (and the Go-Go Boys at Cannon).

I can still remember the full-page announcement ad for PULSEPOUNDERS, Empire's "upcoming" entry in the then-popular anthology genre. It seemed like a genius idea from the mind of Charles Band: three segments, each a sequel to or logical offshoot of one of the studio's biggest hits of 1985. There would be a sequel to THE DUNGEONMASTER (itself an anthology of sorts), a continuation of the heroic adventures of future cop Jack Deth from TRANCERS, and, most importantly (for me, at least), a return to H.P. Lovecraft territory with THE EVIL CLERGYMAN, complete with RE-ANIMATOR stars Jeffrey Combs, David Gale and the lovely Barbara Crampton.

And so we waited. And waited. And waited. Every now and then a PULSEPOUNDRES still or news would trickle out but that was about it. Releases like FROM BEYOND, DOLLS and ENEMY TERRITORY kept me sated but it wasn't long before Empire's impressive average started to slide and PULSEPOUNDERS retreated into the dark recesses of my mind, emerging from the brain muck every now and then for me to ponder whatever happened to the flick.

Like most fans, I assumed that the end of Empire and Charles Band's subsequent move to Full Moon meant that PULSEPOUNDERS was lost forever, a myth to chat about on film boards and at hotel bars during conventions.

As it turns out, PULSEPOUNDERS wasn't swept away or left unfinished because Band was too busy making horrible vampire and puppet movies. As the producer/director explains in the featurette included on the long-awaited DVD release of THE EVIL CLERGYMAN, the original negative for the film was lost when one of the labs the studio used went out of business and it wasn't until 20+ years later – when a VHS work print was found – that wheels were set in motion for PULSEPOUNDERS to finally see the light of day.

Even if it is one segment at a time.

Besides Combs, Crampton and Gale, CLERGYMAN reunites us with composer Richard Band (who contributes a lush and romantically sinister new score), cinematographer Mac Ahlberg and scribe Dennis Paoli, who once again gets to indulge in the sexual side of Lovecraft with this atmospheric tale.

A young woman (Crampton) visits the castle room where she and her clergyman lover (Combs) consummated their illicit relationship – before he hanged himself. Left alone to gather her things, she soon finds herself being warned by a bishop (David Warner) that her lover was evil and simply wants to possess her soul. (And who can blame him?) It isn't long before the gropey clergyman returns, gets all handsey and is laying it on thick with lines like "your body is my religion". (Again, can you blame him?)

Relying heavily on atmosphere, THE EVIL CLERGYMAN isn't a wild, occasionally gross ride like RE-ANIMATOR or FROM BEYOND. The 30-minute segment is – David Gale's rat suit by John Carl Beuchler aside – largely effects-free and more akin to the Lovecraft adaptations of NIGHT GALLERY or MASTERS OF HORROR with a dash of the atmosphere we'd later see in Stuart Gordon's CASTLE FREAK (an underrated Combs/Crampton outing).

Combs' snarky smirk is put to good use as the love 'em and leave 'em sinister minister who has left a trail of crazed and dead chicks in his wake. And nobody does "hot and kinda crazy" like Crampton, who shifts effortlessly from demure to sexy in no time.

Kudos to Full Moon for rescuing PULSEPOUNDERS from the trash heap and releasing it to the fans. Naturally, given the source material, the image quality isn't great but this is a rare opportunity to see a flick that was long thought to be lost forever.

The disc is currently a Full Moon exclusive and includes a featurette from the CLERGYMAN premiere earlier this year as well as 60-seconds of work print footage from TRANCERS 1.5 starring Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt and Art LeFleur in a tale scripted by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo. Full Moon anticipates that disc being ready for October 2013.

THE EVIL CLERGYMAN is available exclusively from Full Moon Direct.

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