APRIL 15 — All supernatural horror films are intrinsically religious in nature.
It’s the specifics of the religion (and community) at the heart of the films that make them different from each other.
Malay language horror films from our country will, of course, have Islam as the religion of choice to fight evil with, Thai horror films will be steeped in Buddhism, and American and European horror flicks will usually have Christianity (and sometimes Judaism) front and centre in their fight against evil, unless we’re talking about the Nordic countries which will sometimes have a more paganistic focus, depending on the community the films are focused on.
As a horror fan, it’s always fun to get exposed to the many particular ways that these beliefs have when it comes to fighting evil.
Catholic horror films are, of course, the most well-known to everyone around the globe by the simple fact that some of the most famous horror films of all time like The Exorcist, The Omen and The Conjuring are Catholic horror flicks.
With the release of The Pope’s Exorcist in Malaysian cinemas right now, I think it’d be fun to also recommend another Catholic horror flick that was recently released in the first quarter of this year, because why watch only one when you can watch two?
The Pope’s Exorcist
An unapologetically mainstream and shameless attempt at kickstarting a new horror franchise by the folks at Sony, The Pope’s Exorcist plays like the thousands of possession flicks that have arrived (and will continue to arrive) after The Exorcist, which is to say that there’s nothing in the predictable and by-the-numbers plot that will surprise you.
But when you have Julius Avery at the helm, the Aussie genre stylist responsible for the rollicking Overlord and last year’s serviceable Samaritan, you can at least be assured of some energetic B-movie entertainment, partly delivered by Avery’s fire-and-brimstone theatrics when serving up the scare set-pieces, but mostly thanks to a hammy Russell Crowe having plenty of fun chewing up the scenery every chance he gets.
Yes, Crowe is very probably slumming it in return for a generous paycheck, but watching him here is like delighting in watching Nicolas Cage hamming it up in his many infamous movies, and you’d have to admit that sometimes that alone is more than worth the price of the ticket.
Another story about an exorcist trying to help a possessed American kid, look no further than the movie’s hilarious prologue, in which Crowe’s Father Gabriele Amorth almost jokily dispatches a demon that’s possessing a young kid in a small Italian village, to see how Avery embraces the ridiculous and the scary in one swift and deftly executed set-piece.
The narrative’s predictability might result in the film not being scary at all to seasoned horror fans, but Avery compensates for it by delivering rollercoaster ride thrills during the film’s many possession and exorcism scenes.
It’s not going to be hailed as one of the best horror films of 2023, but as a lurid B-movie influenced franchise starter, it certainly has its charms.
The Devil Conspiracy
If you thought that The Pope’s Exorcist is already kind of ridiculous, wait till you see the glorious madness that awaits you in the clearly low-budget (yet still epic) The Devil Conspiracy.
If you can imagine a low budget mash-up of The Prophecy and Legion, written by a nuttier version of Dan Brown and directed by Paul WS Anderson, or if these names actually mean anything to you, then stop whatever it is you’re doing and seek out this piece of cinematic nuttiness pronto!
The story is about the continuing battle between Archangel Michael and Lucifer, which although initially ended with Michael banishing Lucifer to an eternity of imprisonment in Hell, has now seen a new plot arising among Lucifer’s followers to free him from the depths of Hell.
Central to this plan is the Shroud of Turin, a fabled piece of cloth that supposedly served as the burial shroud for Jesus that, crucially to this film, contains the DNA for Jesus, to be used by a scientist who has devised a way of extracting the DNA of long dead people, to make clones.
He apparently has successfully cloned Vivaldi and Michelangelo, auctioning these clones to rich people who want to raise genius/gifted kids.
So, to free Lucifer from hell, the only way to do so is for him to possess a body strong enough to contain his full power, which explains the need for his followers to clone Jesus.
Add to this already intriguing madness the fact that Michael has now reanimated the body of a murdered priest (thanks to his prayers right before his demise), and we have a mad little film giddy with all sorts of possession and supernatural powers.
Now try imagining this delightfully fanciful and far-fetched narrative being presented as an action thriller with more than a touch Marvel/DC super-heroics in certain parts, but with a far, far smaller budget, what we have here is a small little film that’s literally shooting for the heavens despite its earthy origins.
It’s nowhere near perfect and very possibly not even good, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t entertained!
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.