[31 Days Of Horror ’20] Mini Reviews: The Unholy (1988) and Shakma (1990)

Mini Review Day 07: The Unholy (1988)

It is of no surprise that after the success of The Exorcist (1973), many films used the same or a similar formula of demonic terror and horror. The impacts of The Exorcist can still be felt today almost 50 years on. Combine this with the Satanic Panic of the 70s and 80s, there was certainly a recipe for some interesting films to emerge. The Unholy (1988) is definitely a product of not only The Exorcist, but that panic that swept the world and mixed with the very present dangers of sex at the time.

The film follows Father Michael (Ben Cross), a Priest who gets moved to a new parish after he experiences a terrible fall out of a building window but leaving him with no injuries. The Priest before him at the Parish of St. Anges, Father Dennis (Ruben Rabasa) was murdered and no culprit found. It seems whatever had haunted Father Dennis, is now haunting Father Michael. His investigations lead him to a Satanic type club where he befriends Millie (Jill Carroll) who knew Father Dennis. Luke (William Russ) the strange owner of the club seems linked to the strange events happening and Father Michael wont stop until he finds out the truth of what happened to Father Dennis and why there could be a demon punishing sinners.

The Unholy has some interesting ideas, there is no doubt about that, the concept of a demon punishing sinners and relating that back to sex could have worked, but it doesn’t. There were issues with the production of the film, and director Camilo Viladid not feel that this was a horror film, when it very clearly is. The ending was changed and creature designs changed, however this does not really impact on the lead up, which can be overly slow and not entirely engaging. The subtext is very obvious and feels almost as if it is preaching the message of Satanism is evil, being a virgin is pure and sex is bad. The script was originally written in the 70s, and even some of the ideas felt dated even by late 80s standards.

Visually there is a lot to like here, it is a very dark film, and it does build up some atmosphere that helps set the tone. Ben Cross is fine as Father Michael, he was a fairly good actor but was let down by the dialogue and script, he tried to make it work as best as he could but there was only so much he could do. Jill Carroll as Millie fairs a little better as she has a lot of charisma and uses that to her advantage and makes Millie more of a memorable character. The demon isn’t awful, the practical work is admiral, there isn’t much to fear from it visually as it would have worked better if we were not shown too much. The Unholy is a very uneven film, it has its pros and cons and it could have been something special. The potential was there, it just ended up being mostly wasted here.


Mini Review Day 08: Shakma (1990)

When animals attack or eco horror is nothing new to the horror genre, really finding it’s footing in the 70s with the likes of Jaws (1975), Piranha (1978) and Grizzly (1976). The 80s would bring forth even more with Cujo (1983), Razorback (1984) and Alligator (1980), and the films generally had either an animal or animals that were vicious or something has happened to make them that way. That era wasn’t shy of having apes and monkeys in horror with Link (1984) and Monkey Shines (1988) being two very notable films. That brings us to Shakma (1990), fitting somewhere in between, with killer baboon running loose in a building, and it has a bit of a commentary on the dangers and ethics of using animals in a lab.

The story takes place in a medical school, where a group of medical students lead by Professor Sorenson (Roddy McDowall) inject a baboon called Shakma with an experimental drug, a drug that is supposed to reduce aggression but has the complete the opposite affect. Shakma’s handler Sam (Christopher Atkins) is horrified he was used for the experiment and has a hard time putting him down. Later that day the students of Sorenson enter into playing a fantasy role play game in the building, with the winner receiving a cash prize. Sorenson sets things up with one way walkie talkies and shuts power down for the game. As the students begin to play the game, Shakma wakes up and begins to wreck havoc on everything and everyone in the building.

Shakma isn’t a very serious film, it starts off establishing the characters and the school with the game going to be played. The location is just a building, and the explanation for while they are there after hours with things shut down is a bit silly but it works. The characters and dialogue are very paper thin, with Sam getting the most to do and everyone most every one else except Sorenson and Sam’s love interest Tracy (Amanda Wyss) are rather forgettable. The real star and focus of the film becomes the baboon, and they used a real baboon for most of it (he was called Typhoon and had two handlers on set) and this allowed them to show him quite a lot and it added a real threat to the situation. There are moments of cheese mixed in with some great intense moments, and sadly some rather dull ones as well.

For the most part the film is an interesting watch and once it hits the third act things really change and becomes less cheesy and far more intense and serious. Christopher Atkins does his best work in the film through that third act, with Amanda Wyss and Roddy McDowall being very solid in their roles. The message of the film gets a bit hidden in favour of watching a baboon just go crazy on these students, but it is still there and it one to remember about the ethics of animal testing. Shakma is a fun and memorable horror film, making good use of what they had to work with and Shakma the character remains extremely memorable and a little terrifying.


Reviews written by Marcella Papandrea


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