Before Christopher Lee became a staple in big league franchises, like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, he starred in more horror films than you can shake a stick at. Throughout the 60s and 70s, he was the go-to villain for Hammer Productions, and the role suited him perfectly. With his piercing, dark eyes and stark features, he could scare the bejeesus out of anyone. His portrayal of Father Michael Rayner is one such role.
After ex-communication from the Catholic church, the brazen Father Rayner sets up his own heretical church, the Children of our Lord. And while this church may appear Catholic to the naked eye, they practice Satanism quite devoutly. Even for their nuns, bringing the devil to Earth is top priority.
Yes! Satan’s got nuns!
After raising a sacrificial child, as a nun, for eighteen years, the time has come for Father Michael to cash in his demon chips. But first, he allows her to go and see her father for her birthday. Her father, wise to the satanic plot, has her picked up by an author who has no idea about the situation. The author proves to be a little more wily than expected and sets off to ruin the Satanic hijinx. Question is, can he compete with Christopher Lee’s awesomeness?
Christopher Lee’s Satanic villainy is without question, fierce and dark. He and the supporting cast, featuring personal favorites Denholm Elliot (Dr. Marcus Brody, to Indiana Jones fans)
and Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore), made for an interesting film. Besides, who knew you could keep a demon in an incubator? And the creepy demon baby effects were quite good, for the times.
We are plunged, head-first into this story with very little information. The first scene is of Father Michael’s ex-communication, for which we are given no reason. What happened? Did he openly worship Satan, or fart in the Pope’s hat? We won’t find out until we no longer care. Father Michael has to tell us it’s an ex-communication ceremony, anyway, because it’s all in Latin. Exposition through dialogue, that’s just lazy screenwriting, kids.
Flash forward eighteen years and Father Michael has allowed Katherine, the sacrificial nun, to leave the island of his church. Anyone else getting a Scaramanga vibe here? Anyway, Katherine is off to see her father, played by Denholm Elliot, who has pawned her off on an author with occult leanings. Exactly how the author is talked into this, we may never now, since that scene never happens. Richard Widmark plays John Verney, the valiant author, and pretty well at that, but his sole motivation to help is gathering material for a new novel. Really? That’s the best we can do? The first act of this film feels like it was thrown together by a monkey with no understanding of character development or plotting. Okay fine, a chimp.
The story continues with Verney bringing Katherine into his home, with no real idea of what’s going on. A feeling the viewer can relate to. While in his home, Katherine has a strange dream, of being born, that coincides with Father Michael overseeing the birth of a demon child. Well, we have to assume it’s a demon, because it’s never shown and it’s placed in an incubator, straight away. Besides, we wouldn’t have a story if this was just some boring human baby.
Aww, there he is!
The remainder of the second act meanders along with about the same level of quality as the first. We get a murder, or two, here and a hallucinatory old man there. The only real highlight was the introduction of the symbol of Father Michael’s church. Laughable as it is, it looks like some kind of Jesus gymnast on an upside-down cross. Yeah, not scary.
Wow! That’s all I’ve got.
By the time we get to act three, Father Michael has managed to abscond with Katherine and Verney is on his way to save the day. The problem here is that she couldn’t care less. She’s perfectly happy to rebirth some hell-spawn. But hey, we need a happy ending. Verney arrives at the sacrificial altar in the nick of time and dispatches the evil priest by, wait for it… throwing a rock at him. Unbelievable. The world has been saved by a man hurling a rock. See, stop telling your kids to quit throwing rocks. That skill may come in handy.
If you’re a big fan of Christopher Lee, into poorly portrayed Satanism, or just like average horror movies, I can recommend this to you. Otherwise, there are much better Hammer films out there. The only other interesting thing about this film is that a portion of the opening dialogue is used in the White Zombie song, “Super Charger Heaven”. And while that usage may seem like a good endorsement, this may be the exception to the rule.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every time you wonder what’s going on
Take a Drink: for every time you see Catholic regalia, even if it’s imitation
Drink a Shot: when you see the Jesus Gymnast!