The Unholy: Vestron Video Collector’s Series

| June 26, 2017

In a very short time, Lionsgate’s Vestron Video Collector’s Series has made its stamp on the cult films home video market, bringing many beloved films from cult audiences’ VHS rental-filled youths to Blu-ray in editions that are far more impressive than we could have realistically expected. Lionsgate debuted the Vestron Video line of Blu-rays in September 2016 with concurrent HD releases of Chopping Mall (1986) and Blood Diner (1987), and I was on board with the venture immediately with a pre-order of Chopping Mall. Later came their releases of personal childhood favorites Waxwork (1988)/Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992) as well as The Gate (1987), and their announcement of the forthcoming Warlock collection solidified the line as one not to be missed. After all, these were films I had grown up on and feared I’d never see again except on my ancient DVDs or my VHS tapes quickly fading from repeated viewing.

Thus, as a lifelong cult film fanatic, I find each new release announced as part of the Vestron Video Collector’s Series immensely exciting, even if it’s one I’m unfamiliar with as was the case with Camilo Vila’s The Unholy (1988). Because these releases offer up digitally-restored, HD transfers of films I wouldn’t generally expect to see released in this quality by a mainstream distributor like Lionsgate. And not only have Lionsgate delivered stunning quality versions of these films to a rabid population of cult fans and collectors, but the discs are also jam-packed with special features.

These are by no means cheapy, blow-off releases! These aren’t chintzy transfers meant for the bargain bin. There’s a lot of work put into these discs. And yes, they’re a bit pricy as a result, but you really do get what you pay for. In my experience with the Vestron Video Collector’s Series (I’ve four of their ten releases to-date on-hand), these Blu-rays are well worth the investment if you, like I, grew up with an affinity for video rentals of Vestron films like The Gate or Warlock (1989), or if you’ve simply an interest in the weird, obscure, or overlooked of 1980’s/1990’s cinema.

The video stores most of us frequented as youths surely wouldn’t have stocked all of Vestron’s films, though, leaving gaps in our knowledge that Lionsgate will now help fill in. Thanks to the Collector’s Series, we can now explore other worthwhile works from the Vestron catalogue. Thus, The Unholy, starring Ben Cross, Hal Holbrook and Ned Beatty, marks my first venture into a Vestron Video Collector’s Series with which I’ve been unfamiliar. In fact, it’s the only title released in the series to date of which I had virtually no prior knowledge, and the experience I had watching it has inspired me to blind-buy these releases more frequently.

The Unholy’s a real unsung gem, one that I wish I’d seen as a teenager. Made in 1988, it’s a film out of time, seemingly made a half- to whole decade too late. The story of a priest (Cross) who must battle the titular servant of Satan, The Unholy has more in common with films of the 1970’s than those of the late 1980’s, films like The Exorcist (1973), The Omen (1976), or The Amityville Horror (1979), which featured significant religious components. The pacing too is more 70’s than 80’s: a slow burn of a Louisiana murder mystery that builds to a climactic showdown between the priestly protagonist and a demon that preys on the souls of would-be sinner priests.

It’s moody and atmospheric and languid, but it’s still very much a horror film. And for horror fans, it’s likely got just enough demons and gore peppered throughout to tide any horror hound over until the epic climax. Chock full of explosions, demons, and some rapid-fire Hell torture imagery, the climax takes a story that’s been operating as a supernatural noir and turns it into a full-blown special effects extravaganza. Sure, the tonal shift is somewhat jarring, given that the climax was entirely reshot at the insistence of distributor Vestron, who wanted the film to be more horror than spiritual mood piece. By comparison to the original ending, Vestron’s version is far less character-driven than it is focused on action and spectacle. And it’s an amazing thing to behold, an incredibly rewarding payoff for those of us who find immense joy in seeing some good old-fashioned practical effects beasties lumbering about!

So if you like your horror with fleshed-out character and piles of practical effects, The Unholy is truly worth your time, and I recommend checking it out on the Vestron Video Collector’s Series release if you choose to do so. Let’s give Lionsgate a reason to treat more Vestron titles to the same stellar Blu-ray treatment! The transfer of The Unholy on its Vestron Video Blu-ray showed no noticeable signs of damage or debris. The picture is, on the whole, clear and vibrant with that 1980’s glow about the image maintained throughout. It’s, in fact, totally in-line with what I’ve come to expect from this series of releases, and is as jam-packed with special features as any other Vestron BD I’ve looked at.

Special features on the Blu-ray release of The Unholy include:
-“Sins of the Father,” a 19-minute interview with star Ben Cross;
-“Prayer Offerings,” an 18-minute interview with production designer and co-writer Fernando Fonseca;
-“Demons in the Flesh,” a must-watch 22-minute featurette revealing the behind-the-scenes turmoil surrounding the creation of the film’s creature effects;
-audio commentary by director Camilo Vila;
-the original ending with commentary by producer Mathew Hayden explaining the reasons for the reshoot;
-isolated score selections and audio interview with composer Roger Bellon;
-an additional audio interview with production designer and co-writer Fernando Fonseca featuring isolated selections from his unused score;
-a stills gallery and storyboard gallery;
-and TV spots, radio spots, and trailers.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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