I saw this movie only once when I was about 12, and couldn't remember it's title for years - all I could remember were a few choice images that seriously impressed me as a young 'un. Years later, I managed to figure out the title through the magic of the internetz, and am finally in possession of a copy - but the irony is that after years of watching terrible b-movies, my taste as a 12 year old was probably more refined than it is now. Still, I was curious as to whether The Unholy was still worth a watch.
The Unholy tells the story of Father Michael, who is given his own parish after falling to his near-death while trying to stop a fellow priest from commiting suicide. At first Michael is excited by the prospect of leading his own parish, but it soon becomes clear that his predecessor was murdered by an evil demon that now wants to add Father Michael to it's shitlist. It's up to him to defeat the demon and save a local girl named Abby who has been become involved with a local group of Satanist hoodlums.
From the first scene where a priest has his throat slashed by a living statue, I was fairly sure this movie was going to live up to my memories. It pretty much delivers anything you could ask of an 80s horror movie, providing equal amounts of cheese and gore. What I didn't appreciate as a kid though, was how good this movie's cast is - Ned Beatty and Hal Halbrook obviously stand out, and Ben Cross is decent as Father Michael, though to be fair he's only required to wander around looking confused for the majority of the movie. In a way it's kind of odd to see the great Trevor Howard in this, one of his final roles, but he gets the job done.
The Unholy is actually very nicely shot, but the special effects tend to vary in quality from great to pretty laughable. In particular, the final scenes with the dog-like embodiment of the demon are all over the place, and his midget minions are clearly just lads in terrible costumes. But like most real horror fans, I will take ropey REAL effects over CGI any day, and there are actually lots of cool ideas going on in this movie. The section where Father Michael is plunged into hell is really cool, and the images of folks having their teeth smashed and eyes gouged are a good example of how surprisingly graphic this movie can be. There's even a sick "gut-puking" scene, a la City Of the Living Dead. Awesome! Also, there are some nice surreal touches, such as when Michael gets a phone call from hell, that give this movie a bit more character.
The Unholy is extremely 80's at points, and the score is a real piece of work - saxophones blaze and synths blip the whole way through, which is obviously a plus. There were a few points where I felt my attention wandering, but luckily the low points are few and far between. I guess some of the dialogue is kinda silly (kinda REALLY silly), but that's to be expected from an 80's movie about a demon that eats priests. So if you're in the mood for watching some really great actors stumble their way through an occasionally creepy cheesefest, you could do a lot worse than this one.