The Evil Clergyman (1987) Short Film Review

CLERGY-001THE EVIL CLERGYMAN (1987)
Dir. Charles Band                 29 mins
88 Films / Full Moon Features
UK Release: 15th July 2013 (as part of the Castle Freak blu-ray)

Pulse Pounders. Two words that will prick up the ears of any self-respecting Full Moon fanatic. For the uninitiated, Empire Pictures was Charles Band’s film company during most of the 1980s, churning out such classics as Zone Troopers, Troll and Terrorvision. By 1987, Band had the idea to make an episodic film to provide semi-sequels to three of Empire’s biggest hits. He chose Trancers, Dungeonmaster (aka Ragewar) and Re-Animator – except with the latter he decided upon a different H.P Lovecraft adaptation – The Evil Clergyman, as opposed to a direct sequel to the Stuart Gordon smash. It still retained direct links to Re-Animator however, with returning cast members Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton and David Gale while adding the notable talents of cult favourite David Warner.

After the three shorts were shot, the original 35mm negatives went AWOL somewhere around Rome, and with Empire Pictures falling into financial difficulties by late 88/89 the project was shelved indefinitely. Fast forward 25 years later and a VHS cassette of all three half hour segments is located, and Charlie states he intends to polish them up and master them as best as possible. Here is the very first one of them – The Evil Clergyman. Based on a letter written by H.P Lovecraft that set about describing a dream he had had, it was published in 1939, just after his death, as a short story in an issue of Weird Tales.

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The film adaptation is written by Lovecraft adaptor extraordinaire Dennis Paoli (From Beyond / Dagon / The Black Cat) and it begins with the lush orchestral score that Charlie’s brother Richard recorded especially for this restoration. Barbara Crampton plays Said Brady who arrives at a castle and is led up the steep internal staircase by the housekeeper (Una Brandon-Jones). We discover that her lover, Jonathan (Jeffrey Combs) has recently hung himself, and Said is there to collect the remainder of her belongings. Once the housekeeper has left her alone, we see Jonathan appear before her. They embrace, but can Jonathan really be alive? After a moment of intimacy Said is left alone naked on the bed as Jonathan has disappeared. In his place however is a Bishop from Canterbury (David Warner) as well as a creature he refers to as ‘the beast with a human face’ – a disgusting rat like human hybrid that has eyes for Said.

The Bishop’s message is clear and he states simply that “he wants your soul” while referring to Jonathan. He says that he was left beaten to death by him and that he leaves a trail of carnage in his wake. “You must save yourself, he is a sorcerer” cries the Bishop in his short yet pivotal scene which soon makes way for the re-emergence of the Jeffrey Combs character.

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This is an excellent 30 minute segment of Lovecraftian brilliance. The setting of the purpose built castle interior is just great, and the re-uniting of Combs and Crampton equates to a brilliant partnership that works extremely well together. David Warner’s appearance as the Bishop is particularly chilling, not to mention the repulsiveness of the beast with a human face which features first class make-up from the uber-talented John Carl Buechler.

Some might question the picture quality, as irrespective of ‘digital re-mastering’ it still looks like a VHS transfer. I for one though care not as just having the chance to see this fabled work more than compensates for any slight picture issue. For once, this is a legendary lost movie that lives up to the hype. Now we just need Charlie to crack on with Trancers 1.5 and Dungeonmaster 2, and we’ll have completed the restoration of a cult classic that many thought would never see the light of day.

8.5 out of 10

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