As a lifelong fan of Christopher Walken, I feel like at least the first installment of this series has always been on some list somewhere in my head that I needed to get around to watching this at some point. I wouldn’t say this one qualifies for a “WHAAT?? You haven’t seen that??” because it’s just not mainstream enough in my estimation that the masses would have caught this one as some sort of classic film. I do admit I probably should have seen it before now but I can’t change the past and I’m rectifying it today. I will say that this movie is most definitely following my 90’s trend and this film is chock full of nostalgic goodness.
One thing that many horror movies have relied on for as far back as I can remember is an intertwining with the Catholic church. It’s a pretty solid partnership when you’re dealing with any sort of scary movie in the realm of angels and demons or anything deeply religious. The rigid nature of all the rules provides an excellent structure for how to deal with the comings and goings of spiritual beings. There’s always an ancient text that can be referenced or a ritual that can be carried out. This movie kicks off with Elias Koteas (forever in my head as Casey Jones) as our conduit from the mortal realm to the spiritual one as a priest in training who walks away from the faith because of a vision he had. In that way things usually go for a soon to be priest he decides to become a cop instead. It’s a natural pivot, I assure you. He’s got that mix of rugged and haggard that seems to entrench his entire persona and he really makes it work. I have to say that I don’t particularly mind him as our spirit guide through the film. He’s convincing enough in his religious background and that of a detective. While this movie does rely on building tension like most horror flicks do, I find that a lot of the films of a religious persuasion deal more purposefully in dread and hopelessness. I know possession films buck that a little bit with a lot more traditional creepiness and jump scares. But this movie definitely relies on this existential threat to humanity and it does so in a reasonably compelling manner. The imagery throughout referring to this continuing war for the souls of humanity wages on and there’s some truly disturbing pictures the film likes to paint as an alternative means to emotionally manipulate it’s audience.
One other thing this movie does well is in it’s Walken application. Chris is in rare form in this role. This movie was filmed in 1993 thought not released until 1995 as was standard operating procedure for Miramax at the time. So Walken was still firmly in his serious stage of acting. He still had reasonable comedic chops. He’s always had a deeply humorous tone to his whole persona. He profits off his ability to step outside himself and realize how others perceive him to be gauntly intimidating. He uses this to his advantage as he can subvert your expectations of himself by charging in from left field with something terrifically silly and completely catch you off guard with the only response being laughter. He’s a master at it and it really does exemplify his credibility as such a powerfully well rounded actor. Now he does spend most of his time in this movie being incredibly off putting and creepy. But his moments of comedic relief are sprinkled in perfectly to balance out the performance. He’s aided by a couple 90’s staples in my count. In a sort of Renfield to his Dracula, Adam Goldberg serves as this slightly undead servant throughout the first half of the movie. Their banter is wonderfully tailored to both of their sensibilities to provide some real depth to the plot throughout the first and second acts of the film. Once Goldberg’s demise comes, Walken passes the torch to horror staple Amanda Plummer. She creates a new dynamic but her familiarity in the world of scary movies lends a different sort of credibility to their on screen partnership.
The rest of the supporting cast is really quite capable as well. Eric Stoltz as Simon is really good at having long red hair. Another guy who looks a lot like the Great Value brand of Crispin Glover plays an angel named Uziel. I suppose this is probably the part of my review where I start airing some of my grievances. Personally I wish they would have stuck with the original title to this film despite it being a bit lengthy. It was of course “Several Fully Grown Adult Men Dressed in Coats that are Far Too Long that are Repeatedly Perched on Things, Yes, Actually Fully Perched on Things. Seriously. That’s What a Lot of the Movie Is. Men in Coats Repeatedly Perched on Things and Being Really Serious About it Like its Not Super Weird to Do at All.” I guess they couldn’t fit that on the poster. But really, there are at least 4 actual actors in this movie that at one point or another are literally perched on something like it’s a cool thing to do. It’s not. Birds perch on things. I think they meant for it to seem like it was ominous. Maybe foreboding? Perhaps just a general sense of emotionally brooding. Maybe I was suppose to confuse them for a gargoyle. I don’t know. But it’s stupid. It looks ridiculous. No one should have been doing it and I wholeheartedly object to it all. It’s not enough to ruin the movie but it’s really hard to take Chris Walken seriously when I’ve seen him crouched on a ledge more than once in this movie. Viggo Mortensen as literally the devil sitting on the edge of a pile of bricks like a blackbird up on a telephone wire? What? Eric Stoltz. Stoltzy. With his bright red flowing mane and crimson goatee he looks like a cardinal sitting on the branch of a pine tree posing for a winter scenes calendar. The other scene I think I could have done without is the awkward scuffle in the trailer. There’s simply not enough room for 3 adults and a child to be having a physical altercation in what amounts to the size of a small RV. That whole mess was just silly. Take that scene out and replace it with something serious, thank you.
My final note is a small one but I feel like I was just sort of drifting in no man’s land after it happened. So Simon aka Stoltzy, has a full on “We totally need Dateline’s Chris Hansen here NOW” moment when he passes on a soul to a little girl via a super uncomfortable make out session. Not sure why that had to be in there at all. She feels physical ill in the next cut away shot. Now this happens right after Virginia Madsen’s character has gone to find Mary right after lunch. She tells the students in their one room class to read quietly while she goes to find the missing young lady. After Mary complains of stomach pain, Madsen puts her in her truck and drives her home to her grandmother. And in doing so, I’m relatively certain she literally abandons ALL OF THE OTHER CHILDREN AT THE SCHOOL. What? Yes I know it’s a small town and most everyone moved away. I understand she might not be state certified and this may not be an accredited program. But as the ONLY adult working at this “school” it seems wildly irresponsible to just ditch the other kids. Now I’m sure this may have just been an oversight and all of these little goofs don’t really ruin the movie for me. I’m just having a bit of spirited fun with it all at this point. It just seemed funny to me that this lady just left these kids hanging. I picture them sitting in the classroom as the hear her drive off just sitting there like “Are we supposed to still read silently to ourselves?” No children. School is out now. Apparently its time for you to fend for yourselves. Not sure if you have parents or not but It’s going to be a while before Uber sets up in your town so other transportation home may be what you need to figure out at this point.
Overall this was another success. I’ll admit the plot meanders at times and the Matrix meets The Crow costume department is worth more than a laugh or two at the expense of the film. But when I add up the excellent performance from Walken, minus the perching, and the work by the rest of the cast to put this movie together, you get a watchable flick. It’s not one you’re going to run over to the neighbors house and insist they watch immediately. But if you’re a Walken fan or enjoy spooky flicks with a religious bent, this one is a pretty easy go around that is relatively enjoyable. Its still middle of the road. I’d probably feel most comfortable at a 5.5 out of 10. Nothing to write home about but still over that hump of being a trash horror flick for sure. I may skip the remaining 4 films in this franchise as I’ve gotten my fill in the first one. But there are several more iterations if this one tickled your fancy. I streamed this one on Paramount+ right now where several others are also available if you’ve been looking for these films to check out. I think that about does it for me so until next time, I’ll catch you on the flip side.