Pete Walker, after leaving sexploitation for horror, made a few memorable shockers in his time before going into early retirement at the age of 41 in 1982 and while maybe Frightmare and The House Of Whipcord are his best remembered, few are as well made as The Confessional, better known under its alternate title, The House Of Mortal Sin.
The film follows one Jenny Lynch (Susan Penhaligon) who heads out to an ornate old Catholic Church one day to meet up with Father Bernard (Norman Eshley), who she has been friends with for years, and to give confession. When she arrives, she finds that Bernard is out and so instead she winds up giving her confession to Father Xavier (Anthony Sharp). During her confession she admits to having some problems with her boyfriend, who she believes to be cheating on her, and that she once had an abortion – a big no-no in the eyes of the Catholic Church. What Jenny doesn't know is that Father Xavier has a tape recorder with him on the other side of that booth and that he's recording each and every one of Jenny's sins.
As the movie moves on, we find that Father Xavier is quite insane. He lives in an old house with his mother, who is bed-ridden, and his housekeeper, a strange one-eyed lady named Ms. Brabazon (Walker regular Sheila Keith who pops up in a few of his movies, notably as the warden in House Of Whipcord). Slowly but surely becoming obsessed with Jenny, Xavier, with Brabazon's help, begins killing off people who he believes to be guilty of great sins against Christ, using the symbols of the Church as his weapons of choice. Meanwhile, Father Bernard has started to fall in love with Jenny's foxy sister, Vanessa (Stephanie Beacham) and is going to leave the priesthood so that he can revoke his vow of celibacy and marry the girl. Guess who finds himself on Father Xavier's list…?
Norman Eshley steals the show in this one, playing the deranged priest perfectly. He's pompous, he's condescending, he's every so much holier-than-thou and he just looks the part. His turn as Father Xavier is pretty creepy stuff, as he delivers some of his lines with such conviction that you should have no problem suspending your disbelief and accepting him in the part. Walker's film gives him ample room to creatively and blasphemously off his prey, and the film seems to be flying the middle finger in the face of Catholicism for its entire running time. Walker has stated in more than one interview how he was raised Catholic and attended a Catholic school, and furthermore how he did not like what was forced upon him or how the priests dealt with some of the male students during his tenure there. Seeing as David McGillavry's script is based on a story that Walker originally conceived of on his own, the film is very obviously a reaction to those feelings of anger and frustration on Walker's part.
As a social commentary, the movie is alright, it points its finger at the Church and criticizes some flaws though it offers no suggestions as to how they might be fixed, it merely blames (although Father Bernard is shown as a genuinely good man, possibly as a way of saying that not all is lost with the Church). As a horror film, however, the movie is much more effective. It takes a person we trust and who is in a position of some power and subverts the expectations we have for someone in that position, which makes for a chilling premise. Add to that some very atmospheric sets and a few really grisly, sacrilegious murder set pieces, and you've found yourself with a recipe for mayhem that succeeds on pretty much every level it needs to.
The Confessional is presented in a decent 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. There are some scenes where the colors are flat and in a few darker spots the image is murky but for the most part the picture is pretty good. There is some mild print damage present in a few scenes as well as some grain but that's to be expected to an extent. The movie, even during some of the harsher moments is always watchable and the compositions look dead on in terms of framing. Not a perfect transfer, but a perfectly acceptable one none the less.
The film is presented in its original English language without any alternate language tracks, closed captioning options or subtitles. You've got your choice of the original 2.0 mono track or a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, and both get the job done fine. Truth be told, there isn't a whole lot of difference between the two different mixes. The 5.1 track does throw some effects at you from behind which adds a bit of atmosphere and it spreads out some of the music a bit but the differences are minor. Both tracks sound fine, no problems in the way of hiss or distortion to report and the dialogue remained clean and clear throughout.
Jonathon Rigby, author of the book English Gothic, moderates a commentary with Pete Walker himself (this is the same commentary track that was on Anchor Bay UK's release of the film) and he proves to not be at a loss for words when discussing the film. He once again covers pre-productions aspects like wrangling up the cast and the shooting locations as well as budgetary issues. Interestingly enough he also reveals some nice facts about a few notable British stars he'd hoped to cast in the film before he wound up with the actors we see in the finished version of the film. He provides us with some fun anecdotes about some of the performers and gives a good idea of how the project came together. This is a pretty interesting commentary and fans of the film or of Walker in general should find it quite enjoyable. Rigby keeps the information coming fast and it doesn't stray off topic at all – interesting stuff, particularly when Walker explains how he more or less set out to piss off the Catholic Church with this film (he was raised Catholic, and he knew very well what he was doing with this movie).
Also ported over from the Anchor Bay UK disc is a featurette entitled Courting Controversy which, by way of some great view interviews with Pete Walker, Paul Greenwood and a few others involved in Walkers filmmaking career, pieces together the history of Walker's output and the impact that it had on the British film industry of the time. We get some nice clips from a few different Walker films including Frightmare and The Confessional and the various players who are interviewed make this a very well rounded and truly interesting look at Walker's career.
A second featurette, once again ported from the PAL disc, entitled A Nice Old Lady? pays tribute to the late Sheila Keith who appeared in the film. Keith had an interesting history in British horror films and through some interviews and clips we get a pretty insightful look back at the movies she made and the parts that she played.
Rounding out the extra features are an essay on the movie, a nice gallery of poster and video art as well as some production stills, and trailers for The Comeback, The Confessional, Die Screaming, Marianne!, The Flesh And Blood Show, Frightmare and The House Of Whipcord.
If you already own the Anchor Bay UK boxed set with this title in it, there's really no
need to upgrade as the disc is more or less the same as this one but if you don't and
you're a fan of British horror film and the unique slant they offer, The
Confessional comes recommended. It's got plenty of atmosphere and some keen
performances and the commentary track and featurettes give it some decent added
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.