It was two years ago at Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors when I first witnessed the opening scene of The Convent (2000, 81 minutes). I watched a Catholic school girl in shades and a black leather jacket strut into church mid-mass backed by Lesley Gore's 1964 pop anthem "You Don't Own Me." With a cigarette dangling from her lips, she took a defiant swig of whiskey before busting the bottle on the floor, pulled out a baseball bat and proceeded to beat and bloody several nuns! Unsatisfied, she doused them with gasoline (in slow mo) and set them ablaze -- then ventilated their flaming bodies with a pump-action scatter gun!!! Once I relocated my jaw, I knew there was still hope for the horror genre in a post-Columbine reactionary culture. It just takes a heckuvalot longer coming around. The Dead Alive meets Night of the Demons gore-comedy also dropped a lot of jaws at Sundance, but had to find its theatrical home in Germany while floundering stateside. Up until A-Pix filed for bankruptcy last year, the studio was going to distribute it on DVD after a limited theatrical release. Finally, though, CineSchlockers can rejoice, because our months of ghoulish anticipation are over thanks to the cinematic Samaritans at Lions Gate.
The movie: It's been 40 years since young Christine (Oakley Stevenson) shotgunned a priest, a half-dozen nuns and got carted off for a lengthy stay at the crazy house. Today, the abandoned convent and her story are local legend, which serves to encourage dim-witted college students to go nosing where they shouldn't. Once inside, virgin-hungry demons soon swoop in to possess them one-by-one. The cheerleader. The jock. The stoner. The goth chick. Spotting these devil-fied victims is mighty easy because their faces glow like neon signs and they stagger around like fast-motion zombies while trying to take a bite out of any mortal in reach. Meanwhile, a ridiculous gaggle of recreational Satanists have also broken into the convent. They're led by Saul, who prefers to be addressed as "The Prince of Evil," and proclaims his father Lucifer desires a human sacrifice. Actor David Gunn grabs the flick's absurdity knob and cranks it into comic oblivion with his over-the-top performance that seems to partially channel Kevin McDonald's Sir Simon Milligan. That'd probably make Dickie-Boy (Kelly Mantle) his swishy Hecubus. Together, they manage to nudge a nasty situation even further toward all-out mayhem. Goth-gal turned sorority babe in training Clarissa (Joanna Canton) narrowly escapes her possessed friends and runs screaming to the door of the toughest broad in town -- Adrienne Barbeau -- who delivers a double-barreled hasta la vista to them twisted sisters! CineSchlockers will spot a cameo by Bill Mosely as Officer Ray. Bill earned his B-immortality as the steel-noggin'd Chop Top in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and recently starred in another missing-in-action horror epic -- House of 1000 Corpses.
Notables: No breasts. 18 corpses. Atomic wedgie. Hypodermic closeup. Blood shower. Flying panties. High-speed nun pull. Puking. Knife to the eye socket. Reefer madness. 'Shrooming. Inter-outhouse powwow. Possessed pooch. Multiple decapitations. Satanic rituals. Forceable abortion. Amazing mid-air fry-to-pickle transformation.
Quotables: Officer Coolio lays down the justice, "I'm gonna lock your ass up so tight they gonna have to have a combination to visit yo nuts, white boy!" Clarissa can't believe her ears, "My brother's gonna be the new Anti-Christ?! Mom's gonna be PISSED!!!" This particular form of spiritual change isn't flattering, "You look awful demonic and s@#%!"
Time codes: Gratuitous "Scooby Doo" reference (26:35). Writer/producer/star Chanton Anderson's ample bosom gets bloodied (32:55). Biff takes a magic mushroom ride (36:10). Monica drops to her knees and permanently defelates Biff (37:40). Juicy baseball bat to the brainpan (44:22). Ms. Barbeau joins the picture (51:00) and breaks out her arsenal (58:52).
Audio/Video: Presented in its original widescreen (1.85:1) format. The print is consistent with the low-budget reality of the production. What's super special, and all the more vibrant on DVD, is the FLORESCENT grue that's copiously splattered throughout the flick. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track aggressively elevates the overall production value, especially during the techno-enthused action scenes (ala The Matrix).
Extras: We've been Blockbusted again as this is the R-rated, video-tyrant friendly cut of the flick. But what's missing amounts to less than 20 seconds of footage and director Mike Mendez has seen to it that fans can savour what little they missed (and more) in a 12-entry "Gore on Demand" video gallery (5 mins). Two can't-miss commentaries. Mendez leads the first rowdy track with Meghan Perry (goth chick Mo), Liam Kyle Sullivan (frat lackey Brant) and musician Joe Bishara yukking their way through the flick by recounting the joys of 22-hour days and sharing a single-pair of demonic contacts. They also speak reverently about the incomparable Ms. Barbeau who wears the same wig she donned in Swamp Thing. Mendez frequently points out things he wishes he had more time to improve on, but the rough quality of the movie is part of its undeniable (and demented) charm. Up next are minions of evil Saul and Dickie-Boy who break into Mendez' home, drink his booze and relate their frustration that the film wasn't at all the documentary on Satanism they were led to believe it'd be. Behind-the-scenes featurette with on-set production footage, cast interviews and makeup effects info (8 mins). Solitary, yet giggle-worthy deleted scene. Trailers for this film, Bully and the abysmal Ripper: Letters From Hell. Animated menus with audio. No printed insert or liner notes.
Final thought: Worth the wait! EVERYTHING works in this gloriously gory and riotous ode to '80s slapstick horror. Highly Recommended.
Columnist's note (08/06/03): According to an eagle-eyed CineSchlocker's report out of Germany, the Canadian (Remstar) and US (Lions Gate) releases feature key content differences. The Canadian cut is roughly 20 seconds longer and reintegrates several slight MPAA-minded trims such as extra stab wounds and spurting blood. However that edition opts to exclude the "Lords of Hell" commentary in favor of a French 2.0 track and the "uncut" footage throws the remaining cast commentary 20 seconds out of sync. See this chart for detailed log of cuts.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.