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 (how it was released on DVD years back by Media Blasters), better known under its alternate title, The House Of Mortal Sin (how it's been reissued now that it's with Redemption/Kino).
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, obvioulsy 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 ever 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.
House Of Mortal Sin debuts on Blu-ray framed in its proper 1.66.1 widescreen aspect ratio in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Transferred ‘from the original 35mm negative' the movie looks very nice in its high def debut. There's very little print damage here to note, just a few white specks here and there, and there's no evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement. The film's grain structure is left completely un-tinkered with while color reproduction and skin tones both look quite nice and natural. Black levels are solid and the movie's frequent darker scenes show decent shadow detail. This is a gritty looking picture but this transfer would seem very true to the movie's roots and it offers quite an impressive upgrade in detail, texture and color from the previous DVD release.
The only audio option on the disc is an LPCM Mono track in the film's native English language. This isn't a particularly fancy track, it's an older single channel mix for a modestly budgeted picture but it gets the job done without any problems. The levels are nicely balanced, the dialogue is clean and clear and there aren't any problems with any obvious hiss or distortion. The music used throughout the movie also sounds quite good here, it has got noticeably more depth than it did on the previous DVD release.
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 which later appeared on the Media Blasters DVD release) 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). Walker also pops up in an interview entitled An Eye For Terror Part Two, which runs eleven minutes or so and allows the director to offer more input as to how he feels about this picture and what it was like making the film.
Rounding out the extra features are a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Pete Walker titles that Redemption/Kino have put out (all worth getting!), menus and chapter selection. Unfortunately the featurettes that were on the Anchor Bay UK and Media Blasters DVD release are not included here.
The House Of Mortal Sin comes highly recommended. It's got plenty of atmosphere and some keen performances as well as no lack of social commentary. The Blu-ray release from Kino/Redemption is a good one, offering the movie up in excellent shape and with fine audio. The commentary track and interview both help to give it some decent added value, making this a strong release overall.
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.