Friday, 25 November 2011

The Redeemer - Not Quite a Class Act

Here’s a 1977 horror movie produced by the kind of backwoods American independent moviemakers who only over turned out one film and then went back to their ordinary everyday lives (or possibly got their day release from the local long stay mental institution revoked so they just couldn’t make any more – who knows?). Some of these films are scary, many are dull, and some are just plain stupid. The Redeemer is a film that manages to be all three and at the same time pull off the feat of being genuinely disturbing, not least because I have no idea what was going on in the minds of those responsible for it. The intention may have been to illustrate the hypocrisy and intolerance of religious extremism using dream imagery and surrealism. On the other hand this film could well be a pre-Halloween slasher from people with extremist principals themselves that runs out of plot after an hour and has a very random ten minutes of footage stapled to either end so that it could be sold as an Omen rip off. I suspect I will never know – which in itself is part of its appeal.
The movie opens on a long shot of a valley. The credits come to an end and the camera doesn’t move as we are treated to a wait of several long seconds before a pseudo-biblical quote appears and we move in for a close up on the surface of the river. A hand appears from the water that turns out to belong to a very late 70s fully dressed ten year old boy with a pudding bowel haircut and corduroy trousers. Sopping wet he walks up the bank and catches a bus into town, where he enters the local church and gets changed into cassock and surplice with some other choirboys, who seem entirely nonplussed at this newcomer in their midst. The church service is led by a blood and thunder preacher who goes on and on about sin while elsewhere someone is busy murdering the caretaker of a local (we presume) school, making a latex of mask of his face and cutting out pictures from a school yearbook of the ‘six most likely to succeed’. We are presumably meant to think of these individuals as sinners as each is introduced by a rant from the priest’s sermon. The ‘sins’ they are guilty of seem to consist of: being a criminal defence lawyer, marrying for money and shooting pigeons, being divorced, having an affair or possibly just eating lots of cheeseburgers but not being at all fat, being vain, and being a lesbian. These six attend their school reunion to find they are the only ones who have turned up. They are let in by the caretaker (our mystery killer in disguise) and rather than run a mile at the sight of the apparently deserted school that has now acquired bars on all its windows they sit down to eat lunch in a scene bizarrely reminiscent of the last supper. It’s not long before they start to get bumped off by a killer who seems omnipresent, wears a series of frankly disturbing masks while killing, and who eventually turns out to be the priest, who gets to finish his sermon at the end of the film.
Whether this has all been a dream on the priest’s part is never explained, and neither is why he should want to kill these people, or how these really quite minor ‘sins’ can justify them being burned alive, drowned, shot, speared through the head and so on, never mind the murder of the caretaker. Some of these sequences are genuinely unnerving, not least because of their viciousness. At the end of the film the boy leaves the church, gets back on the bus and walks back into the river, but not before slashing the throat of a choirboy who threatened him with a knife at the start for not laughing at a joke.
I have yet to mention the recurring motif of having two thumbs on one hand. Where it fits in I have no idea, but the killer has this deformity, then at the end we see the priest with it, then his extra thumb disappears and the boy acquires one instead.
I still have no idea what this film is really meant to be about but some standout imagery in amongst all the silliness (there’s a scene on a stage with a giant puppet and The Redeemer in weird black and white makeup that could be a source of plentiful nightmares) and a really horrible synthesiser soundtrack where the only noises the keyboard could be programmed to make were presumably ‘wheeze’, ‘fart’ and ‘burp’ that just adds to the weirdness means this one’s staying in the House of Mortal Cinema DVD Collection.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, watched it on third generation rental bootleg betamax sometime in 1982 in Manila. Rented it for like 50 cents US$ for three days and the rental place actually delivered the movie to my house. The rental place was in someone's garage and looked like a drug joint.

    While the movie for me is just the regular fare...I found the opening scene creepy, as I remember, the devil/ghost kid comes out of a isolated lake. While I found the movie to be regular slasher fare(albeit surreal and confusing), the movie was actually creepy.

    I haven't watched this movie since I first watched it then.