If you were a horror fan back in the 1980s chances are you had a few James Herbert paperbacks on your shelf. It's also quite likely one of those was the paperbacks of Shrine, which came out in 1983 and was seen by many as a progression from The Rats and The Fog - overtly gory shockers that made Herbert's name in the 1970s. In an interview shortly after Shrine's publication Herbert stated Shrine was the book he'd most like to see filmed and even went so far as to suggest Richard Dreyfuss in the lead role of Gerry Fenn, the reporter who stumbles onto something odd going on in an English village which could be a religious miracle.
Nearly 40 years and a lot of development hell later and finally a movie version of Shrine comes to our screens. It's been given one of those generic retitlings that's already been used at least once for a religious-themed horror picture (the 1988 Ben Cross starrer directed by Camilo Vila & reviewed here) and the action has been relocated to the US.
Neither of those are the problem with THE UNHOLY, which in some ways is almost a good film, most of that due to Herbert's source novel. Director, writer and co-producer Evan Spiliotopoulos manages some nice creepy set ups and handles the climax well from the action point of view. If only he had applied the same attention to the performances, which are all horribly one-note and do nothing to imbue the revelations contained within Herbert's original storyline with any tension or drama.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan is Gerry, the disgraced reporter, who happens across the story of a mute girl who can now speak and believe she is having visions of the virgin Mary. There's healing of the sick and a subsequent media circus and input from the Catholic church, with its main representative played by Cary Elwes trying hard to do an accent but little else.
There's an opening sequence that renders any question of whether or not the happenings might in fact be Christian miracles immediately redundant and instead wants to be this films version of the opening of Mario Bava's 1960 BLACK SUNDAY and that doesn't help either. THE UNHOLY is not a terrible film (Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert also get credits as producers and the film has the slick look and feel of all their modern movies) but is one of those frustrating projects that in the right hands could have been a minor classic instead of the rather fumbled offering we end up with here.
THE UNHOLY is getting a digital, Blu-ray and DVD release from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on Monday 2nd August 2021