Media Blasters // 1975 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 31st, 2006
Tortured by desires his vows forbid...master of a house of mortal sin!
In its continuing release of the Pete Walker collection, Media Blasters presents this sinister flick (also known as The House of Mortal Sin) about a deranged Catholic priest and his infatuation with a young woman who stepped foot into his confessional.
When Jenny Welch (Susan Penhaligon) enters the confessional of a nearby Catholic church one day to get some deep things off her chest, she isn't expecting to have her sins heard by a lunatic. That lunatic is Father Xavier Meldrum (Anthony Sharp), an all-too inquisitive priest who comes across as way to eager to hear Jenny divulge the saucy secrets of her sexual romps. After Jenny unleashes a fair amount of her closet skeletons, she begins to sense something is off about the priest -- and soon scampers away, much to the chagrin of Meldrum.
>From the point forward, bad stuff starts to happen around her. People close to her are terrorized, with one poor sap getting smacked around then having a pot of boiling coffee thrown in his face. Jenny is confused, and when she confronts Meldrum, she is soon petrified: it appears Meldrum had a tape recorder going during Jenny's confession.
Jenny turns to her sister Vanessa (Stephanie Beacham) and her old friend Bernard (Norman Eshley), who's also a priest. They don't believe her at first, but as the mayhem builds, they begin to suspect Meldrum is involved somehow.
What exactly is driving him, though? That's the answer Bernard and Vanessa attempt to decipher. But what they find is a boatload of buried angst, manifesting itself into increasingly blasphemous slayings. And a creepy old lady. They find a creepy old lady, too.
The Confessional was obviously created to mix it up. Pete Walker, a lapsed Catholic, apparently harbored plenty of antipathy toward the Church, and through this film, he and screenwriter David McGillivray pick their brains to concoct as many "offensive" shock scenes as they could. In fact, in the documentary that accompanies this disc, McGillivray admits as much, relaying how he and Walker sat down to drum up the most creative killings they could think of.
And creative they are. In fact, some of what these two came up with were so outrageous, the contrivance was hard to ignore. While not a gory film, The Confessional succeeds in giving Father Meldrum plenty of unique ways to off his victims. You get multiple poisonings delivered through the Eucharist, strangulation from some rosary beads, and a fiery beat down with a church artifact. I guess that could be offensive, but the set-up and execution of these scenes are so ham-fisted, and Sharp's Father Meldrum is more goofy than methodically terrifying, it all came across as trying too hard -- as if Walker was saying "Look how controversial I am! Can you believe I just did that?!?"
Not helping the film's cause is its slow pacing. This sucker crawls along, and only those aforementioned murders add spice to the grind. The rest of the film is taken up with one part procedural (as Bernard and Vanessa do some gumshoe work on their own), one part paranoid pleading by Jenny, who, of course, no one believes at first, and one part "glimpse-behind-the-scenes" of Meldrum's weird life. None of these elements are particularly interesting, and the movie slows because of it. The revelatory subplot of Meldrum, his invalid mother, and her one-eyed caregiver (Sheila Keith) is bizarre, and seems to exist as another way to get a poke in at Catholic doctrine. But I'll let you discover that treat for yourself.
This film didn't do anything for me. I get what Walker was after, but his exuberance to harpoon Catholic dogma, mixed with a ho-hum narrative, left me thinking a shot of that poisoned Eucharist wine may not be a bad idea. Pass.
Media Blasters gave this film an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer, but that's about the only good thing I can say about the visual treatment. There are many imperfections in the film -- surely resulting from a sub-par print -- including lots of grain, poor color saturation, and other, noticeable assorted burps. The 5.1 audio mix does its job effectively.
Good bunch of extras: a robust documentary looking at Pete Walker's films, including interviews with Walker himself, a smaller feature called "Sheila Keith: A Nice Old Lady?" a profile the actress who's appeared in multiple Walker films, an insightful commentary with Pete Walker and author Jonathan Rigby, and a photo gallery.
I must confess: this movie stunk.
Say 50,000 Hail Marys and go do some community work with orphans.
Review content copyright © 2006 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary with Pete Walker and Jonathan Rigby
* "Courting Controversy: An Insider's Look at the Films of Pete Walker"
* "Sheila Keith: A Nice Old Lady?"
* Photo Gallery