Friday, January 01, 2016

025. Lurkers and 026. Prime Evil

Jump to Prime Evil (1988)

025. Lurkers (1988)
Director: Roberta Findlay
Writers: Ed Kelleher, Harriette Vidal
From: Cult Cinema

Cathy is on the verge of marrying Bob, but finds herself starting to have vivid nightmares about her mother while also being haunted by two competing spirits—one trying to kill her, the other seemingly trying to keep her safe.

The movie is a solid idea that never gets properly fleshed out. It opens “15 years ago” with Cathy getting abused by her mother then sent outside to play. Cathy doesn't want to go because “they” are on the stairs. “They” are the lurkers—ghosts that haunt Cathy at night and, one in particular, a little girl, tries to have her killed. There's another figure, though, an adult woman, who seems to have to power to dismiss the lurker trying to kill Cathy.

We jump to the present where an adult Cathy is about to cross the street to see her boyfriend Bob. She's almost hit by a cab with the little girl in it but the woman appears and pulls Cathy to safety only to immediately vanish.

So competing ghosts are fighting over this young woman for some reason. Nice premise, but that's the last we see of the older ghost until the last act of the film and the younger one only pops up here and there. In the interim we get Cathy having nightmares, inviting her brother to the wedding, and Bob getting up to shady business behind Cathy's back. We find out that Cathy's mother killed her father and tried to kill her, but either accidentally killed herself or was killed by Cathy. That's not clear.

So spoilers, Bob is a Satanist prepping Cathy for her death at her old childhood home. The house itself is a portal to hell and anyone who lives there eventually has to die there to be conscripted into Satan's service. Cathy dies, we find out the group is prepping her brother for the same fate, and Bob is grooming another former resident of the building for death.

The movie doesn't have any energy or tension and the sense of creeping evil never manifests. The two ghosts, who seem to be important at the beginning, don't really play any role in the rest of what happens and, while the idea of the bad place is a staple of horror fiction, this movie never takes advantage of it. Basically this is a haunted house story, only there's very little haunting and we don't spend much time in the house.

Curiously the same writers and director behind this also did a film the same year called Prime Evil about a group of devil-worshipers in New York looking for victims. It even features some of the same actors.

026. Prime Evil (1988)
Director: Roberta Findlay
Writers: Ed Kelleher, Harriette Vidal
From: Cult Cinema

A Satantic cult hiding within the Catholic church is planning a sacrifice for the winter solstice. A nun seeks to infiltrate the order before the cult claims the life and soul of the daughter of one of its members.

No reason not to watch the other film by the same creative team and boy am I glad I did. From the moment the title card appears and is consumed in flames to reveal a dog/devil hand puppet covered in jam I could not stop giggling. The movie is deliciously, hilariously, unrelentingly bad and I delighted in every moment of it.

Rather than describe the plot, I feel I need to enumerate the plots, any one of which could have been the description of the movie. We begin in 14th century Europe, overrun by the Black Death. A cult within the Catholic church has pledged themselves to Satan in exchange for eternal life and protection from the disease. It's led by Thomas Seaton.

Jump to the near present and Father Thomas is presiding over a Black Mass where George Parkman is sacrificing his daughter to bind himself to the cult and be granted 13 years of power, privilege, and immortality. Jump again to the present where a priest dies delivering a message to the bishop that “they” have returned.

Oh man, and I'm not even ten minutes into the picture! To make it quick:
Sister Angela is going undercover to infiltrate the cult run by
Father Thomas who founded the cult in the 14th century. He's preparing for the winter solstice ceremony where
George Parkman will renew his oath and life for another 13 years by sacrificing his granddaughter
Alexandra who's a social worker who meets
Detective Carr who's investigating the murder of a man who was dating
Cathy, one of Alexandra's clients who's been kidnapped and put into the thrall of Father Thomas by
Ben, the hitman for the cult sprung from a mental institution years ago, but not a member of the cult itself.
And that doesn't even get into Alexandra's fiancé, her mother, her sex-obsessed friend, or the young sex worker Detective Carr brings to her office close to the end of the movie.

Once again, I feel like I'm giving the run-down of a soap opera. To the movie's credit, all these plot threads do tie together, even though some of them tend to get lost in the shuffle for extended periods. In comparison to Lurkers, this movie isn't nearly so devoid of incident, but it overcompensates by throwing everything in and not organizing it in any way.

The editing in this movie is atrocious. Everything's a hard cut and the cuts never inform each other. So we'll cut from Alexandra talking to the detective and then cut to her grandfather discussing his ambition to overthrow Thomas with a random woman who's also part of the cult. I was constantly going, “Where are we? Who is this? What's going on?” and laughing, laughing, laughing.

The only caveat I'd offer for this movie is its invocation of child sexual assault. Alexandra reveals that she was a victim and it's referenced several other times in the movie. It makes sense in the context of the Satanic panic of the 80's—allegations of molestation were central to it—and the movie does feel like it's trying to compile all the cult-based fantasies from the period, but the movie is pretty incompetent at every level. I found it mentioning assault hilarious just because it did it so badly, but I wasn't a victim of assault. Because the movie doesn't do anything well, it can't be taken seriously enough on this point to cause offense. However, if you have a history with this and find references to those events triggering or problematic, you may not want to watch this movie.

This looks much better than Lurkers, has competently bad acting throughout, and is almost 100% a popcorn-and-party movie. Get the friends together, fill several tall glasses of water, and let loose. This is really great.

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