Friday, March 11, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Prime Evil (1988)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

At some time in the Middle Ages (the film will give us more than one date in a typical display of the amount of care and thought that went into it) a group of monks decides to change the object of their devotion to Satan.

Today - well, in the 80s - that very same cult is still active with some of the original members still running the show (of EVIL). You see, when a member is nice to the big S and sacrifices a blood relative to him all thirteen years, immortality and power are granted to him or her. There are "bonus points" (authentic Satanist terminology) if the victim is a virgin and female, but Satan doesn't seem too particular about it.

When the Satanists are not squabbling among each other or sacrificing relatives, they don't seem to do all that much (although I suppose they should spend a lot of time producing new offspring, what with the high mortality their children have).

Fortunately for viewers with a lust for excitement, the especially ambitious old fart Satanist George Parkman's (Max Jacobs) second sacrificial ceremony is bound to come soon. George's preferred victim is his granddaughter Alexandra (Christine Moore, who also had a very similar part in Roberta Findlay's other 1988 Satanist romp Lurkers). She's quite ideal for the job, for she is still virginal thanks to the damage her father's paedophilic tendencies did to her psyche when she was a child. While George was angry enough about his son abusing her to change him to the preferred victim the last time around, he doesn't have any problems with killing Alexandra now, it seems. It's a b-movie psychology thing, you wouldn't understand.

At the same time, the Satanists' handyman/serial killer (George Krause, I think) goes around kidnapping young women, for some never explained reason all coming from Alexandra's surroundings, so that they can be indoctrinated into the cult for no discernible reason whatsoever.

The Satanist leader, evil priest and scenery-chewer Thomas Seaton (William Beckwith) probably just likes to put his hypnotic mind control whammy on them, as he does with Alexandra, much to the chagrin of her hissy fit prone boyfriend Bill (Tim Gail).
What the Satanists don't know is that a courageous undercover nun named Angela (Mavis Harris) has infiltrated their ranks and is just waiting for the right moment to stab their favourite Satan doll in the heart, or something like that.

If all this sounds rather muddled, then it does so because it is. Of course, one shouldn't expect less (or more, depending on one's perspective) of a Roberta Findlay directed horror film from the 80s. The muddledness is still highly impressive even going by the special Findlay standard. The film casually jumps around between plot threads that seem to exists in a perpetual state of stasis, lets important things just happen off-camera and never bothers to at least explain them on camera, just as if parts of the script had been eaten by a dog, although my experience with Findlay's body of work tells me that she just didn't care enough about a film in the hated horror genre to bother to make it coherent. This might not be a praiseworthy way to go about making a film for most people - I certainly wouldn't recommend it - yet I found myself strangely transfixed while watching it. It is after all not every day that you find a film that incoherently jumps about from place to place but in which at the same time nothing ever seems to be happening, or if something has happened, you are often not allowed to see it.

For those who like it in their films, there is also some impressive 80s cheese to witness here. Especially the scenes taking place in a health spa are quite priceless, with fascinating discussions of multi-coloured condoms and the philosophy of "poking" which let me imagine Hamlet's great monologue beginning with "To poke or not to poke", though it's probably better for everyone's sanity if you don't mind me too much.

Other moments in great dialogue can be found in the seemingly endless scenes in which George and his hypnotically yellow teeth discuss his future world domination plans with a female Satanist friend who just doesn't want to be poked by him. The latter can't have anything to do with George being a raving lunatic with the enthusiasm for smack talk usually only encountered in white middle-aged rappers.

Which brings us to the acting, or what is called acting in the part of New York the film takes place in. Well, everyone's line delivery is...peculiar, to say the least, and while Jacobs and Beckwith are keeping their performances well inside the boundaries of traditional scenery chewing, most of the other actors have probably been imported from a strange and alien planet where English is spoken in quite a different way with many...awkward...pauses.

But I'm mostly alright with that, really, something I won't say about Tim Gail's laid back interpretations of hissy fits, which reminded me of nothing so much as of an hysterical beagle.
Christine Moore, on the other hand, is nearly alright, at least compared to most of the others.

I have to admit I was a little disappointed by the film's photography. Usually, the best thing about Findlay's late period movies are guerrilla-style filmed location shots of a slowly decaying New York, scenes that grant something like Lurkers more power of persuasion than it should have. There is a little of that to be found in Prime Evil, too, and these are the scenes when the whole film nearly starts to develop a mood and become an actual horror film, but too much of what is happening plays out in claustrophobic sets, or possibly Findlay's living room. Even the best director of photography wouldn't have been able to make much of that.

Still, there is something about Prime Evil that makes it a satisfying watch for me. It is not so much the film's cheesiness (although the special effect standing in for the devil is quite priceless), or the pure cheek of declaring this patchwork a narrative that makes it worth seeing, it is something a little weirder and a little deeper. I wouldn't blame anyone who'd just declare this film "crap", but for me it possesses a hard to grasp quality that sometimes transforms the boring and incompetent into the plain strange. And how ever you want to call this quality, Prime Evil has it - at least for me.

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