Finding God at the Grindhouse: Vestron’s THE UNHOLY Takes on Spiritual Warfare and the Reality of Evil

I don’t know exactly what I believe about the Devil. Fallen angel? Malicious overlord? Bullshit myth? All are highly possible. However, I know I have felt darkness and evil. I know that I have felt a heaviness that can only be described as demonic. I know that I believe in spiritual warfare… that much I’m pretty sure of.

I’m not exactly sure what spiritual warfare looks like, feels like, or really is, for that matter. Father Michael, on the other hand, knows exactly what it looks and feels like. Father Michael, on the other hand, has looked a top level demon in the eye and fought it back to Hell. However, in the beginning, he didn’t believe demons even existed. Boy, was he wrong!

The film follows a priest, Father Michael, in his quest to figure out exactly what happened at the parish he was recently assigned to take over and reopen. He begins his journey towards a battle he’ll never forget by trying to talk a man down from a ledge. The man ends up grabbing the Father’s hand and tossing him from the 3rd or 4th story instead. Somehow, Father Michael has not a scratch on him from the multi-story fall. The archbishop deems him “The Chosen One” and reassigns him to a parish that seems to be cursed, a parish where the last two presiding priests have been found murdered, with the throats ripped out while kneeling in prayer… pretty gruesome sights, in fact.

The story is complicated by a number of characters and factors. Luke, played by the dad from Boy Meets World (William Russ), is the owner of a sexy Satanic club, where folks come to dance and watch faux LaVeyan ritual sacrifices. He is a showman, but genuinely hard to trust in any way; he’s been accused of rape, seems to flirt with dark magic for real, and is genuinely untrustworthy for several other reasons. Millie (Jill Carrol) works at Luke’s place, has a history with the previous priest (one of the two who was bruised tally murdered), and is heavily scarred from abuse. The other priests, a local officer, and the church’s caretaker all feature prominently into the unfolding of the story, as well.

Veering away from spoiler territory, I won’t explain how all of it unfolds, only noting that Father Michael certainly does encounter the reality of evil in the face of a powerful demon. What I won’t veer away from is how great a job this film does of wrestling with the cynical views on the supernatural and the afterlife that Christians, even clergy, often wrestle with. Father Michael begins our tale in total disbelief that there is a Hell or a Satan, thus he believes there’s no way anything happening is being done by demons in any conventional sense. To Father Michael, evil is carried out only by humans and evil exists within us all. He’s obviously right that all humans are capable of seriously heinous shit, but there may be something more to this evil, too… and, soon enough, he is forced to let go of his cynicism and accept that the spirit realm is as real as anything on this Earth.

The implications of Luke’s involvement or Millie’s involvement in the murders serve to distract us. If they are involved, what’s to say that they are acting of their own accord. We will find out at some point that there ar certainly other characters that are acting without control of their actions. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to say the same about many people in real life. Things like mental health, the how and why we think what we do, and and the signals and pulses that create life… we cannot explain many of these things in an adequate way without some allowance for the supernatural. Father Michael, as a priest, certainly didn’t discount all of the supernatural, but he is certainly quite a skeptic in regards to Hell and demons. Once he finally accepts the reality of this pure evil and what it means, only then can he fight against it.

I’m not fully sure what this film wants me to take away or what is wants to say, if anything. However, I know what I am taking with me; and, that is the willingness to remain open to the idea that spiritual warfare is real. I’ve felt it and this film reminds me what is at stake. I’m not sure about the burning fires of Hell, but I know that whether we call them angels and demons, or djinn, or ancient spirits, or whatever other names they go by, this film reminds me that shutting oneself off to the possibility of real supernatural intervention is foolish. Will I ever experience anything beyond that heavy feeling I recall feeling like an oppressive weight over me? Maybe not, but I can always admit that I don’t and can’t know much about this world… or anything about any other worlds or dimensions or afterlife. Sometimes, life has a way of smacking us upside the head with a reminder that we don’t know shit.

And, with that, I leave you with a recommendation and a request for this edition of FGATG…

First, go get a copy of this Blu-ray on Tuesday when it comes out. The film’s plot points draw thematic comparisons to Christ’s temptation. There are also discussions to be had on how the film uses possession and, of course, important discussions on spiritual warfare and the Devil that I’d love to continue with those of you who do pick up a copy. This isn’t even to mention the interesting discussions on abuse, the Church, and Satanism that can be tied into this film. It’s well worth a purchase, even if you don’t want to discuss any of these themes with me.

Second, I want to ask that those who do watch this film please leave some thoughts and comments here or shoot me a line. I found this to be a film that does a really interesting job looking at the spirit world in a way that challenges faith and life in a lot of ways. Maybe you do too… or maybe you don’t. Either way, I’d love to hear you have to say.

Justin has been running websites since his first Geocities site in 1994, but only did he ever start covering anything of substance years later. After he stopped regularly running local concerts in Northern NJ and the greater Philly area, he knew he needed to step up his writing game if he expected to continue to get free music to listen to. He writes regularly here and at Cinapse, as well as contributing to a few other sites on occasion. He likes music, film, the Philadelphia Eagles, the 76ers, talking about Criminal Justice, reading Intelligence Report, and his family... not in that order. His beautiful wife is far more talented than he is and his kids far more adorable... and crazy.
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