Sunday, 18 December 2011
When Peter Walker is hot, as on ‘Frightmare’, he’s hot – when he’s not, however, well, there’s ’House of Mortal Sin’ ('The Confessional' in the US).
Father Xavier Meldrum (Anthony Sharp) is a Catholic priest with an idiosyncratic view on how a man of the cloth should behave. What he particularly likes to do is to make tape recordings of the confessions of young blond women and then use them to blackmail them into doing his bidding. It isn’t sexual, well, not in the hands on sense, but he definitely derives some perverted fulfillment from being a nuisance and making the girls pay for their ‘immorality’ (they have boyfriends).
Father Xavier isn’t just about the stalking and extortion, however, as he also likes to cover his tracks using extreme violence and murder: scalding people with hot coffee, braining them with incense burners, choking them with rosary beads, that sort of thing (these are probably the best sequences in the film, and they are surprisingly graphic and ouch-y).
The key to Father Xavier’s psychosis is his pressure cooker home environment: he lives uncomfortably with his mute, senile mother and his sinister, one eyed housekeeper (the reliably brilliant Sheila Keith, sporting a ‘Let’s Dance’ era David Bowie bouffant), who also used to be his girlfriend. Mother split the young lovers up many years ago, so now he torments girls who look like his old flame, and his old flame tortures his Mum whenever Father Xavier is out tormenting. It’s a bit of a tense situation that violently resolves itself in an ending that makes ‘Hamlet’ look like 'Peppa Pig'.
Despite all this, 'House of Mortal Sin' is, I’m sorry to say, rather dull. Yes, the violence is well done and, yes, the performances are very good (Walker always used the best actors he could), but, in the end analysis, the film just doesn’t work – every situation could be defused immediately if the characters just actually talked to each other and Xavier, who is in the frame from the off, is simply too sinister to keep on getting away with it, dog collar or not.
As you will see from the above poster, the promotional team charged with selling this modest little effort touted it as the third part of an 'unholy trinity' of films along with 'The Exorcist' and 'The Omen', despite the fact that it has no supernatural elements whatsover. Worth a try, I suppose. Oh, and Peter Cushing was originally offered the role of the psychotic priest. Thank Christ he turned it down.