Jarv’s Schlock Vault: The Convent
“My Brother’s the antichrist? Mom is gonna be pissed.”
Jarv’s Rating: 2.5 Changs and I really want to give it more, but just can’t.
This film is far better than the 2.5 Chang rating that I’ve given it in terms of entertainment. I watched it as part of my ongoing quest to find a witchcraft movie that doesn’t suck balls, and assumed a film called The Convent would be about black magic. Instead, and much to my amazement, I blundered into a rollicking little movie. The Convent is full of comedy, gore, ultraviolence, funny cameos and great laughs. It ain’t perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it is great fun.
The Convent had a frankly hilarious journey to the screen, which may be why it vanished unfairly off the map. Mike Mendez, the director, was in talks with the big studios to direct shit like Species 2, but instead he was under contract from a tiny independent. He couldn’t find a script he wanted to do, when someone passed him the treatment that one of the secretaries had written. He loved it, but mostly because of the opening scene (best bit of the film by far). Unfortunately, 2 goth pricks went apeshit at Columbine, and the opening sequence was (correctly) deemed to be far too close to the bone. So with that in mind, Mendez went back, rewrote it, and amped the violence up to 11 thus rendering the film cartoon-like and breaking the mental association with Columbine. The model for this film was clearly Sam Raimi’s epic Evil Dead 2 (curse you Frank, I’d link to that here if you hadn’t deleted it), with ridiculous gore, flourescent blood, and laughs given more importance than horror. A wise decision, albeit one that’s incredibly difficult to pull off.
The film opens with a sunglasses wearing badass chick pulling up outside of a convent. She stubs out her cigarette before walking confidently into the building. Once inside, she pulls a baseball bat out of her bag before laying waste the nuns and (brilliantly) the priest. This, apparently, isn’t in bad enough taste, so out comes the petrol and we’ve got a catholic barbecue. Which still isn’t in bad enough taste, so out comes the shotgun. What a fucking opening. I’m not exaggerating with this, it is absolutely hilarious. The film then cuts to “30 years later” and a group of college douchebags plus strangely hot goth chick are heading up to the old convent to do whatever fraternity fuckheads do in abandoned buildings. We all know where this is going. They get rousted by the cops, but the goth chick trades sexual favours with one of the douchebags to say that she isn’t there. A bad decision, as she gets kidnapped by a group of wannabe goth douchebags, who decide to perform a sacrifice on her (she’s, as hard as this is to believe, a virgin as she’s “saving herself for Marilyn Manson”) which raises demons. Carnage and hilarity ensues, before main college girl escapes to find help in the form of the woman who killed them all to begin with. More carnage and hilarity ensues culminating in one of the funniest and most ridiculous endings that I’ve seen in a while.
This is a glowing review that I’m giving this film, and despite that it’s superficially one of the daftest pieces of schlock I’ve seen in a good while, there’s many a reason why. To begin with, it’s genuinely funny. Let me give an easy example, the wannabe “Lord of Darkness” is a complete fucking tool, and when he’s going to sacrifice Monica, she pulls the gag off and busts him as being a “white trash loser working in fucking Dairy Queen”. Clearly she does end up being sacrificed, but he’s got no balls whatsoever, and one of the more amusing running gags of the film is that he can’t go through with murdering someone and has to have an acolyte do it. The Demons have no such qualms, they’ll happily slaughter anyone that isn’t smart enough to get out of range.
Secondly, the film is blatantly derivative of films such as Evil Dead. There’s a shot in particular where one of the college douchebags transforms into a demon that’s straight from Raimi’s classic. It’s lifted wholesale and unabashedly. Furthermore, the blood isn’t so much thrown around as a gigantic tsunami of viscera and it doesn’t for a second resemble blood. It looks like flourescent paint. If you’re going to copy someone, then you may as well copy the best. There’s a particularly amusing scene, where college douchebag gets off his tits on ‘shrooms and attempts to collect on his promise from goth chick. Cue hilarious stoned sequence followed by excruciating blowjob, fountains of blood and a laughable transformation scene. There are plenty of genuinely funny moments- such as when the heterosexual male virgin is chained to the homosexual one, who suggests that they pop cherries to get out of being sacrificed. Funny stuff.
Furthermore, the acting in this is great. The college douchebags are all veterans of other shitty horror films (mostly of the Platinum Dunes variety) so know exactly what they’re taking the piss out of. As a result they’re all note perfect. Mendez noted that they were all under contract, and didn’t give a fuck what they were doing, but just followed his direction explicitly- provided he was fast. This is interesting, I wonder if more actors removed their heads from their asses if this approach could prove effective in other films. The real joy of the acting, though is in the Cameos. Coolio (hehehehe) plays one of the cops that shift the kids from the convent first time round, and he’s damned funny. I think intentionally, but he’s such a fucking clown it’s hard to tell. However, while this cameo is fun, the best by far is that Adrienne Barbeau makes a welcome return as demonic nun killing badass Christine. She’s a motorcycle riding badass that smokes like the smouldering remains of Lohan’s career, drinks whiskey neat and has a great line in nun decapitation, shotgun use, and wisecracks. Barbeau plays this with real relish, and the film lights up like fucking Vegas when she’s on screen.
The effects are all practical, and for the most part really good. Eyeballs pop out, faces are ripped off, entrails torn out and there’s nary a sign of CGI. Good work. The demon makeup is also quality, even if it is a bit reliant on flourescent/ UV.
As much fun as The Convent is, there’s definite negatives. Firstly, it’s short. They clearly didn’t have the material to extend it to a decent running time so didn’t bother. Part of me thinks this was a wise decision, but lots of it does feel a touch like it’s going over the same ground. Particularly the abortion scene which comes up about 3 times.
However, more importantly, the Demon effects become irritating. The initial flourescent mess looks great on first sight, but they twitch around like epileptics under strobe lighting. Not good. They also shuffle like robots and generally suck ass. And as for The Antichrist himself- he looks like shit, does fuck all bar annoy me and isn’t a great addition to the film.
Overall, would I recommend it? Unquestionably yes. It’s fucking great fun, and although seriously flawed, doesn’t hang around long enough to piss you off. Any film that opens with something as gleefully depraved as this one is worth a look, and I have to say that it’s nice to see Adrienne Barbeau in something again. Apparently the studio wanted Linda Blair (which would also have been nice) but Mendez held out for Barbeau. You don’t often see dedication like that in a schlocky film.
Until next time,