Every once in a great while a film company will rediscover a much vaunted film that they have not released for whatever reason, be it the sensibility of the day, post-production snafus, or financial difficulties. For Full Moon Features, this film is THE EVIL CLERGYMAN. Originally slated to be released back in the late eighties as part of “PULSEPOUNDERS” - a trilogy of unrelated short sequels to the films “TRANCERS” and “DUNGEONMASTER” - THE EVIL CLERGYMAN would be the third and only film in this set that was not a long lost “part two” from some existing Full Moon Feature, and, as such, the only film from PULSE POUNDERS which I am guessing can stand on its own merit, unrelated to an existing Full Moon Franchise. THE EVIL CLERGYMAN in fact is a version of a story by H.P. Lovecraft that appeared in Weird Rales in 1939. I have to admit I was intrigued when I heard this, but, of course, Lovecraft has proven notoriously difficult to get right onscreen (first person stories usually are, especially on a budget). Let us meet this Evil Clergyman at once and see if we can forgive him for gracing us with his presence some 25 years too late..
The first thing you will notice is that the cast of the principals is exactly the same male and female leads of Re-Animator; Jeffry Combs as The Evil Clergyman and Barbara Crampton as Mrs. Brady (and looking especially fine). At the start of the film Mrs. Brady endures the company of a creepy, rude landlady who begrudgingly leads her up the rickety steps of an old castle to the former private chambers of a priest; a man she obviously knew in the Biblical sense and not in the ways of scripture. It seems the Priest recently died under mysterious circumstances, and poor Miss Brady misses her lover so much that she simply had to come back and spend just one more night in the love den they shared. She is escorted inside, left alone to do some basic sleuthing, and soon learns some valid (if not cliché’) things that female protagonists often learn in Gothic love stories like this, ie; lessons learned about discerning passion from obsession, life from death, or mice from men (talking rats, actually). Mrs. Brady is about to become a whole new woman by the end of this film. At a half an hour long I don’t want to tell you too much more about what is “technically” a supernatural mystery.
The word “technically” is an important word in this review because this version has very little in common with the original short story by Lovecraft except for the unique way the mean clergyman cheats death and comes back from what must have been the worst possible demise for a cleric of the Catholic Church. In fact the love story between the two principals seems to have been fabricated out of whole cloth as the narrator in the actual story was a male character who had no sexual relationship with the Evil Priest whatsoever. Even the ravenous tiny human rat character and a particularly abused bishop who warn Miss Brady of the danger are new additions as the original short story took place in first person perspective with very little dialogue. So needless to say, most characters in this film are a cinematic device used to explain the bizarre, supernatural secret of the Evil Priest, which is the main conceit of the original short story, yet, somehow it is kind of an anticlimactic moment in the film because, by the time of the big reveal, this “mild mannered man of God” obviously has the power to make a talking rat and enslave the ghost of a Bishop for all eternity. Of course, the assorted stories of Lovecraft were my favorite thing to read as a kid, and maybe I am just being precious about it. If you haven’t read the original story, it works well enough, but in a different way. I think they tried to needlessly complicate a simple supernatural EC Comics type tale with ponderous Lovecraftian overtones, but I suppose it is a creepy enough little film, though a little camp looking as most films involving budget puppetry/creature effects seem as seen over twenty years later.
As for the print of the film, itself, it has a rough, unfinished look to it, yet the film has a new soundtrack created by Richard Band which does sound like it was from the 80’s (what soundtrack of his doesn’t?). I like this flick better than some of Full Moon’s more recent offerings, but paying $14.95 for a half an hour, “rare, collector film” about an evil priest that most people have never heard of just seems a little unholy. Had they assembled the other two stories from PULSEPOUNDERS and included them here I would have rated this more highly. At the current retail price this film costs one dollar for every two minutes of running time of the main feature. At that price, I want something more from a film than a fully clothed twenty something Barbara Crampton creeping around a dead man’s attic, talking to anthropomorphic rodents like a Disneyesque dream sequence of the damned. It hurts to admit it (and to make such an obvious film reviewing metaphor) but this Evil Clergyman should have probably never been resurrected.
Special features include a documentary about the public release of THE EVIL CLERGYMAN starring Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton and Charles Band. Also included is the release of sixty seconds of unrestored footage from the TRANCERS sequel from PULSEPOUNDERS which will likely never be finished.