HOLY HORRORS FOR HALLOWEEN FILM FERSTIVAL: THE BELIEVERS

Believers, The

“A police psychologist and his school-age son become embroiled in the machinations of a mysterious cult religion in this thriller from director John Schlesinger. After his wife is electrocuted in a freak accident, Dr. Cal Jamison (Martin Sheen) and his son, Chris (Harley Cross), move back to Manhattan, where Cal went to school. When not spending time with his son and surrogate extended family — husband-and-wife anthropologists Kate (Elizabeth Wilson) and Dennis Maslow (Lee Richardson) — Cal settles into his new job and romances his landlady, Jessica Halliday (Helen Shaver). Soon, though, a series of brutal murders of young children begins to take over Cal’s life. Through the ravings of policeman Tom Lopez (Jimmy Smits), who believes the killers have supernatural power over him after stealing his badge, Cal learns of Santeria, a voodoo-like Latin American sect that mixes elements of Christianity and pagan mysticism. Although the religion turns out to have ties to some of the richest men in the city and even Cal’s well-meaning maid seems to be a practitioner, he can’t get any straight answers as to whether the cult is responsible for the murders. But after a sinister African shaman (Malick Bowens) places a curse on Jessica, Cal finally begins to understand the danger that faces him — and his son. The Believers was very loosely adapted from Nicholas Conde’s 1982 novel The Religion.” – rovi’s AllMovie Guide

“God can’t save you, the Church can’t save you… you think science can stop them?” – doomed detective Tom Lopez

“Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

Alright, I know Halloween’s over, but why not squeeze in one last movie for our Holy Horrors For Halloween film festival anyway? A few titles come to mind, but how about we go with The Believers. Now John Schlesinger is a director better known for such non-genre classics as Midnight Cowboy, Marathon Man, and (snort) Honky Tonk Freeway (hey, it’s got its fans), so it should really come as no surprise that The Believers, his only real foray into horror, concentrates more on drama and action than it does on scares. A good chunk of the movie is taken up with Martin Sheen’s efforts to deal with the emotional turmoil his young son is going through after the loss of his mother while simultaneously trying to perform his job as a psychiatric adviser to the police as they investigate a string of ritualistic murders. So in many ways, it’s kind of Kramer vs Kramer vs Evil Witch Doctor.

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Which is not to say that the movie doesn’t have its share of moments that get under your skin, because it does. Quite literally, in fact, in the case of the spider egg sac buried in someone’s cheek scene (Bleughhhh!!!). But despite the occasional lapses into standard gross out fair, Schlesinger definitely seems to prefer keeping his horror a bit more grounded in realism. Take, for instance, the accidental death by coffee maker (no, really) of Sheen’s wife that opens the movie. It’s completely mundane, with no apparent connection to any of the supernatural shenanigans that follow, and on the surface does little to advance the story except to tell you that Sheen’s wife is dead. Despite that, however, the bizarre randomness of her death makes it somehow more real, and it casts a shadow over the rest of the movie, one in which death is always right there waiting to claim anybody and everybody no matter where they are.

But be all that as it may, The Believers is still a 1980s horror movie, so there can be only so many attempts at subtlety before excess kicks in. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the movie’s treatment of Santeria, the polythe

David

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