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Friday, June 7, 2019

THE BELIEVERS -- DVD Review by Porfle



It seems like there were a lot of horror flicks about the Caribbean voodoo cult of Santeria for awhile there back in the late 1900s or so, and one of the main ones was definitely John Schlesinger's frantic potboiler THE BELIEVERS (Olive Films, 1987), which, for those in the mood for such bleak goings-on, delivers the goods and then some.

Martin Sheen (APOCALYPSE NOW, THE DEAD ZONE) is Cal Jamison, a police psychotherapist who tragically loses his wife in the film's shocking (pun intended) opening, leaving him to raise their son Chris (Harley Cross, THE FLY II) by himself.

When the city is struck by a series of ritual child murders so gruesome that even hardboiled cops like Lt. Sean McTaggart (Robert Loggia, INDEPENDENCE DAY, SCARFACE) are appalled, Cal is called in to help a cop (Jimmy Smits) whose undercover work on the case has driven him insane.


Cal is then drawn into a maelstrom of organized evil that threatens his own son, who may have been marked as the next ritual sacrifice victim.

Schlesinger (MIDNIGHT COWBOY, MARATHON MAN) starts things out slow and steady but keeps them gradually building until, before we know it, the film has kicked into high gear and everything we see is filled with a dark, pervasive feeling of dread. 

There's also an abundance of seriously creepy-crawly stuff at every turn, especially in connection with those horrific rituals whose victims keep popping up here and there. One victim's autopsy, for example, yields a number of live snakes, which I found quite sufficient for a shiver or two.


The film's approach here is a prime example of that hamhanded, wonderfully unsubtle horror style that had us glued to the screen back in the 80s--hokey as heck, but surprisingly effective in the long run. 

This is displayed not only in the director's aggressive style but also in the punchy script (co-written by Mark Frost of "Twin Peaks" fame), replete with whiplash-inducing plot twists, and some wonderfully unrestrained performances.

Sheen, knowing the material calls for an indelicate approach, emotes accordingly.  Two great character actors, Loggia and fellow SCARFACE alumnus Harris Yulin (as business tycoon Robert Calder, who may or may not be behind it all) add their considerable talents, while Helen Shaver does her best to add depth to the underwritten character of Jessica, Cal's new romantic interest. Richard Masur plays Cal's lawyer friend Marty.


The capable supporting cast also includes Malick Bowens as Palo, a frightening figure of great power within the Santeria cult. Bowens knows how to look scary when he wants to, and lends the film some of its most spine-chilling moments, especially when he crashes a posh fundraiser held by Calder and lapses into a furious trancelike state complete with all-white eyeballs. 

Naturally, as was the custom of the time (and still is in many cases), we get one of those annoying "gotcha!" endings that really get on my nerves. But I wouldn't expect it to end any other way, since, as James Whale once said, "it's all part of the ritual." Until then, THE BELIEVERS slowly but surely develops into a real barnburner of an edge-of-your-seat horror thriller.


Buy it from Olive Films

Rated : R
Video : 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, Color
Runtime : 114 minutes
Year : 1987
Languages : English (with available captions)
Extras: Trailer



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