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Lions Gate presents
Clarissa: "You're the only one who can help us!"
DVD ReviewIn 1960, young and pretty Christine entered the St. Francis Boarding School For Girls and proceeded to viciously murder all of the nuns and priests with a shotgun and baseball bat before torching the place with gasoline. This scene, set to Leslie Gore's You Don't Own Me, is the stunning opener to Mike Mendez's The Convent, a film that has the same spirit of gore and humor that Sam Raimi gave the Evil Dead series, and that is saying a lot. Just based on that opening alone, The Convent deserves to be seen, and luckily that is just the warm-up.
The film then jumps ahead 40 years, and yet another group of horror-movie specific college-aged kids are about to sneak into the haunted convent for a little mischief. The oddball group features Goth princess Monica (Megahn Perry), reformed Goth chick Clarissa (Joanna Canton), her boyfriend Chad (Jason Dax Miller), her nerdy younger brother Brant (Kyle Liam Sullivan), stoner Frijole (Richard Trapp), cheerleader Kaitlin (Renee Graham) and her boyfriend Biff (Jim Golden). The group break into the condemned convent, and wander around the darkness recalling the legend and myth of Christine and her murderous attack. Was it the result of a forced abortion? Was she just a bad, bad girl? As the urban legends are unfurled, it's not long before an army of demon nuns are unleashed. As the body count rises, it becomes clear that only Christine (Adrienne Barbeau), the girl (now a reclusive woman) who murdered those nuns all those years ago, can set things right.
The Chaton Anderson script is ripe with clever, comedic dialogue, and there are some really great lines throughout. The best passages are reserved for the real scene-stealers of The Convent, a pair of inept devil worshippers. Saul (David Gunn) and Dickie-Boy (Kelly Mantle) who ultimately cause all of the demonic havoc that ensues. Saul's high-pitched, Tiny Tim-affected voice is funny on it's own, but he does get his fair share of genuinely funny dialogue. His ad-libbed incantation, sung to the Christmas tune Silver Bells, is one of those unusual moments that make The Convent so enjoyable, as does his repeated attempts to knock Brant into unconsciousness.
Like Raimi did so well with the Evil Dead films, director Mike Mendez has peppered The Convent with a healthy splattering of gore to balance out the dead-on comedy. Decapitations, crushed skulls, and green vomit figure prominently, and he has assembled these components with the effectiveness of a carnival showman. As I mentioned earlier in this review, the opening sequence of Christine's attack on the convent stands as not only one of the most visually memorable moments in this film, but one that is so refreshingly unusual that it almost can stand alone as a comedically violent 3 minute music video. Even with its gruesome imagery, the sequence is shot so well that it is hard to take your eyes off the screen.
One of the other bizarre treats here is some of the unusual casting. Adrienne Barbeau appears as the adult Christine, ready with a Schwarzenegger-sized arsenal of weapons, a motorcycle and a black leather jacket. Barbeau, decked out in her mid-1980s' Swamp Thing wig, spouts some vitriolic one-liners as she unwillingly leads the assault on the haunted convent. Rap star Coolio has a small role as a seemingly unhinged cop, and his interrogation of the kids is much like Eddie Murphy's country-western bar scene rave out in 48 Hours.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is plagued a bit by heavy grain, but overall the print looks pretty good. Colors are surprisingly rich, and don't suffer from that muted look that often hampers low-budget productions. With much of the film taking place in darkness of the old convent, it is a good thing that the black levels are solid, with decent shadow delineation. There is some minor color bloom during the memorable opening sequence.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: I love it when a low-budget horror thriller has a big, well-oiled 5.1 Dolby Digital track to give it that larger than life feel. There are some terrific rear channel effects on this disc, from creaking doors to howling demon nuns, and I was really impressed at the fullness and spatial depth that this track has. Directional imaging is done well, and really adds to the viewing experience. A 2.0 French language track is also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Deleted Scenes
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1: Mike Mendez, Joseph Bishara, Megahn Perry, Liam Kyle Sullivan
2: Saul, Dickie-Boy
Director Mike Mendez, composer Joseph Bishara, Megahn Perry (Monica) and Liam Kyle Sullivan (Brant) provide a full-length scene-specific commentary that is less of an informational track, and more of a collection of oddball production tidbits surrounded by jokes and self-mockery. Mendez does toss out a few informative nuggets, like the fact that Adrienne Barbeau wore her wig from Swamp Thing, or that many of the sets were featured in Leprechaun In The Hood. This track is a nice compliment to The Convent, and their non-serious approach works very well.
Lords Of Gore Commentary
The second full-length scene-specific commentary of the disc features chit-chat from Saul (David Gunn) and Dickie-Boy (Kelly Mantle), the film's comically memorable Satanists. They provide the commentary in character, and at one point Saul indicates he expected the film to be more of "a documentary approach to our religious practices." The two don't offer any genuine insight, but really just provide some occasionally funny comments, like comparing The Convent to Shakespeare, though it seems a little of them go a long way. Midway through the track Saul "passes out" and director Mike Mendez makes a brief appearance.
Gore On Demand
A collection of 12 of The Convent's goriest scenes, designed for easy access. Most of the scenes are in production footage format, and some are widescreen and some are full-frame.
Behind The Scenes Of The Convent
Running just over 8 minutes, this featurette includes interviews with Mendez, writer Chaton Anderson, composer Joseph Bishara, as well as most of the cast principles, except Barbeau. There is some "great to work with so-and-so" puffery, but the overall tone is pretty light-hearted and extremely casual. This is a blend of behind-the-scenes footage, interviews and completed scenes.
Deleted Scene (:30s)
A quickie set in the diner, this scene features a There's Something About Mary-ish joke focusing on the mentally handicapped.
A theatrical trailer, subtitles (English and Spanish) and 24 chapter stops round out the extras.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsThere have been a wealth of just plain cruddy horror/comedy films released on DVD, and most of them deserve to wallow in obscurity. The Convent, however, is without a doubt one of the better ones. It is a laugh out loud horror classic, and features two of the funniest devil worshippers I have ever seen. This is in the vein of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films, and succeeds with a hip blend of humor, gore, and Adrienne Barbeau in black leather. Plus, I'll never be able to listen to Leslie Gore the same way again.
Destined to be a classic.
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