The 1980s saw the emergence of humor-infused gore films, such as Evil Dead II and The Re-Animator. Since then, nearly every film that has tried to follow suit has failed miserably. There are some that have succeeded like Peter Jackson’s unstoppable zombie movie Dead Alive, but that is truly an exception to the rule. Enter Mike Mendez and Chaton Anderson’s The Convent, a crazy and inspired tribute that is able to borrow from all of the aforementioned films while proudly standing on its own.
It’s 1960. A young girl pulls her flashy car to the front of the convent of her Catholic school, just as the priest is performing mass. She steps out with a purpose and makes her way into the building. Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” blares over the soundtrack. After a swig of whiskey, the girl pulls out a baseball bat and goes to town on the nuns. But that’s not all! Her bag of tricks also includes a can of gasoline.
A few shakes of the can, a drop of her cigarette, and whoosh! Everyone in a habit is on fire. And, as if that wasn’t enough, out comes the shotgun. Buckshot sprays. It’s black and blue and red all over. As the tagline to the film promised, it’s “Nuns, Guns, and Gasoline!”
After the film’s crowd-pleasing opening, the movie wastes no time jumping ahead forty years and dumping a group of teens into the now closed convent. It turns out that the building’s become the cool place for fraternities and sororities to leave their graffiti. Coincidentally, it’s also the favorite place for wanna-be Satanists to summon Lucifer. And, wouldn’t you know that said teens are in the convent when said Satanists perform a human sacrifice? From here all Hell breaks loose, literally.
With a sly wink to Lamberto Bava’s Demons, the teens are quickly possessed and/or slaughtered one by one. A face ripping here, a severed limb there and pretty soon, just about everyone is a demonic nun. At 84 minutes The Convent is a quick and furious treat that never has time to wear out its welcome. Filled with the usual horror film stereotypes (the football player, the cheerleader, the nerd, the outcast and the virginal hero), the movie appears to be standard genre fare, but don’t be fooled. You’ve never seen Adrienne Barbeau and Coolio in a typical horror film.
To say that 28 year-old writer, co-producer, and co-star Chaton Anderson (billed as Chaton Itae in her role of Sapphira) has issues with the Catholic Church is an understatement. She’s not alone, however, as director Mike Mendez also has a dozen years of Catholic school under his belt. Put them together and the results are nothing short of sacrilege. In their defense, the film is not really that offensive. Sure a few nuns lose their heads, but they’re demon nuns-and that’s okay!
Beyond the quick-witted screenplay, flashy direction, likeable cast and rousing soundtrack, the film also boasts a number of gory effects (many are scored with so such gusto that it’s hard not to crack a smile). Unfortunately, the MPAA didn’t even grin. Instead, they bestowed it with an NC-17 rating.
Made for under one million dollars, The Convent premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. Unfortunately, Dimension missed the screening and Trimark passed picking it up for distribution, despite playing to an enthusiastic midnight crowd in Park City. Since then, the film has been earning rave reviews from horror fans across the world while playing at festivals such as The Rome Fantafestival where it won the Public’s Prize. In mid-2000, the film landed in the hands of German distributor Prokino who is set to release the film theatrically there on over two hundred screens. The Convent has also been released theatrically in Japan and on DVD in England, but a stateside release is still up in the air.
Unapix has acquired the film for a theatrical run in late 2000. It’s likely that The Convent will be shipped off to Unapix’s sister company A-Pix; the company responsible for releasing Dario Argento’s Phantom of the Opera and the mangled version of Alex de la Iglesia’s Dance with the Devil (re-titled Perdita Durango). This is unfortunate considering that the film is most fun when sitting in a crowded theatre. One consolation is that, according to Mendez, the film will be released uncut when it is finally comes out on domestic video-only the theatrical version will either face the dreaded knife or be released “un-rated” (also known as “box office poison”).
Considering the popularity of substandard films such as the Scream trilogy, the I Know What You Did Last Summer films, the Urban Legend films, et cetera, it’s unusual that Unapix wouldn’t try to cash in on a market ripe for horror films. There are those, however, that are willing to make a stand for The Convent. A movement exists to release the film theatrically.
Despite having such a difficult time finding a release, director Anderson has signed to write and produce the sequel with Coolio reprising his amazing (if all too brief) role as Officer Starkey. And, no matter what happens to the film theatrically, The Convent is destined to become a cult hit on video. Really, how many folks were lucky enough to see Evil Dead II or The Re-Animator on the silver screen? Not very many and that didn’t stop these films from becoming legendary on video. Expect the same fun from The Convent!