A priest is pushed too far and begins hunting down the gangsters who killed his parishioners.
Incestuous and violent sexual relationships, sacrilege, ultra-violence, drag queens, infanticide, prostitution, gore galore, blasphemy and believe it not, it’s all done in fun! It’s wrapped up into one helluva crazy movie with a very gnarly sense of humor.
Writer/director Ryan LaPlante plays Father Augustus Bane. Bane’s a pretty happy, go-lucky priest in the church – helping out parishioners, spreading the word of God to anyone who will listen; including his small flock of deviants (he’s in a bad part of town). One night, he’s called upon by the Bonner family to help out with their teenaged daughter Amy (Alysa King), after she’s fallen from grace – basically become the definition of a “bad girl”. Out of nowhere, the MacFarlane clan – a criminal family with no morals, no sense of right or wrong and a thirst for blood and death – crash the Bonner household. The family – as well as Father Bane – are tethered and tortured. When all is said and done, and the sick MacFarlane family have had their fill (in so many grotesque ways), only Father Bane and Amy are left alive – barely clinging to life. And thus begins Father Bane’s quest for vengeance – for the Bible does say – an eye for an eye.
As Bane, LaPlante has natural charisma. He commands the screen, whether he’s the light-hearted servant of God in the beginning, or when he’s following his own dark path to wreak havoc on the MacFarlane family. There’s a marked change in LaPlante’s vocal performance when he finds his new “Lord” (his old-timey six-shooter) and when his voice lowers, you know you’re in for some butt-kicking. You’ll hear new takes and gather new meanings from the religious phrases like, “The Lord works in mysterious ways”, and his recitation of the Ten Commandments as he infiltrates one of the MacFarlane family’s strongholds – will leave you screaming with equal parts gleeful joy and head-shaking disgust. LaPlante has such an innocent, boyish quality, so that when Father Bane’s zest for violence emerges, you’ll sit back and nod, thinking to yourself – a perfect example of a success – director casting himself in the lead role.
As Amy, Alysa King is certainly buxom, properly selling the type of role she’s been brought in to play. She delivers each “cheesy” line with gusto, never letting us forget her upper body assets. It’s all in fun, though, as she takes on the monsters who killed her family, while attempting to seduce the now-emboldened and vengeful Father Bane. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the payoff for her need to bed Bane, is quite a sight to behold.
And as the head of the MacFarlane family, Michael Rawley is properly disgusting, vulgar, violent, offensive and out of control (and yes, sexy). He makes Dokes MacFarlane a perfect villain – one you simply love to hate. I see that Holy Hell is Rawley’s only IMDb credit, and actors certainly hate to be pigeon-holed as a certain type, but he’s got an amazing future in the film business, as a darkly effective heavy.
The rest of the cast are appropriately insane and ridiculous. This film really is no-holds-barred and touts the whack-job characters to prove it. What must be said, is that most of the performances are “bad”, meaning they’re meant to be sort of stilted – again, to match the era and style. But “bad” performances are not simple to pull off. You’ve gotta be a good actor to convincingly give a terrible performance. The entire cast of Holy Hell easily pulls it off. They all “suck”.
The film dragged a bit in the third act. You know where it’s going, and at some points, you’ll wish it would just get there. As much as I squealed with delight at Father Bane’s never-ending one-liners, there was a point where they began to slightly irritate. But, the sagging pace bounces back around for the climax, which is bloody, over-the-top and as lovingly offensive as the rest of the film. And Father Bane’s quick-witted zingers are once again welcome.
The sound work is particularly effective. There’s almost a sense of, “was this planned?” with some ADR not quite matching the movement of the actor’s lips. Of course, this is indicative of a “bad production”, but also works in the world of a cheesy exploitation picture like this. At any rate, it’s hard to perfectly capture the essence of these films from a bygone era, but Holy Hell manages to hit many of the details to cement the film’s roots and inspirations. The score is equally as effective – in particular the usage of such recognizable religious themes, like Ava Maria. But of course, in a film like this, they’re certainly not uplifting and rooted in the Lord (at least, not that Lord).
The gore effects are plentiful, and generally well done. There is the occasional use of those gun-shot splotches of blood – in after-effects, but the gun-shots, slicings and dicings are grotesque and juicy. My favorite has to be the de-eyeballing early on in the picture. Nice.
It’s a pitch-perfect addition to the old grindhouse pantheon – clearly taking notes from beloved classics of the ‘70s era and from the work of Tarantino – whom we all know loves a good old-fashioned updated version of exploitation cinema. More than anything, Holy Hell felt like an offshoot chapter of the Kill Bill saga.
LaPlante succeeds in all aspects of the production (certainly a rarity nowadays) and despite some of those pesky pacing issues later on, constructs a love letter to films of the past, through overdone (in a good way) performances, raw and offensive situations and an unflinching view of anything and everything sexual, violent and perverse. You definitely must have a particular (read: sick) sense of humor to appreciate Holy Hell. But if you are in the same boat as me – you’ll laugh all the way through, and then quietly be disgusted with yourself afterward. It’s a very good ride!
Holy Hell is burning up the festival circuit at the moment, winning awards and making a name for itself. Keep an eye out for any possible wider release/DVD/VOD information.